Whenever I do a fresh install of Ubuntu (my distro of choice for a few years now), there are just a few things that I do to get my desktop just how I like it:
- I add a keyboard shortcut for the system monitor (usually Shift+Ctrl+Esc). When something's dogging my system, I don't want to have to click through menus to find out. I want it right at my fingertips.
- I install Do and Docky. I tried out Do at some point when I was looking for a bit of eye-candy, but it turned out to be so much more. I'm just a Super+Space away from my most used tools. It's like the quick efficiency of a terminal, but with all the glamour of the graphical desktop. It takes the graphical command runner far beyond Alt+F2 (or Win+R for that matter). I use Docky at the bottom of the screen. It took a bit of getting used to, but it just makes me feel good to look at it now. Maybe it's because I remember back to all those panels and desktop widgets whose main and only objective, it seemed, was to look nice (i.e. look like the Mac OSX bar), eschewing functionality. Docky covers aesthetics and functionality, and does both swimmingly.
- I download Epiphany and set it as my default browser. Epiphany is nice to use in part because it's the most light-weight browser around. Its beauty lies in its simplicity. If I want to open a link or an HTML file, I click and BAM, there it is. Moreover, it's nice to have a browser that just blends into my desktop. Don't get me wrong: Epiphany's not without its issues (on the top of my list are 151943, 598291, and 598584). I do suppliment it with Chrome as, for the time being, some web applications just work better there. If, say, I'm going to be editing several Google Docs, I'll use Chome; it's a less frustrating experience. Also, Epiphany can be slow at rendering some pages (for example, try scrolling down pages that use the experimental -webkit-box-shadow CSS style). However, by and large Epiphany provides a pleasant experience. With a few extentions, it's my casual-browsing browser of choice.
- I install Hamster and set the notifications to every 15 minutes. As I endeavor to improve my productivity, it's helpful to know where I spend my time. Also, being notified that I'm working on "Distractions" is a pretty good motivator to get back to work.
There are other things I do (pick a nice background image -- which changes every month, twiddle with fonts, download gstreamer packages, install a slew of plugins for gedit, ...), but that's pretty much all I need.
I wasn't sure how I was going to feel about all this social media stuff that Ubuntu integrated into the desktop by default, but it's certainly growing on me. I let Empathy and Gwibber start up with my computer. Also, I installed a Docklet for my GMail. I've found that, rather than inundating me with distractions, all of these desktop-integrated tools allow me to better concentrate on whatever I'm doing because I'm not constantly switching to my browser to check whether I have any new emails or tweets. If something new comes in, I get a nice, non-intrusive notification in my peripheral vision. I can glance at it and barely slow my typing. I don't even have to have my browser open, which contributes to my having a clean-looking desktop, which makes me love my Gnome even more.
Both Empathy and [especially] Gwibber have their issues as well, but overall I'm willing to put up with them to get the benefits. It's not a perfect desktop, but I'm very pleased these days. Having been using Gnome since 2001, it's nice to see how far things have come.
Anyways, being a develper, I'm hyper-sensitive to the fact that software doesn't appear out of thin air, and software never "just works"; other people make my software work. With Gnome, I have an even deeper appreciation of this fact, because many of these people are volunteers. That is astounding. My hat goes off to Gnome. Thanks!