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Supercharge Ubuntu’s Unity Dash with Lenses & Scopes: 5 Lenses to Install

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The dash on Ubuntu’s Unity desktop allows you to search for applications, files, music, and videos – but you’re not just limited to these. Install custom lenses and scopes to extend the dash with more features.

Most additional lenses and scopes are currently found outside the official repositories. Unfortunately, many useful lenses, including the dictionary lens, books lens, and Tomboy notes lens, aren’t yet available in PPAs for Ubuntu 12.04.

Using Lenses & Scopes

If you use Ubuntu’s default Unity desktop, you’re probably familiar with clicking the Dash icon and searching for applications. You can also click the icons at the bottom of the dash to search for files and folders, music, and video — each of these different search panes is known as a “lens.”

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Click the Filter results link within a lensto narrow your search. The options here depend on the lens — for example, the video lens introduced in Ubuntu 12.04 allows you to specify the video websites you want to search. This should give you an idea of the power of lenses — they can search both the web and your computer.

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Scopes are search backends for the lenses. For example, the music lens has Rhythmbox and Banshee scopes, which allow it to search these two music applications. You could add a Spotify scope to search Spotify from the music lens.

Activating Lenses

Unity doesn’t automatically detect new lenses and scopes after you install them. They won’t appear until you restart Unity by logging out and logging back in.

Ask Ubuntu

The Ask Ubuntu lens searches the Ask Ubuntu website. If you have a problem with Ubuntu – or a question you want answered – you can use the lens to find information directly from the Unity dash.

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Run the following commands in a terminal to add the appropriate PPA and install the lens:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:markjtully/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install unity-lens-askubuntu

Reddit

The Reddit lens lets you browse Reddit directly from the Dash. It also adds content to the home lens, so you’ll see new content from Reddit whenever you pull up the dash.

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Add the personal package archive (PPA) and install the lens with these commands. Skip straight to the sudo apt-get install command if you added this PPA earlier:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:markjtully/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install unity-reddit-lens

Calculator

The Calculator scope notices when you type arithmetic into the search box in the dash and displays the result – you don’t have to do anything special. The calculator uses the same backend as the GCalctool calculator included with Ubuntu.

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:Execute the following commands to add the appropriate PPA and install the lens:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:scopes-packagers/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install unity-lens-utilities unity-scope-calculator

City Information

The city scope detects when you enter the name of a city and displays information about that city, including its weather and time. This plugin, along with the calculator plugin, shows the potential for Unity and the dash to do more than just basic searches.

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Use these commands to install the lens and scope. If you’ve already added this PPA, you can skip straight to the sudo apt-get install command:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:scopes-packagers/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install unity-lens-utilities unity-scope-cities

Gwibber

Search for unity-lens in the Ubuntu Software Center and the only lens you’ll find in the default repositories is the Gwibber lens.

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Gwibber is the default social media application included with Ubuntu — it supports Twitter, Facebook, and other services. To set it up, click the mail icon on the panel at the top right corner of the screen and select Set Up Broadcast Accounts. This lens searches your Gwibber stream for status updates, images, and other information — use the filters to search for specific types of information.

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Do you use another useful lens or scope? Leave a comment and let us know about it.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 04/29/12

Comments (6)

  1. cam2644

    Just starting on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS so this is good info. Thanks

  2. pbug56

    I just made the mistake of updating to 11.10; awful. Old machine, when I put on 11.04 Unity wouldn’t go, so I had some variation of Gnome; very usable, nice ‘taskbar’ with all sorts of things like weather, time, system monitor all working nicely. Did the 11.10 upgrade and ALL of that went away to be replaced by the Unity 2D interface All my apps disappeared, taskbar disappeared, hard as hell to customize, impossible to get back what I had even by installing Gnome again. Of course, regardless of version, I still can’t get Ubuntu file systems to be readable from Windoze PC’s and vice versa.

    One of the reasons I have such contempt for Microsloth is that they are constantly changing things in the GUI that aren’t broken. Now Ubuntu had to do the same thing.

  3. don johnson

    If it isn’t broken then why fix (Ruin) it. the only thing i hate about the default interface on Ubunto is that it ASS-U-ME’s that I want ubunto as my default. I personally love it but my wife is a windoze person and after every ubunto update it forces me to repoint it so windoze boots as a default just to keep my her happy.
    And yes I do hate the new interface almost as bad as I hate windoze 8. Give me back my old interface. I have had to learn so many new interfaces since I started with my Mitts 680 in 1974 and they still think it is not right

  4. Fredrik L

    Lenses are really cool. However, I might have found a flaw. Or do anybody have the answer to this: http://askubuntu.com/questions/129822/how-to-change-the-order-of-scopes-in-a-lens
    ?

    If you know how to do this please post your reply to the question.

    Best Regards
    Fredrik L

  5. krustyarmor

    As to complaints about Unity: if you don’t like what Ubuntu is doing with its user interface, then don’t use it. It’s as simple as that. Don’t upgrade to newer versions, or install gnome-session-fallback and use the classic interface that you are accustomed to, or try one of the many, many, many other window managers that are available such as Gnome 3, KDE 4, XFCE, Enlightenment, Fluxbox, etc… “There are no victims in this classroom!!!” This article is about useful lenses/scopes, not about your unwillingness to change. If you really want to do something productive for the future of Unity, Ubuntu, or Linux, then become an active contributor to the Linux community and help determine the direction it goes next. Because I got news for you, the world (not even the Ubuntu world) doesn’t revolve around you.

  6. Chris Hoffman

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