How-To Geek

8 New Features in Ubuntu 12.04, Precise Pangolin


Ubuntu 12.04 is upon us. Aside from the usual assortment of bug fixes and updated software, Ubuntu’s Unity desktop environment has been polished and offers new features and more configurability.

Precise Pangolin doesn’t include any dramatic changes, but it offers polish and refinement — while filling gaps in Unity. As an LTS (long-term service) release, it will be supported for five years on both desktops and servers.


Ubuntu’s new heads-up display is probably the most interesting and groundbreaking feature in Precise Pangolin. This is the missing piece of the Unity puzzle — Ubuntu’s global menu bar and automatically hiding menus now make sense. The HUD is Ubuntu’s vision of a text-based interface that replaces graphical menus — don’t worry, the menus are still present. Any application that supports Ubuntu’s global menu bar will support the HUD.

To pull up the HUD, press the Alt key in any application — or even at the desktop. Start typing and you’ll see menu items that match your search phrase.


Selecting a menu item with the mouse — or by pressing the arrow keys and the Enter button — is the same as clicking it in the menu. The search-based interface helps avoid digging through menus when you don’t know where an option is.


The Zeitgeist engine has been integrated in Ubuntu since 11.04. It’s also known as the activity log — it logs things you do on your computer, including files you open, websites you visit, and people you have conversations with. These logs are stored locally and offered to other desktop applications, which can use them to customize your experience.

Responding to privacy concerns, Ubuntu now includes a Privacy panel for managing this behavior. You’ll find it in Ubuntu’s System Settings window.


The Privacy panel includes quite a few options for managing this behavior. In addition to disabling activity recording entirely, you can disable it for certain types of files, folders, or applications. You can also manually delete the activity history — either all of it, or just the history for a recent time period.


Unity Appearance Settings

Ubuntu now finally offers some configuration options for Unity out-of-the-box. You’ll find these options in the Appearance panel in the System Settings window.

On the Look tab, the size of the application icons on Unity’s launcher are now configurable — you can make them smaller or larger.


On the Behavior tab, you can customize when Unity automatically hides itself. It no longer automatically hides by default, but you can enable the auto-hide feature and tweak its sensitivity, if you like.


Only a few options are exposed here for configuring Unity at the moment – hopefully Ubuntu will add more in future releases.


Many more applications now support Unity’s “quicklists” feature, including the Nautilus file manager and Rhythmbox music player. Right-click an application icon on the Unity launcher and you’ll find shortcuts to frequently used options. For example, the Nautilus file manager displays your bookmarked locations, while the Rythmbox music player offers playback options.


Video Lens

Lenses allow you to perform different types of searches directly from Unity’s dash, and Precise Pangolin introduces a new lens for searching videos. Select the video icon at the bottom of the dash screen and you can search for videos stored locally or in a variety of online locations, including YouTube, Vimeo, and TED Talks. Use the Filter Results option to search for videos from a specific location.


Software Recommendations

The Ubuntu Software Center now offers personalized software recommendations. Click the Turn On Recommendations button at the bottom of the Ubuntu Software Center to enable them. You’ll have to log in with your Ubuntu Software Center account — this is the same as your Ubuntu One or Launchpad account.

Screenshot from 2012-04-26 15_42_59

When you enable recommendations, your list of installed software will be periodically sent to Canonical’s servers. Recommendations will appear in the Ubuntu Software Center.

Screenshot from 2012-04-26 15_45_03

No Mono By Default

Ubuntu 12.04 drops Banshee from the default installation, switching back to Rhythmbox as the music player. Tomboy, the only other default Mono application, was also removed from the default installation – so Mono isn’t present by default at all. Both applications are still available in the Ubuntu Software Center. The Ubuntu Software Center also includes Gnote, a C++ port of Tomboy installed by default on Fedora.

Screenshot from 2012-04-26 15_06_11

Ubuntu One Redesign

Ubuntu One, Ubuntu’s cloud storage service, has a redesigned interface in Precise Pangolin. Interestingly enough, the new interface uses the QT toolkit (used in KDE). The QT-based interface replaces the old one, which used the same GTK+ toolkit used in GNOME, Unity, and elsewhere on the Ubuntu desktop.

Screenshot from 2012-04-26 15_15_44

Did we miss an interesting feature? 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 04/28/12

Comments (20)

  1. Ben

    There is a slight error- Ubuntu 12.04 LTS is supported for 5 years on both the desktop and server edition- support ends in 2017 for both.
    Anyway, an excellent article and an excellent site. Keep up the good work

  2. megageektutorials

    My internet is very slow and it takes a long time to upgrade Ubuntu. Is it worth it or can I keep 11.10 for a while longer before I feel like upgrading?

  3. TheFu

    Ok, so those are the GUI changes.

    What about non-GUI changes?
    Kernel features?
    Is the server different from 10.04 server? Worth the upgrade?
    What about default virtualization support?

    I get that most people aren’t interested in this stuff, preferring to point-n-click.

    And the single most important question is … did they finally stop pushing nano and make vim the default editor again? ;)

  4. serg

    I like nano . What is wrong with nano.

  5. TCR Solutions

    I use a Nvidia 128mb card (the only one that would work in 11.10) in my dual monitor setup. Constant headache because the proprietary hardware issue. All gone in 12.04. No proprietary hardware and the display menu sets it all up for both monitors. Slick!

