Setup Special Desktop Effects in Ubuntu

The desktop effects with Windows Vista (Aero interface) are neat, but they in no way compare to the desktop effects with Linux (Compiz Fusion extension). There is another interesting fact: those desktop effects in Linux have already been used for many years (at least for 7 or more years)! Another advantage of open source software development offering the newest and “coolest” effects…

Setting Visual Effects

The ability to use special desktop effects in any operating system depends on your hardware, particularly, your graphics card. Therefore, if you cannot set-up the coolest desktop effect, you have an older graphics card…

To turn on special desktop effects, select SYSTEM -> PREFERENCES -> APPEARANCE , then select the Visual Effects tab. There are three settings:

  1. None (Provides a simple desktop environment without the effects – this is the default when Linux OS is installed)
  2. Normal (Provides improved usability and good balance between attractiveness and moderate performance requirements)
  3. Extra (Provides the best visual effects, but requires a faster graphics card)

Select “Extra” if you want the best desktop effects. If there is a problem, the system will notify you that you can’t choose Extra, and will remain with the previous selection.

Make Panels Transparent

If you are able to set your desktop visual effects to “Extra“, then you can immediately see the difference by making your panels transparent. When you make your panels transparent, your desktop looks better instead of the typical panel appearance from the default Linux install…

To make your panels transparent, right-click on an empty area of your panel, then select “Properties” from the context menu. In the “Panel Properties” dialog box, you can set the location and size of your panel. Next, select the “Background” tab. Select “Solid Color” and move the “Style” slide bar to set the appropriate amount of transparency for your panel… then close the dialog box.

Install Compiz Configuration Settings Manager

If you have set the visual effects to “Extra“, you will see interesting desktop effects. Unfortunately, some of these effects can be annoying. For example if you move open application windows, they will “wobble” – this is neat, but to tell you the truth – I don’t like it…

You can have the ability to turn-off any effects you don’t like. Unfortunately, the graphical program to allow you to change these settings are not automatically installed when you installed the Ubuntu system. You need to install a package called CompizConfig Settings Manager to change the settings graphically.

Here are the steps to download and install the CompizConfig Setting Manager:

  1. Click SYSTEM -> ADMINISTRATION -> Synaptic Package Manager.
  2. Enter your user password to confirm you are the administrator.
  3. In the Synaptic Package Manager dialog box, click on the Search button.
  4. Type in the text: CompizConfig Settings Manager – the package should appear in the application window.
  5. Click on the check box that appears to the left of that application to select that application for download and install. A content menu will appear. Select the menu item called “Mark for Installation“. There may be an additional window indicating other software applications that need to be installed as well – just click on “Mark“.
  6. Click on the “Apply” button. In a few moments, that application will automatically be downloaded and installed on your system.
  7. When completed, close the Synaptic Package Manager application window.

I will now demonstrate how I use the CompizConfig Settings Manager to turn-off the annoying “Wobbly Windows” desktop effect.

Here are the steps to Change Desktop Effects Settings:

  1. Click on SYSTEM -> PREFERENCES -> CompizConfig Settings Manager .
  2. In the dialog box, scroll down to the “Effects” section.
  3. Click on the check-box beside “Wobbly Windows” to de-select.
  4. Close the dialog box.
  5. Check to see that the “Wobbly Windows” feature is removed by moving an application window.

Here are some other Recommended Desktop Settings (Under CompizConfig Settings Manager):

  • Under “Desktop” Section:
    • Select “Desktop Cube”
    • Select “Rotate Cube”
  • Under “Effects” Section:
    • Select “3D Windows”
    • Select “Cube Reflection and Deformation”

(Then close the CompizConfig Settings Manager dialog box…)

Using Desktop Effects

Now that you setup your desktop effects, it would be nice to use them…
Here is a link to webpage displaying various desktop effects keyboard shortcuts:

http://ulyssesonline.com/2007/10/25/compiz-fusion-keyboard-shortcuts/

Make Application Window Titlebar Look Like Windows Vista

Sometimes I *catch flack* by making suggestions to have Linux Desktop appear or act like MS Windows. From my point of view, this just comes from curiosity and seeing if I can create an environment that looks similar – or delightfully different from MS Windows.

There is an application (or Compiz-Fusion plugin or “engine”) that you can use on your Linux system called “Emerald“. This plugin provides a full package of window decoration themes, including transparent window titlebars and glowing (pulsating) window buttons.

In the future, the Emerald window decoarator plugin may be included in the default Ubuntu install. I am referring to my current distribution of Ubuntu (9.04) and it requires that you install this plugin.

