Posts Tagged ‘desktop environment’

If you’re new to Ubuntu using 11.10 upwards, you might be scratching your head when you see people mention they’re using Gnome Shell instead of Unity, or even the “Classic Desktop“. Or if you’ve been using Ubuntu but decided to do a fresh install, you’ll find there is not only no “Ubuntu Classic” option at login, but no Gnome at all.

This is because the decision was made to drop Gnome as it moved from the familiar 2.x to Gnome 3, since Ubuntu and Unity are built on it anyway. The logic is that should people need a less resource-hungry environment for slower computers, they can log into Unity 2D instead. But while Unity is gaining fans, and most certainly will gain many more as development continues and we see a flood of plugins and customisation apps, some of us want to play with the new and shiny Gnome Shell, or just to get our old Gnome Classic desktop back.

Now, it’s actually easy to get either or both, but while I’ve seen in forums that installing Gnome Shell will also install the legacy “Classic” desktop, this isn’t true (though it makes sense people might assume that). That’s because while the meta-package gnome is installed, gnome-shell isn’t part of it, but a separate package. Likewise the “Classic” desktop doesn’t come in either gnome or gnome shell, but as exists as the package gnome-session-fallback (which also installs a 2D version).

So, you can pick either, or have both, and it’s as simple as pasting a command or two in the terminal. If planning to have both, you may as well install Gnome Shell first, though it shouldn’t really matter.

To install Gnome Shell: sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

To install Gnome Classic: sudo apt-get install gnome-session-fallback

Once installed, you should be able to just log out and log back in to one of your new desktops, but if not, then do a reboot. Then you can log into Gnome Shell at the login screen by choosing “GNOME“, or the more familiar legacy desktop by choosing “GNOME Classic” (or “GNOME Classic (No Effects)” for less powerful computers or graphics card issues).

If you can’t find where to log into other environments, it’s always a hidden menu you need to access, previously by the word Options at the bottom of the screen, but in 11.10 is a gear icon near the user name; in following versions, that will no doubt change, but just look for something to click on and you’ll find it. Obviously, if you’ve set your login option to be automatic, meaning you never see the login screen but end up straight at the desktop, then you’ll need to change that in order to be able to change between the different window managers.


Related Tip: How to Log Into Ubuntu Classic Desktop or Gnome Shell Instead of Unity


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If you’ve upgraded to Ubuntu 11.04, you may have noticed your Emerald themes for window borders are no longer working. You can still open the Emerald Theme Manager, but selecting new themes does nothing. And if you try starting Emerald via the terminal, all you will be presented with is a “segmentation fault”. This is because while Emerald may technically still be on your system, it’s actually not compatible with the latest Compiz-Fusion.

And you can forget about finding a newer version in the repos, since Emerald is unfortunately a dead project which hasn’t been maintained for a while now. So you can forgive Ubuntu for no longer supporting it, especially since Jasper, the successor to Emerald, is on its way.

But you can actually get Emerald working in 11.04, which you can do by uninstalling it, and reinstalling via git and manual compiling.

First off, we need to totally remove Emerald, which you can do by running the following command in a terminal:

sudo apt-get purge emerald

Next, we need to install git and some dependencies:

sudo apt-get install autoconf git intltool libdecoration0-dev libemeraldengine0 libtool libwnck1.0-cil-dev libwnck-dev

More dependencies will need to be installed, so just agree to those to proceed:

The following NEW packages will be installed:
 autoconf automake autotools-dev emacsen-common git git-man intltool
 libatk1.0-dev libcairo-script-interpreter2 libcairo2-dev libdecoration0-dev
 liberror-perl libexpat1-dev libfontconfig1-dev libfreetype6-dev
 libgdk-pixbuf2.0-dev libglib2.0-cil-dev libglib2.0-dev libgtk2.0-cil-dev
 libgtk2.0-dev libice-dev libltdl-dev libpango1.0-dev libpixman-1-dev
 libpng12-dev libpthread-stubs0 libpthread-stubs0-dev libsm-dev
 libstartup-notification0-dev libtool libwnck-dev libwnck1.0-cil-dev
 libwnck2.20-cil libx11-dev libxau-dev libxcb-render0-dev libxcb-shm0-dev
 libxcb1-dev libxcomposite-dev libxcursor-dev libxdamage-dev libxdmcp-dev
 libxext-dev libxfixes-dev libxft-dev libxi-dev libxinerama-dev libxrandr-dev
 libxrender-dev libxres-dev x11proto-composite-dev x11proto-core-dev
 x11proto-damage-dev x11proto-fixes-dev x11proto-input-dev x11proto-kb-dev
 x11proto-randr-dev x11proto-render-dev x11proto-resource-dev
 x11proto-xext-dev x11proto-xinerama-dev xorg-sgml-doctools xtrans-dev
 0 upgraded, 64 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
 Need to get 29.9 MB of archives.
 After this operation, 96.2 MB of additional disk space will be used.
 Do you want to continue [Y/n]?

