Ubuntu 13.04 – The Dash

In the first article in the series I gave a whistlestop tour of Ubuntu 13.04 which gave a brief overview of the functionality within Ubuntu. In the second article i demonstrated the functionality of the Unity Launcher. This article is all about the Dash within Unity and includes details about  lenses, filters and previews.


The Dash

To access the Dash press the super key on your keyboard. (This is generally speaking the key with the Windows icon on it ). Alternatively click the Swirl icon at the top of the launcher.

The Dash provides the simplest method to navigate around Ubuntu to make it easier to do the things you want to do. This is accomplished by having a series of screens known as lenses, which are used to separate common day to day tasks.



By default Ubuntu comes with the following lenses and are depicted by a series of icons at the bottom of the dash.


Unity Lenses

  • Home
  • Applications
  • Files and Folders
  • Online Communications
  • Music
  • Photos
  • Video

When you first access the Dash you are shown the home lens which is split into three rows. The first row contains the search bar, the second row contains a list of the most commonly used applications and the third row contains a list of recently accessed files.

As you can see there are only a half a dozen icons showing for the list of applications and the list of recently accessed files. You can see more applications by clicking the link next to the “Applications” heading which says something like “see 19 more results” and you can see more files by clicking the link next to “Files and Folders” which says something like “see 45 more results”.  Once you have clicked the link the expanded view will become the default option, so if you exit the Dash and then reopen it again you will see the expanded list of applications. To get back to a smaller list you can click the link that says “See fewer results”.


Searching for screenshot

By far the easiest way to search for a file, an application, a song, a movie or a photo is to use the search tool. Simply start typing into the search bar and a list of relevant applications and files will be listed.

In the screenshot to the left you can see that I started searching for “Screenshot” and only a few characters into the word I can see the screenshot utility used to create the screenshots for this article, a list of previous screenshots and also some sponsored listings of things I might want to buy (I will discuss this further later).


The home len is useful if you want to quickly find an application or access a recently used file but if you want to work with files and folders or see what media you have on offer then it is worth accessing the relevant lenses for those purposes.


Applications Lens

Each lens has a consistent layout with a search tool and rows of information. The “Applications” lens contains a search bar, a list of recently used applications, installed applications and a list of suggested applications.

You can expand the list of installed applications and suggested applications by clicking the “see more results” links next to their headings.

If you start typing into the search bar you will see a reduced list showing applications relevant to your search already installed and suggested applications. The suggested applications include non-free software.

Applications Lense Filter

Applications Lens Filter

In the top right corner of the “Applications” lens there is an option called “Filter Results”.

The applications can be filtered by category such as developer, games, internet and office. Applications can also be filtered by their source such as local apps and the software center.

By omitting the software center you can prevent the sponsored listings showing up. This isn’t the only way of stopping the sponsored listings and I will get to that later on in the article.



Files and Folders Lense

Files and Folders Lens

The “Files and Folders” lens also contains a search bar as well as rows of files split into “Recent Files”, “Downloads” and “Folders”.

If you prefer a more familiar file manager then there is one on the launcher with an icon that looks like a filing cabinet. I think the files and folders lens provides a really good method for instantly accessing files without having to traverse a directory tree.

The filters for the “Files and Folders” lens include the ability to filter by last modified date, by file type (such as presentations, audio, images etc) and by file size. (which we all find useful when we have run out of disk space).


The Gwibber lense

The Online Lens

The “Online Communications” lens, alternatively known as the “friends” lens or the “Gwibber” lens shows a list of recent communications.

To enable this lens you need to register some online accounts within Unity. I will write a separate article showing how to add online accounts in due course.

The “Online Communications” lens has a search bar which enables you to search for such things as people you know on Twitter, to recent communications on a particular subject.

The “Online Communications” lens shows a list of  messages, mentions and private messages.

The filter for the “Online Communications” lens enables you to filter messages by stream (messages, mentions, private) and by account (facebook, twitter).

Music Lense

Music Lens

The “Music” lens provides a quick method for accessing your audio collection without having to run Audio software.

The search box lets you search your entire music collection. The rest of the display is split between songs and albums.

To play a song or an album simply click on the title. The song will then load in your default music application which in Ubuntu 13.04 is Rhythmbox. (I plan to write an article about Rhythmbox in the not too distant future).


The filter for the “Music” lens enables you to filter your music collection by both genre (rock, punk, classical) and decade (80s, 90s).

Photos Lense

Photos Lens

The “Photos” lens works in conjunction with the default photo managing software (Shotwell) . To get your photos to appear open Shotwell and then allow Shotwell to import all your images.

After doing this the “Photos” lens wil show the customary search bar, a list of recently accessed images and a “My Photos” section.

You can filter the photos by date and also by source. The source of your photos can be on your computer (within Shotwell) or can be online within Picasa.

Movies Lense

Movies Lens

The final lens that is installed by default is the “Movies” or “Videos” lens. The “Movies” lens like all the other lenses shows a search bar. There are also a list of videos separated into  local videos (called “My Videos”), online videos and more suggestions. The suggested videos include both free and non-free options.

The videos on the “Movies” lens can be filtered by source. This is quite an interesting lens because the sources include “My Videos” (local to the computer), Youtube movies, BBC iPlayer, Bing Video and other similar video sites.


