I just came across a method to consolidate your three gnome menus (applications, places and system) into one. For those of you that have used SLED (SuSE Linux Enterprise Edition) or openSuse 10.2 you’ll recognize this layout. It turns out it is also an option for our Ubuntu machines.
To install the new menu layout simply install the following with your favorite package management interface.
sudo aptitude install gnome-main-menu
Once you’ve installed the package you’ll need to simply add it to your panel. You do that via a right-click on your current menu panel and add the new “gnome main menu” under the utilities section. (note: there are two listings for the main menu at this point in the “add to panel” dialog. You’ll want to add the one that looks like the computer icon and not the ubuntu logo.)
As you can see this menu layout combines all of your options into a central layout. You’ve got your favorite, or most commonly used, applications listed by default and the system options on the right. The drop-down menu will show you recent documents and places.
What I have done at this point is removed my previous menu (via right-click, remove from panel) and replaced it with this new layout. You may need to use the right-click and move option to put the new listing in the right place.
update: if you want to revert your changes and replace the original menu simply re-add the other gnome-main-menu.. the one that looks like the ubuntu logo.