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!

My Experience So Far with Kubuntu

About the second week in January I decided to try out a Linux distro that uses KDE on our main computer that I share with my wife. This was a result of numerous large and small frustrations with Mint 12/Gnome 3 and Bodhi Linux/E17.  Updates caused some major breakage with E17 (Enlightenment) and I was tired of using numerous extensions to get Gnome (as good as the Mint enhancements were) to do what I wanted it to do. Cinnamon was just in its infancy and I wasn’t that keen on MATE. And I wanted something that looked really nice and was configurable.

So I thought: the one major Desktop Environment I had checked out a little in the past, but had never been my cup of tea, might be worth another look. I’d heard of nice improvements from KDE versions 4.6 and 4.7; and 4.8 was imminent. But now the big question of which KDE distro to try?

I was very impressed with the OpenSuse 12.1 version of KDE. And I had also tried Pardus Linux a few months back and really liked that, too. Recently, however, the future of Pardus development is in doubt. Hopefully that project will continue. Also PCLinuxOS and Chakra Linux seem like solid, popular KDE distros. But I ended up choosing Kubuntu 11.10 for the simple reason that I’ve always used a distro based on Ubuntu. I was familiar with how Ubuntu works, the package management system, the terminal commands; everything would be familiar and relatively easy, except with KDE! If I was going to try a completely different Desktop Environment, everything else should work pretty much the same.

After two and a half months I’m pretty satisfied, for the most part, with Kubuntu. In fact for several days after I first installed it I was delighted by how user configurable it is; how easy it was to set up, and the beauty of the Plasma Desktop and Kwin. There’s a wonderful attention to detail about Kubuntu and KDE specifically that I’d missed with the newest versions of Ubuntu and Mint (though both are improving by leaps and bounds over the past months).

With any operating system or distro, there are a few minor things I needed to figure out. And as with most Linux distros, the Kubuntu forums were very helpful. Printer setup was fast and as easy as any Ubuntu distro. KDE does use more RAM than any other DE I’ve tried; but I expected that and with 4 Gb of RAM I’m in pretty good shape. I’ve learned to use some KDE applications that I never used before; and for the most part they’re pretty nice. I don’t use a computer-based e-mail client, so I don’t use Kmail. That’s one KDE application I’ve heard from reading the forums is a bit wonky. My wife uses Thunderbird on her user account, which works great in Kubuntu. Another KDE app I have become quite fond of is K3B, the Disk Burning utility that comes with Kubuntu. Actually, it does a lot more than just burn CDs/DVDs; and it generates an MD5 Sum for any ISO image (Like a Live Linux Distro CD/DVD), which is pretty neat! I always liked Brasero in Gnome, but K3B is an even better alternative.

But I’m not going to go on much more at the moment about my KDE love. Suffice to say Kubuntu has fulfilled my Linux needs on this year-old mid-range AMD Dual-Core Athlon desktop machine. For lower spec or older computers I would go with a lighter desktop manager. Which will lead to my next post about XFCE and a groovy French remix of Xubuntu I’ve recently discovered.

Stay tuned for more, Linux Lovers…