Make Firefox Look At Home On a Gnome 3 Desktop

Firefox-theme-AdwaitaIf you are using the Adwaita theme in your Gnome 3 desktop environment – either I have grown to like it or it has been tweaked into something I like lately – the “Gnome 3” Firefox add-on will make Firefox look at home on your Gnome 3 system.

The default icons in Firefox on Ubuntu Gnome are kind of weird: light gray arrows with subtle outline or dropshadow. And these light gray icons are sitting on a bunch of light gray chrome. They are visible, but they are not ideal.

The following Add-on/Theme gives Firefox an appearance consistent with the Adwaita theme, including nice dark-silhouette icons.

Gnome 3 Shell and Gratuitous Jupiter Notifications

I’ve been mostly enjoying running Ubuntu 12.10 with Gnome 3 Shell on my ThinkPad T530. The essential Gnome Shell Extensions were available pretty quick after 12.10’s release and Gnome 3 continues to get better and more polished. I even think the new Nautilus is pretty great. Much faster than the old Nautilus even though it’s missing some awesome features that had been recently introduced to the old version.

However, I like to install the Jupiter Applet to (I believe) improve my laptop’s battery life. And that applet has been flooding my Gnome Shell notifications panel with little lightning bolt notification icons. A new one is added every suspend/resume-from-suspend cycle. How to fix this? Is it possible to tell Jupiter to tell me less?

Ask Ubuntu To the Rescue

Today I found a fix for this problem. I’m making a post here in case an update erases my changes and I have to do it again. But this specific answer to the question “How do I clear all Gnome Shell notifications?” by user jtaillon does exactly what I wanted: Tells Jupiter to take it easy on the notifications.

The special text that needs to be added is this:

--hint int:transient:1

Here’s how to open the right file with sudo: Open a terminal and copy/paste the following and hit ENTER.

sudo gedit /usr/lib/jupiter/scripts/notify

Before proceeding, select all, copy and paste this file’s contents into a backup text file somewhere. Just in case you make a mistake.

Now compare the following example to your own file and add “–hint int:transient:1” as needed – should be 3 places where that is needed. You should be able to leave alone any other variations between my example and your file.

function notify {
  if [ ! "$NO_NOTIFY" = "1" ]; then
    if [ "$DISTRIB_RELEASE" = "9.10" ]; then
      DISPLAY=:0.0 notify-send --hint int:transient:1 -i $ICON -t 1500 "$MESSAGE" 2>/dev/null
      USER=$(who | sed -n '/ (:0[\.0]*)$\| :0 /{s/ .*//p;q}')
      USERCNT=$(who | wc -l)
      if [ ! "$(whoami)" = "$USER" ]; then
        if [ ! "$USERCNT" -lt 1 ]; then
          su $USER -l -c "DISPLAY=:0.0 notify-send --hint int:transient:1 -i $ICON -t 700 \"$MESSAGE\" 2>/dev/null"
        if [ ! "$USERCNT" -lt 1 ]; then
          notify-send --hint int:transient:1 -i $ICON -t 700 "$MESSAGE" 2>/dev/null

Save and close the file once you’ve made the changes.

In my experience you should see the result of the change immediately without restarting your system. Now at most I see one single notification from Jupiter at a time and it disappears a few minutes after I resume-from-suspend.

I hope you find this helpful.

Ubuntu Linux with Gnome Shell on Lenovo ThinkPad T530

I recently purchased a Lenovo ThinkPad T530 with the following specs:

  • 15.6″ FHD screen with 1920 x 1080 pixel dimensions (13.5 x 7.75″ physical dimensions)
  • Intel Core i5-3210M CPU @ 2.50GHz
  • Intel HD 4000 Graphics
  • 4 GB RAM (Max is 16 GB!) PC3-12800 DDR3
  • 120 GB SSD
  • Intel Centrino WL-N 2200 (dual-band wifi)
  • 9 cell battery (with WIFI on and dim screen I get about 8+ hours!)
  • Minutiae: backlit keyboard, bluetooth, HD webcam, 90W AC adapter, DVD-R optical drive, 320 GB 7200 HD with Windows 7 installed, I ordered a mini-displayport to HDMI adapter for $5 from Amazon

Though the machine feels pretty light for its size, it is a predictably durable-feeling machine. Very sturdy and the matte black finish is really great. The thing looks awesome once you get all of the stickers off of the palm rest. With the lid closed, the rigid body is comfortable to carry around. A considerable improvement over the squishy Lenovo Essential B570 that it replaced.

As many online reviews have stated, the battery doesn’t seem to latch into the main body in a very satisfying way. When holding the laptop you will notice a bit of play between the battery and laptop body. Not a show stopper by any means. The display hinges are very firm. The screen latches work well but don’t hold the screen as tight as I’d like. Also not a show stopper. Just picking nits.

The new island-style keyboard is just as good or better than the previous ThinkPad keyboard (I had a T42 once upon a time). It looks similar to the keyboard on the Lenovo IdeaPad and Essential laptops, but it feels much more firm and durable – a delightful surprise. I was perfectly happy with the feel of the B570 keyboard, but this ThinkPad keyboard is really awesome. One thing that will take some getting used to is the placement of the FUNCTION and CONTROL keys on the bottom-left of the keyboard. You can flip-flop which is which from the T530 BIOS and I did that which is great. Unfortunately they didn’t make the two keys the exact same size so that you could physically switch the keys to match the BIOS setting. But that’s a pretty nerdy problem to have (#nerdworldproblems).

Since I don’t use Windows, I removed the original HD and put it in a box where it will stay until the day I need to resell the T530. That way a fresh install of Windows 7 will be ready for the new owner, since nobody seems to include actual Windows install discs with these machines anymore. Turns out Lenovo is migrating to the newer 6mm HD form factor. There’s plenty of room for a 9mm drive but my 9mm SSD didn’t fit the rubber sleds that came with the machine. I ordered a 9mm sled from Amazon and installed the SSD without the sleds until that arrived.

Everything works with Ubuntu Linux 12.04. Special buttons for audio volume, screen brightness, play/pause/next/prev, the physical WIFI switch, the touchpad, the trackpoint, all of it. I highly recommend the Intel Centrino WL-N 2200 wifi upgrade. The dual-channel/radio feature (?) is a massive improvement for working over WIFI as opposed to just browsing the web. File transfers across my local network are nice and snappy. Plus there are Linux drivers for it, so no need for “restricted drivers”. It just works.

Contrary to some of the reviews, the speakers are nice though don’t have a lot of bass – is that really surprising though? Sometimes these laptop reviewers… I just don’t know what audience they are talking to. They don’t seem to be focused on what is important to me very often. The number of reviewers that think the Thinkpad hardware design is outdated and ugly are in the majority. They apparently like shiny hardware enough that they can overlook the idiocy of putting a too-small right-SHIFT key next to the UP key.

Linux on the T530 with 15″ FHD Screen

My existing Ubuntu Linux 12.04 system on the SSD had no trouble booting up on the T530. Everything was perfect if you didn’t mind really, really small text and interface elements. Also, the colors are all pretty saturated on this screen. It needs to be calibrated and if you are a graphic designer your tools need to support color management. Luckily, Gnome/Linux, Gimp, Inkscape, Scribus and Firefox all have some pretty good color management features. They are not always completely finished features, but serious work can be done if you know what you are trying to do. If thinking about color management makes your head spin, buy a Mac running OSX and buy Adobe’s Creative Suite.

