Ubuntu Linux, Day 17: Exploring the top panel

By Tony Bradley, PCWorld

So far in the 30 Days With Ubuntu Linux series, there have been a number of things about the OS that I have struggled with as a Linux novice. One of the aspects of Ubuntu that I appreciate most, though, is the functionality of the top panel.

At the upper-right of the display (unless you followed the tip on Day 4 to move the top panel to the bottom of the display) there are a number of icons: the Bluetooth logo, wireless network signal, volume, envelope, clock, chat, and power. There is more functionality hidden beneath these icons than you might expect, though.

Ubuntu Linux

The 30 days series

Day 1: Getting Started

Day 4: Tweaking the look and layout

Day 16: EXT4 vs. NTFS

If you click on the Bluetooth logo, you can enable or disable Bluetooth connectivity, add Bluetooth devices, and send or receive files via Bluetooth. The other icons have more to offer.

The wireless network icon displays your current signal strength. If you click on it, you can add, remove, and configure all of your network connections. You can also configure and connect to a VPN, and view information about your current connection.

The volume icon displays your current volume. Clicking on it lets you control the volume with a slider, or click Mute to quickly turn the sound off. If you click on Sound Preferences you can access more advanced functions like selecting or configuring the various input and output devices.

The best part of the volume icon, though, is that it provides direct access to the Banshee music player. We have already established that I am not a huge fan of Banshee. But, I am a fan of being able to select playlists and listen to my music collection with easy access right from the upper panel rather than having to go the long way and open the app.

The envelope provides access to the Empathy instant messaging and Evolution email tools. There is one-click access from the menu to compose a new message, access your contacts, or go to Ubuntu One.

The email accounts you have set up are displayed, along with a badge that shows the number of unread messages. The best part, though, is that the envelope icon turns blue when there are messages available, so even if you are in the middle of something else you can quickly and easily see when new messages arrive.

Clicking on the clock reveals the current date, and monthly calendar. Beneath the monthly calendar is a link to Add Event ... which provides direct access to add new events to the Evolution calendar.

The power icon hides the menu that lets you lock the screen, log out, suspend, hibernate, restart, or shutdown. One thing I didn't learn until after the fact-but would have been helpful to know-is that when software installs that needs to restart the system in order to work (like the VPN app), it adds an entry to this menu that states something to the effect of "restart to complete installation" and the icon turns red.

I like little things like this upper panel bar. I like at-a-glance status on my network connection, incoming messages, and other relevant information, and I appreciate having quick access to common functions without having to open up the app and do things the long way.

You can follow Tony on his Facebook page, or contact him by email at tony_bradley@pcworld.com. He also tweets as @TheTonyBradley.

Reprinted with permission from PCWorld.com. Story copyright 2011 PC World Communications. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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