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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.