This screen has an effective screen resolution of 142 PPI. Compare this to the ~210 PPI on the Retina MacBook Pro. And then compare it to the ~100 PPI of most 13/14/15″ laptop displays with 1366 pixels across. In a nut: if you can get your operating system to increase UI text and graphic sizes to the physical size you are used to working with on a 15″ screen you will have the luxury of a very sharp, high-resolution experience. I’ve been able to do just that for the most part, though it is a work in progress. The rest of this post will be a notebook of adjustments and tweaks that I’ve used to make the high resolution experience consistent throughout my Linux system on the T530.

Notes on T530 Linux Configuration

Gnome Text Scaling

Adjust Gnome 3 text scaling to get the Gnome interface to use more appropriately sized text. You will need to install the Gnome Tweak application for this.

Advanced Settings/Gnome Tweak (gnometweak) > Fonts (see screenshot for my settings)

Web Browsers: Default Zoom Value

Adjust web browsers to zoom websites to a default value.

  • Firefox: enter about:config in address bar, search for layout.css.devPixelsPerPx and set the value to your preference. I used 1.5.
  • Chrome/Chromium: Settings > Under the Hood > Web Content > Page zoom: > 150%
  • Opera: Settings > Preferences > Webpages > Page zoom > 150
  • Gnome Web Browser: Not a setting that is available as of version 3.4.1

This also works for Thunderbird! Preferences > Advanced > Config Editor … > search for layout.css.devPixelsPerPx and set to 1.5.

In general, browsing the web like this is a very good experience. Sure, the graphic images are being scaled up in many cases right now, but a lot of responsive sites actually look beautiful and in general everything that is text or drawn with CSS looks gorgeous. Most importantly, the way zooming in browsers works across all contemporary browsers preserves the layout and design of most sites.

Screen Calibration and Color Management

If you are running Ubuntu 12.04 or newer or any Linux with Gnome 3 a program that manages color management and screen calibration should already be installed. Go to System Settings > Color. From this application you can specify color profiles for your various devices: screen, printers, video cameras, any thing that records or displays visual color data can be calibrated and color managed.

The T530 and W530 can be equipped with a built-in display colorimeter. Which is a neat and unique idea, but the device is built in to the palmrest and so will only ever be able to monitor one specific spot on the screen. That and I’m sure the included Windows software does some special maneuvers to work while the laptop’s lid is closed… I figured that probably wouldn’t work under Linux so I didn’t buy it. Plus, I already own a Pantone Huey Pro. Either way, you’ll need some kind of colorimeter to calibrate your screen. If you don’t already own one, I recommend the Hughski ColorHug colorimeter by Richard Hughes, the guy that wrote the color management application for Gnome on Linux (there’s a version for KDE as well). Looks like a great device at a reasonable price.

Firefox Color Management

Even after calibrating my display this FHD screen shows pretty saturated colors in places. The Gnome colord calibration certainly improves the overall color of the screen, especially the white and black points. However, the applications you use also need to be color managed for the best possible experience. This screen seems to have a tendency to over saturate, making the lack of true color management very obvious to a designer like myself.

Fortunately Firefox has some great color management tools built in to the more recent versions. Unfortunately there is a certain amount of overhead involved in correcting colors, so Firefox comes preconfigured to only color manage images that include a color profile. You want to switch it to color manage everything. This can be done via the about:config method, but there’s a nice and simple addon that makes the setting more approachable: Firefox Addon: Color Management

Once its installed go to Tools > Addons > Color Management and set it to “All Images” and then identify your current display profile by using the “browse” feature to navigate to it. You should start seeing a better looking web right away!

Read more about color management in web browsers here: Gary G. Ballard’s Web Browser Color Management Tutorial (note that Firefox does color management the right way: color managing images as well as colors defined in CSS.) Gary G. Ballard is awesome.

Caps Lock / Num Lock Indication

The T530 does not have an LED light that indicates the state of Caps Lock or Num Lock. It’s an odd exclusion since there’s plenty of room next to the WIFI and HD activity lights. But OH WELL, there’s a Gnome Shell Extension called “Lock Keys” that adds a nice and simple indicator in the top panel.

Mouse Cursor Size

Struggling with this a bit right now. I am getting inconsistent results and so am hesitant to even share the tweaks that I’ve made so far. I hope to report back on this with a really good solution. The current state of adjustable mouse cursor sizes on Gnome 3 on Ubuntu 12.04 appears to be a bit of a hacked up mess.

Banshee Album Grid: Make Compilation Albums Display Only Once

I’m a pretty big fan of the Banshee Music Player. I don’t care which programming language it is written in. For my needs it’s the best Linux music player for a few reasons:

  1. Plays music
  2. Has a relatively intuitive and fast track search and sorting interface
  3. Automatically “watches” my music folder so that I can just copy music to my MUSIC folder and listen to it
  4. Great “Play Queue” functionality that allows me to quickly construct an ephemeral playlist
  5. Great podcast features: just paste the feed URL in and it’s easy to keep up with your favorite podcasts, whether you want to stream it or download it to listen to it later while offline (though a better indication of the “downloaded” status would be nice)
  6. Set it and forget it scrobbling (I LOVE statistics!)
  7. Album art for podcasts … so much more personality
  8. Provides a useful album art view, allowing me to pick my music via my visual association with the albums that dates back to my days of being an avid music consumer. A long, faceless list of tracks unfortunately leaves me listening to a fairly limited subset of my massive music collection. I NEED that visual connection. I know what I want to HEAR when I SEE it. 😉

With all of that said, Banshee isn’t perfect. I can’t quite tell whether Banshee or Rhythmbox does a better job of transferring playlists and music to iPods. I would expect that they use the same library to accomplish those tasks, but they both seem to fail in different ways, especially with playlists.

Another thing that has really irritated me is the way compilation or Various Artist albums would represent every individual track in the Album Grid rather than be collected as one item. It looks like this:

Banshee repeating the Dark Was The Night album art for each individual track

This is frustrating. Especially after you add several compilation albums to your collection. After a while you’re trying to find the individual albums amidst a haystack of repeating album art. I was even spending time looking around online for a better Linux music player. One that might be smarter about compilation albums. Fortunately I stumbled upon some settings that – now that I am aware of them – are quite obvious. I was thinking that it had something to do with the album grid sort settings and the settings didn’t seem to exist. But it turned out to be a property of the individual tracks that compose the compilation album. This is the kind of situation in which iTunes (for example) will just work, but it’s not too difficult to fix in Banshee. (It would help if stores like Amazon would include the proper metadata with MP3 downloads.)

How to make compilation albums appear only once in Banshee’s Album Grid

  1. Banshee’s Edit Track Information dialog

    Find some way to select all of the individual tracks of a given compilation album.

  2. Right-click on the selected tracks and select Edit Track Information.
    1. OR go to the main menu > Edit > Edit Track Information
    2. OR press “E”
  3. Check the box next to “Compilation Album Artist:”.
  4. Type in “Various Artists” (or whatever you like)
  5. Click the “Set all compilation album artists to these values” button to apply the value to all of the tracks that you have selected.
  6. Click the “Save” button.

