The Linux GUI Experience

The Linux GUI Experience

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Controlling The User Experience In Linux

Learning objective: Explain how to control the user experience in Linux

Click on image to enlarge.

Most of the setting that impact the user experience can be found in the System Preferences section of most modern Linux desktops.

In Ubuntu's Gnome, by default, you access each preference one at a time by going to System > Preferences > and then selecting the item you want. You can cheat a bit to get something similar to KDE's System Settings by pressing Alt-F2 and then typing in gnome-control-center to get something like this. KDE has a System Settings central location for configuring system preferences. This can be accessed through the KMenu. And, despite KDE's reputation for being more Windows-like than Gnome, you can see the layout here is actually quite similar to Mac OS X's System Preferences window. [psychocats]


In computing, a mouse is a pointing device that functions by detecting two-dimensional motion relative to its supporting surface. Physically, a mouse consists of an object held under one of the user's hands, with one or more buttons. (Although traditionally a button is typically round or square, modern mice have spring-loaded regions of their top surface that operate switches when pressed down lightly.) It sometimes features other elements, such as "wheels", which allow the user to perform various system-dependent operations, or extra buttons or features that can add more control or dimensional input. The mouse's motion typically translates into the motion of a cursor on a display, which allows for fine control of a graphical user interface. The name mouse originated at the Stanford Research Institute and derives from the resemblance of early models which had a cord attached to the rear part of the device (suggesting the idea of a tail) to the common mouse. [Wikipedia]

The mouse properties dialog box will allow you to change how the mouse behaves. You can change the role of the left and right buttons, the speed of the mouse when moved, how fast double-clicking is recognized, the type of pointers presented to the user, special settings for pointers like trailing tails, how fast the mouse wheel scrolls, and access driver software. For many users, the mouse is their primary interface with the computer. Helping users understand how to modify the use of buttons will give them the tools for a better desktop experience. Consider the needs of a gamer versus the needs of someone just starting to use a mouse. Another issue for new users is what to do when they run out of space to move the mouse but want to move it more across the screen. The idea of picking up the mouse to move it often does not come naturally for them, they won't know that when the mouse is picked up, the the location of the cursor on screen become fixed until they set the mouse down again. Mice that have additional features, like five buttons, will have special mouse property dialog boxes to allow users to adjust the various settings that are unique to that device.


In computing, a keyboard is typewriter keyboard, which uses an arrangement of buttons or keys, to act as mechanical levers or electronic switches. Despite the development of alternative input devices, such as the mouse (computing mouse), touch sensitive screens, pen devices, character recognition, voice recognition, and improvements in computer speed and memory size, the keyboard remains the most commonly used and most versatile device used for direct (human) input into computers. In normal usage, the keyboard is used to type text and numbers into a word processor, text editor or other program. In a modern computer, the interpretation of key presses is generally left to the software. A computer keyboard distinguishes each physical key from every other and reports all key presses to the controlling software. [Wikipedia]

The keyboard properties dialog box will allow you to change how the keyboard behaves. You can change the speed of the repeat delay, repeat rate, and cursor blinking rate. Users with big fingers can often benefit from setting the repeat setting to a slower speed so it takes more time to recognize what key has been pressed. The keyboard driver software can also be accessed.


A monitor or display is an electronic visual display for computers. The monitor comprises the display device, circuitry, and an enclosure. The display device in modern monitors is typically a thin film transistor liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) thin panel, while older monitors use a cathodic ray tube about as deep as the screen size. Originally computer monitors were used for data processing and television receivers for entertainment; increasingly computers are being used both for data processing and entertainment. Displays exclusively for data use tend to have an aspect ratio of 4:3; those used also (or solely) for entertainment are usually 16:9 widescreen. [Wikipedia]

The display properties dialog box allows you to change presentation elements like themes, desktop image, screen savers, appearance of the window elements, and the raster setting for the display device. The theme setting allow users to set basic eye candy like forest, ocean, and even dinosaur themes! The desktop will allow users to add personal photos as their background image for this desktop. In many organizations, this might be the only personalization allowed by the system administrators. The screen saver, for the most part today, is more fun than useful with modern monitors. With older phosphorous displays, the screen saver helped to minimize screen burn that could damage the monitor. Once useful screen saver is the marque option that allows users to put a message on their screen saver like, "Out to lunch, back at 1pm" to lets others know where they are if they stop by their work space. In addition, users can also set a password to protect access to their computer. In some organizations, screen savers with this option are mandatory if the user is away from the workstation for any significant time. The appearance tab allows you to change the color and shape of basic window components like elements of a dialog box. Setting allow you to control the number of pixels and colors being displayed. Some older applications may require a specific setting, especially programs that require 8bit color. Settings involve a relationship between the monitor, the video card, and the driver software and are subject to many issues imposed by these combinations. For more information about the options with the display, click on the Advanced button.

Assistive Technologies

Assistive technology or adaptive technology (AT) is an umbrella term that includes assistive, adaptive, and rehabilitative devices for people with disabilities and also includes the process used in selecting, locating, and using them. AT promotes greater independence by enabling people to perform tasks that they were formerly unable to accomplish, or had great difficulty accomplishing, by providing enhancements to or changed methods of interacting with the technology needed to accomplish such tasks. Sitting at a desk with a QWERTY keyboard and a mouse remains the dominant way of interacting with a personal computer. Some Assistive Technology reduces the strain of this way of work through ergonomic accessories with height-adjustable furniture, footrests, wrist rests, and arm supports to ensure correct posture. Key guards fit over the keyboard to help prevent unintentional key presses. [Wikipedia]

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 made discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, and other characteristics illegal. Disability is defined as "a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity." To assist users with adaptive technologies, the accessibility options allows users to adjust how they use the computer to their needs in many key areas like the use of the keyboard and mouse, different sounds, how the display is presented, like high contrast, and other settings. If you are supporting a user with accessibility issues, you may find they are very knowledgeable about these settings and I suggest you see yourself in a truly support role.

Thinking: How different is the user experience in Linux from that of Windows? Why?

Key terms: System Preferences, assistive technology, keyboard, monitor, mouse

To maximize your learning, please visit these Web sites and review their content to help reinforce the concepts presented in this section.

Quick links:
KDE and Gnome Comparison @
Mouse @ Wikipedia
Keyboard @ Wikipedia
Computer monitor @ Wikipedia
Assistive technology @ Wikipedia
Computer_accessibility @ Wikipedia
Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 @ Wikipedia

Embedded Resources

Notes on navigation: Click inside the frame to navigate the embedded Web page. - Click outside the frame to navigate this page to scroll up/down between the embedded Web pages. - Click on the frame title to open that page in a new tab in most browsers. - Click on the the "Reload page" link to reload the original page for that frame.

KDE and Gnome Comparison @ | Reload page | If frame is empty, click on the link to view the page in a new tab or window

Mouse @ Wikipedia | Reload page | If frame is empty, click on the link to view the page in a new tab or window

Keyboard @ Wikipedia | Reload page | If frame is empty, click on the link to view the page in a new tab or window

Computer monitor @ Wikipedia | Reload page | If frame is empty, click on the link to view the page in a new tab or window

Assistive technology @ Wikipedia | Reload page | If frame is empty, click on the link to view the page in a new tab or window

Computer_accessibility @ Wikipedia | Reload page | If frame is empty, click on the link to view the page in a new tab or window

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 @ Wikipedia | Reload page | If frame is empty, click on the link to view the page in a new tab or window

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