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Thunar is the default file manager in Xfce, and happily runs in Ubuntu. But besides being a great backup in case Nautilus plays up, the reason I’ve always told people to install it is the awesome Bulk Rename app that comes along with it.

Now, if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already got it installed, but you probably noticed you get the following error trying to launch the app after upgrading your system to 11.04 Natty Narwhal:

Error: Failed to execute child process “/usr/lib/thunar/ThunarBulkRename” (No such file or directory)

Basically, there are two errors causing this, being not only the wrong path specified, but also the name of the command. If you look at the properties of the launcher, you’ll see the path /usr/lib/thunar is specified, with the command being ThunarBulkRename %F.

All you need to do is change the command to Thunar -B (no need to specify a path), and your launcher will work again.

Additional Info:

You may see mention online of the Thunar plugin thunar-bulk-rename, but you can ignore that, as the renamer is now part of the thunar-sbr package, which should be installed by default along with Thunar. If you don’t find Bulk Rename in Applications > Accessories, then run sudo apt-get install thunar-sbr in a terminal.

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Nautilus – the default file manager for Gnome, and therefore Ubuntu – is feature-rich and easy-to-use, but you can make it even more powerful, and with very little effort.

With Windows or Mac OS X, if there are features missing in the built-in file browser, the only option is to install another, usually at some expense (software developers in those worlds haven’t quite embraced the concept of open-source). In Ubuntu and other Linux distributions, other file managers – like Thunar (Xfce), Dolphin (KDE) and Konqueror (KDE) – can easily be installed (for free), even if they were made for a desktop environment other than Gnome.

But another way to get some of the features you might find lacking in Nautilus is to install some plugins or “extensions“, most of which are in the official repos and easily installed via Synaptic Package Manager.

Here I’ll feature the most popular and useful ones, but there are others out there, from adding more integration with messaging to technical tasks most of us don’t need (or understand). While I’ll be keeping this post up to date as new extensions are created, a Google search for “nautilus plugin extension” will reveal those I have left out (or missed). And don’t forget that you can also open Synaptic, paste the word “nautilus” into the Quick search bar, and all extensions available in the repositories will be displayed.

Essential Extensions:

Nautilus Open Terminal: Command-Line in the Current Folder

Nautilus GKSU: Open Files & Folders with Administrative Privileges

More Cool Plugins:

Nautilus Image Converter: Easily Resize & Rotate Pictures

Nautilus Pastebin: Send Text Clips to the Web

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Other Nautilus Enhancements:

Add Buttons for New Folder, Cut, Copy, Paste & Trash/Delete to the Nautilus Toolbar

Add a File/Folder “Properties” Button to the Nautilus Toolbar

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Guide to Customising & Enhancing Nautilus

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Users of Ubuntu 10.04 onwards note that XSplash is no longer used, so read the “Plymouth” customisation guide instead. Since it is still basically GDM that is providing the login screen, the bulk of this guide should still apply.

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As you are probably aware, since Gnome is moving away from its own GDM login screen to that of X-Server’s XSplash to improve boot time, Ubuntu “Karmic Koala” has little to offer in the way of customisability of the login process. While the masses are wailing about the step backwards that Ubuntu has taken, it has to be stressed that this is something the Gnome developers have done, and that (unsurprisingly) there are ways around this. And as you’ll see, while before you had to download GDM themes and hope you liked all the aspects (or make your own), with these little hacks you can change one or more features of the login screen, so in effect create your own themes.

There is a command-line hack that involves logging out and entering a tty session, and you can change many aspects of your login there (everything but the throbber, welcome sound and user icon). However, since there are ways to change each aspect while at the desktop, usually with quick terminal commands, I’ll list those first, and include the former near the end. And I’ll also show how to do the same thing as the tty hack, but with the Appearance dialogue while you’re still logged into your current session; this is by far the easiest method for changing nearly everything visual about your login screen, so we’ll begin with that.

For some users, none of the cosmetic aspects matter as much as the user list being shown by default, which many see as a major security issue. I’ll include methods for rectifying this at the end.

The list of topics covered here are:

  • Appearances GDM Customisation
  • Login Background
  • Logo & Throbber
  • Previewing Your Changes
  • GTK & Icon Themes
  • User Icon
  • System Sound
  • Gnome Control Center Hack
  • Disabling the User List
  • Things To Avoid
  • Conclusion

There should be enough alternative methods for each task that if one doesn’t work for you, another will.

