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!

Voyager: A Beautiful French Remix of Xubuntu

A few weeks ago, in my endless quest for new and useful Linux distros, I came across a very groovy remastered version of Xubuntu (Ubuntu + Xfce Desktop Manager) called Voyager 11.10. The website is in French, but you will notice a pop-down menu to translate it into English or numerous other languages. The Google translation is a bit quirky (pretty funny, actually) in English, but you’ll get the gist of it.

Over the last few months, while searching for alternative Desktop Environments to use instead of Gnome 3 or Unity, I’ve become very fond of Xfce. It uses less system resources than Gnome or KDE and thus runs quicker on older hardware or computers with less RAM. For this reason I installed Xubuntu on our almost 8-year-old Dell D610 laptop that gets daily use in the kitchen for web browsing/email/internet radio listening. It’s a faithful old machine, but only has 756 Mb of RAM; so Xubuntu runs pretty well on it. I’ve also run Bodhi Linux, WattOS, MoonOS and a couple of other distros on it.  But one day I heard about Voyager 11.10 on the PinguyOS forum as one of someone’s top 3 ‘perfect’ distros. So I downloaded the Live Voyager ISO image and installed it on my ‘testing’ computer; a used HP Compaq desktop machine that is about seven years old, which the kids are now using. And I was very pleased and impressed by the numerous great tweaks the Voyager people have made to the standard Xubuntu experience.

Instead of the bottom panel with launcher icons that comes with standard Xfce; Voyager has the Avant Window Navigator (AWN) installed instead. See my screenshot above. Voyager also comes with a nice, unobtrusive little conky setup along the top edge of the screen to monitor hard drive space, RAM and cpu usage, etc. There are also numerous applications and utilities installed that are not standard on Xubuntu; like Synapse, Zoho Cloud Office Web Apps, Cheese Webcam app, Minitube (a nice way to watch Youtube videos without using Flash), and one I use a lot: Radio Tray, among many other tweaks and Firefox extensions. Flash and mp3 playback are also pre-configured. Oh, and the developer of Voyager is apparently really into travel photography; it comes with a lot of nice wallpaper photos!

Voyager comes with a default Ubuntu Ambiance theme and has all the functionality of the Xfce panel and menus. I’ve really come to love Xfce lately. Because of its ease and configurability, I think I now prefer it to the old Gnome 2 experience! And Voyager is a stylish and useful variation on Xfce/ Xubuntu. I would recommend giving it a try on any system, but especially on an aging computer.

Voyager is now installed on our laptop. On a final note: last week the trusty Dell laptop screen stopped working; nothing but dull psychedelic flashy colors. So I hooked up a spare 17 inch LCD monitor and rebooted. Then in the Xfce System Settings under ‘Display’ it showed both the Laptop monitor and the Dell LCD monitor and I was able to enable the one and disable the laptop screen. So now we actually have a larger, nicer monitor for the old laptop!

To leave you, here’s a short video of a preview of Voyager 12.04 that will be coming out at the end of April (along with Ubuntu/Xubuntu/Kubuntu/Lubuntu). It comes with a new conky configuration manager that looks really cool!