  6. cam2644

    Good article. Unity wasn’t a success at first but it looks like they may have crossed that hurdle now,

  7. Krishnapriya

    I installed Ubuntu 12.04 yesterday and I need help on one problem. I need to know how to connect to the internet with my Huawei E1762 modem. I have already configured my network settings and installed usb_modeswitch. Now, I need to know what to do next. I tried some methods but didn’t work. I am newbie to Linux so can anyone explain in simple terms.

  8. Sai K.

    Hey Chris, starting from 12.04, all LTS versions of Ubuntu get 5 years support for both Desktop and Server editions.

  9. Guest

    Is Unity the only available UI or is it possible to revert to the old standby of the GNOME desktop?

    Also, how is wi-fi support for this version? I once tried the Jolicloud fork (on which the wi-fi did work OOB on my Acer Aspire One netbook), but didn’t like its iPhone-style interface or the reliance on web apps vs. desktop ones. Not too trusting of the whole cloud computing thing and I doubt I ever will be. This was back when Ubuntu 10.04 was the stable release; has anything changed wi-fi related in the two years since?

    AAO has a Broadcom card and my HP laptop, an Atheros. Planning on testing out a LiveCD but wary of whether either of these brands work OOB (I am not too familiar with network loops and other “under the hood” stuff of Linux systems).

  10. rbouvet

    I installed Ubuntu 11 in VirtualBox and it ran great. But I was recently prompted to update both, so I did.
    Now I wish I had not. VB still runs fine, but now I am back to being unable to enlarge the window
    when I use Ubuntu 12. I was able to change it to full screen with the old version, but not the new.
    Hopefully someone smarter than I out there will figure out how to go to full screen.

  11. Kari

    @ Guest, I read online that you can still use Gnome with this release (alternate download maybe…) I haven’t tried it personally but I encourage you to do some more research…

  12. tonyespo

    I just updated from 11.10 to 12 and it took about 4 hours on my Road Runner connection. I didn’t care because I did it while watching TV and I have a second computer to play on. It’s worth it. 12 is faster loading after the first two or three reboots. It launches my programs faster and it was compatible with everything. Of course I did an upgrade and not a new install. I am running on a duel core laptop along side Windows 7. I’m very happy with Ubuntu 12.

  13. Joby

    @rbouvet You could try reinstalling the Virtualbox guest additions.

    Go to Devices>Install Guest Additions, or press Host+D

  14. FedE

    Upgraded to 12.04 from 11.10 in my laptop (HP dm4, 1024 tx) . Its was smooth as butter.. Had to mouse click few times to accept, deny, and that’s it.

    Everything works..

    New version is very zappy.

    Shutdown and Boot times have enormously improved. Its like switching off a mobile phone.

  15. zepe

    As a newbie to Ubuntu and Linux in general, where can one find some basic training and a glossary?

  16. Citrus Rain


    Basic trainings were tl;dr for me because none of it was revalent to my immediate use. So I’m still learning it.

    Here’s what I did since starting to actively use Ubuntu when my pc was having shutoff issues in Jan 2011:

    1) If you need a program that you formerly knew on windows/mac, look it up on wikipedia, scroll to the bottom, find it’s list of alternatives. (for example: on photoshop’s page, scroll down to the box in the footer called “Raster graphics editors” and you’ll see alternatives like GIMP, Tux Paint, and GNU Paint)
    2) If something’s not working, like if you can’t find a driver, google “[hardware’s name] driver [linux distro name] [version]” I had to do this for my bamboo tablet. It took a bit of searching to find the terminal commands. (which I didn’t understand them at all, now I sort of do – (not my strong suit))
    3) Google search every problem you get. And double check what a command does before using it if someone gives you an answer out of the blue just like a windows user being told to delete system 32. (suspicions saved me from formatting!)
    4) Try ALL THE GUIs! ( Unity/Gnome3/Gnome Classic/MATE/KDE ) Until you find the one that suits you.
    Oh and 5! Very important! 5: Don’t be afraid to break it. As long as you have a second way to search online for a problem, you’ll figure out how to fix something. I did this with to my bootloader.

  17. Chris Hoffman

    @Ben, Sai K

    Thanks for telling me that — I guess they changed the way LTS works and I didn’t notice. I updated the post.


    If you really want the *old* GNOME (not the new GNOME 3/GNOME Shell), try MATE:

  18. Muknd

    it is so good that you’ve done with some appearences, it looks good. I was using linux before, and before that windows. but after installation of linux redhat i thot it’s little hard to get it write, but after installing ubuntu..i feel like little more familiar…it’s pretty easy to handle. but you know what All good god damn features as well as softwares are’s just blow my mind…!! :D

  19. Ubuntu_newbi-ish

    @TCR Solutions – being a bit of a newbie to Ubuntu, I had a struggle to set up my dual monitors on my Nvidia card – like you say, this time it works out of the box :)

    @Guest – Gnome is still in there if you want to use it, as for the wireless drivers, well my Compaq laptop now works out of the box

  20. steve

    I installed 12.04 as soon as it came out. Previously I’d been using 10.04 (and trying out other versions and distros). After a while I got back nearly all the functionality and convenience of 10.04 by installing MATE but one thing I can’t solve: I have a 17″ Proview EM-175 monitor which 10.04 happily runs 1024×768 at 85Hz refresh but 12.04 can only run at 60Hz. At 1280×1024 10.04 manages 60 Hz but 12.04 only manages 50Hz. So I’m currently back with 10.04 and the 85Hz option.
    Is there any way to get the performance I used to have back again in 12.04?
    Just for comparison Windows XP manages everything 10.04 can do and 1280×960@70 Hz and 1152×864 @ 75Hz though that’s not enough to make me go back to it after a few years away!

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