Now we need to fetch Emerald via git:

git clone git://anongit.compiz.org/fusion/decorators/emerald

Cloning into emerald...
 remote: Counting objects: 2265, done.
 remote: Compressing objects: 100% (2215/2215), done.
 remote: Total 2265 (delta 1619), reused 0 (delta 0)
 Receiving objects: 100% (2265/2265), 825.06 KiB | 132 KiB/s, done.
 Resolving deltas: 100% (1619/1619), done.

Once done, you will have an emerald folder inside your home folder, so get the terminal to point to that:

cd emerald

Now you can start the compiling (run each command once the previous one has finished):

git checkout -b compiz++ origin/compiz++


./configure --prefix=/usr/local


sudo make install

If you want to remove the emerald folder immediately, you can run the following commands:

cd ~

rm -rf emerald

However, you can always manually delete it later, once you’re sure you no longer need it (you will need it if you want to uninstall it later; read below for more info on that).

To enable your Emerald theme, hit Alt+F2 and run emerald --replace. You should now see your window borders change to an Emerald-themed one, and you can now open the theme manager to choose another.

If the Emerald Theme Manager is not in System > Preferences yet, you can try update-menus (or even update-menus && killall gnome-panel) in a terminal or via Alt+F2, but in my case it only appeared there after I ran Applications > System Tools > Compiz Fusion Icon and tried running the theme manager from there. For me, that only made the launcher appear, and I could only get the Emerald Theme Manager to open by running emerald-theme-manager --replace in the terminal (it probably won’t work in the Run Application dialog via Alt+F2, and you’ll need to keep the terminal window open until you’re finished using it).

You’ll see all your old themes are still there, as they weren’t uninstalled when Emerald was purged. Just click on another theme, and it should change instantly.

Can’t Move Windows After Initiating Emerald?

After that, you may find you can’t move your windows, but don’t worry, as you can change a Compiz setting to rectify this. Open System > Preferences > CompizConfig Settings Manager (if it isn’t installed, just run sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager in a terminal) and go to the Window Management section.

You will see that Move Window is unchecked, so click in the box to the left of it and you should now be able to move your programs and windows around. If Resize Windows is also unchecked, you may as well activate that too while you’re there.

Want to Uninstall Emerald?

If you look in Synaptic Package Manager, you’ll see that Emerald is apparently not installed. That’s because you didn’t install the version in the repositories, since it wouldn’t work. You will need to manually uninstall it, which you can do by going the the ~/emerald folder you compiled from, so open a terminal there and run the following: sudo make uninstall

Can I Use Emerald With Gnome 3?

You can forget about trying to run Emerald in Gnome-Shell, as Gnome 3 uses Clutter instead of Compiz-Fusion.


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Dolphin became the default file manager when KDE went to 4.0, so Kubuntu users already know what a great program it is (unless they preferred to stick with the previous default file manager, Konqueror). While Ubuntu‘s desktop environment, Gnome, has certainly stepped up of late when it comes to visual effects, screenlets and the like, KDE has always been about “bells and whistles”. And while Gnome can end up looking pretty stunning, the same can’t be said about its default file manager, Nautilus, which is about as plain as they come.

Dolphin, on the other hand, has the little niceties one would expect of a KDE file manager, like animated folder icons, and a lot more. There is an easy to access zoom slider for thumbnails, and has some pretty unique “views”. You can customise it in ways you could only dream of in Nautilus or Thunar, like not only add extra panes, but also move them where you like, and resize them to your needs.

If you look at the above pic, you’ll see that you can add a Folders (“tree”) pane and put it above the Information pane on the right (you could put it under Places, of course, but why not save that for shortcuts). Also, you can add a Terminal to the bottom, so whatever folder you’re in, you can just type commands without having to open a terminal in each folder (or continually change paths).

