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!


Linux Mint 15 is here, and better than ever!

After a long absence (Spring is such a busy time!) I’m back with great news for Linux lovers.

Mint 15, ‘Olivia’ was released a couple of days ago, and it looks like the best version yet of the Ubuntu-offshoot distro. We’ve been using Mint 14 with the Cinnamon Desktop on the computer my kids use (an old HP Compaq with a Pentium 4 processor) for several months. I have been loving Cinnamon more and more with each update, and Mint 14 has been working beautifully on this machine. Everything works! I don’t recall having a single problem, except initially getting the Cinnamon Weather applet to work, which took a little bit of internet searching.

So when I saw that Mint 15 was out, with a new version of the Nemo file manager and Cinnamon 1.8, I had to download and check it out. And I must say, I love Linux Mint more than ever! It comes in two flavors: Mate and Cinnamon. The Mate Desktop Environment is actually pretty cool, using the old MintMenu and all the Gnome 2 panel applets and such; but after trying both Desktop Environments I find Cinnamon is the one I prefer. It looks and feels like a modern OS, and it seems Cinnamon 1.8 is a lot leaner on resource usage than before. Even on that old Pentium 4 computer, Cinnamon 1.6  runs quite smoothly, no proprietary graphics drivers needed.

Right now on the newer computer I’m writing this on we’re using Zorin OS 6.2 (which, by the way, also has a new release out this past week: Zorin 6.3, based on Ubuntu 13.04). I’m still really enjoying Zorin OS. Everything works and it looks great. And version 6.2 is based on the Long Term Support version of Ubuntu, 12.04. The new Mint 15 is based on Ubuntu 13.04 and will only be supported with software and security updates for 8 months. That may be a drawback to some users, but for me it’s not that big a deal to reinstall the next version of Mint, as long as you have a reliable backup. Also creating a separate ‘/home’ partition before installing an OS makes a clean install much easier.

So I have no compelling reason to switch to Linux Mint 15 at this time. But still… I’m tempted to install it anyway! It looks that good. For anyone out there interested in trying out Linux for the first time, I would say you can’t go wrong with Mint 15.

Also with a new version out this week: Pinguy 13.04 is another great distro that comes with everything but the kitchen sink pre-installed.

Mint, Zorin OS and Pinguy OS are all full-featured and easy to use Linux distros. The best way to choose is just to download the Live CDs/DVDs and give them a spin on your computer.

Linux Mint 15 – Linux Distro Reviews by InfinitelyGalactic

Mint 15: Today’s best Linux desktop (Review)

Linux Mint 15 – The best Linux distro gets better

A Few of my Favorite Linux Distros

These days there are so many Linux distributions (operating systems) that are easy and enjoyable to use that it must be difficult for someone wanting to try Linux to choose. Of course Ubuntu is the one that gets most of the attention; and it is stable and relatively easy for beginners to try out. If you want to take a dip into the wonderful world of Free and Open Source Software, a distro based on Ubuntu is a good place to start.

The Unity desktop that is standard with Ubuntu has improved a lot, but I just don’t care for it as much as some alternatives like XFCE or Enlightenment or KDE. Of course, one of the neat things about Linux is that you can install other Desktop Environments and Window Managers, and even use several in the same distro. But for people who are not sure what “Linux” is all about, are not used to having so much choice, and just want to try out a Linux-based operating system that is free and ‘just works’ for the average user without a lot of fiddling (like adding Flash support and multimedia codecs and such); here is my short list of personal favorite distros.

1) Zorin OS: A great, easy to use OS that looks similar to Windows and from my experience is very solid. I’m using the newest version on our second desktop computer. Comes with pre-configured goodies and lovely effects. This is a wonderful intro to Linux for Windows users, and it uses it’s own variation of the Gnome 3 desktop that works quite well. Here’s a comprehensive video for more information: Zorin Linux OS 6 Ultimate Review.

2) Linux Mint: I’ve used Mint for a few years through many changes, especially after the change by Ubuntu to Unity (Mint is based on Ubuntu, as are all the distros I’m mentioning). There are many variations of Linux Mint these days, including a Debian-based version. But right now I have Mint 13 (Maya) using the Mint-developed Cinnamon Desktop installed on my HP Mini netbook, and it’s running very fine! Mint is versatile, user-friendly and a joy to use. It’s been the most popular brand of Linux on Distrowatch for a while now.

3) Pinguy OS: PinguyOS recently came out with their 12.04 version that also uses a nicely-augmented Gnome 3 desktop. This distro comes with a lot of extra applications, tweaks and PPAs pre-installed; including WINE software for running Windows stuff (so does Zorin). It’s got software for almost anything you’d want to do with a computer; and they have an exceptionally diverse and helpful forum.

 4) Solus OS: This is a relatively new distro based on the stable branch of Debian Linux. It’s the child of Ikey Dougherty, who developed Linux Mint Debian Edition. The aim of Solus OS is to be stable, user-friendly and beautiful. I wrote about it Here. This baby is changing fast and I’m looking forward to trying out the Solus OS 2 final release when it’s available soon. This distro is becoming very popular!

Then there is the distro I use on our main machine, Voyager Linux, based on Xubuntu using the familiar, configurable XFCE. I’ve blathered on about it before, so I saved it for the end. But I really love Voyager and think it’s a great choice for new Linux users, too!

And not to leave out a KDE-centric Linux operating system; honorable mention goes to Netrunner, based on good ‘ole Kubuntu. I have not installed Netrunner on any of our computers, but I am sorely tempted to do so. It looks great and runs very nice from the Live DVD. I think I should do another post on distros that primarily use KDE in the near future. There are a few nice ones out there. And Windows users would also feel right at home in KDE.

I’ll leave you with a couple more links. What do you think of my favorites? This is just a short list of great Linux distros. Other options would be welcome.

Unity alternatives – the many desktops of Ubuntu

25 Things I Did After Installing Ubuntu 12.04