Customising your Linux Desktop

Here’s a really great article that I found about customizing one’s desktop. This is the most important thing a geek can do with his or her computer. When you first get your computer it looks just like everyone else’s computer. By customizing it and taking a little bit from what you see on this person’s computer and that person’s computer you end up with something that is uniquely your own and slightly different from everything else you’ve seen. Be sure to visit the link provided below to see the screenshots.

How to make your Linux desktop look awesome
Written by idontknow
Monday, 11 July 2005
We have heard a lot lately about projects aimed at bringing all that eye candy of operating systems such as OS X to the Linux world. Projects such as Xgl, Enlightenment, and others have given us a glimpse of what’s coming, but what can you do to enjoy a taste of some of the future… today? We are going to explore that question with some excellent add-ons, software, and features to make your desktop look cool and next-gen today…

Please note this article does required some advanced Linux know how. I will describe how to get things to work, but it may require extra steps at your end.

3D-Desktop is awesome. It’s a virtual desktop switcher with an interesting twist. When activated, it zooms your view out with each virtual desktop captured on a flat panel, each panel can then be rotated like a carousel. You can use either a keyboard or mouse to rotate and select the desktop you want. At first you might say is this not sacrificing productivity for cool desktop effects? The answer in my opinion is no. I never was an avid virtual desktop user until I installed this utility. It made keeping track of what I’m doing on each virtual desktop easier since it provides a snap shot of each desktop at a size that I can even recognize what program is running. (See below) This is in comparison to the standard desktop pager that provides small tiny squares representing screens that can be hard to see.

I found that Debian actually has a binary package available, though the other distribution I use Fedora Core did not so I had to compile from source. This is not too hard (pretty much just configure, make, make install). You must have glut-devel package installed and of course OpenGL extension/libraries enabled/installed on X windows.

NOTE: I did run into a problem with compiling on Fedora Core 4, GCC 4.0 64-bit edition. A cast from void * to int caused the compile to halt at line 77, so I simply commented that line out since it was just a printf statement. You may have to do the same if you have this problem.


Once installed you can “integrate” it by removing the standard gnome pager from your Gnome panel and replacing it with a launcher icon that executes “3ddesk”. You can add other options if you like to configure the way it displays, see the website or documentation for more on this.

Composite Extension
Xorg’s X server ships with an extension called “Composite” that allows for cool desktop effects such as shadows/translucency plus offers hardware acceleration if you have a support video card. The catch is by default it is turned off and it can be buggy. So use it only if it works well on your setup since your mileage may vary. I found personally on a NVIDIA card with the proprietary drivers it works well enough for everyday use though it does have some small quirks. The most annoying one was if you run an OpenGL game, when you exit out of the game, X windows loses the composite settings until you re-load the composite manager (the composite manager is actually crashing in the background) and sometimes it does not re-draw correctly (though this was rare). I will put this in the cosmetic category since it does not provide much in the way of enhancing productivity. Though it does look nice when it works.

To enable put this at the end of you /etc/X11/xorg.conf file:
Section “Extensions”Option “Composite” “Enable”EndSection
Next you need the xcompmgr and transset utility available here, you will have to compile these from source with the usual configure, make, make install.

After you have these utilities installed you will need to launch the xcompmgr which controls the composite extension. I personally just used the following settings (though you can get much more fancier with effects by altering the parameter you included)

# xompmgr –c &

If it works without a hitch and you want to have these settings restore on boot up include xcompmgr in your GNOME startup. (You can do this in Fedora by going to “Desktop Preferences->Advanced->Session” then click the last tab.) You can also use the transset program to set translucency of window but I found no real use for this. You can experiment if you like though.

NOTE: Nvidia users will need to specify the following options in the driver section:

Option “RenderAccel “true”
Option “AllowGLXWithComposite” “true”

Whatever you call them, they are small controls that do useful things plus look real cool. On Gnome you have gDesklets, and on KDE you have SuperKaramba. You probably have notice that I’m a GNOME user so I’m going to cover gDesklets, but SuperKaramba works much the same way though uses its own set of controls (Its not compatible with gDesklet controls).

I was able to find binaries for gDesklets here ( The only thing I needed was to install libgtop2 Fedora 3 rpm before hand (You can get these at a Fedora mirror site). Gdesklets has a nice sized library of controls (or in gdesklet speak Display and sensors) you can use at there website found here. I found three particular useful controls:

RSS Ticker bar – Display headlines from you favorite rss feeds.

infobar – Displays cpu load, memory usage, weather, disk usage, and other miscellaneous data on you desktop. I found this surprisingly useful when things are not running as expected or you need information on the weather. I like the idea of having all in one bar.

starterBar – A nice looking launcher bar for often used programs. Kind of looks like OS X launcher bar.

Honorable mention:
RecentlyUsed – I spotted this one when I was getting the URLs to the other controls. It looks interesting I did not try it though. Displays a thumbnail of recently used files.

When installing new controls I recommend going to the gdesklets site downloading the control tar ball then firing up the gdesklets utility, right click the gdesklets tray icon, select “Manage Desklets”. Then click File->install package and point it to the control tar ball. It will save you a lot of hassle by just doing it this way.

So what does the finished product look like? See the below screenshots of my finished desktop. Definitely a noticeable difference. Thank you for visiting the site, please check back for the next article.

Author: Eric Mesa

To find out a little more about me, see About Me