The views are Icons (like the same in Nautilus, but smaller, and just the icon, no preview),Details (your standard row-by-row format with information next to each file), Columns (starts off with 2 columns, and every sub-folder you click on opens another), Preview (turns your icons into thumbnails, and folders will show previews of pics inside), andSplit (gives you 2 columns you can browse with).

When you are inSplit mode, you can look at the beginning and end of a large folder at the same time, or use the second column to browse another folder or drive. The Columns mode offers another interesting and useful way of browsing, so you certainly have a few choices in ways to browse.

Some things to note are that with Dolphin, like other KDE file managers, the default is to treat a single-click as a double-click. This can confuse Gnome users, as even slowly clicking a file will open it. All you need to do to select a file is click the green + that appears in the top left corner when you hover your cursor, and it will select it. But if you’re selecting a file simply to know the filesize, like you would in Nautilus, then you don’t need to, as that information will appear in the status bar and the Information pane simply by hovering your cursor over the file.

Not only that, but if you are in Icons view, hovering over picture files will show the preview in the Information pane. In Preview mode, another nice feature is that when you hover your mouse cursor over a folder, its preview thumbnail will cycle through other pictures in the folder (which you can see in the second pic, as the selected folder looks different from the preview in the Information pane).

So there are some great reasons to try out Dolphin. There’s a lot more you can do to customise its interface, and if the single-click/double-click issue ends up annoying you, then don’t worry, you can change the setting to what you’re used to. You can change that and other default settings via Settings > Configure Dolphin.

While Dolphin needs certain KDE libraries, etc, to function, any such dependencies will be installed with the program into your Ubuntu/Gnome system. Mark it for installation in Synaptic, or enter in a terminal:

sudo apt-get install dolphin


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Thunar is the default file manager for Xubuntu‘s Xfce desktop environment, and is as stable in Ubuntu as the default app, Nautilus (especially since Xfce uses a lot from Gnome anyway). In many ways, you can’t tell the two programs apart, but for a time Thunar was way ahead of Gnome‘s file manager. That’s not just because of advanced features like custom actions you could add, but because of the various views you could have. For example, for newbies tentatively moving away from Windows, the Tree view in the side pane is assuringly similar to Windows Explorer.

While Nautilus has certainly caught up, with being able to add to context menus via actions, and 6 different views for the side pane, Thunar is still worth installing because you can get the best of both worlds. You can leave Nautilus with the Places pane on the left and “Icon View” (thumbnails) on the right, and for when you want to browse via a Tree pane with “Compact List” icons (“List View” in Windows Explorer), you can open Thunar.

Also, unlike with Nautilus, you can still access the defined shortcuts (usually available via the left pane) while in Tree view by clicking a button at the end of the address bar. If you are thinking Thunar might be good to have as a backup in case Nautilus is having problems (which it is), but prefer it to look like Nautilus, then you can always change things back to how you like them (change the Tree pane to Shortcuts).

If you like this idea, but are thinking the icons in “Compact List” view are too small, you can always make them bigger (seen above), via the View menu, or zoom with your scroll wheel.

If you look at the pics, you’ll see some minor differences between the two file managers. Firstly, while Thunar uses the same icons for toolbar buttons that Nautilus does (they both get them from the current icon theme), Thunar‘s are bigger (which I personally like). You’ll also note from the second pic that in your home folder (and elsewhere), hidden folders and files are listed first.

Other things worth mentioning are the differences between thumbnails and folder settings between the two, and that the Thunar context (right-click) menu will probably have less entries than you’re used to (though you should getOpen Terminal Here by default, while with Nautilus you have to install a package to get Open in Terminal).

Lastly, since the Information pane in Nautilus is rather useless right now when it comes to info, you can use Thunar to get more info at a glance than Nautilus can offer. For example, when you’re in your ~/Pictures folder and what to know the size in pixels of certain images, you generally need to right-click each file and view the info via Properties > Image. But with Thunar, all you have to do is click each file and look at the bottom to the info displayed on the status bar (which can be enabled via the View menu if it is missing).

So you could even do what I did: set up Thunar to display over-sized icons in “Icons” view, and then create a panel launcher to have your ~/Pictures folder open in Thunar (the command for such a launcher would be: thunar /home/yourusername/Pictures). That way, you don’t have to mess with icon size in Nautilus, but still get really large thumbnails of all your pictures, as well as info on dimensions presented in the status bar.

