12 Tips for GNOME Users

Some newbie tips, some tips for the more experienced, to get more from your GNOME desktop.
Posted September 11, 2007
By

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield


(Page 1 of 3)

As a desktop, GNOME is standard enough that most computer users can feel comfortable within ten minutes of first using it. Yet what always puzzles me is how often people fail to explore it beyond the basics. Possibly, they're conditioned by Windows, which allows relatively limited customization. But, whatever the reason, too often they stoically endure what they could fix if only they could find their way around.

To help users get more out of GNOME, here are twelve features that all users should know. Many of them are not unique to GNOME, except sometimes in their names. But some of them are not immediately obvious, partly because GNOME configuration and system tools are dispersed, rather than being bundled together in a common interface like KDE's Control Center. None are a substitute for a systematic exploration of the desktop, either. However, if you familiarize yourself with these tips, you will be well on the way to taming GNOME for your immediate needs.

Note that the menus mentioned are mostly Debian's. Your own distribution may have slightly different menu items, although the top level ones should be the same.

1) Sound configuration

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For some reason, few installation programs in GNU/Linux configure sound for you. Instead, you have to do it after you log in from System - > Preferences -> Sound or Sound Detection, depending on the distribution. From there, you can test whether sound is working. In some distributions, you can also configure the sound architecture to use for system sounds, music and movies, audio conferencing, and mixer tracks. On other tabs of the same window, you can choose system sounds, and enable the system beep.

2) Printer configuration

Like sound cards, printers are rarely configured during installation. Instead, providing you have the root password, you can add a new printer to your system from System ->Administration -> Printers or Printing. Click the New Printer icon, and, after a moment, a wizard opens to step you through the process of setting up a printer. You'll need to know how the printer is connected to your computer, as well as its model and manufacturer.

After a printer is configured, right-click on it to print a test page, and to set properties such as the default resolution.

3) Workspaces

Workspaces are virtual screens. In most distributions, GNOME has four by default -- in Ubuntu, it's two -- but you can have as many as your system's memory allows. Each workspace can have its own name and appearance, and switching between them is as simple as clicking the Workspace switcher on the panel. If you generally work with a clutter of open windows, workspaces are an ideal solution. Not only are they quicker to set up than dual monitors, but they require less of a physical footprint.

4) Panels

Panels are the GNOME equivalent of Windows' taskbar, with a program menu, a notification tray, and a clock. However, panels are far more versatile than taskbars. In GNOME, you can put a panel on any side of the desktop, and even stack several on one side if you want to. You can configure the size of each panel -- which automatically adjusts the size of the icons on it -- as well as its color or background image, and hide it when it's not in use. You can also choose whether to have it centered on the side, expanding as necessary, or automatically filling the side.

Many distributions use two panels by default, with one reserved for the windows list of minimized programs. This arrangement is especially handy with a wide screen monitor.

5) Panel applets

If you've saddled yourself with Windows Vista, you may have noticed the side panel which occupies most of the space gained by having a wide screen monitor. GNOME's version of the side panel are the applets or mini-applications that you can install on the panel. Where Vista has a half dozen applications for its panel -- all ridiculously large unless you need accessibility options -- GNOME comes with forty, all sized according to the height of the panel. These applets range from the frivolous, like Wanda, the fortune-telling fish, to serious ones like a battery manager and trays, a sort of mini-menu to which you can add whatever applications you choose.

You can also download dozens more. One applet that you might want to go out of your way to find is Tomboy, a notes applet on steroids that includes a table of contents and supports hyperlinks and export to Evolution. Another is Beagle, which can search a variety of text and graphics formats, making it perfect for people who drop all their files into a single directory.

These applets and others are installed in the same way as any other package. Once they're installed, right-click a panel and select Add to Panel to see a list of what's available. You may also want to move items from the menu or desktop to the panel. After you add your selections to the panel, you can move them around, and add separators to group the icons on the panel any way that you want.


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Tags: Linux, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Gnome, Mozilla


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