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New to linux here. I created a VM in virtualbox for the latest Ubuntu to get comfortable with linux and to learn Python. I was wondering if there is a lighter-weight desktop for Ubuntu, that still comes with all the useful keyboard shortcuts that unity uses, and still has something similar to the unity launcher for pinning and quick launching commonly used applications. If not, is there a way to turn off the graphical effects? I don't remember having such performance issues before with previous versions of ubuntu.

The Laptop I'm running this VM on is a Thinkpad T440p, i5 processor and 8gigs of memory. Should be more than enough to run this well right?

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I don't know if this is your very first incursion into the Ask Ubuntu Support System. If so, welcome to Ask Ubuntu.

For your "minimal" experience, I guess that you have a very robust computer which should not experience any issues by running the latest Ubuntu. Maybe you're missing something related to your Graphic Card drivers? Which can be solved by following one of the answers to previous questions like this: Installing Video Drivers

If you insist on "minimal" desktop environments it will be great if you dive in the answers to this question: What kinds of desktop environments and shells are available?

But, your question seems to be related to a customized learning need, for which I would suggest the usage of the i3 Window Manager which made my life easier even for low resources computer.

At this very moment I am on an HP Mini with 2GB RAM and 1.6 Intel Atom Microprocessor, 250 GB HDD and Ubuntu 14.04 figuratively does fly!!!

Anyway, if you go for learning, this is a really really really comprehensive solution for focusing on learning, coding and development. And, oh! yeah, I mentioned before... Solving speed issues even for low resources computers.

For what is about software, almost any software will run faster than what it would under other Window Managers or Desktop Environments. Your will miss the Window decorations and these fancy and eye candy stuff but it will be just the first 24 hours. When you notice that your computer is 4-8 times faster, you will wish no window decorations.

BTW. A good companion for i3WM is Synapse, so, make sure to follow a good plan to enter this twilight zone. I would suggest you the next steps:

  1. Make sure you read enough before using i3, you may feel lost when you see nothing but an empty screen with no right click contextual menu and other stuff.
  2. Install i3 Window Manager by dropping the next in a terminal: sudo apt-get install i3, provide your user password and allow the computer to finish installing the software.
  3. Make sure you install Synapse, it will be really helpful for you if you feel lost, drop the next in a terminal: sudo apt-get install synapse and allow the computer to finish installing.
  4. Log Out and Make sure you choose the proper i3 Window Manager from the list of Desktop Environments/Window Managers when logging-in again. It can be chosen by hitting the small circle close to your name before entering your password in the log in section.
  5. After logging in, you will be presented with the options to start using i3WM and you will need to choose a "mod" key, I suggest you to keep the "WinKey" as your mod key because of the "Alt" may crash against some program's key bindings.
  6. After choosing your mod key, press the WinKey+D key combination in order to invoke i3 top panel launcher and write "synapse" without quotation marks.

When Synapse appears on screen you can invoke whatever you wish and start working. It would be great if you start by opening your favorite web browser and go to the i3 User Guide in order to learn what to do with the windows. Basically I give you the next tips.

  1. Mod (WinKey) + Number (1,2,3,4, [...] 0 = Switch to another desktop.
  2. Mod (WinKey) + Arrow = Move to another application (Up, Down, Left, Right)
  3. Mod (WinKey) + Shift + Arrow = Move application to the contiguous desktop.
  4. Mod (WinKey) + Shift + Number (1,2 [...] 0) = Move application to the chosen desktop number).
  5. Mod (WinKey) + w = Activate the tabs (applications appears as tabs)
  6. Mod (Winkey) + e = Activate tiling (applications appears as tiling)
  7. Mod (Winkey) + Shift + space = Toggle window floating (will float as in a normal DE)
  8. Mod (WinKey) + Shift + Q = Quit program (any program will close with this key combo)

You can use mouse on windows to resize, select, focus, etc. And it will take a while for you to get used to your new windows tiling system but it is worth if what you expect is speed from your computer.

A screenshot from my current desktop is placed here for you to see i3WM in action.

enter image description here

On this screenshot you can see Nautilus File Browser floating and the other windows are tiling.

I hope this help you. Remember that there are lots of Desktop Environments, some of them are fancy but the fanciest = more resources needed. So have it in consideration and...

Good luck!

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