Steps to install Emerald Windows Decorator Engine:

  1. Click SYSTEM -> ADMINISTRATION -> Synaptic Package Manager.
  2. Enter your user password to confirm you are the administrator.
  3. In the Synaptic Package Manager dialog box, click on the Search button.
  4. Type in the text: Emerald – the package should appear in the application window.
  5. Click on the check box that appears to the left of that application to select that application for download and install. A content menu will appear.
  6. Select the menu item called “Mark for Installation“. There may be an additional window indicating other software applications that need to be installed as well – just click on the “Mark” button.
  7. Click on the “Apply” button. In a few moments, that application will automatically be downloaded and installed on your system.
  8. When completed, close the Synaptic Package Manager application window.

Now that the Emerald Plugin has been installed, you can now run the “Emerald Theme Manager” to set your Window Decorations. For an example, we will be setting the theme “vrunner” (a transparent theme), changing the titlebar colors, and setting the windows buttons to “glow”.

Steps to Make Settings in the Emerald Theme Manager:

  1. Click SYSTEM -> PREFERENCES -> Emerald Theme Manager.
  2. The “Emerald Themer” dialog box will appear. You will note that the “Emerald Themer” dialog box contains a heirarchy of tabs. The top level tab called “Theme Settings” and the sub-tab called “Themes” should be active.
  3. Click on the sub-tab “Edit Themes“. Under “Edit Themes“, the sub-tab “Frame Engine” should be active.
  4. Click on “Select Engine” list box. There are many different versions: for our example, select “vrunner“.
  5. You can now select different colors for the left/middle/right portion of the Window titlebar. Try selecting some different colors (to suit your taste).
  6. You can also change the Opacity (in very loose terms: “the level of transparency”) for each of the left/middle/right portions of the window titlebar.
  7. After you have made your selections, click on the “Buttons” sub-tab and click to select the options “Use Button Halo/Glow” and “Use Button Halo/Glow For Inactive Windows“.
  8. Click on the Titlebar sub-tab. On the right-side under the Section “Titlebar” click on the section “Title-Text Font“, and select a larger font size.
  9. NOTE: The reason why you size font size in this dialog box, is that when setting the font size when using SYSTEM -> PREFERENCES -> APPEARANCE won’t work when using the Emerald window decorator plugin… (at least as far as I can tell)…

  10. When you have made your selections, then click the “SAVE” button at the bottom, and then click “QUIT

After performing these steps, you will not see a change in the appearance of your application windows. This may change in future Ubuntu distributions, but to change the appearance, you need to run the command: emerald –replace

Of course, this is silly having to do this each and every time you login to your desktop environment, so here is a trick:

Steps to Automatically Run Emerald upon Linux Graphical Login:

  1. Click SYSTEM -> PREFERENCES -> Startup Applications.
  2. The “Startup Applications Preferences” dialog box will appear.
  3. Click the “Add” button. The “Add Startup Program” dialog box will appear.
  4. Give the program a name like: Emerald Plugin
  5. Under the Command textbox, type: emerald –replace
  6. Then click the “Add” button. Your additional program called “Emerald Plugin” will now be run whenever you login to your Linux graphical environment.
  7. Close the “Startup Applications Preferences” dialog box .
  8. To have the settings take effect, either reboot your system, or at least logout and login back into your Linux graphical environment.

This all seems like a “pain”, but once setup, then that’s it!
I hope you have fun customizing your Ubuntu system.
I believe that if you try this, you may never go back to the “default-install-look” again!

I orginally created this article for my Ubuntu Guide WIKI:
http://zenit.senecac.on.ca/wiki/index.php/Ubuntu_Guide

Murray Saul

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~ by Murray Saul on October 26, 2009.

4 Responses to “Setup Special Desktop Effects in Ubuntu”

  1. Waow loved reading this article. I added your feed to my reader.

  2. I’m about to make the jump to Linux and narrowed it down to Kubuntu and Ubuntu.. can you give me any pointers such as pros and cons for each because im still not sure what the difference is

    thanks in advanced

    • Kubuntu uses the KDE interface from the default install. If you want the “Quick and Dirty” answer, it has a very “Windows” feel to it, and would be “comforting” for a new Linux user to operate. When I first used Linux, I used KDE. It wasn’t until I had worked in Linux for sometime, before I switched to Gnome. I now like Gnome better than KDE, but I have worked with Linux for many years. KDE has nice features like setting various things like icon colour, icon size, etc from a menu.

      Gnome has some of these setup features “hidden”, and can be frustrating to a new user since they may not know which files to edit. I would recommend for you Kubuntu, although, since Desktop environments can be installed in either version at a later date… This is just my opinion, but I would recommend Kubuntu for now… You can experiment with other versions later (perhaps on an older computer) to play around with and compare…

      Please feel free to comment on my blogs, and let me know if you found them useful (or not)…

      Hope that helps…

      Murray Saul

  3. […] http://ubuntuforums.org/showthread.php?t=809695 https://murraysaul.wordpress.com/2009…cts-in-ubuntu/ I think because you installed alien, you might have been following some instructions which weren't […]

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