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I'm trying to get an Ubuntu laptop functional for a visually impaired friend. Her impairment is such that a screen magnifier would solve the issue. I've tried out Kmag (as its the only hit when searching the software center for "magnifier"), but it seems odd the Ubuntu lacks a default. So I'm assuming I'm missing something obvious.

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I am visually impaired myself. I need a full screen magnifier all the time in order to work with any distribution (or windows / mac). A very good magnifying experience can be achieved with Compiz Manager like Mitch said. A pitty that the newer desktop enviroments seem to forget that when they completely disposed of compiz. That's way I'm never returning to linux again! Unless a better alternative comes up... but still no luck. I understand your problem, no suggested magnifier is good enough in comparison to windows 7 or 8's build in magnifier... – user141122 Mar 17 '13 at 17:16
I can't speak to the quality of Window's built in magnifier, but compiz is still being used in the default Unity desktop as of Ubuntu 12.10. – Doomy Mar 20 '13 at 14:58
up vote 11 down vote accepted

To use magnifier in Ubuntu, you can do so by using CompizConfig Settings Manager. If you don't have it installed, you can do so from the Ubuntu Software Center.

Or, just press Ctrl+Alt+T on your keyboard to open Terminal. When it opens, run the command below.

sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager

Once you invoke the program, look under Accessibility for magnifier, and click on it to configure it.

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O you can try Virtual Magnifying Glass 3.5

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In Ubuntu 14.04, the command to invoke the program is ccsm. – Ben Dec 27 '14 at 23:03

I found a simple solution that is working very well for me. I installed xzoom from the default repositories.

The usage is very simple, and exactly what I wanted:

  • start xzoom.
  • place the window where it does not disturb you.
  • "drag" your mouse cursor from within the window to the spot of the screen you want to magnify.

xzoom example

Additional note: I'm on Ubuntu 14.04 and before discovering xzoom, I tried the approaches suggested in the accepted solution. My experiences:

  • In ccsm I failed to find the "Magnifier". Under "Accessibility" I have an "Enhanced Desktop Zoom", but it is not really clear to me how it works, and I don't like to enable a global shortcut for this.
  • The Virtual Magnifying Glass is not in the repositories, and the downloaded version does not like my (at first it did not find my installed; fixing LD_LIBRARY_PATH turns out that it is not a 64-bit executable...).
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This is perfect, thank you! I'm using this for doing some pixel-level work and it is great strain relief for the neck. – user8823741 Nov 9 '14 at 20:15
@mcb: Same for me, mainly for checking anti-aliasing quality etc. BTW: You can also control the magnification e.g. xzoom -mag 4. – bluenote10 Nov 10 '14 at 9:21

I'm visually impaired (I have Cone Dystrophy and thus my central vision is gone and I absolutely have to use full screen zooming to use a computer). This was my solution:

First of all, get rid of Unity and install the Cinnamon desktop; it's a much better interface anyway IMNSHO:

Once you have that installed, you can install Tobias Quinn's excellent gnome-shell-mousewheel-zoom:

This will provide Compiz-style mousewheel zooming functionality with Cinnamon.

Another alternative is to use Linux Mint which is an Ubuntu-based distro with Cinnamon built in by default.

If you choose this option, you simply have to add the Tobias Quinn PPA and install the gnome-shell-mousewheel-zoom package.

Canonical has abandoned visually impaired users and their actions are, to say the least, reprehensible and shameful. Every other OS creator provides quality full-screen zooming support for visually impaired users but since the advent of Unity, the actions of the devs of Ubuntu indicate that they no longer care about those users. I'll continue to use Ubuntu-based distros but Unity is now permanently on my "no-fly" list.

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I am not aware of any default screen magnifier in Ubuntu.

In many applications you can hold Ctrl then scroll the middle mouse button to zoom the screen.

I have upvoted your question because I would also like to know of a better alternative to Kmag and I'm sure many other users would too, especially those in similar situations to your friend.

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This might not be the answer you want but so you know there is also the gnome-shell magnifier which would require you to install gnome-shell and remove unity in Ubuntu.

I wrote a how-to on installing gnome 3.10 on ubuntu on my blog which might be useful if you are interested in trying this out. GNOME Shell 3.10 magnifier has focus and caret tracking as well as mousetracking which I think is not offered by many.

However, the caret and focus tracking settings are still controlled via gsettings in case you want to turn either of them off and cannot find out where to do that. Additionally the magnified view cannot provide a scaled level of magnification at the moment so expect larger magnification levels to lead to a lower quality graphic until that is improved.

More information about that is in another post about GNOME Shell's magnifier scaling which may be of use to you. It also explains how to scale the desktop view via gsettings without any magnifier at all.

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To me, Virtual Magnifying Glass is the best for portable computers.

Yes, as reported in a previous post, there is a specific problem with Ubuntu LTS 14.04 Trusty 64 bit (no problem with older 64 bit versions of Ubuntu, neither with 32 bit versions). If you dont feel like compiling the source of VMG, you may manually install the contents of the i586.rpm of the 3.2.1-1 version. The application executable file was "magnifier" instead of "vmg", and it works under Trusty 64 bit. Compared with the latest versions of VMG, you will lose direct control of zoom factor by mouse wheel in the magnified window, that's all, and this older version of VMG is still the best inmho.

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