Why I use Unity: Part 1

There was recently a thread on reddit about whether or not people use scopes, and as usual, the vocal “UNITY SUCKS I HATE CANONICAL BECAUSE I LOVE GNOME2 AND WISH IT WAS STILL 1996″ crowd was present, although there were also quite a few positive answers.  What it made me realize most, though, is how much Unity/scopes can do that people don’t seem to know about, so I thought I’d take the time to highlight some of these cool features that I use on a pretty regular basis.  Most of these utilize a super basic feature that most people don’t even know exist: the use of keywords in Unity.  So without any further ado:


Local Weather

Like most people, I find myself wondering what the weather is like outside, while I sit inside and work on my computer anyway, you know, just in case maybe I want to go outside.  Now I could open up Chromium, go to weather.com, then search for my zip code, and figure it out that way, OR I could just hit the super key, then type ‘weather’.  That’s it, no location necessary, it will use GeoIP to figure out where I am, and will give me the relevant weather data right there!  If I wanted to figure out the weather anywhere else in the world, I could simply search “weather: city name” and get it.

Clicking on a specific day will give you more information, including the High/Low temperature, as well as a button to open more info in your browser.


Hey look, I'm not gonna leave the house this weekend



This is one scope that I use probably every single day.  A simple calculator is built directly into Unity.  No keywords are needed, just type in some math, and Unity will spit out an answer.  Simple as that!  Note if you’re worried about other results showing up, you can use the info: or calculator: keywords to get just the results.


Use info: if you want just the results



Sometimes, I’ll come across some word that I don’t understand.  It happens to the best of us… right?  Well, instead of loading up dictionary.com, I can just press super, and type “define:word” and get my definition right there.  Easy right?  Doing that will bring up a list of words, and clicking one will get you the definition, as seen here:


So THAT'S what it means



Sometimes, you just want to know where the closest Dunkin Donuts is.  Luckily, I live in Boston, so it’s never more than like 20 feet away.  But to find out where it is (especially useful if you’re on vacation or a business trip), just hit super, then type foursquare:dunkin donuts (info: will work as well!).  In some cases, you may not even need the keyword at all, but if you want to be sure you’re getting foursquare results, be sure to add it.  Selecting a result will show you the address, and a link to open up a browser to its Foursquare page.


We really like our Dunkins

There are many, many more awesome scopes to use (github, virtualbox, news, stocks, and wikipedia come to mind) that I’ll try and write about soon, but this will hopefully at least help some people discover some of the awesome features in Unity that most people don’t seem to know about.

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  1. Frederik December 11, 2013 at 10:26 pm #

    That’s really interesting. Just: Where can I learn about these (and other) keywords? I mean, besides the scopes’ source code (which would not exactly be user friendly).

  2. cwayne December 11, 2013 at 10:55 pm #

    No such place exists yet, which is mainly why I wrote this post. I’m actually working right now on compiling a list to post somewhere

  3. Adam December 12, 2013 at 1:48 am #

    And if you would not use that nonsense unity, you could always have an icon in a panel, which shows you sunny or cloudy and more info just with the mousepointer over it…

  4. anthony December 12, 2013 at 1:55 am #

    Very nice. Didn’t know this existed. Please post more!

  5. fogNL December 12, 2013 at 2:33 am #

    When Windows 7 first came out, I hated the new task bar, and came up with ways to go back to the old way. But eventually, I dove in and began to love it.

    The same thing with Unity. I hated it when it first came out, but now I can’t live without it. I like to try many distros, interfaces, etc. And I always find myself coming back to the comfort of Unity, it really is a great interface and doesn’t deserve all the hate that it still gets.

  6. cwayne December 12, 2013 at 2:49 am #


    So because you personally don’t like it, it’s nonsense? When did the linux community turn so negative? I don’t like KDE, but it’s certainly not nonsense, it’s just not for me. Likewise, Unity may not be for you. So what? Why does that turn it into ‘nonsense’?

  7. Keith December 12, 2013 at 6:55 am #

    Thanks this is good to know, I must admit I don’t really use scopes or have ever bothered to look into it. I’m running Unity on my 3 monitor desktop and Elementary on my laptop, still can’t decide which works best for me, only that they both do what I need!

  8. Vadim P. December 12, 2013 at 8:24 am #

    I like it as well. Time to get some more scopes, actually.

  9. Niklas Rosenqvist December 12, 2013 at 9:09 am #

    Why I don’t use Unity part 1:

    I’m not writing this to be condescending or to hijack your topic, I just want to hightlight some very major UX issues within Unity.

    For the two first searches you show you don’t have the relevant information the top of your search result. Above what you want to find is results from other scopes.

    These two extensions for GNOME-Shell provide the same info but much more efficiently:


    How helpful is really the search results from Foursquare? You have 10+ results that all look identical.

  10. Niklas Rosenqvist December 12, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    Though one thing I do miss in GS is the HUD app menu search. Great feature of Unity!

  11. Moses December 12, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

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  12. Adam December 12, 2013 at 4:03 pm #


    I don’t like the buttons on the left side, but I can close the window there.
    Unity does not show any info I want to see on my desktop, that is more than my personal preference.

  13. cwayne December 12, 2013 at 4:12 pm #

    That’s exactly your personal preference…

  14. James December 12, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

    Great post.

    The weather scope doesn’t appear for me. Do I need to install something to enable it?

    p.s. Regarding the Unity haters – like fogNL – I didn’t like Unity when it come out but now I love it. Personally, I just find Ubuntu / Unity to be getting better and better and post likes this make me smile. Thanks.

  15. penguinman December 13, 2013 at 1:54 am #

    While I am a big fan of a lot of the features Unity has, I still can’t support it due to the privacy concerns involved. And, yes, you can turn off online results but that disables most of the Unity features. A lot of my fears of this might be put to rest if canonical would release the source code of the server side of this process, but as far as I know they have yet to do that.

  16. cwayne December 13, 2013 at 4:31 am #


    All the code that actually does any online searches (i.e. the scopes) are all open source. As for the physical server, I’m not sure, but I do know that if you turn off all online services that server will not be queried at all.

    To be honest, I never really understood the privacy concerns around this, especially since the server itself does all the API calls to the online sources, so they never get your IP anyway (at least as I understand it)

  17. vnz December 13, 2013 at 6:06 am #

    Why is geoip location cool? Your position on the net? How’s that supposed to protect your privacy?
    Archlinux Gnome3 rulez!

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