Within each lens you have the option to preview the items that are listed. For example if you right click on a file in the applications lens then you will either get a description of the application and the ability to launch the application or you will be able to install the app. The music lens lets you play the track, the video lens lets you play the video. The photo lens lets you view, share and print the image. The online communications lens lets you retweet or like a message or to just view the message.

The results within the Dash contain sponsored listings of free and non-free results. Some people do not like this as they see it as an invasion of their offline privacy. Personally I am not one of these people. I am happy to receive sponsored listings if they are relevant and they don’t take over. If by providing sponsored results further Ubuntu releases remain as good as this release then I see no harm in targeted search results.

If you want to turn off the “selling” part of the Unity Dash then you need to access the system settings. To do this click the icon on the launcher that looks like a cog with a spanner or press the icon in the top right corner and select system settings. On the first row of icons in the system settings screen you will see an option called “Privacy”.

Ubuntu Privacy Settings

Ubuntu Unity Privacy Settings

Clicking the “Privacy” icon brings up the Privacy settings. There are five tabs within this screen including “search results”, “recent items”, “files”, “applications” and “diagnostics”.

The “search results” tab has two options. The first one deals with the search results that you see within the Dash. If you do not want to see online search results move the slider to the “off” position.

At the bottom of the “search results” tab you will also see an option called “record activity”. This option enables the results you see to be targeted based on previous activity. If you do not like this sort of thing (Big Brother watching, NSA scandals and that sort of thing) then move the slider to the “off” position.

The “Recent Activity” tab enables you clear any searches and activity for a given period of time. The recent activity tab works like the clear history option within Chrome and Firefox. Choose to clear everything in the past hour, day, week, all or advanced. The advanced option lets you pick the dates and times to clear the history for.

Unity Privacy Settings

Unity Privacy Settings

The “Files” tab within the privacy settings lets you choose file types to record activity for.

You can choose to limit the activity by file types such as instant messaging, websites, text, audio, video, image, presentation, email and spreadsheet.

If you have specific folders that you do not want to track activity for then you can add them by clicking the plus symbol and choosing the relevant folders.

The “Applications” tab works in a similar way to the files and folders tab and lets you limit the recorded activity by omitting the applications you do not want to track.

Finally, the “Diagnostics” tab gives a fairly alarming disclaimer that says “Ubuntu can collect anonymous information that helps developers improve it. All information collected is covered by our privacy policy”. The more Orwellian users out there might read such a disclaimer as “We can and will collect all your information under the guise that is firstly aids the development of our software and secondly because we have covered our arses by putting it into a policy document”.

This brings me nicely on to the privacy document. I have read the document and I would suggest that everyone intending to use Ubuntu reads it too.

Firstly we are told that Canonical considers our privacy to be very important and that they don’t ask for personal information (with the caveat added saying “unless we really need it”).

The policy also says that data isn’t shared with anyone……… oh that is except for the provision of services and to comply with law and order (As I am typing this I am aware that I am watching the James Bond Skyfall movie).

No data is stored….. except of course where necessary to provide services, products or to comply with law and order.

The privacy policy is a little alarming except that anyone out there who has used Windows, has an XBOX, watches Sky TV, has a drivers license in the UK, uses BT, uses any Google service, uses Amazon, uses any US based website will probably already have signed their personal life away anyway.

In addition to reading the privacy policy I would also suggest reading the legal notice that appears at the bottom of the Dash.

There isn’t much else left to add except that you can access each lense with the use of a keyboard shortcut as shown below:

  • super + A – Applications
  • super + F – Files and Folders
  • super + G – Online Communications
  • super + M – Music
  • super + C – Photos
  • super + V – Videos
  • CTRL + Tab – Tab through lenses when Dash is open

I hope you have found this article useful.

If you have found this article useful then why not consider subscribing to this blog by clicking on the relevant icon on the left hand side under the heading “Subscribe to My Ubuntu Blog”. There are three icons. The first icon is the direct RSS feed, the second icon will enable you to follow me on Twitter and the third icon will subscribe you to this blog via Feedburner.

Thankyou for reading.

8 comments for “Ubuntu 13.04 – The Dash

  1. Rick Stanley
    July 8, 2013 at 6:38 pm

    I ass/u/me that “Unity Dash” is actually short for “Unity Dashboard” Isn’t the default shell in Ubuntu now “dash” not “bash”? if so then this is unfortunate naming conflict.

    • psypher
      July 11, 2013 at 5:57 am

      The desktop shell is called Unity, the dashboard is called dash and neither has anything to do with the command line shell called bash.

  2. OMhostage
    July 8, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    For heaven’s sake, moderate your comments! Most of them are spam.

    • myubuntublog
      July 8, 2013 at 11:13 pm

      Wow, I go away for the weekend to enjoy the Sun (which is rare in Scotland) and I come back to a huge pile of spam. I have sorted this now, thanks for highlighting the issue.

  3. psypher
    July 11, 2013 at 5:55 am

    aaaaah. Cannot WAIT for Unity Touch running on Mir on my Nexus devices. When the ecosystem unites in 14.04 it’s going to be a good day for Open Source Software. I really couldn’t care for the people who don’t like Unity. They don’t really “get” it and that’s fine. I get it, you get it, so lets go and have fun on the best OS that will ever be made :D

  4. August 1, 2013 at 2:06 pm

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    I’ve got some suggestions for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great site and I look forward to seeing it improve over time.

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