Customizing The Ubuntu Terminal

The Obvious:

With a terminal open select Edit -> Profile Preferences.

In here you can set background color, transparency, font, font-size, text colors and more.

A couple not-quite obvious things I like to do.

Uncheck the ‘show menubar by default in new terminals’ – it just isn’t very useful and a right click in the terminal gives you some of those options anyway and if what you need is not there you can easily bring back the menubar from there.

Increase the number of scrollback lines Рpersonally I at least double it to 1024 lines as Grails errors are long and ugly and that is the framework I spend a lot of my time working with. Your mileage may vary.

Advanced:

The .bashrc file in your home directory is where extra configuration options lie.

Colors:

Ubuntu disables the prompt being a different color. but simply uncomment the proper line in .bashrc and you’ll undo that. Look in the vicinity of line 36-40. The comment says the goal is to avoid distraction… just doesn’t make sense to me. A colored prompt helps me distinguish certain pieces of text from others, so for me, it is essentially the opposite of a distraction helping me focus on the pieces I need to read from the pieces I don’t.

Aliases:

Many Linux command line gurus expect “ll” or certain other common aliases to work. Uncomment a couple more lines in Ubuntu’s .bashrc file and they will. Look in the vicinity of line 80-83.

you’ll also see just a couple lines down:

# Alias definitions.
# You may want to put all your additions into a separate file like
# ~/.bash_aliases, instead of adding them here directly.
# See /usr/share/doc/bash-doc/examples in the bash-doc package.
if [ -f ~/.bash_aliases ]; then
. ~/.bash_aliases
fi
So if you’d like to add extra aliases create a .bash_aliases file and fill it in. Sweet right?!

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Ubuntu Lucid = mega cool, but…

I am really enjoying the latest Ubuntu. They added lots of polish, and the OS is consistently moving steps ahead as far as ease of use for geeks and non-geeks alike. My thoughts center around, “but does it even matter?”. Sure, Ubuntu is free on a couple levels that OS X and Windows aren’t, but most non-developers don’t feel the shackles, so they don’t care.

Like an invisible tax the cost of the OS is bundled with the hardware for the vast majority. Again, for non-developers, the licence restrictions are slightly annoying at worst, also they are accustomed to paying for software, so they think “who cares?”. It would take something more significant than a very usable and free alternative OS that they would have to take the effort to install and get accustomed to make them care. I won’t be wasting a lot of breath trying to convince these sorts of users to make the switch. My lengthy discourses on open source ideology would merely prove to be confusing or annoying. That is not a guess, it’s happened.

Developers, however, have much less of an excuse for not caring. They should be feeling, or at least be aware of, the shackles of the closed environments and ecosystems. Those with a choice, often choose to ignore or to justify. I have noticed they justify their use of OSX or Windows for what tend to be short sighted reasons. If such short sighted excuses were ever really valid, is another debate, but either way, those justifications are getting weaker and weaker. Ubuntu, from a developers perspective, has potentially crossed over from being a viable alternative to being a superior one. 10.04 = a better chance of them actually being convinced, like me, that Ububtu is mega cool!

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Linux Mint

I have switched to a new distro on my laptop. I have been quite impressed overall with this Ubuntu derivative called Mint. I use my laptop for web development and all the more common/less geeky things like editing photos, browsing the internet, listening to music, and doing office work. Mint has performed beautifully in all areas. While it doesn’t do much that Ubuntu can’t, its many steps closer to the ‘just works’ OS, and that makes mint my current top recommendation for anyone considering giving Linux a try

mint logoLinux Mint has some important advantages over Ubuntu. A number of them have to do with appearance, some are functional, and others have to do with system stability.

First up is appearance. Compared to Ubuntu’s dull defaults Mint comes with a more visually appealing theme and a nice selection of desktop backgrounds. For users accustomed to Linux those are very minor conveniences which wouldn’t really be worth the switch. I am no expert with customizing Linux look and feel, but I thought I had a pretty decent handle on it. That said, Mint has improved a number of small touches to the look and feel that are beyond what I knew how to do – boot and login screens are examples of this. Good fine grain aesthetics are hard to describe, but my opinion is that the polish is pretty good, definitely superior to any distro I have seen out of the box.

Beyond looks Mint feels a little smother once you get to working with it. Some things work better, and others are just slightly more convenient. For example:

  • It comes with a simple configuration interface for Composition installed. You can get this and better on Ubuntu too, but since it doesn’t come installed its one of those things that many people stumble over when they are new. It took me hours to get the cube going the first time I installed Ubuntu!
  • an all in one menu with some nice built in filters
  • less frequent updates
  • “open as root” is just a nice option for those who like to use the gui file manager, but still want to be able to do power user tasks.
  • The terminal is more friendly to my eyes as it comes with some nice color coding, and there are fun fortunes to boot! (if you enable them during the install…)
  • numerous codecs pre-installed
  • gnome-do pre installed
  • installing new programs – most of the time I use synaptic, but for less experienced users mints customs system would pretty nice I think
  • I don’t know why but my javascript animations in Firefox are just smoother and certain things print anti-aliased that didn’t with Ubuntu – like Dia projects.

Part of the ‘just works’ idea is that you don’t have to constantly fiddle with things to keep it working. Its why a friend of mine loves Macs, less time tinkering with the system, more time doing real work. Some people think the tinkering keeps them sharp and in a good state of mind regarding their machine… I digress. Mint requires less tinkering, but like any open source software will still let you if so inclined. An important contributor to this stability is that Mint uses a custom update system that rates updates on the likelihood that they will cause problems. The result is a more stable, but half a step behind environment. So long as you aren’t concerned with having the latest software the day it comes out this shouldn’t be an issue. I myself run a development build of Ubuntu on another machine, and while I like playing with the bleeding edge stuff, I also have come to really appreciate the stability of Mint. As a disclaimer I am not at all entering the discussion of mint as a server. I think it is meant to be a desktop not a server, and the stability I am referring to is all about the desktop.

With Ubuntu 8.10 due out in days I am eager for the release of Mint 6 that will follow shortly after. I hope to add an article on customizing the desktop and maybe another on setting up a Groovy and Grails development environment after that release.

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