What is Ubuntu? Where do Dalek’s come from? And can you cook pasta in a microwave?

Don’t worry this is not a pop quiz, but examples of questions that I have, at various points in my life, turned to Google to get answers for.

Now, a new Lens for Ubuntu’s Unity desktop makes finding answers to common questions insanely easy.

Meet the ‘Unity Answers Lens‘.


The Lens works like this: you open the Dash, enter a question in the Dash search bar (complete with a question mark) and, if an answer can be found, it’ll appear.

The Unity Previews feature introduced in Ubuntu 12.10 lets you right-click on the answer to see further information:

Sadly, the magic isn’t flawless. More questions I asked went unanswered than answered. And it’s not always easy to tell if an answer can’t be found as the lens displays nothing – no ‘sorry’, no ‘no results’; nothing.

A “No answer found – search on Google?” listing would be more user friendly.

Query Magic

So you can ask it questions, and it gives you answers (if it can find them). But what’s powering it? Where is it getting its answers from?

I’d like to say the Akashic Records, but I’d be lying. Even Ubuntu developers haven’t yet managed to create an interface with theosophy!

Instead the lens uses something more earthly to query for your search term and fetch its results: the automatton.org API.

The website powering the API collates its information from all over the web (Yahoo! Answers, Wikipedia, ‘What-is-what.com’, ChaCha, etc) and the ‘best scoring’ answer is returned in the Lens ready to plug you gap in knowledge.

The idea is novel, and echoes Mark Shuttleworth’s plans for the Dash to become a one-stop shop for ‘finding anything, anywhere’.

Install Unity Lens Answers in Ubuntu 12.10

Getting the lens installed in Ubuntu 12.10 is as easy as copy and pasting the following commands into a new Terminal window:

  • sudo add-apt-repository ppa:scopes-packagers/ppa 
  • sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install unity-lens-answers

After installing log out and back in to enable the feature.

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