Once you do that the Album Grid view should update immediately to display only a single representation of that particular album in the Album Grid:

Banshee correctly displaying the Dark Was The Night compilation album

Now that I got that problem solved and the solution shared with the interwebs, I think I’ve finally run out of procrastination-assisting distractions. 😀

Replace Icons for Windows Applications on Linux via Wine

I recent pulled my old copy of Adobe Photoshop 7 for Windows out of mothballs and was delighted to discover that it now runs perfectly on Linux by the magical powers of Wine. I’ve been using the much more recent CS5 version on OSX at work, but Photoshop 7 has all of the features that I rely on except for layer groups. Which is not much of a problem, really.

The only problem was that the old 48-pixel icon that came with this version for Windows looked pretty hideous in my lovely new Gnome 3 Shell and Gnome Do menus. Customizing these icons means replacing whatever file the system is using for the default image. Conceptually, this is very straightforward. In reality, the location of these icon images is not always obvious. This post will explain how to replace icons for Windows applications running on Linux via Wine in as concise a manner as possible.

Find or Create New Icon Images

A quick search online gave me exactly what I was looking for: a 128-pixel PNG of the Photoshop 7 icon! It doesn’t always work out to be that easy. Or maybe you want to create your own, original icon. Whatever the case, you just need to create your icon as big as you need it or even a little larger, usually 128, 256, 512 or some other square dimensions that are divisible by 8.

Replace Default Icon Image File

Usually Linux systems will save icon image files somewhere around here:


or here:


but Wine saves these icons in a special place no doubt due to the “special” nature of running Windows applications on Linux:


In my specific case on Ubuntu 11.10 I found a folder titled “hicolor” in the “icons” folder. And inside of that I found the 48-pixel Photoshop 7 icon file in folders titled “48×48” and “apps”. So I created a new folder titled “128×128” as well as a folder titled “apps” inside of that.

And, finally, to correctly add a new icon image file navigate to that location and …

  1. Find the icon that you would like to replace.
  2. In another file browser window navigate to your new icon image file.
  3. Copy your new image file to … /icons/128×128/apps.
  4. Navigate back to … /icons/48×48/apps and copy the complete filename of the original image file.
  5. Return to …/icons/128×128/apps and update the filename of your new icon file by pasting in the copied filename.

In my case the filename was not as simple as “photoshop.png”. It had some arbitrary letters and numbers in it, so make sure the filename is the exact same otherwise it might not work.

Log out and log in to see if you are successful!

Update: July 7, 2013

So things have apparently changed for the worse regarding Wine applications and Gnome 3 Shell. Actually, it might be “better” and on the road to “great” but for now along with what you do above you also need to edit the .desktop file associated with your Windows application. Doing what I described above doesn’t inhibit Gnome from defaulting to the Wine Application Launcher icon.

The .desktop files are what tells your Linux system various details about a given application in order to list it in a system-wide application menu or even the contextual menu’s “Open With….” system. For Wine applications, these .desktop files are located here:


There is one small trick to these files: the Linux system (or at least Nautilus) sees these files as “application launchers”. As a result, right-clicking and opening with… mousepad or Gedit isn’t possible. You will have to start your text editor and then use its own open dialog to navigate to the location above and open your desired .desktop file from there.

Once you have the .desktop file open, we need to tell our Linux system to use a different icon than the one specified by default. So, open the file and look for the “Icon=” line. It will probably be associated with a long-ish filename that looks arbitrary and computer generated.

Simply replace that file name with the one used for your preferred icon files above and save the file. You might need to log in and log out to see the difference.

Gnome 3: Activate Overlay and More by Mouse Button

I would like to activate the “Gnome 3/Shell Overlay” with the click of an otherwise-unused mouse button. As I posted earlier, Gnome 3 does not currently have any ability to assign actions/functions to mouse buttons. But there is a way to make it work using xdotool and xbindkeys. Thanks to AlphaLux (see comment below) I was able to replace my earlier easystroke solution with xbindkeys.

There’s also a program called easystroke that employs mouse gestures for executing shortcuts. The only reason I know this is because someone smarter than myself described the solution on the Ubuntu Forums. So, to “stinkeye” of the magical land of “Woop Woop”, I bequeath a laurel . . . and hearty handshake for answering this question about keyboard and mouse shortcuts in Gnome 3. Though I am including two solutions below, I recommend the xbindkeys solution.

First, descriptions of what  xdotool, xbindkeys and easystroke do:

  • xdotool
    This tool is invisible. You will not directly use it. But it will give you the ability to compose a commandline instruction for telling your computer that a button or group of buttons have been pressed. There is more to it than that, but for our purposes that’s all that matters.
  • xbindkeys
    This tool allows you to use bind keyboard and mouse keys to shell commands.
  • easystroke
    This tool allows you to use “mouse gestures” to submit commands to your computer. Mouse gestures are akin to the “touch gestures” that are an important part of newer touch interface computer systems like Apple’s iOS and even OSX via their ever-growing touchpads as well as Android, Windows Phone 7, etc. etc. The instructions below will be using this program to merely press a mouse button. I won’t be talking about gestures today.

Making a Mouse Button Make Things Happen with xbindkeys

As described above my only motivation for this functionality is to summon the Gnome Shell Overview. The directions below will describe how to do that. Feel free to substitute your own functionality as you see fit. Hopefully the instructions will be written in a clear enough way as to make that easy to do.

  1. AssignKeyboard Input to the Desired Functionality
    System Settings > Keyboard > Shortcuts
    In my case I set Show the activities overview to the Menu key, because I use the Super/Windows key for Third- and Fourth-level switching.
  2. Install xdotool and xbindkeys 
    You’ll have to figure out the best/easiest way to do this for your flavor of Linux. If you are running Ubuntu you can install them via the Software Center or:

    sudo apt-get install xbindkeys xdotool
  3. Determine Mouse Button Identity with xev
    Open a terminal and enter this command


    Xev will create a small, empty window. Hover your mouse over this window and click the various buttons on your mouse. After you click xev will tell you the identity of that button. Now that you know their identities we can use xbindkeys to associate them with shell commands.

  4. Configure xbindkeys
    Open a terminal and enter this command:

    gedit ~/.xbindkeysrc

    and press Enter. This will open the xbindkeys configuration file in Gedit. It should be a blank file. Add the following to the document and save.

    # Gnome Shell Mouse Button 8 to Overview
    "xdotool key Menu"
    release + b:8

    The above configuration sets the mouse button 8 to activate the Gnome Shell Overview. The first line is a comment to help you remember what this setting does. The second line defines the shell command to be enacted within double quotes. The third line defines the button action, in this case upon the release of the mouse button 8 the command will be executed.

  5. Set xbindkeys to autostart on login
    From the Gnome Shell Overview > Applications list, look for “Startup Applications” and start it. After the application window appears click the Addbutton. You can title the entry whatever you want, but “xbindkeys” is nice and concise. Most importantly though, enter the following into the Command input:

    xbindkeys &

    Once correctly entered, click OK and then Close. Now xbindkeys will automatically start upon logging in.

