Customizing Your Desktop Linux Operating System

One of the many things I like about Linux-based operating systems is the ability to make them look and behave the way you want them to.

I’m a visually-oriented person, and I enjoy being able to change the way my computer’s graphical interface looks. When using Windows or the Mac OS there are some options or third-party tools to change the look of the OS, but they are still pretty limited compared to what’s possible with Linux.


The first picture above is of my main computer using Zorin OS 6, which uses the Zorin desktop environment with conky manager, a weather screenlet and Rainlendar desktop calendar app that I’ve added. The bottom picture is of the default Zorin OS desktop without modifications.

First off, Linux operating systems can use numerous different Desktop Environments and Window Managers. Some of the most popular being: Gnome, KDE, Xfce, LXDE, UnityCinnamon, MATE, Enlightenment, Razor-qt, Openbox, and Fluxbox, among many others that are more geeky and obscure.  I’m still not sure what the difference is between ‘window manager‘ and ‘desktop environment‘, (for example: I thought Enlightenment, or E-17, was a desktop environment as well as libraries for creating applications; but on the website it’s called a window manager), but they can drastically change the look of the desktop GUI and the way the user interacts with the operating system. There are an increasing number of Linux distros that have forked off of a traditional DE (desktop environment) to add more features or improve performance, like Cinnamon or MATE, or created their own new DE.

Here’s a nice web page on Renewable PCs that provides an overview of many of the above-mentioned desktop environments.

Another customization tool you can try are Screenlets, which I mentioned above, for adding information about numerous things in graphical form to your desktop for Gnome/GTK-based operating systems. Also see Here and Here for additional info on screenlets. As I mentioned in a previous post, Conky Manager is also another way to add more information to your Linux desktop in different visual formats. Fun stuff!

Another great way to spice up the look of your computer is to add different Themes and Icons. If you use any Gnome/GTK-based DE, you can find community-designed icons and themes Here, or if you use KDE, try Here, or for the Enlightenment-based distros, have a look Here. Although Bodhi Linux has their own customization resources Here to make installing E-17 themes quite easy!

There are also numerous ways to search for and launch applications in Linux distros. Different DEs have different launcher menus from within their panel bars, and there are a few nice Dock-like applications you can use that have varying degrees of customization options. (The Zorin OS panel is a customized Avant Window Navigator in panel mode).  Check out Docky and Cairo-Dock too. They can be found in most Linux distro’s repositories through the App Center or Synaptic Package Manager.

But really the sky’s the limit for changing the look and feel of your computing experience in Linux. From the complex to the sublimely simple:

Desktops_complex_simpleA KDE desktop with plasma widgets or a default Crunchbang Linux desktop with Openbox.

Ubuntu_BodhiWhether you prefer Ubuntu’s Unity Desktop or Bodhi Linux with Enlightenment, there are many ways to change your Linux distro to accommodate your workflow and visual taste.

The possibilities can be a little overwhelming, but looking around the web and reading articles from Linux-related web sites can give you lots of ideas to spice up your stock vanilla operating system and even increase your productivity. Just finding some different desktop pictures/wallpapers can provide a refreshing visual change if you’ve been staring at the same old screen for a while!

So have some fun, and turn your Linux computer OS into your own personal work of art!


GIMP Flat Icon Theme

A couple weeks ago I discovered this: Give Gimp a New Look with Flat Icon Theme, thanks to OMGUbuntu!

As the article explains, there may be problems, but I tried it out and it works great in my Gimp 2.8 on Zorin OS 6.2. I’m not a huge fan of flat icon themes, but I think these look nice in Gimp.


DeLorean-Dark Theme

Just a quick recommendation today for my favorite new dark theme for Gnome, GTK, Cinnamon and Xfce. I’m using it right now on the computer that runs Mint 13 with Cinnamon DE and the main computer (shown) with Xubuntu and Faenza-darkest icon theme. This theme looks and works beautifully with all these different desktops. Check it out HERE. There’s also a PPA to add to your software sources for future updates.




Linux Apps and Icons and Themes, Oh My!

I’m here today to share a few more Linux applications that I find particularly useful, plus a GTK theme and an Icon Theme that I’ve recently become very fond of.

First up is a really easy to use and useful little app called ClipGrab. It’s a free downloader and converter for YouTube, Vimeo, Dailymotion and many other online video sites. It works a lot like some video download extensions for Firefox, but it’s a standalone application that I think is a little easier to use and has more functionality. It lets you download and convert on-line video to many different formats, and is dead simple to use. When you start the application, ClipGrab will automatically inform you when there is a downloadable video URL in your clipboard and it starts to work by just clicking on the notification. Or just highlight a video URL, and ‘Ctrl+C’ to start the download. And it also has a web search functionality and many different settings. The website has more info and screenshots.

Another application I’ve been using for a few years now on several Linux distros is Radio Tray. This little app lives in your panel and is a wonderfully quick and easy way to listen to internet radio streams. It’s easy to configure and plays shoutcast radio streams as well as many other playlist formats. Check out the home page. This is one of my must-have applications! It does one thing and does it very well. And it also just happens to come pre-installed in Voyager Linux.

I’ve been using a groovy little calendar application for quite a while that  I’d also like to share with you. It’s cross-platform (works on Linux, Mac and Windows) and I’ve found it to be the perfect calendar/to-do application that sits on my computer desktop. It’s called ‘Rainlendar‘, and I discovered it on one of my Linux forums.You can drag it around and put it anywhere on your desktop, and keep abreast of appointments and such at a glance. Rainlendar has many features and is highly configurable to show monthly, weekly or daily activities. It’s very intuitive and easy to use. But check out the website, where you’ll find everything you need to know.

There is a completely free version to download, or a more advanced paid version for a minimal price. I, of course, am using the free version of Rainlendar and it does everything I need at the moment. I’ve quickly become quite fond of this app. I hope you’ll find it useful as well.

Another well-known full-fledged media player app that I’d also like to suggest is good ‘ole Banshee. It’s been around for a while; and years ago I didn’t care for it much. I used to prefer Rhythmbox, but today Banshee has an interface that is usefull and that I can comprehend; it has all the functionality I need and more; and it hasn’t given me any problems in a long, long time. And it’s easy to burn music CDs using Brasero. You just need to select songs from a playlist, then right-click and go to ‘Write CD’ and Brasero automatically opens. I like programs that are useful and just work!

And to finish up today I wanted to recommend a lovely new icon theme I recently discovered. It’s called Nitrux and it resembles a slightly more streamlined/modern take on the very popular Faenza icons. There are a few variations of Nitrux; the one I’m using in this screenshot have the slightly rounded button edges.

I’m a big fan of dark themes. Sometimes I like to switch to a lighter one, but I guess my aging eyes just find the lower contrast/brightness of dark themes easier for lengthy viewing. And the Xfce theme I’m currently using is called Plasma Shock. It also can switch between different hightight colors. Some dark themes seem too washed out to me, or have problems with print and background contrast; but this theme seems just right for me.

Those are my humble recommendations for today. Very soon I’d like to talk about the new version of Bodhi Linux; a very nicely done distro that uses the Enlightenment Desktop Environment.

Simple Icon Themes for Linux

I’ve been a fan of the Clarity Icon Theme for a while now. I’ve used it in Linux Mint and Kubuntu, but I recently installed it again on my lovely Xubuntu/Voyager 12.04 desttop.

The icons are similar to the AwOken Icon theme, which I’ve also used in the past (there’s a KDE version, also); but at the moment I think Clarity is my favorite. Both Icon themes are fairly simple and minimalistic. They are both quite versatile, blending nicely with many different desktop wallpapers (why is it called wallpaper if it’s on a desktop?) and themes. And Clarity and AwOken can be made to use different colors. The orange goes especially nice with Ubuntu/Unity themes.

Faenza is also a wildly popular Icon set for Linux and is used as the default by several Linux distros. The square, button-like icons have a nice uniformity and look good in Dock launchers and in the Unity Launch Bar as well. But sometimes I don’t feel like having multi-colored icons in my dock (I use Docky) and when I’m in the mood for sleek, attractive icons that aren’t too distracting, Clarity or AwOken are a good choice, no matter what Desktop Environment you prefer.