Avoid Ubuntu Netbook Edition’s Slowness – But Get The Look

NOTE: If you got here looking for a way to speed up Ubuntu Netbook Edition, let me warn you that my “solution” isn’t a tweak so much as making another window manager look and behave a lot like UNE. Folks complaining that it’s not a “solution” can head to /dev/null.

Edit: Stripping out every program you don’t need – especially Ubuntu One, Gwibber, Evolution, and Empathy – all that stuff in the background – helps speed up the default interface as well. What I do below still gives another significant performance boost.

To distract myself from a couple of other projects recently, I took a look at a netbook where the latest Ubuntu Netbook remix had been installed. It looked snazzy as all get-out with the Mutter/Unity interface, but was absurdly slow. 1 It also wasn’t as customizable as the standard GNOME Ubuntu interface I’d shown off before.

So the question was this: How to preserve the look (and much of the feel) of Mutter/Unity, while getting customizability back and getting a speed increase?

It was actually pretty simple – and if you’re thinking about putting Ubuntu on your netbook, you can do the same thing. (Click the image to embiggen.)


1. When you log in, choose “Ubuntu Desktop Session”. That brings up the normal interface.
2. Install Ubuntu Tweak.
3. You’re going to install the following (many of which you can do through Ubuntu Tweak): Synapse, Tilda, Faenza, and GLX-Dock.
4. At the terminal, type “sudo apt-get install xcompmgr”. In System->Preferences->Startup Applications, make a new entry with the command xcompmgr &. The ampersand is important. Then type xcompmgr & in a terminal window now. (It’s a low-power, low-frills, low-resource-hogging compositing manager, so you get some nice effects without a lot of other crud.)
5. Get rid of the bottom GNOME Panel. I put the pager in the upper right, but all the icons there are default panel applets. (Right click the panel, choose “add to panel”, and play…). It is important to move the Ubuntu menu to the right about 24-30 pixels.
6. If you want to remove your name and the twitter/im integration, right click on the power button on the terminal (or your name) and “Remove from panel”. In the terminal, type:
sudo apt-get remove indicator-me indicator-messages
then add indicator-session-applet back to the panel.
7. Start GLX Dock (it used to be called Cairo). I moved it to the left hand side, used the default theme, and told it to not zoom any icons. I configured the dock to expand – but THEN Alt-Clicked the dock and drug it down just below the top GNOME panel. The background is a gradient (full opacity) between two colors dropper-picked from the GNOME panel. I turned off all corner rounding. I used the Faenza icon set because it’s square (like the dock). Tell the dock to start with Ubuntu.
8. Reboot to make sure it all took. Remember that you’re choosing Ubuntu Desktop Session (it should default to the last chosen, but check).
9. Tweak to your heart’s content. (You can spend HOURS configuring and tweaking this dock.) This is really what makes it worthwhile, I think (aside from the HUGE speed increase). You have practically no ability to configure Ubuntu Netbook Edition out of the box as it stands. While that’s nice (“See? It works!”), the fact that Mutter/Unity is so slow can also be a significant turn-off, especially since a lot of netbooks are underpowered. Best case scenario: The person doing this doesn’t know a lot about linux, but follows this guide and pokes around a little bit to find out what’s going on and what all they can do with linux… or can just let it be and be happy.

It’s all about choice, folks, and that’s what’s spiffy about linux.

1I also found it comparatively difficult to just get a “run” command or terminal window, which was distracting for me.

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One Comment

  1. March 12, 2011

    I appreciate this post because UNE is absurdly s-l-o-o-o-o-o-w on my 1st generation EeePC 4G (701?). Yes, I still have this nifty device around.

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