Making a Mouse Button Make Things Happen with easystroke

  1. Install xdotool and easystroke
    You’ll have to figure out the best/easiest way to do this for your flavor of Linux. If you are running Ubuntu you can install them via the Software Center or:

    sudo apt-get install easystroke xdotool
  2. Easystroke Preferences
    Start Easystroke. Go to the Preferences tab. Under the Behavior section, click the Gesture Button button. Move your cursor to the empty gray space in the resulting window and click the mouse button that you would like to associate to activating the Gnome Shell Activities Overlay (or whatever you are trying to do at the click of a mouse button). Once you click you should see a change in the settings at the bottom of the small window. In my case I have a Logitech laser mouse and I am using “Button 8”. Also under the Appearance section check the option “Autostart Easystroke”.
  3. Create New Easystroke Action
    Go to the Actions tab. Click the Add Action button. Name the action “Overlay via Mouse”. The Type should be “Command” and the Detailswill be:

    xdotool key Menu
  4. Associate Mouse Button to Easystroke Action
    In Easystroke highlight your new “Action” by clicking on it. Click the Record Stroke button. Move your cursor to the small resulting window and click the desired mouse button. Click the Yes button to confirm your mouse button input. Click the Hide button when you are finished.

Again, unless you specifically want to use mouse gestures, I think xbindkeys is a better, more responsive solution than easystroke. You should be able to test this fancy new functionality immediately. If not, try logging out and logging back in. Enjoy.

How to Switch from Unity to Gnome 3 on Ubuntu 11.10

I’ve been begrudgingly using Ubuntu Unity as my desktop environment since upgrading to Ubuntu 11.10 shortly after it was released. At the time of the upgrade I had hoped to jump into the shiny new world of Gnome 3 from the recently-near-perfected Gnome 2. The Gnome Shell looked very polished and sophisticated next to Unity. Especially the Unity Launcher and Application/Window switcher… every icon is highlighted with a border or background color… I frequently mistake which icon is active/highlighted.

Images above are from other sites:
Gnome 3 from , Ubuntu Unity from

However, there were a few small details with Gnome 3 that I found frustrating and ultimately unacceptable:

  1. Adwaita, the default theme, had excessive amounts of chrome and seemed excessively bright. The default theme of this new version of Gnome was not all that bad, but it certainly wasn’t exciting or a massive step forward from Gnome 2. Ubuntu’s default theme seemed much more refined and distinct.
  2. The Shutdown Option was not available unless you pressed the Alt (or Shift?) key. If you didn’t realize this secret, you would only be able to put your computer in Suspend mode. Apparently the Gnome developers didn’t read any of the articles about how much power we are wasting with gadgets in standby mode. Way to be green.
  3. The top panel is too tall, the panel and Shell text is too big and, confusingly, the panel icons are too small.
  4. Wasted Screen Real Estate. Maximized windows have a too-tall title bar smashed up against a too-tall top panel. Next to Ubuntu Unity, which employs a global menu and a somewhat quirky but very efficient maximized title bar that merges with the top panel, this felt like a step back.
  5. No Application Menu. Launching an application went from taking two clicks to taking 4 or 5 clicks via Gnome Shell.
  6. No Native Appearance Adjustment. If I wanted a desktop environment that only gave me the option to use blue or graphite highlights, I’d go back to using OSX. At the moment the only way in Gnome 3 that an ordinary user can change their theme, font and font settings is via a hack called Gnome Tweak. It works well, but it’s interface is pretty raw and it’s not integrated with the new Gnome Systems Settings.
  7. No Custom Mouse Buttons. This is probably due to the fact that the Gnome developers are imagining that their interface is for computers with touch screens. (sarcasm) Most likely the functionality simply hasn’t been created yet, but it seems like customizing mouse buttons on Linux should be baseline functionality.

Many of these problems were due to Gnome 3’s relative immaturity. These details need to be carefully worked out. And the only way to get a lot of developers and users involved enough to care and get excited is to flip the switch and migrate everybody to the new environment. At least the early adopters, anyway.

The Rise of Shell Extensions

The good news is that Gnome has not been standing still. A new capability was recently enabled that has allowed hackers to correct some of the above problems. This new capability is called Gnome Shell Extensions. These Extensions make it possible to alter the way Gnome Shell looks and works. The available set of extensions is not very large at the moment, but a handful of good ones suggests just how powerful this new feature is. Shell Extensions are actually not new, but being able to install them easily IS. Check it out:

In a nut, Shell Extensions are now as easy to install as Firefox Addons via the above website. Actually, the Gnome folks have made something much better thanks to the fact that Gnome is a desktop environment. The website functions more like your very own Shell Extensions Control Panel. No downloading, just two clicks and the extension is enabled. Here’s a handful that I just installed:

  • Alternative Status Menu (adds “Power Off” and “Hibernate” options)
  • Jump Lists (advanced contextual menus for the Gnome Shell Launcher for recent docs, bookmarks, etc.)
  • Music Integration (an Ubuntu Unity-esque sound menu with music player controls)
  • No a11y (removes the accessibility settings icon from the top panel)

Now, after installing at least the above list of Shell Extensions, there are a few more small tweaks that I think really make Gnome 3 sing. Well, singing with a few missed notes here and there.

Remove Title Bar from Maximized Windows

Sure, you could set the top panel to autohide, but I personally like having the clock and system status indicators visible at all times unless I’m watching a video. Ubuntu Unity does a great job at this and since the usefulness of the title bar is completely diminished once there’s only one mostly-full-screen window, why not simply remove it on maximized windows?

Thankfully, somebody at described how to decrease the height of the title bar on maximized windows. They explain how to do this for the Adwaita theme. However, I wanted to do this same thing for Ubuntu’s Ambiance theme and unfortunately all Gnome 3 themes are not made in the same way. If you’re a fan of Ambiance, here’s how to do it:

  1. Open a Terminal
  2. Enter:
    sudo gedit /usr/share/themes/Ambiance/metacity-1/metacity-theme-1.xml

    and click ENTER.

  3. Search for
    <frame_geometry name="geometry_maximized"

    and add the attribute and value


    to the frame_geometry element.

  4. Then, as one of the distance elements within the frame_geometryelement, make sure one looks like this:
    <distance name="title_vertical_pad" value="1"/>
  5. Save the document and quit the text editor application. You might need to restart Gnome to see the change.

This seems like such an obvious enhancement. I’m curious why the Gnome 3 developers didn’t think of it or decided against it. However, they are discussing how to eliminate the menu bar, so that’s interesting.

Install an Applications Menu Extension and/or Gnome Do

Along with the shell extensions that I mentioned above, there are also two extensions available that add an Applications Menu back to the top-left of the top panel. Both seem to employ the same menu drop-down, but the way they are accessed from the top panel differ:

  • Applications Menu Adds a small Gnome-Foot icon to the right of “Activities” that summons the menu on click.
  • Frippery Applications Menu Replaces “Activities” with the word “Applications” and inserts the logo-icon of your system in the left corner the way the Gnome 2 applications menu traditionally did.

Again, since Gnome 3 is apparently designed for computers with touch screens (sarcasm, can’t help it) the functionality of hovering has been demoted. So this application menu involves 3 instead of 2 clicks to start an application (if you know which section the application is in to begin with). So it’s not quite business as usual, but it’s close. And maybe the Gnome team is showing a lot of foresight in removing any primary functionality from the “hover” state.

I guess I’ve embraced the brave new world of Gnome 3/Unity enough that the Applications Menu mentioned above feels out of place in Gnome 3. I was already a big fan of Gnome Do and Docky in the Gnome 2 world (and originally Quicksilver on OSX). Although Docky is obviously getting pushed aside by Gnome Shell’s and Unity’s built-in launcher bars, I find that the functionality, appearance and interface of Gnome Do is very consistent with both Gnome 3 and Unity. Actually, Gnome Do’s functionality is also being pushed aside by the built-in search-and-launch functionalities in Gnome 3 and Unity but, Gnome Do is still so much faster than either of these. So I am using Gnome Do as my primary launcher until something better comes along.

