Tweaking Ubuntu with bTweaker, Unsettings, and Unity Tweak Tool

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© Eric Isselee -

© Eric Isselee -

Tweaking Trio

Lack of direct access to advanced settings can make Ubuntu less customizable; we look at three tools that can help you tweak those settings.

Ubuntu does a great job of hiding the technical complexity of Linux behind a sleek and user-friendly interface, but this user-friendliness comes at a price: The lack of direct access to advanced settings makes the distro less customizable. Fortunately, several tools are available to help you tweak Ubuntu to your heart's content. In this article, I'll take a look at three utilities for customizing Ubuntu and the Unity desktop environment: bTweaker, Unsettings, and Unity Tweak Tool.

bTweaker at Your Command

bTweaker [1] doesn't reveal any hidden Ubuntu settings or give you access to the system's inner workings. Instead, this simple Python-based tool puts several useful commands and tools right at your fingertips, making it easier to perform common maintenance tasks and configure some basic settings. Because bTweaker is just a Python script, it requires no installation. The script is available in three versions, and you need to download the version appropriate to the Ubuntu release installed on your machine.

If you are running Ubuntu 12.10, you can get the latest 1.x.x version of bTweaker or pick the unstable version of the script for use with Ubuntu 13.04. To be able to run the script, you have to make it executable. To do this, right-click on the downloaded .py file and choose Properties . Switch to the Permissions section, enable the Allow executing file as program option, and press Close .

Next, launch bTweaker by double-clicking on the .py script. When prompted, you can press the Run in Terminal button. During the first run, bTweaker prompts you to install the ppa-purge package. Press y and wait until the script finishes the installation. Once bTweaker has completed the initial setup, it automatically drops you into the home screen with a simple menu that gives you access to all the available tools and commands (Figure 1).

Figure 1: bTweaker is a command-line tool written in Python.

The first item in the menu – Do upgrades, updates or cleaning – opens the section that contains commands for keeping your system up to date (Figure 2). Using the first two commands, you can update the software repository listings and install the available updates. Of course, you can perform these actions using the graphical Software Updater tool or using the apt-get update and apt-get dist-upgrade commands in the terminal, but bTweaker lets you do it faster and without remembering the actual commands.

Figure 2: bTweaker lets you perform system-related tasks, such as installing updates and cleaning the system.

The Cleaning menu contains commands that can help you keep the system clean and lean by deleting cached files as well as removing old kernels, unused packages, and configuration files. Again, all of this can be done using the appropriate commands, but bTweaker makes it a little bit more convenient.

The commands tucked under the Tweaks for Unity menu item in the home screen can be used to configure a handful of Unity options. With these commands, you can toggle the global menu, adjust the size of the Launcher, disable the feature that displays Internet results in Dash searches, and configure the Unity dodge functionality.

The Tweaks for Ubuntu section (Figure  3) offers a handful of options for customizing general Ubuntu settings, including tweaks that allow you to change the login screen manager, activate the screensaver, enable hibernation functionality, and change the position of on-screen notification. If the overlay scrollbar is not your cup of tea, the Tweak the Scrollbar tweak lets you switch to the regular scrollbar.

Figure 3: bTweaker can be used to tweak a few basic Unity settings.

To manage software with bTweaker, switch to the Install or remove software section, which has two items on the menu: Install and Remove . The first option allows you not only to install specific packages but also add PPAs and install a different desktop environment. The Remove item does the exact opposite: It lets you uninstall applications, remove PPAs, and uninstall other desktop environments. bTweaker also has a dedicated section that can help you easily switch to another Ubuntu flavor, including Kubuntu, Xubuntu, and Lubuntu.

Finally, the commands available in the Auto Tweak section can be used to apply multiple tweaks in one fell swoop based on the type of machine you are using. For example, the Netbook command installs PowerTOP, screensaver, and a few other packages that can come in handy on a netbook. Instead of selecting a specific profile, bTweaker can help you to create a custom auto tweak configuration by answering a series of questions. To do this, choose Build your own auto tweak and follow the instructions.

Customize Unity with Unsettings

Although bTweaker can handle a variety of tasks from system maintenance to tweaking Ubuntu settings, Unsettings [2] is more of a one-trick pony. This graphical utility focuses solely on customizing Unity settings. There are two ways to install Unsettings on Ubuntu. If you already have bTweaker on your machine, you can use the utility to install Unsettings. To do this, navigate to Install or remove software | Install | Add ppas and run the Unsettings command. Alternatively, you can add the required PPA and install Unsettings with the following commands:

sudo apt-add-repository ppa:diesch/testing
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install unsettings

The available options in Unsettings are organized into sections that make it easier to configure particular aspects of Unity. For example, the Launcher look and Launcher behaviour sections offer options for customizing the Launcher (Figure 4), including its size and opacity, and the Dash section lets you configure properties and settings of the Dash. Options available in other sections can be used to configure the panel, adjust font settings, customize the default (or choose a different theme altogether), and much more. You can see a brief explanation of any option in Unsettings by hovering your cursor over it.

Figure 4: Unsettings offers a decent collection of Unity tweaks.

Once you've specified the desired settings, press the Apply button to implement them. Unsettings also lets you roll back all the customizations you've made using the dedicated button in the main toolbar. In this way, you can restore Unity to its original state with a single button press. Better still, you can export all modifications to a file, which could be helpful if you want to apply the same configuration to several machines or restore all your tweaks when you reinstall Ubuntu.

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