Appearances GDM Customisation

You can actually change most aspects of the loginGTK theme (window borders, etc), background, font, and icon theme – via Appearance Preferences. But don’t go clicking on System > Preferences > Appearance, as that will only let you customise your desktop. Instead, run:

gksudo -u gdm dbus-launch gnome-appearance-properties

… and when Appearance Preferences loads, any changes you make will only be applied to the login screen. As you can see, you can change most aspects there, and only have to change the throbber, welcome sound and user icon manually. If for some reason this doesn’t work while logged in, log out and try the “Gnome Control Center Hack” method.

♣♣♣ If Appearance Preferences keeps reappearing every time you log in, read this.

Login Background

If you just want to be able to specify your own background image for the login, you can overwrite the existing one in /usr/share/images/xsplash (where all images for the login are stored). If there are wallpapers of all resolutions installed with the current theme, you would usually be correct in assuming the image size would match the screen resolution. Or if you’re used to boot and login images needing to be smaller, you’d assume a picture of a smaller resolution would be used.

But you may be surprised to find that the current background is in a higher resolution, so if you’re running a widescreen monitor set at 1680×1050, it will likely be:

/usr/share/images/xsplash/bg_2560x1600.jpg

To find out which image is being used as the login background (if there’s more than one wallpaper image in the folder), enter the following in a terminal:

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2 --get /desktop/gnome/background/picture_filename

You can then just replace the current background with a picture of your own. In the case of the previous example, you could rename a smaller image of 1680×1050 as bg_2560x1600.jpg and it would work fine. Since the folder is a protected system one, you’ll need to open it with root privileges before you can edit, delete or overwrite files therein, so enter the following in a terminal:

gksu nautilus /usr/share/images/xsplash

Then just drag your new background to the folder that appears and overwrite the original. Or you can specify a picture of your own, which can reside anywhere (like your ~/Pictures folder), via the command-line.

To change the image being used as the login background, enter the following in a terminal (replacing the path and file name on the end with your own):

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2 --set --type string --set /desktop/gnome/background/picture_filename /home/yourusername/Pictures/wallpaper.jpg

Logo & Throbber

If you’ve downloaded or made your own alternative logo (to replace the Ubuntu one) and/or “throbber ” (the progress animation), it’s really a simple process to add these to your login. All XSplash image files reside in /usr/share/images/xsplash, so it is a simple matter of replacing the default images there.

The logo images you need to replace are:

/usr/share/images/xsplash/logo_large.png
/usr/share/images/xsplash/logo_medium.png
/usr/share/images/xsplash/logo_small.png
/usr/share/images/xsplash/logo_xtra_large.png

The throbbers you need to replace are:

/usr/share/images/xsplash/throbber_large.png
/usr/share/images/xsplash/throbber_medium.png
/usr/share/images/xsplash/throbber_small.png
/usr/share/images/xsplash/throbber_xtra_large.png

So, if your images have different names, simply rename them to those outlined, and overwrite the current images in the folder. Since the folder is a protected system one, you’ll need to open it with root privileges before you can edit, delete or overwrite files therein, so enter the following in a terminal:

gksu nautilus /usr/share/images/xsplash

Then just drag your new images to the folder that appears and overwrite the originals.

Previewing Your Changes

To preview your current XSplash theme (it will show the background image, logo and throbber):

sudo xsplash (hit Esc to exit)

GTK & Icon Themes

To find out which GTK theme is being used to decorate window borders in the login screen, enter the following in a terminal:

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2 --get /desktop/gnome/interface/gtk_theme

To change the GTK theme being used in the login screen, enter the following in a terminal (replace “BlackPlastic” with the name of the theme):

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2 --set --type string --set /desktop/gnome/interface/gtk_theme BlackPlastic

To find out which icon theme is being used in the login screen, enter the following in a terminal:

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2 --get /desktop/gnome/interface/icon_theme

To change the icon theme being used in the login screen, enter the following in a terminal (replacing “Tangerine” with the name of the desired icon theme):

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2 --set --type string --set /desktop/gnome/interface/icon_theme Tangerine

You can also edit the file /usr/share/gconf/schemas/gdm-simple-greeter.schemas if you don’t like the computer icon. To do so, enter the following in a terminal:

sudo gedit /usr/share/gconf/schemas/gdm-simple-greeter.schemas

Then change the icon <default>computer</default> in the section:

<schema>
<key>/schemas/apps/gdm/simple-greeter/logo_icon_name</key>
<applyto>/apps/gdm/simple-greeter/logo_icon_name</applyto>
<owner>gdm-simple-greeter</owner>
<type>string</type>
<default>computer</default>
<gettext_domain>gdm</gettext_domain>
<locale name=”C”>
<short>Icon name to use for greeter logo</short>
<long>Set to the themed icon name to use for the greeter logo.</long>
</locale>
</schema>

The value you would change it to would be the name of the icon, minus the .png extension. If you look inside your icon themes folders (in ~/.icons and /usr/share/icons), you’ll see they all have a computer.png icon, usually in the Devices subfolder. So for icon themes to work, the images for all the system icons have to have specific names. Therefore, just change “computer” to another icon from the current theme, like “gnome-dev-keyboard” for gnome-dev-keyboard.png in the same folder.