Good Enough

Let’s take another look at my list of show-stopping problems:

  1. A Better-Looking Theme – The Ambiance theme from Ubuntu is an improvement over Adwaita in my opinion, but with the know-how to remove the title bar from any given theme you can certainly switch to whatever theme you prefer. Just be prepared to discover that not all themes define the height of the title bar in the same way.
  2. Shutdown and Hibernation Options Restored – Shell Extensions save the day.
  3. Top Panel Is Still Too Tall, Shell UI Seems Oversized – Strike 1.
  4. Title Bar Removed from Maximized Windows – See #1.
  5. Application Menu Restored (or Replaced by Gnome Do) – Shell Extensions save the day again.
  6. No Native Appearance Adjustment – Well, Gnome Tweak does the job for now.
  7. No Custom Mouse Buttons – Strike 2. Custom Mouse Button via xdotool and easystroke!
    I’m on a roll this weekend. Read about how to set up custom mouse button shortcuts in my next post.

So with a few extensions, additional applications and tweaks Gnome 3 is good enough to get work done. The lack of a mouse button shortcut for summoning the Exposé-like Shell Window Overview will continue to interrupt the way I work. Though Compiz feels like a massive kludge, it is a relatively mature kludge that supports mouse shortcuts. Since Unity is a Compiz plugin it can take advantage of Compiz’s maturity. But Compiz will always be a sort of stopgap, a great temporary fix that probably help spawn some of the new thinking about user interfaces that we are being experimented with in Gnome Shell and Unity. I’m sure that the thought and design that went into the foundation of Gnome 3 will continue to bear fruit, resulting in a useful and well-integrated desktop environment. At least I hope that’s the case!

Managing Your Multitudes of Passwords

I found a funny comic about password complexity this weekend:

It makes a good point. And I was actually taken to that comic by an article that breaks down the futility of how we all generally manage our passwords: 

“I’m sorry, but were you actually trying to remember your comical passwords?”
by Troy Hunt

It’s some good food for thought. I’m certainly looking in to programs like


And the prominent cross-platform (Mac, Windows and Linux/*NIX) but not nearly as easy to look at …


What’s Wrong With Gnome 3?

Just read and commented on Ars Technica’s review of Gnome 3, the latest release of the Gnome desktop environment for Linux. It was a long enough comment that I wanted to republish it here:

The worst thing I see, because the available screen typeface discussion is off-topic, is by the active application’s name in the top-left. That presentation of the application’s icon by the name is distracting and not helpful. The top bar is supposed to recede, but including the app icon there breaks with that goal. It would have looked much cleaner to replace “Activities” with the Gnome icon (or ubuntu logo or take your pic) and simply present the name of the application.

I prefer Unity’s approach in that regard except for the idiotic window-close-minimize-buttons being squashed into the main menu bar. That is awkward and I think they’ll find a lot of people, trying to click on the Ubuntu icon in the top-left, accidentally closing their application window. But we’ll see.

My other big gripe is the prominence and amount of work that has gone into workspaces/multiple desktops. Gnome claims that this system is focused on simplicity, but most users I know struggle to get their mind around using ONE desktop/workspace. The multiple workspace feature is purely for advanced users. It’s way too abstract of a concept for the basic user. I consider myself a VERY advanced user and workspaces are the first thing I turn off on a new Linux install. I am much better at organizing my workflow in terms of applications. Trying to break those applications up over workspaces is redundant and I don’t care where the window is if I can summon it when I need it and hide/minimize it when I’m working on something else.

They should be working harder to make workflow/task management even MORE organic. It should be so organic that I don’t have to be thinking about how to organize it. Right now I get along great with a basic Ubuntu install, simple keybinding to summon the Scale function (Expose) to switch between documents, Alt+Tab to quickly switch apps and Docky to open/switch apps. I think the problem is that Linux developers think in terms of Window management when they should be thinking about Application and Workflow management.

Supposedly these new desktop interface designs have been run by test groups, but I’m a little skeptical. With that said, there are a LOT of good and cool ideas in both Gnome 3 and Unity. When in doubt, try many things. And seeing these ideas being developed is refreshing. Neither Microsoft or Apple is attempting to make such dramatic changes to the way their desktop interfaces work.

One More Thought

After publishing the above comment it also occurred to me that the new Gnome desktop defines a specific functionality to the “Windows” key on most keyboards. I have been using my Windows key to summon a third-level (and fourth) keyboard to make it easy to enter larger group and “special characters”. [I wrote about this in detail here] It baffles me that making third and fourth levels of keyboard characters is not a bigger priority. This is a MAJOR advantage that Apple has over Microsoft in the world of desktop publishing. Every graphic designer knows it. And people like me that find Linux to be a good and soon to be great graphics platform would like to see some focus on these details.

I need to make time to get involved with the Gnome development community. I need to get in there and push for better keyboard functionality and, more importantly, better integration of color management. Granted, both of these area DO get a lot of love. It’s just that they have to be implemented manually. Neither of these two features are addressed by default installs of the major Linux distributions.

Do take a moment to check out the Gnome 3 features: There’s still a lot of cool stuff coming to a Linux desktop near you.

20 Years of Linux

This video doesn’t have a lot of detail, but it’s a good review of the basic history. I’m only on my sixth or seventh year of using Linux myself. I can only imagine that if Wayne’s World 2 would have come out in 1996, instead of 1993, Garth’s soon-to-be girlfriend would probably have been reading a book on Linux rather than UNIX. But you might disagree with me on that.

HP LaserJet CP1525nw and Linux

Just bought a new HP LaserJet CP1525nw color laser printer for my home office. My wife and I have been making due for many years with an ancient HP inkjet printer that I had got second hand. Went it comes to needing something nice printed we relied on going to Kinkos or wherever. However, even small jobs end up taking more than 30 minutes at those places, so I finally decided that we needed to upgrade. And I wanted a laser printer because of the output quality and the more-practical toner cartridges as opposed to the unreliable and low-output ink cartridges.

You have to be a bit more selective when shopping for a printer when you are running Linux. But HP provides good drivers for their printers on Linux, so I looked at their offerings and found a too-good-to-be-true color pinter priced at $200 on sale at a local office supply store. I had originally planned on getting a black-only laser printer to avoid the high-cost of color laser printers, but prices have come down considerable since I last looked a few years ago. And the concept of a small printer that is network-ready is altogether new to me, but a great feature and one that lends printers to be more and more independent of any given operating system.

The HP LaserJet CP1525nw has turned out to be a very good choice for any home/office set up, but especially one running Linux. The HP packaging certainly doesn’t make it apparent that this machine will work with Linux, but it does just fine. Below I will provide a few pointers on getting this printer up and running on your home network.

The minimal printed documentation that comes with the printer is a joke. It basically instructs you how to plug your printer into the wall, then to your computer or router and then, with an illustration, how to put the provided CD/DVD into your computer’s optical drive. It’s ridiculous. No surprise the software auto-setup is only provided for Windows and Mac OSX. Fortunately, the setup is completely unnecessary.

