Posted by: reformedmusings | December 7, 2011

Eliminating Unity’s Global Menu and Placing Windows

My quest to recover some improved functionality from Ubuntu Unity in 11.10 Oneiric continues to produce fruit. So far, I’ve managed to:

Add hardware monitoring

Add weather monitoring

Add a GNOME menu launcher to the Unity panel

Move the Unity Panel from the left to the bottom of the workspace

I’ve never liked the global menu system either. Global menus kill the mouse-over focus functionality which I use heavily. The global menu for the last window passed over with the pointer appears on the top panel rather than the menu for the intended app. Since almost all apps open against the top panel in Unity by default, it becomes a tight rope act to tread carefully around other windows to get to the menu for a smaller window that isn’t against the top panel.

The Unity developers should give users  a choice on if/how global menus are used. Desktops with large screens should not be treated like laptops or netbooks with smaller screens. For me on a desktop with a large screen, the best use would be to only use global menus when windows are maximized. There’s some discussion about this for 12.04, but time will tell.

There is a way to eliminate global menus, but it involves a tiny bit of surgery. In the terminal, copy and paste:

sudo apt-get remove appmenu-gtk appmenu-gtk3 appmenu-qt

This uninstalls the offending libraries that control the appmenus for GNOME applications. You can also remove the packages using Synaptic if you don’t want to use the terminal. But, this won’t change the behavior of non-GNOME apps like Firefox and Thunderbird. Both of their global menu capabilities come from extensions which you can disable cannot remove. For Firefox, go to menu -> Add-ons, then disable the Global Menu Bar integration extension and restart Firefox:

For Thunderbird, go to Tools -> Add-ons, then disable the Global Menu Bar integration extension and restart Thunderbird.

Works like a champ.

I uninstalled the appmenu packages and disabled the extension in Firefox, but left global menu functionality in Thunderbird. I load Thunderbird at the top of the workspace, so the global menus actually save some space there without negatively impacting usability.

Which brings me to Window placement. By default it seems, Unity loads all windows against the upper left corner of the workspace. That makes it a pain to switch quickly with the pointer to smaller windows hidden behind larger ones. It drove me crazy until I enabled Place Windows in CompizConfig Settings Manager:

I then set the Placement Mode to Smart placement on its General tab:

The net result is that the first window is placed in the upper left of the workspace, but succeeding windows opened on that workspace are placed as far from each other as possible so that they only minimally overlap, if at all. That’s what I had before Unity and it works great for me.

I’ve finally come to a place where I’m not chaffing against Unity all the time. I’m sure that I can find more goodies over time and will keep tweaking my setup. If anyone has a great idea or two to pass along, please comment below.



  1. […] originally planned to write a post tonight comparing Mint 12, Ubuntu 11.10 Unity, and GNOME 3. However, in preparing I realized that I hadn’t fleshed out my GNOME 3 setup, […]

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  3. […] my previous post, I compared Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Unity, Mint 12, and generic GNOME 3. When I rank ordered them at the end, I included KDE in the mix based […]

  4. thanks for these! i’d been running 10.10 up until a couple weeks ago (i’d been resisting Unity and Gnome 3), but i figured that since 12.04 LTS is coming out in just a few weeks, i might as well give in. after using 11.10 for a week now, i’ve actually really come to like Unity for the most part. you hit on three things that had really annoyed me though, even after disabiling global menu in the rest of Unity and using UbuntuTweak to change things, the FF/TB global menus were annoying me. i disabled the FF one through terminal commands the other day, but yours was the first website that let me know that they’re just FF/TB add-on’s! i’m DEFINITELY sharing that, because every other Ubuntu site i’ve been to has given a bunch of terminal commands to disable them, when all someone really has to do is go into their add-on’s, click “disable” and restart Firefox or Thunderbird! (and FWIW, i’ve heard that Canonical is going to add an option to make Unity’s global menu easily disabled in 12.04 so we don’t have to run a terminal command.)

    also thanks for the window positioning tip!

  5. Hi Cat!

    Thanks for stopping by with your experiences and thoughts. I’m glad that I was able to help.

    Unfortunately, Canonical announced that the easy toggling of the global menus will NOT make it into 12.04. I suspect that the same techniques in this post will still work, though.


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