When you first install a version of Linux running the GNOME Desktop environment, you will likely find either a single entry (generally labeled with just a single word or potentially only an icon), or three menu entries (labeled Applications, Places and System), living in your top panel. These are the GNOME menus, and through them you can launch applications, find different settings panels, log out or shut down your computer, and more. They’re very good at what they do, but after a while can prove to be less handy than they ought to be, especially for people running laptops, because of all the mousing around necessary.
Enter Cardapio, an alternative to the main GNOME Menu and Menu Bar. Cardapio is, in my mind, the best of both a menu-based launcher and the popular keyboard launcher (such as Gnome Do, or Quicksilver and Launchy for Mac and Windows users). Depending on how you want to use it, you can perform all tasks with your mouse, or strictly from the keyboard. Here’s what the developers have to say about it:
“Cardapio is an application menu that can work in two modes: as a panel applet (in which case it is an alternative to Gnome’s application menu applet) or as a stand-alone launcher (in which case it is an alternative to the simplest use-cases of Gnome Do). It features a beautiful gtk-native interface, and includes plugins for performing inline Tracker and Google searches.”
There are a couple really interesting features kind of glossed over at the end: Tracker and Google searches, but I’ll get back to those in a minute.
Using Cardapio couldn’t be simpler. Once installed you add it to your Panel just like every other Panel applet. And once running, you mouse through it just like a regular menu. You have access to your Places folder, the Control Center, the Ubuntu Software Center (on Ubuntu, obviously), as well as the different categories of applications. Should you choose, via the settings panel (accessible via a right-click on the Cardapio icon), you can also add the system buttons (Lock Screen, Log Out and Shut Down), for a full-featured menu that in many ways feels like the Windows Start menu.
For those wanting a bit more efficiency, who aren’t afraid to go beyond point-and-click, Cardapio can also be accessed via the keyboard. By default, typing Space will launch the menu, but Cardapio can also be used entirely as a keyboard launcher. Simply type “cardapio hidden” (without the quotes), to launch the Cardapio process. Nothing will appear to happen, but after that when you type Space the main interface appears in all its glory.
Cardapio also has a plugin environment, which means the community can add new features to Cardapio without the lead developer needing to do so. Among the interesting plugins already available are options to trigger a variety of Web searches (Amazon, eBay, Wikipedia, YouTube, Bing, Google and Yahoo). Using these plugins means when you trigger Cardapio and start typing, it will automatically query those search sites and show you the results, right in the Cardapio window. You can use the Tab key (or arrow keys) to move through the results, and when you find one that interests you, just hit Enter and your web browser launches to that site. It’s simple, but insanely handy.
For desktop integration, Cardapio supports the Tracker search engine, which means if you have Tracker installed and fully indexed, you can not only search for files and folders, but can search the full text of documents (assuming the document could be indexed by Tracker), again – right from the Cardapio window.
There’s more, such as Tomboy Notes, Pidgin Instant Messenger, and VirtualBox integration, and there promises to be much more. With only a relatively short time of development, Cardapio already feels more integrated, with more features and less crashes, than other alternative menus (such as GnoMenu), and is a lot slicker and easier to use than the traditional GNOME menus. So if you’re looking for a change, I’d highly recommend giving it a try. After only a couple weeks of using it, it already feels like it’s a part of my operating system, and will be one of the first things I install after a new installation.