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!


Four good lite Linux distros for older computers

I discovered another nice Xubuntu-based operating system a few months back, and yesterday I installed it on my ancient Dell D610 experimental laptop. It’s called Linux Lite. Check out the new website.

I’ve been using Zorin OS Lite on this machine for a few weeks, which is based on Lubuntu/LXDE. Also very nice, but I find the LXDE panel is not quite as configurable as the Xfce panel. There are not as many applets available (like weather forecast) and Radio Tray would not work in it on Zorin Lite; but strangely, it does work in the Peppermint OS 3 LXDE panel, which I have installed on my HP Mini netbook. Strange.

Anyway, though LXDE uses a little less RAM than Xfce, I find it’s not that much of a difference on my 8-year-old Dell, even with only 756 Mb. of RAM. I got Linux Lite installed and set up in pretty short time, and it’s quite perky and useful. I like it a lot! Of course for older hardware, Peppermint OS and Zorin OS Lite are also good choices.

You also might want to check out LXLE, a new Lubuntu-based distro that is fast and attractive. I also installed this on the Dell laptop a few days ago. It has a unique application-script-thingy called Fast Forecast that places an icon in the panel that gives a detailed weather forecast. In my case, the forecast was for a city a couple of hundred miles away; but I was able to edit the script and put in our zip code, and then it worked fine! The only reason I decided to go with Linux Lite is that the Dell D610 would not go into sleep mode (Suspend) using LXLE. I searched the web for hours and tried some things, but Suspend just wouldn’t work on that particular hardware! Oh well, you never know how a distro will work until you actually try it out. It’s good to shop around! That’s the great thing about Live Linux CDs.

I’ll leave you with my Linux Lite desktop with Mediterranean Night theme. It comes with Mediterrean Light, but I just prefer those darker themes. I also used the simple Conky script from LXLE on my Linux Lite. Thanks, LXLE!