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Adventures in Ubuntu 11.10: Font size

I’ll be the first to admit that this blog hasn’t seen a lot of updates lately. You know, for the last year and a bit.

But the truth is I simply fell out of practice with writing, and by extension, writing on Linux. I haven’t been writing on anything, you see, which pretty much puts writing on Linux out of the question. For this blog to exist, writing, as it were, must be done somewhere, preferably with that somewhere being at least near Linux.

Recently, however, I took up the whole “writing” thing again, and figured, well, if I’m doing this, I may as well write on Linux. After all, I was halfway there as it was.

And so, just barely managing to stop myself from uttering the words “what could possibly go wrong?”, I stuck Ubuntu 11.10 (“Oneiric Ocelot”) on a USB stick, stuck the stick into an old HP Mini 2133, and stuck Ubuntu on the hard drive.

Surprisingly little went wrong. I was even impressed at how the Broadcom wireless drivers – once the bane of any Linux novice’s first transition to free software – were quietly downloaded before the installation had even begun. The install was quick, smooth, and most importantly, pretty.

With very little struggle I managed to get Ubuntu up and running and get this party, as it were, started. After juggling files and fonts for a bit I realized that everything was rather tiny on the netbook’s high-resolution screen. Switching to a lower resolution looked awful, so I decided to increase the font size instead.

This is a relatively simple task in most, if not all, popular operating systems. Even during my first experiences with Ubuntu, I didn’t have to search much to find the option. No, it was in a pretty obvious place – “Appearances,” I think it was? – and simple to modify.

So I found myself in quite the position of embarrassment when, despite Ubuntu’s (relatively) new fancy-pants dashboard with its impossibly-simple-to-use search bar, I couldn’t find the option. I smacked the side of my head a few times, hoping to jostle the past few years’ accumulated *nix knowledge into finding a solution. And indeed it did. I opened up a browser and asked Google what to do next.

The consensus on the Internet was that the reason I couldn’t find the option to do something so incredibly simple as changing the font size was because, in fact, there is no option in a vanilla Ubuntu 11.10 install. For a moment I felt a small degree of claustrophobia as I became aware of the user preferences shrinking all around me, threatening to close me in with their idiot-proofing lockdowns of obscenely simple options. But then I remembered that this was Linux I was dealing with, and Linux, no matter what the flavor, is anything if not free. And indeed, wherever the problem was recorded, a solution was offered:

sudo apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool

Trying not to think about how stupid this was, I focused instead on how impressively shiny Ubuntu had become while opening up a terminal to run the aforementioned command.

The terminal was more than happy to help me on my epic quest to make the fonts a bit bigger, but first it had to download 80MB of archives.

When it had finished packing my system full of who-knows-what, a new icon was available on the dashboard. It was labeled Advanced Settings. I guess wanting to change my font size makes me some kind of incredible power user.

I know this experience doesn’t have much to do with writing, but I’m seriously wondering if continuing this blog with Ubuntu & Unity is worth it. I’m beginning to get the same feeling I got during my brief time with OS X – that I, as a user, am a bumbling idiot unworthy of changing even the simplest settings on my own machine. I know this can probably be rectified by using a different window manager, but I also know that Ubuntu, as a community project, is responsible for whatever’s available on a vanilla install. Choosing to leave out basic system settings on a fresh install… worries me.

I’m not too concerned with my own computer – I know I can get it up and running again the way I want it, and get back to discussing writing software. But I am definitely concerned with the direction Ubuntu seems to be headed towards.

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6 Comments on “Adventures in Ubuntu 11.10: Font size”

  1. Bart says:

    You are not the only one wondering about the directions Ubuntu seems to be heading to. Maybe it is because you have different expectations, and what you thought you would find is actually now another kind of desktop?

    “… but I’m seriously wondering if continuing this blog with Ubuntu & Unity is worth it”.
    It doesn’t say on your blog it should be Ubuntu with Unity, does it?

    I am looking forward to read about your view upon writing software, so I hope you will feel at home with Linux again soon.

    • awkisopen says:

      I called it “Writing on Linux” for a reason! Well, a few reasons. One of them is that I didn’t feel the need to make the title more complicated than it had to be, and the other was because someday I knew I would look into different distributions.

      Having solved a few minor annoyances, I think I’m sticking with Ubuntu – at least for the moment. (I am playing around with a few different window managers, though. I like how easy it is to switch window managers on boot, and I hope that feature doesn’t get buried anytime soon.) However, if Ubuntu continues to move in the direction it seems to be moving in, that certainly wouldn’t stop me from continuing to blog about Linux software – it just might be from a different distribution, that’s all.

      I wonder how Linux Mint is doing these days…

      • Bart says:

        Linux Mint is probably doing better than ever, though it is still recovering from the switch to GNOME 3. Their new desktop Cinnamon is available and running fine, but not completely finished. It might become the default in the next version of Linux Mint.

        I just tried Lubuntu “for fun” – it is so refreshing to see that one never has to feel claustophobic with Linux.

      • awkisopen says:

        Hmm, today I learned about two new possibilities. I could very well use Cinnamon or LXDE with Ubuntu, couldn’t I? Or would I be missing out if I just tried the window managers?

      • Bart says:

        I just had to check… but yes, you can change the different fonts (default, document, window title font) in Linux Mint Cinnamon under “advanced settings”. Actually, there is a slider there, called “text sliding factor”, that lets you change the fonts of the menu bar etc.
        But again, Cinnamon is brand new, and only now “stable” with the current version. It is not finished.

        LXDE sounds very interesting too.

        Did you see this? : http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/939

      • awkisopen says:

        I mentioned LXDE because apparently that’s the lubuntu window manager. While I don’t feel like trying out lubuntu as a whole, I figured I could certainly try out LXDE at the very least.

        And that’s an interesting development! Usually I don’t stay too much on top of development news since sometimes, reading about a feature that’s still a work in progress and hasn’t got the kinks quite worked out yet can give a bad impression of said feature. Remember everyone being up in arms about Unity? Yeah.

        Still though, having to navigate menus is kind of ridiculous in a world where you can search for just about anything on your machine in a matter of seconds. It’s natural evolution, I suppose. I’m kind of excited about it!

        I’m installing Mint 12 on my netbook (alongside Ubuntu) as we speak!


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