To install Thunar, as well as select some plugins for installation, simply search for “thunar” in Synaptic. Or you can install the program and all related plugins via the terminal:

sudo apt-get install thunar thunar-media-tags-plugin thunar-volman thunar-thumbnailers thunar-archive-plugin

To get more info about the plugins, simply paste their names (individually) into the Quick search field in Synaptic.


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Wine is what most look upon as a Windows emulator, though the developers prefer Windows compatibility layer. And that’s for a good reason, as Wine is a lot more seamless than you would expect of an emulator. And this isn’t virtualisation, where you run a Windows “virtual machine” inside Ubuntu, in effect running two operating systems at once. Wine makes it possible to run many Windows programs as though they were “native”, meaning just like any other Linux programs in Ubuntu.

While the programs will look as they do in Windows, they’ll be themed by Ubuntu (the window borders and titlebars), including desktop effects like window wobble. Like I said, they’ll pretty much be like any other Ubuntu programs, but might take a few seconds longer to load than in Windows.

Wine sets up a fake C: drive within its own folder, but you can browse through your entire system when importing or saving files in your Windows apps. You can even configure Wine to assign drive letters to commonly-used folders in your home folder, thereby making it simple to browse to them when opening or saving files.

Wine is easily installed via Synaptic, but you will need to enable “universe” and “multiverse” repos first.

Visit WineHQ for more general info, or check out the database of Wine programs (the list of popular games that run in Ubuntu is quite impressive). For those who want the latest available beta packages, you can find detailed info on how to add the WineHQ APT Repository for different versions of Ubuntu.

And remember: if you are having problems getting a certain program to run, or run without errors, join WineHQ and submit a bug report. It can be well worth the effort, as I have had Wine updates come out two days later with the fix I needed for programs like DVD Shrink.


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When looking around for more programs to install, you may hear of great KDE (K Desktop Environment) apps, and be wondering if you need to be running Kubuntu to use them. The answer is that while these apps do indeed need parts of KDE to function, those dependencies can be automatically fulfilled via your package manager, Synaptic.

So you need not have installed KDE as a backup desktop environment, as those programs will just install needed KDE libraries and programs/commands they depend on. Or more accurately, Synaptic will take care of that. And don’t worry about KDE system files interfering with Gnome, as they are quite separate, and they will only ever be called upon by those KDE programs when needed.

As you’ll note in Synaptic, those programs will be listed as KDE apps, but nonetheless can be installed into Gnome. And they’re easy to find, as the majority actually start with K. So don’t be shy to try a few out, as some will be so good they’ll replace apps you currently use, and others will end your search for an app for a particular task. Just note that occasionally there might be a few minor issues, like parts of programs not displaying properly, but these can be easily resolved.


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The 4.x incarnation of KDE is still pretty much in its infancy, so there are still bugs to be ironed out, especially when it comes to running them in Ubuntu‘s default desktop environment, Gnome. I’ve noticed bits and pieces of programs don’t always display properly, like when I click on an alarm task in KAlarm to edit it. Basically, the box pops up, but all I can see is the charcoal KDE4 background, and clicking around in it does nothing.

But I found if I maximise it, suddenly everything appears, then I can then restore the dialogue box to its proper size (not that I really need to), and then proceed with the task. So if you get the same thing happening with a KDE4 app in Gnome, try maximising it to see if it makes a difference.


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When you install either Ubuntu, Kubuntu or Xubuntu, you end up with either Gnome, KDE or Xfce (respectively) as the desktop environment. You only get one choice, but you can easily add one or more of the other desktop environments to your system later. You might be wondering if there are any drawbacks in doing this, so hopefully this will ease your worries.

Basically, the only drawback is that each system requires updates, which might be an issue for those with small download limits. For Ubuntu users, Xfce updates are infrequent and usually quite tiny, but KDE updates are usually larger than those for Gnome, as often more system packages get updated each time, and fairly frequently.

Other than that, your different desktop environments should co-exist in peace, and any “problems” will be minor, like the icons on your Ubuntu desktop being in a different order when you log into KDE. The panels and menus will be different, and some things will work differently, but that’s to be expected, and you’ll have fun learning your way around.

