Tonight, I concluded the installation and configuration of Ubuntu 14.04, my first major upgrade since 10.04 in February 2011. I remain reluctant for major upgrades due to exactly what unfolded, a quagmire of manipulation of what was once a series of simple routines conducted entirely by user-friendly graphical interfaces or through automated services.

The default Unity desktop, while functional, is not in my experience designed for a workstation. If I wanted the look and feel of a tablet, I would not be using a laptop. In the following I share the procedures required, with the fair warning that even now, much of the basic functionality of 10.04 is yet missing or non-functional.

  1. Replace the Unity theme with a classic theme.

    Using the Ubuntu Software Center, install “GNOME Flashback” Window Manager.

    Or from the command line:
    $ sudo apt-get install gnome-flashback

  2. Restart your session to enable Flashback
  3. Configure the Desktop panels to your liking (ALT-right-click for options).
  4. Modify the Applications menu (using the built-in Main Menu editor).

    If you move menu item from one sub-menu to another, unfortunately you cannot simply drag-n-drop. You must create a new button in the desired location. To do this, you must copy and paste the name and command line argument which launches that application. If you desire for the icon to match, navigate to /user/share/icons/Humanity/apps/48/ and locate the icon associated with that app (the one which matches the original).

  5. Fix the Places menu to open a file browser instead of Baobab Disk Analyzer.

    Seems to be the fault of the Flashback theme as it opens properly prior to installing this theme. Follow the directions provided at

    [as sudo or root] xdg-mime default nautilus.desktop inode/directory [ENTER]
  6. Customize the Places menu.

    Follow the directions provided at

    As your user, edit /home/[user]/.config/user-dirs.dirs but keeping the file format exactly as is presented. You may add or remove links to your preferred directories. However, I have had limited success in that I am unable to get a direct path to function. Therefore, I created a sym link (ln -s /[path]/ [link_name]) in my /home/[user]/ directory and then use this as the mount point for this configuration file. It seems very hit / miss. Certainly not robust nor straight-forward as it used to be in previous versions of Gnome.

  7. Add widgets and applications to the panel.

    Again, this is not nearly as simple as it once was in previous, far more user-friendly versions of Gnome. No longer can you simply right-click, but must add the ALT key. Widgets are simple to add, and applications which already reside in the Applications menu will add with relative ease. This is the only part of this entire experience that remains functional without invocation of the command line.

  8. Invoke auto-start for all applications which you desire to have running when you first log-in.

    Follow the directions provided at The problem is that this does NOT take into consideration those applications which were running when you logged out. Again, this used to work perfectly in prior versions of Gnome, but for some reason this ideal functionality was removed. This article explains how to reinstate this functionality, but it assumes you have a full GNOME installation in order to have both gnome-session and the gconf-editor installed.

  9. Every time I restart, my desktop shrinks to a quarter of its full 1920 x 1080 dimension, moving all desktop items outside of that reduced space. I must re-select the background image to resize the desktop and then manually replace the desktop items. I have not found a solution to this.
  10. Every time I restart, I must manually place each application on its preferred desktop. I am hoping the installation of the full GNOME suite will resolve this (as mentioned above).

As the former CEO and developer of Yellow Dog Linux, I am disappointed. Ten years ago we delivered an operating system which was far more user friendly, more intelligently designed, with a far greater offering of time saving functionality and options for personal customisation. When I first switched to Ubuntu in early 2011, my last YDL PowerPC on its final legs, I was pleased by the dynamic design of the user interface, from install to log-out. Ubuntu 10.04 was a well crafted system with only a few, minor flaws.

My concern with Unity is less with the aesthetics of the interface, rather with the over-simplification of what appears to be an attempt to match the experience of a hybrid of Apple’s OSX and iOS. This is a total disregard for the ways in which a laptop or workstation is not a tablet. I choose Linux because it (use to) offer the ability to customize the means by which I use my computer.

Simple functionality that placed Ubuntu above OSX is simply missing. For instance, there is no reason that any user of any age, experience, or computer background would NOT desire to have an application relaunch on the same desktop, the same location as when it was last used. Removing the ability to modify menus is beyond frustrating, sending us back nearly a decade in desktop functionality. I have not spent this much time at the command line since the very early days of Yellow Dog Linux when the graphical installer was a revolution in Linux OS deployment and playing movies was worthy of a press release.

It saddens me to see that Ubuntu is following Apple’s lead in assuming the general userbase is growing less capable instead of moreso. When you spend 10, 12, 14 hrs a day engrossed in your computer, to have it custom tailored to your needs enables it to become an extension of you. Comfortable, quick to respond are the signatures of a positive OS experience. Replacing the desktop image does not constitute customizability, especially when that image must be reset with each and ever log-in.

QA anyone?!