Some usability tricks and tips

In this post I’m sharing some of the little tricks I use on my pc.

I must mention that I only use gnome, so this might only apply there.

1) Use the multiple workspaces

When I first started using Ubuntu a few years ago, I did really use them.

But once I started using them, boy did I became more productive.

When you use them, your desktop is less cluttered, and you don’t need to minimize applications.

I use the compiz fusion plugin called “expo” to quickly switch to another workspace.

I have the plugin binded to the top right edge of my screen to start the effect faster.

2. Using tabs in firefox faster

If you don’t use tabs, well start.

Firefox didn’t invent tabbed browsing, but they sure became populare because of it.

Most people open a link in a tab by right clicking it and then selecting “open in tab”.

However, this procedure can be reduced to 1 click.

Just hover above a link and press the middle button (scroll wheel).

If you don’t have a middle button, press the left and right one at the same time.

Also, if you hover above a tab, a middle click will close it.

3. Make sure your preferred applications are configured properly.

The various gui’s in ubuntu don’t really cover that subject well enough.

Click this link to find out how to do it properly.

This will avoid searching for an mp3 and even tough you set mp3s to be open with, lets say exaile, they open with totem.

4. Shortcuts

Another time safer.

Learn them or modify them.

Also, the app that should have a shortcut on every computer is the terminal.

I set mine to f12.

If need the terminal, I can access it in a millisecond.

5. Start much needed applications when you boot the pc.

I’m not talking about things like firefox or anything like that.

But things like emerald, screenlets, … should have a mention in “sessions”.

That beat having to type “emerald –replace” every time you start the pc.

6. Add the “force quit” applet to the panel

An application doesn’t feel like doing it’s job anymore.

Click the force quit applet and then the app that’s malbehaving.

Poof, it’s gone.

7. Restart the x server instead of the pc

Something goes wrong.

You can’t get the wireless to work anymore, your graphics are messed up, the system doesn’t respond anymore?

Instead of resetting your pc, press “ctrl + alt + backspace” and voila, your back on the login window.

Enter you username and password, and you’re back again in a few seconds.

8. Package managers

“apt-get remove” won’t remove dependencies if you remove a package.

So either you use aptitude to install and remove programs, or you delete packages with “apt-get autoremove appname –purge”.

The difference between “apt-get remove” and “apt-get autoremove appname –purge”:

(remove even recommends using autoremove :p)

9. A terminal tip

Pressing the “up” key will bring up the previous command used.

Can come in handy some times.

10. gksudo nautilus

You don’t have the permission to do something in nautilus but you don’t want to use the cli?

Use gksudo nautilus to start nautilus with root priviledges.

But don’t start deleting/modifying files you don’t know.

You might end up destroying your installation.

11. Create a diffent partition for you /home folder

You screwed up and your install isn’t usable anymore?

If you use a different partition for /home than you do for /, then all your data will be safe.

Just reinstall Ubuntu and your /home will be there, unchanged.

12. Moving a window when it’s stuck “under” the panel

There is a bug in compiz fusion that will allow a window to be put behind the panel.

You can use “alt+left mouse” to drag windows, that should fix the problem.

You could just also use the expo plugin to move the window.


That’s all I can come up with for now.

If you know any other trick, leave a comment.

  1. There are plenty of keyboard shortcuts you can use. For example, with workspaces you can go Ctrl+Alt+Left/Right to switch between them. Note that multiple workspaces doesn’t beat multiple monitors, so if you can afford a second monitor I’d highly recommend it.

    On Firefox you can go Ctrl+T to open a new tab, or Ctrl+Left Click to open the link in a new tab. I don’t have a middle mouse button, just a scroll wheel, but clicking that is awkward and sometimes it scrolls, so it is a pain in the ass. Same goes for clicking two mouse buttons at once.

    In the terminal when you are typing a command or filename, you can press Tab to autocomplete it. This only works if there is only one command or filename that starts with what you have typed, but if you press Tab twice you can see the possibilities.

    Ctrl+Alt+Backspace only works if X and the kernel are still responding. I have had times (like when using ATI drivers) that X has frozen, so the only way to get out is to hit the reset button the machine.

    Putting /home into a different partition is *always* good practice, I don’t know why Ubuntu doesn’t do it by default. With openSUSE if you use the automatic partitioning it does this.

    There are a vast amount of efficiency improvements in Linux. A lot of them have a bit of a learning curve (ie. vi/emacs), but once you have it down you will be flying through your computer like the way they use computers on CSI.

    • linuxowns
    • June 26th, 2008

    I knew I forgot to mention something, the tab – autocomplete feature.

    “Ctrl+Alt+Backspace only works if X and the kernel are still responding. I have had times (like when using ATI drivers) that X has frozen, so the only way to get out is to hit the reset button the machine.”

    Sure, but I think you get what I meant.

    I didn’t know about the “ctrl T” thing in firefox.

  2. Thank you for this excellent How-to, and also the tips given by the illegalcharacter. Very interesting.

    • riley
    • June 27th, 2008

    This is quickly becoming my favourite Ubuntu blog. Keep up the good work.

    • linuxowns
    • June 29th, 2008


    • Vyvyan
    • July 1st, 2008

    I’m asking at the wrong place but do tell me what theme are you using in the screenshots used in Try Ubuntu page of your blog.

    It looks clean and …I’m impressed.

    • linuxowns
    • July 1st, 2008
    • David Wang
    • August 8th, 2008

    Hi there

    i haven’t managed to get the
    “1) Use the multiple workspaces – expo look where you can tab through the 4 workstation
    how do i enable this and i would like to set it to atl+tab

    • linuxowns
    • August 8th, 2008

    You go to “system -> preferences -> advanced desktop effects setting” and then look for the “expo” plugin.

    Then in the last tab “bindings” you can set the short cuts you want.

    • David Wang
    • August 9th, 2008

    Thanks working now but i wonder why you can’t click the middle mouse scroll button to be “enter that workstation” but the scroll works!

  1. June 26th, 2008
  2. July 18th, 2008
    Trackback from : switch enter key to ctrl key

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