The No-Bullshit Way To Setup Your HP CP1525nw For Wireless Printing

  1. Unpack the printer, remove the tape and stuff and plug it into a power outlet. Check the built-in LCD monitor and wait for the printer to complete its self-setup.
  2. Connect the printer to your router via ethernet cable.
  3. At this point you might need to navigate via the LCD and printer buttons to the Network setup. It’s a simple menu tree that you navigate via clicking the arrow buttons and clicking OK. Just connect via Ethernet and use DHCP. It should connect itself to your network.
  4. Once the printer connects to your network it will display its IP address on the printer’s built-in LCD screen.
  5. Enter that IP address into a web browser on a computer that is on the same network. After you click enter you will be presented with a web-based administration interface for your printer.

  6. Click on the “Networking” tab.
  7. Click on “Wireless Configuration” on the left-hand options.
  8. Status should be “ON”
    Configuration Method should be “Join an existing network”.
    Network Name should present a list of available networks. Click on yours.
    Authentication should be set according to your network
  9. Click APPLY and disconnect the wired connection to the router. The little wireless light on the front of the printer will start blinking as it connects to your router wirelessly. Once the light is solid the printer’s new IP address should be displayed on the built-in LCD display.
  10. On your computer try adding the network-available printer. There is lots of documentation out there to do this for the most popular Linux distributions. I won’t repeat those instructions here. The HP Linux driver that’s currently available does not specifically include support for this model, but just look for the latest HP CP15XX model number and it will work fine.

That should be it. You should be able to run test prints and confirm that your printing settings are all correct. Hopefully this is helpful.


If you like to pinch pennies like me, you probably turn off your printer when it’s sitting idle for long periods of time. I discovered that, using the DHCP mode, sometimes the printer would get a different IP address. This might not be a problem for some networks, but for me it would cause my Ubuntu desktops to automatically add a new printer at that different IP address.

To resolve this issue all you have to do is:

  1. Set a Fixed IP Address
    If you know that your two or five computers on the network are relatively low in the IP range, pick an IP address for the printer that will most likely not interfere with other systems. Something like would probably work. Regardless, decide on a number for the printer.
  2. Configure the Printer’s IP Address
    From the on-printer LCD screen and simple navigation button, go to
    Network Setup > TCP/IP Config > Manual
    You can set the IP address with the left-right arrow and the OK button.

With that set up, your printer should be able to reconnect to the wireless network and every time you turn the printer off and on it will always have the same IP address.

Why GIMP Is NOT Inadequate

Troy Sobotka, who appears to be a very accomplished commercial artist working in video, illustration and photography, made a relatively brief list of problem areas for Gimp on his blog:

He makes some good points, but the last half of his post is a lot of alarmist speculation. The obvious answer to improving Gimp is to contribute to its development. Complaints about difficult developers sounds like a bunch of complaining. With any open source project you have to earn the respect of the senior developers through consistent work, usually the not-so-exciting kind. With any open source project there are more users than developers and certainly more users suggesting ideas than making any attempt to squash bugs, write documentation or provide objective and helpful feedback. Opinions and assholes.

Anyway, I left a LONG comment today and wanted to duplicate that comment here. The only thing I should have added is a need for Gimp to continue improving color management and that’s why I just said it. Anyway, here’s my comment:

I’m a professional graphic designer. I use Photoshop and Gimp at a very high level of proficiency. Just to point out where I’m coming from. I like Pshop and Gimp for their different strengths, but some of the above arguments are wrong. Gimp certainly has room for improvement, but anyone that actually used Photoshop in 1996 knows that Pshop itself has come a LONG way in 15 years.

I would like to point out something that needs to be understood about the importance of bit-depth. I am constantly working with hi-res jpegs from a wide variety of professional photographers every day. You know how many of those files use 32 bits/channel? None. You know how many of those files use 16 bits/channel? None. They are ALL in 8 bits/channel. It’s certainly great to have the higher bit-depth options, but the importance of that capability in terms of graphic design/manipulating images for press is greatly exaggerated.

Also, CMYK color space in Photoshop is misused by graphic designers because most of them know very little about color space and/or color management. Some of us know (I don’t mean to offend anyone) but the majority of designers I have worked with are completely oblivious. I’ve even seen creative directors explicitly instruct their designers to select “discard color profile” when confronted with the “What should I do?” dialog in Photoshop. The need for CMYK color space, though useful and great, is also greatly exaggerated.

I also think the complaints about the UX are very subjective and usually only illustrate how little effort the commenter put into learning about and using the Gimp.

Two things that would greatly improve Gimp and many people’s impressions of Gimp are:

  • better image scaling/anti-aliasing algorithms
  • layer groups and layer styles

Those two things are certainly complex, but if they were implemented, and it sounds like they will be soon, I would be extremely satisfied with Gimp’s capabilities.

I think it’s healthy to critique software, but the Gimp rarely receives praise for its remarkable capabilities.

Gnome Global Menu: Apple Immigrants Rejoice!

If you are a Linux user that either used to or still does use Apple’s OSX, the Gnome Global Menu might be just what you were looking for to feel at home on Linux. At least if you’re running Gnome or XFCE.

Anybody that has every run an Apple computer with a mouse knows that every application on a Mac displays its menu bar (File, Edit, etc.) in the top-left of the system’s overall screen. This is in contrast with Windows and most Linux window managers that show each application’s menu bar within its own windows, even if that application employs more than one window. This difference is one of those things that most people love one way or the other religiously.

I’ve always preferred the Apple-way since it’s more efficient, especially when it comes to applications like Photoshop or Gimp that are frequently used with multiple windows actively being used in a non-maximized state.

I always assumed this difference was central to how each individual OS’s worked and managed windows. The Gnome Global Menu project seems to make it look pretty easy though. The only programs that don’t cooperate on my system are Firefox and OpenOffice. From what I understand this is due to both having developed their own OS-independent methods for generating their primary menu. (I have a fix for Firefox that I’ll blog about later. Check out the “Tiny Menu” addon.)

All you have to do is install the Global Menu packages and then add the Global Menu Panel Applet to your main menu bar. I also replaced Ubuntu’s custom menu applet with the single-icon Gnome Menu applet, placing it directly in the left corner with the Global Menu applet directly to its right. Looks just like home (on a Mac)! You might need to restart or log out/in to see the menus removed from all of the individual windows, but as you can see in the screenshot above, the Global Menu works great.

Lenovo G530 Touchpad (Trackpad) Disabled

Recently my wife was using my Lenovo G530 (running Ubuntu Linux) in the living room and somehow managed to disable the trackpad. She could not recall pressing anything unusual. This particular laptop has a little blue light that glows in between the two trackpad buttons with an icon indicating that the light means that the touchpad was disabled. Great, so the built-in feedback that the laptop had was working correctly, but how did we get the laptop in this state? At the time we had a friend over, so I just pulled out a spare mouse rather than attempt to solve the problem.

The next morning I expected that, upon restarting the laptop, the trackpad would be functioning correctly. There are many bugs in the computer world that can be resolved with a system restart. But that didn’t work this time. The touchpad continued to have no influence over the cursor on the screen.

I then proceeded to search the web for more information about this touchpad-disabling bug either associated to the Lenovo G530, to the particular version of Ubuntu that I was running or to a combination of the two. I found several listings but they mostly had to do with the touchpad being completely unavailable after a recent operating system install or upgrade. My touchpad had worked perfectly including horizontal and vertical scrolling until this recent change.