User Icon

To change your user icon, enter the following command, then click the icon in the dialogue that appears, and pick another from the list (or browse to another folder and choose one of your own, like a photo):

/usr/bin/gnome-about-me

System Sound

If you’d like to change the welcome sound from the default drum roll, here’s a workaround you can employ. If you look in /usr/share/sounds/ubuntu/stereo, you will see that the default system sound, system-ready.ogg, is actually just a symbolic link to dialog-question.ogg. So you can delete that link and create a new one to another .ogg file, without actually deleting any sound files.

If you want to use another sound file from the same folder, for example desktop-logout.ogg, open a terminal in the folder /usr/share/sounds/ubuntu/stereo (or just launch a terminal and enter cd /usr/share/sounds/ubuntu/stereo) and enter the following commands:

sudo rm system-ready.ogg (to delete the symbolic link)

sudo ln -s desktop-logout.ogg system-ready.ogg (to create a new link to the desired sound file)

You can also specify your own sound file, and it can be anywhere, like your ~/Music folder, so use the following command to replace the one above (remembering to change the path and filename in the example to that of your file):

sudo ln -s /home/yourusername/Music/MyStartupSound.ogg system-ready.ogg

Gnome Control Center Hack

1. Log out of your current session to return to the login screen

2. Switch to the tty command-line prompt using Ctrl+Alt+F1

3. Log in using your normal username and password

4. At the command-line prompt type: export DISPLAY=:0.0

5. Then enter: sudo -u gdm gnome-control-center

6. Switch back to the login screen using ALT+F7

7. Gnome Control Center will be open, so use it to configure your login screen.

8. Click on the Appearances icon to change your login screen’s font, theme and background image.

9. Close Gnome Control Center and log in as usual. (If this keeps reappearing every time you log in, read this).

Disabling the User List

You can disable display of the user list if you’re worried about security on a multi-user machine via this command in a terminal:

sudo gconftool-2 --direct --config-source \xml:readwrite:/etc/gconf/gconf.xml.defaults --type bool\ --set /apps/gdm/simple-greeter/disable_user_list true

… or open Applications > System Tools > Configuration Editor, browse to /apps/gdm/simple-greeter/ and put a tick next to disable_user_list. However, while this looks like an easy method, you may find that it doesn’t change anything, but you can also log out and do it via a tty session:

1. Log out of your current session to return to the login screen

2. Switch to the tty command-line prompt using Ctrl+Alt+F1

3. Log in using your normal username and password

4. At the command-line prompt type: export DISPLAY=:0.0

5. Then enter: sudo -u gdm gconf-editor

6. Switch back to the login screen using ALT+F7

7. The Configuration Editor will be loaded.

8. Go to apps/gdm/simple-greeter.

9. Change the Value of disable_user_list to TRUE.

10. Close the Configuration Editor.

11. Reboot your machine.

Things To Avoid

When looking around for answers, you’ll occasionally come across some info that may have been at one time sound advice, but could now land you in all sorts of bother. Here are a few, and I’ll add more as I come across them.

Usplash: One bit of advice I certainly don’t recommend is for recreating the old Usplash – the image with progress bar you used to see before the login. Once upon a time, the command sudo dpkg-reconfigure usplash-theme-ubuntu would be good for recreating the Usplash if something had gone awry with it. I’ve seen this command mentioned as the way to change back the theme back to the original via the terminal, but that is incorrect, as it in effect redraws it and messes with the kernel while doing so. In Ubuntu 9.10 with XSplash taking over that and the login, this may cause a display driver error upon rebooting, and choosing to log in anyway in low-graphics mode may not get you anywhere (nor will trying to restore settings from a backup), and you’ll have to reboot and choose to create a new config file for the current hardware.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are actually many ways to customise your login process, so Gnome’s move away from GDM isn’t such a bad thing after all. Beforehand, you had to know how to create a GDM theme, or accept downloaded themes as-is, but now with XSplash you can tailor everything about your login to suit your tastes.

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Further Reading:

Stop Appearance Preferences Continually Loading at Startup

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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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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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