Posted by: reformedmusings | May 4, 2011

Making Unity in Ubuntu 11.04 Natty somewhat useful using AWN

I posted here on my initial impressions of Ubuntu’s new Unity interface, then on my trials trying to get it working for me on a production system here. Well, I’m still giving Unity a chance…with help. In the process of Googling around, I’ve also learned about some of the underlying system changes in Natty.

First, I noticed that I’m not getting things that I expect in the notification area. It turns out that Canonical limited the apps that can use the Natty notification area. I found the answer in this post. Using the technique mentioned there, I added ‘update-notifier’ and ‘Shutter’ to the white list, then logged out and back in again. Worked like a charm. You can see in the screenshot further below that Shutter now appears in the notification area.


Update: I just found a more inclusive approach. Simply type this into the terminal:

gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Panel systray-whitelist “[‘all’]”

then log out and in. That will open up the notification area to all compatible applications. When I just did this, compiz-fusion-icon showed up.


Next, I wanted my hardware monitor back. I decided to reactivate Avant Window Navigator (AWN), but remove most of my prior applets. I only really need my CPU3 and GPU temperatures and the menu system. The Unity “lenses” represent perhaps the worst aspect of the Unity interface. The whole idea of having to type in a GUI to get to programs seems absurd and is far less efficient than clicking through. You can click through the lens system, but it takes forever compared to a simple menu system. So, I used that in AWN as well. I set AWN to always visible with the Edgy scheme. With its great icons and reflection, it looks way better than the Unity bar itself.

I also want to replace the awful Unity Workplace Switcher. I thought that AWN’s Shiny Switcher would do the trick, but sadly, it only recognizes one desktop. This is the same issue I had with the Ubuntu Classic setup. And no, changing the number of desktops in CCSM’s General Settings doesn’t make a difference. [EDIT: Fixed! See this post.] There must be something strange about the Unity/Compiz setup that messes up third-party desktop switchers. I’ll work on that later, and welcome any and all suggestions.

The next question is where to place the AWN dock. I tried it “on” the top panel, but that didn’t work out. Although it looked OK on the top panel, it seemed to be blocked by that panel after a restart. After toying around, I decided to put AWN “on” the Unity dock at the bottom with the trash can. It looks good there and does some of what I wanted:

Ubunty 11.04 Natty Unity with AWN assistance

So, this provides minimal functionality. I’m still working on workspace switching with just mouse buttons and small movement. No joy on that yet. My initial attempts caused Unity to crash every time I used the Compiz Configuration Settings Manager. Please comment here if you have achieved success in this quest. [Solved: see this post.]

Ubuntu 11.04 Natty looks more and more like a rushed product that moves in a bad direction for users.


  1. I became an Xfce fan after finding even the old Gnome too resource-hungry for my modest, aging hardware. I expect Xubuntu will become enormously popular with users who are disappointed with Unity and KDE4.

  2. Hi Robin,

    Yes, I’ve already seen some moving in that direction on the Ubuntu forums. I haven’t tried it yet, but will probably give it a go in a virtual machine once I get VMWare Workstation working under Natty. I’m particularly fond of Enlightenment-based distros. Although 2D, they tend to be beautiful presentations.

    I got my cube back in Unity, so I’m a bit happier. I am working on a post today on how I did it.


  3. […] posted on my not-so-great experience with Ubuntu 11.04 Natty and Unity here, here, and here. In the latter, I achieved a useful level of function when I augmented Unity with Avant Window […]

  4. […] area on the top panel. Apps like VLC and Shutter make great use of their notification icons. While this can be fixed by hacking the settings, why should I have to do […]

  5. […] area on the top panel. Apps like VLC and Shutter make great use of their notification icons. While this can be fixed by hacking the settings, why should I have to do […]

  6. […] Reformed Musings: Making Unity in Ubuntu 11.04 Natty somewhat useful using AWN (learned about All option) […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: