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.

Zorin_Desktop_9_29_13Zorin_stock

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!

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A little Linux Mint love

About a week ago Linux Mint 14, ‘Nadia’ was released. As much as I like Mint 13, this new release based on Ubuntu 12.10 looks very, very nice.

For a while I fell out of love with Linux Mint (11 and 12 versions, when many Linux distros were going through a desktop identity crisis when Ubuntu switched to Unity and Gnome 2 went to Gnome 3 Shell), but now that the Cinnamon Desktop, Mint’s Gnome Shell fork, is making great strides in development (see my earlier post), I would definitely recommend Linux Mint as one of the best distros for people new to Linux. Or if you prefer a familiar Linux desktop experience like Gnome 2 or Xfce, and are not a fan of Unity and the direction that Ubuntu is going, Linux Mint may also be your cup of tea. It’s modern, attractive and everything generally works great without much tweaking involved (though the first thing I do myself is change the desktop picture/wallpaper)!

The newest Cinnamon 1.6 comes with lots of pre-installed themes, applets and other goodies to configure your workspace. And Linux Mint has always come with a full but not overwhelming set of applications to handle most user’s needs. Plus you have the entire Ubuntu repositories and PPAs, as well as Mint’s repository, to install whatever software you desire.

But my main inspiration for writing this post is the Linux Action Show episode I just watched, which did a glowing and comprehensive review of Mint 14 and Cinnamon. They point out many of the strengths of Mint and the differences between Mint and Ubuntu. If you’re curious about Linux Mint, it’s well worth a look HERE. The Mint review begins at about 46 minutes into the show.

For Linux users who love Gnome 2 and Xfce, I think Cinnamon is a solid, rapidly-evolving and modern desktop alternative.

DeLorean Dark theme available for Linux Mint 14

The Cinnamon Desktop Environment

A few months ago I installed Linux Mint 13 (Maya), Cinnamon version on my HP Mini 1000 netbook. I was familiar with Cinnamon since it began last year as a fork of Gnome 3. It looked kind of interesting, and a more user-friendly version of Gnome 3; but it was in its infancy and lacked many features. But since then, Clement Lefebvre has done a lot of work on Cinnamon and it’s becoming a very nice alternate desktop environment.

I had tried out a few lightweight Linux distros on the HP Mini, but wasn’t totally happy with them, or had trouble installing the Broadcom wireless driver for it.  So I turned to Mint 13, even though I wasn’t sure if it would run that well on the netbook. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how great Mint 13 with Cinnamon looks and runs on this little machine! So I’ve been exploring how to configure Cinnamon and finding it to be a very easy to use, capable and elegant desktop manager. (But what else would you expect from Linux Mint? ;)). In fact, I enjoyed it so much I decided to install it last week on my older HP Pentium 4 desktop computer that the kids use. Here is the Mint 13 Cinnamon desktop on this desktop machine. ( I added Docky and moved the panel from the default bottom position to the top).

To elaborate a little – hopefully without boring you too much – I had installed Bodhi Linux 2.01 on this same computer a week earlier. In fact, I was originally going to talk about my impressions of Bodhi here. I really like Bodhi Linux and all the wonderful features the developers have added to this distro that uses the Enlightenment desktop. The new version is based on Ubuntu 12.04 and is very frugal, fast and beautiful. The only problem is, about one week after I started using it on the kid’s computer, E-17 flaked out on me after a restart. I got an ‘Enlightenment modules failed to load at startup’ or something like that, message. I reloaded most of the modules that I’d previously set up, but I still couldn’t get anything to load on my bottom shelf (panel). And after a restart, the modules still would not work. I know from past experience that by deleting the ‘.e’ configuration file I could probably fix the problem. But that would mean having to re-create all the set-up of the system from scratch. And since this has happened to me before using Bodhi, I decided it wasn’t worth the effort. Enlightenment is now being actively developed, but I’ve had this happen on two other occasions on different computers (which is not the fault of the Bodhi team) so it seems that for me, Enlightenment is still not stable enough for everyday use. This is what led me to install Linux Mint.

Moving along – I’m really enjoying Cinnamon on Mint 13. It’s been very stable, attractive and configurable enough for my tastes. (And of course you can always add Cinnamon as an alternate desktop manager in Ubuntu as well). In fact, I’m liking it almost as much as I enjoy Xfce! I’m intrigued to see how Cinnamon developes further in the coming year and on Linux Mint 14. This leads me to mention another distro that I just discovered, which also uses the Cinnamon desktop manager: Cinnarch Linux.

While Mint is based on Ubuntu, Cinnarch is based on the venerable Arch Linux, which is light, simple and much loved by experienced Linux users. I’ve shied away from Arch myself because it has a reputation for being a purer but geekier brand of Linux; more text-based configuration, command line use and kind of a pain-in-the-ass to install for the average GUI user like myself. But Cinnarch looks like a wonderful operating system that uses the Cinnamon desktop and is a lot more user-friendly. Another nice feature of using Arch Linux is that it, and Cinnarch, are rolling releases; so you install it once and upgrade for the newer versions instead of having to re-install every six months. As you will see from their website, Cinnarch is a beautiful fusion of form and function.

These two screenshots are from my Live CD session trying out Cinnarch. It comes with a nice selection of applications, like the newest version of Chromium web browser (22.0.1229.79); Pidgin; Transmission bittorrent app; Pantheon File browser (a fork of Nautilus); Brasero disk burner; Cheese webcam app; Movie Player; Image Viewer; Shotwell video editor, and most of the utilities you would expect on a Gnome-based system. I found Cinnarch as easy to use and functional as any Ubuntu/Debian based distro I’ve ever used. And the Cinnamon desktop and Cinnamon Settings worked beautifully.

It uses the Pacman package manager (unlike Synaptic in Debian/Ubuntu-based distros) which I don’t have much experience using. But the version of Pacman that Cinnarch uses is extremely functional, besides just installing or uninstalling software, and seems like it’s not much more difficult to use than Synaptic. At least I found it fairly intuitive after poking around a bit. If you want to try out an Arch Linux system without being an advanced Linux guru, I think Cinnarch might be a good alternative.

But whatever distibution you use it with, I’ve found Cinnamon to be a capable and lovely desktop environment that I believe will only get better with age.

Tips and Tricks for Linux Mint 13 Maya Cinnamon Edition after Installation

Update: I just found another nice post about Cinnarch at Unixmen.com

SolusOS: A New Star on the Linux Horizon

Sorry for the dramatic title, but I couldn’t resist! I would like to direct you to a new Linux distribution that I think has a bright future ahead of it. It’s SolusOS, a debian-based distro from one of the lead developers of Linux Mint Debian Edition (LMDE), Ikey Doherty; who has left Mint to create his own dream distro.

Since I’ve used Linux Mint extensively for the last three years, I was quite familiar with the name of Ikey Dougherty. He was often to be found on the Mint Forums, helping out newbies such as myself and experienced Linux users alike. I recently heard he had gone off on his own (adjective, Latin: solus: alone; separate) to make his own ideal, user-friendly rolling-release debian distro. And then I listened to Ikey’s interview on MintCast a couple of weeks ago. After hearing him speak about his dreams and goals for SolusOS, I was totally in love with this project! So if you’ve got a little time, I would highly recommend listening to the MintCast episode HERE.

I’m incredibly impressed with this man’s passion, dedication and hard work (similar, in many ways, to Jeff Hoogland of Bodhi Linux) toward creating a Linux operating system that is stable and easy to use for any level of computer user. I’ve downloaded and tried out SolusOS RC2 and RC3 that just came out the other day, and it looks and acts very sweet; with many improvements in a short time. I’m looking forward to the final release of SolusOS  shortly.

One interesting thing about SolusOS is that right now it uses the Gnome 2.3 Desktop Environment. Since Gnome 2 will soon become extinct, I’m curious to see what Ikey has in mind for the final release. The only thing stopping me right now from installing SolusOS, oddly enough, is Gnome 2; since I’ve actually become very fond of Xfce. I wouldn’t mind seeing that as a DE for SolusOS. Or Cinnamon may be an even better fit; it’s development is certainly coming along quickly, too.

Whatever changes arrive in SolusOS 1, I can’t wait to try it out! I like the rolling release idea; and the future of SolusOS looks exciting. It’s also got a great community behind it. So check it out, already! Here are a couple more nice reviews below. Enjoy!

SolusOS – Linux with Style and Atitude

Solus OS RC3… Sneeky Linux