Well, after an hour or so of casually poking around the internet I discovered an important, but rarely noticed touch-sensitive button next to some touch-sensitive volume controls that I almost never use:

Sure enough, touching that quasi-button re-enabled the touchpad. My wife had apparently touched it accidentally when trying to increase the volume. All I could do was laugh at my stupidity. And be a bit delighted that Linux so completely supports the hardware on my laptop.

Just Started Running BOINC!

I’ve been running my Debian Linux (PowerMac G4 780 MHz) file server for almost a year now. Aside from a recent near-suffocation from cat hair it has had no problems. When we’re going to be out of town I shut it down, but otherwise it runs all the time. We haven’t really noticed the addition to our power bill and in the winter it just contributes to the in-home heating, so it’s not a big deal. Especially considering that I got this machine for little or nothing.

It’s pretty nice being able to jump from my desktop to my laptop without missing a beat when working on various projects or to listen to my entire music collection from anywhere in my home. It’s also very satisfying to have a weekly automated backup to a secondary drive for all of my files. I don’t have an off-site backup solution yet, but at least I’m prepared for hardware failure.

Better late than never, but I finally got around to setting up BOINC on this server.BOINC is “Open-source software for volunteer computing and grid computing.” Basically, it turns lots of individual computers into one effective super computer. The main goal behind this software is to allow individuals to help under-budgeted research projects by allowing them to use their idle computers to process computations.

Since my PowerMac G4 spends most of its time twiddling its thumbs I thought it would be good to give it something constructive to do. In this case I have set it to help with the Rosetta@Home project:

Rosetta@home needs your help to determine the 3-dimensional shapes of proteins in research that may ultimately lead to finding cures for some major human diseases. By running the Rosetta program on your computer while you don’t need it you will help us speed up and extend our research in ways we couldn’t possibly attempt without your help. You will also be helping our efforts at designing new proteins to fight diseases such as HIV, Malaria, Cancer, and Alzheimer’s.

It sounds like a pretty good thing to provide assistance to. I’ll report back once my server has actually completed some work and registered on the project’s meters.

On the Design of Laptops (and my new Lenovo G530 running Ubuntu Linux)

Over the last few months I’ve been shopping for a new/refurbished laptop. I had my mind set on a refurbished Thinkpad R61 or R500, but those were ranging between $600 and $700. At that price I was going to have to wait a while until I had more money set aside. In the meantime I have been looking at every laptop I come across just in case there’s something awesome out there that I have not yet seen.

Earlier this week I was at Best Buy for an unrelated computer project and, on my way out, I swung through the laptop section. After looking everything over it was apparent that anything that was under $500 was crap. However, NONE of the machines were very appealing to me. I know that for a computer I should just be concerned with the performance aspects, but I can’t help but be extremely interested in the overall design of the hardware.

Looking at all of those laptops was disappointing in that aspect. But for Apple and Lenovo, all of the computer manufacturers have apparently decided that all computers must look like some kind of pimped-out Honda Accord. All of them are very glossy plastic and generally covered in distracting ‘designer’ details. The new Dell Studio line is an improvement, but I was underwhelmed by the ‘feel’ of those devices. They felt cheap and bulky and were all priced at the high end. The Sonys look a little better, but not much and they are WAY over priced.

None of these machines resembled the regal designs of Apple or Thinkpad laptops. I know Thinkpads are often considered ugly and bland, but I don’t agree with that. The T-series especially are always very thin with hinges, buttons and levers that intuitively make sense. And the cases always feel very serious and rugged. The Thinkpad is actually better than any Apple laptop in my opinion since it doesn’t allow aesthetics to override functionality. There are plenty of buttons next to the trackpads. The display-latch is not some thin little button that you have to push with your fingernail (Titanium Powerbook).The arrow keys are not scaled down to fit into the overall rectangle of the keyboard.

Speaking of screwed up keyboards, just used a friend’s Dell-AlienWare laptop last night… why would a gamer or anyone that would spend that much money on a laptop want a keyboard that is compromised in any way? For example, the laptop was a 17″ display version with a full number pad but for some reason important keys like the arrow keys, the right-shift key and the question mark/slash key were all micro-sized to fit into a rectangular keyboard outline. It made the keyboard almost unusable. I kept hitting the Shift key instead of the slash-key while typing in URLs. Why would you do that to a premium laptop keyboard? These hardware designers have obviously lost touch with reality. Or maybe gamers really don’t use their computers for anything other than gaming.

After all of this frustration I ended up finding a good laptop at the unbelievable price of $378 on’s daily specials. I did some quick research and decided to go with it as a compromise to save some money. When the machine arrived two days later I was mostly delighted. What’s the machine? A Lenovo G530. Never heard of it? Neither had I.

Lenoro G530

Apparently Lenovo’s Value Line isn’t very heavily promoted. Also, if you go to their site, the price isn’t much different from their IdeaPad line. The price on NewEgg was pretty spectacular. I knowingly made some compromises, but overall I’m very happy with this new laptop, how it runs and how it looks.

Once you carefully peal off the ‘Intel Dual Pentium Inside’ and ‘Built for Windows Vista’ decals the machine is all black with some subtle gray print and a few blue lights. The only real design misstep is the oversized Lenovo logo on the outside cover. It could have been half the size or maybe even a third. And it’s some kind of metal decal that’s inset into the cover, so you would probably do more  damage than good trying to remove it. Here’s a short list of gripes:

  • The display would be better if it had a latch that held it closed.
  • The oversized exterior Lenovo logo
  • It’s thicker than my Thinkpad T42
  • The exterior cover is a smooth black that shows finger smudges.
  • They could have saved time and forgotten about the touch-sensitive buttons.
  • A middle-button with the trackpad would have been nice.
  • Display is glossy

Here’s a list of nice features:

  • Very quiet
  • Very cool to touch even after long hours of use
  • Touchpad is as good and sensitive as a Thinkpad’s
  • Display is big, sharp and bright
  • Keyboard is great
  • Runs Ubuntu Linux as though it were its intended OS
  • Wireless turn-off switch is handy
  • Exterior looks great
  • Handling/moving laptop build feels strong and well-built
  • Video playback is excellent

And here are the specs:

  • Pentium Dual-Core T4200 — 2 GHz
  • 2 GB of RAM
  • 15″ display — 1280 x 800
  • 150 GB Hard Drive
  • DVD-RW Optical Drive
  • Built-in Webcam
  • Built-in a/b/g Wireless
  • 4 USB ports
  • VGA-out port
  • Ethernet port
  • Modem port
  • Multi-Card Reader
  • Line In jack
  • Headphone jack

This is a good system and great for running Linux. Some of the hardware needs proprietary drivers (wireless) but with Ubuntu getting drivers like that is fairly simple. A great budget machine that, in my opinion, is much better looking and less bulky than most of the ]more expensive models that are on the market currently. If you can find it at the price I got, this is an amazing machine compared to the much smaller and less powerful netbooks that are similarly priced.

Ubuntu 9.04: Fix OpenClipArt Gallery for

If you don’t know, Ubuntu and make it very easy to install the artwork from as a built-in gallery within OpenOffice. It’s slick: while in OpenOffice Writer go to TOOLS > GALLERY and a little panel shows up, displaying categorized clipart, ready to be dropped into your document. Very cool.