And while most of us are quite happy using one desktop environment, with the majority choosing Gnome, there is an upside to having more than one. You can use it as a backup desktop if things go wrong, and not have to log into Windows or Mac OS to Google for answers. Also, because you are logged into your Ubuntu system regardless of what desktop environment you’re in, you can edit system files or whatever needs to be done, without having to use a Live CD or other tool to be able to get at them (since you can’t via Windows).

Or if you suspect it was a buggy update, and one likely to have had a flood of bug reports from users, you can even sit back and use another desktop for a while and see what happens. After all, you should still be able to use most if not all your Gnome apps without issue in KDE, and updates to Gnome will still come in and get installed. From experience I can tell you it can be as little as 2 days before a bunch of system package updates are rushed out, and once installed you’re logging into Gnome again without a problem.

If you’re a “tinkerer”, and have gotten yourself into spots of bother messing with your system – and are likely to do so again – this option is a lot easier than using a Live CD each time. If you’d like to cut down on hard drive space used and downloads for updates, install Xfce, as it is quite minimalist. One thing to keep in mind though if considering this is that Xfce actually draws a lot from GTK – basically parts of Gnome – so there is at least a slight possibility that if you’ve messed up a part of Gnome it needs, Xfce won’t load either. So if you want to play it safe, and don’t mind sacrificing a little disk space and bandwidth, install KDE as your backup desktop. Or if you want ot play it really safe like me, have all three!


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If you’ve ever played with the Live CDs of the various flavours of Ubuntu, you would have noticed that, for example, if you already installed Ubuntu and then ran the Kubuntu Live CD, it would want to replace everything you’ve just done. But there are a couple of ways of getting Kubuntu and/or Xubuntu on the same system as your Ubuntu install, as you’ll soon see.

The base of each system is pretty much the same (it’s all Ubuntu), but what differs (quite dramatically) is the desktop environment each uses. Ubuntu uses Gnome, Kubuntu uses KDE, and Xubuntu uses Xfce. So really, all you will be doing is adding other desktop environments, which you can then log into via the Sessions button (depending on the theme you are using for your Login screen, the button could be called Options or similar).

This is actually quite easy to do, and you can pick between the fastest (or least-complicated) method and the one that involves the least downloading (KDE downloads can be pretty large – expect 200-500Mb on the first installation).

Now, if you’ve already got an Alternate CD handy, you can add it to your Software Sources (System > Administration) to save on downloading. When you go to install the required metapackage, the disc will be included in the search for files, saving you downloading them. This can save quite a bit of download time, but note that if most of the files are now outdated, the disc will be mostly skipped anyway. This is a good option for when the most current version isn’t that old yet.

An easier way to do it is just open Synaptic to install the package without worrying about adding an Alternate CD as a source. For Xfce, the download will be far less than even Gnome‘s files, but KDE will be quite large (so will the updates), but it should be worth it. Just note that if you’re on dial-up or something, you can cancel the download at any time, say No to continuing the install without the missing files when it complains, and simply start again next time. Unlike with Windows, the package manager will continue where it left off, as it resumes from partially-downloaded files!

If you would like to install Kubuntu/KDE, then the metapackage kubuntu-desktop will take care of everything. If you would like to try Xubuntu/Xfce, then the metapackage is xubuntu-desktop. That’s it! Just open Synaptic, search for and mark for installation either or both of those, and the next time you log in, you can choose another desktop environment.

If you want the easiest method by far, just paste one of the following into a terminal (the last one will install both KDE and Xfce in one go!):

sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop

sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop

sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop xubuntu-desktop

Just remember that when you log into another desktop environment, it will ask whether you want to make that the default, so choose to only do so for that session (or you can let it become the default if you’re planning to explore it over the next few logins, then just make Gnome the default again when you log back in there). All your files and programs will still be accessible, and even your desktop icons will be there (though not necessarily in the same layout as in Gnome) – everything will just look different, and some things will work differently, but you should have a lot of fun exploring your new desktop(s). You might even find, for example, that you prefer the zazz of KDE, or the minimalist simplicity of Xfce.

And if you find you’ve had your fun and don’t really need one or more of your desktop environments, you can just uninstall the metapackage(s) via Synaptic, or via the terminal:

sudo apt-get remove kubuntu-desktop

sudo apt-get remove xubuntu-desktop

sudo apt-get remove kubuntu-desktop xubuntu-desktop


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