Unfortunately, after Ubuntu migrated to installing 3.0 as default, the simple process of installing this excellent feature has been broken. You can still choose to install the OpenClipArt with Ubuntu’s simple application installer, but after the install is done the gallery remains unavailable in OpenOffice. Fortunately, there is an easy fix for this problem.

Why is it not working?

It isn’t working because 3.0 saves its resources in a slightly different location than the previous versions. Meanwhile, the OpenClipArt gallery installer is still installing it in the previous location. Somebody forgot to tell them about the change.

How do I correct the problem?

It’s fairly simple, really. Here’s how it works:

  1. The OpenClipArt image files are all saved in a shared folder for all system users to access. This saves disc space, since every user on the system doesn’t need their own copy of the image files.
  2. OpenOffice galleries are represented by single files that keep a list of all of the images and where the image files are saved on the system. These list-files allow the OpenOffice galleries to be very responsive and quickly searched.
  3. To fix our problem we need to copy the OpenOffice gallery list-files from the old location to the new 3.0 location.

This solution could work for any operating system, but the following instructions will be specific to Ubuntu.

  1. Since these are system files, you will need to start Nautilus (the file browser program in Gnome) with Super User administration rights. Go to the Main Menu > Applications > Accessories > Terminal. Once the Terminal window appears, enter the following:
    sudo nautilus This will allow you to use Nautilus as though you are the System Administrator. Be very cautious with these administrative rights. If you move or delete an important file you could damage your system.
  2. Once the new Super User Nautilus window displays click on ‘File System’ in the Nautilus shortcuts bar and navigate to the following: /usr/lib/openoffice/share/gallery This is the old resource location.
  3. From the Nautilus menu create a new window: File > New Window
  4. In the new window click on ‘File System’ in the Nautilus shortcuts bar and navigate to the following: /usr/lib/openoffice/basis3.0/share/gallery This is the new 3.0 resource location.
  5. Go back to the first window with the old resource location. Select all of the documents in that location and drag them to the second window with the new resource location.
  6. Once the transfer is complete, close both Nautilus windows and then close the Terminal window.
  7. Start OpenOffice and activate the gallery Tools > Gallery. You should see folders for different categories that contain a lot of clip art from!

I hope this was helpful and gives you access to this excellent free clip art library once again.

Typing Special Characters in Linux


There are many aspects of Apple’s Mac OS that I dislike, but there are others that I like very much. Ever since I switched from Apple to Linux I have searched for an Apple-like way of entering special characters. “Special characters” are any characters that are not visible on your physical keyboard. For my needs this is mostly characters that are associated with typesetting and graphic design such as em and en dashes, “curly” quotes, copyright symbols and things of that sort. Special characters can also be characters from outside of your primary language.

Apple Mac OS

In the Apple world these characters are available in a manner similar to how the SHIFT key makes uppercase letters and a small group of other characters available. Most computer users and even typewriter users are familiar with how the SHIFT key makes an alternate keyboard available. The Apple OS by default includes two additional alternate keyboards. The OPTION/ALT key and the combination of the SHIFT and OPTION/ALT keys activate these alternate keyboards. All together these modifier keys make it possible for each key on the keyboard to represent four different characters.

Linux Operating Systems

It comes as no surprise that Linux offers not one but many ways to enter special characters. Here’s a list of the few that I am familiar with starting with the most inefficient:

Character Map
Use a graphic Unicode Character Map application.
Switch Keyboard Layout
Switch your keyboard layout to that of a different language or configuration with a special key or a button within your desktop interface.
Unicode Code Entry
Press a special ‘insert’ key and enter the Unicode entity.
Compose Key
Press a special ‘compose’ key and press two or four other keys that correspond to an individual character.
Dead Keys
Press a special key that activates ‘dead keys’. Dead keys are keys that represent accent characters that can be combined with the basic latin alphabet to output accented characters.
Third Level
This is the Linux world’s name for the Apple Special Character method. Includes dead keys just like the Apple method.

Third Level Advantages

What’s great about the Third Level method is that it includes the cross-platform defacto standard of dead keys while also providing a way to access other analphabetic and symbol characters. What’s bad about this method is the perfectly meaningless name associated with it. It’s not even consistent with itself since it provides a fourth as well as a third keyboard layout. Maybe I’ll come up with a better name by the time I finish this post.

How Third Level Works

Third Level works in the exact same manner as I described the Apple method above except that you are not stuck using the Option/Alt key. Generally, Linux uses the alt key for a lot of key shortcuts, so taking advantage of that dust-covered Windows key might be a better choice. The Fourth Level is activated by combining your defined key with the SHIFT key, just like Apple.

How to Use Third Level in Ubuntu/Gnome

  1. In Ubuntu using Gnome you can go to the Main Menu > System > Preferences > Keyboard
  2. In the Keyboard Preferences window go to the Layouts tab.
  3. Click the ‘+’ button to add an additional keyboard layout.
  4. Under ‘Country’ select United States.
  5. Under ‘Variants’ select USA Macintosh. Click the ‘Add’ button.
  6. You should now have at least two keyboard layouts in your ‘Layouts’ list. Specify USA Macintosh as your default keyboard layout.
  7. Click the ‘Other Options’ button.
  8. In the resulting window look for Third level choosers and under that choose a key that you would like to function as the modifier. I recommend using the Windows key if you have one. Lots of Linux programs use the Alt key in a manner similar to the Ctrl key, and making it the Third Level chooser could conflict with those shortcuts. When finished click the ‘Close’ button.
  9. Back on the ‘Keyboard Preferences’ window, click the ‘Apply System-Wide…’ button and then ‘Close.’
  10. Your keyboard should now have a third and fourth level keyboard layout including dead keys in a manner similar to the Apple OS.

If you want, it can be very handy to have the Keyboard Indicator Gnome Panel Item available. From this panel item you can switch between different keyboard layouts as well as summon a diagram of your keyboard that displays where to find the many different characters you now have available.

I hope you have found this article helpful. Let me know if there are any aspects of the above that I have misrepresented. My goal with the above information is to provide some basic information on a topic that seems to be rarely discussed. Maybe the Linux experts already know these options as a given, but there are a lot of new users that are probably in the dark.

Fresh OpenOffice Templates

I was recently installing Ubuntu on an old Dell for a friend. I don’t try to push Linux on people, but if they want something cheap on an old machine I just tell them what a new version of Windows costs. At that point they either go buy a new machine instead or ask me more about Linux.

Once we get to that point I ask a them a few questions about how they use their personal computer. This recent situation called for compact disc booklet templates and a greeting card making application. In order to avoid complexity I rarely tell non-designers/tech geeks to give Inkscape, Scribus or the GIMP a try. What this means is finding some specialized application that makes the desired task super simple. If that isn’t available I turn to OpenOffice.

OpenOffice is surprisingly versatile and effective at the same time. There are also hidden benefits to using it, like dynamically generating letters for a small company with the power of OO’s mail merge tools or using embedded spreadsheets to create tables of data within a layout. Cool stuff that the professional-focused graphics tools leave to more specialized programs.

The end result, anyway, is that I decided to create some templates for OpenOffice. The related templates that the usual search engines pointed me to were not very good, so I thought providing these as free downloads might be helpful to some folks out there. What I have is a CD Booklet and Tray template and a Greeting Card template for OpenOffice Draw. Enjoy.

  1. Compact Disc Booklet + Tray template
  2. Greeting Card template