Trying to get Cedega working properly had resulted in a catastrophic loss of Wi-Fi. I tried to get help through my (Windows) laptop, but the situation was just too desperate. I decided to do my first reinstall.
This time, I felt confident enough to try the manual partitioner, which allowed me to install my /home partition on a different drive. I tried to get manual graphics drivers working again, but still missing the crucial information regarding editing the restricted modules config, (see my How To on installing the NVIDIA Graphics Drivers) the drivers still did not stick, and I again gave up and installed EnvyNG.
Once I was happy with the basics, I decided to work on setting up my desktop properly. I had seen some awesome pictures of what could be achieved, and stumbled across this post and this post about customising Ubuntu’s look and feel. Both excellent posts, the resulting discoveries kept me merry for days! I would write my own ‘How To’ on customising Ubuntu, but I feel that these posts really covered all the chief points.
Panels vs. Docks
I spent hours looking through Gnome Look for the right GTK2 theme, then set my desktop to match my colours, with customised Gnome Panels that looked more like a dock than a panel. Then I got distracted by a proper dock, Cairo Dock, a fantastic little toy which has the slight drawback that it is developed by an (extremely dedicated) French man called Fabounet, and most of the website is in french. Nevertheless there is a good (unofficial) English speaking help channel on Freenode called #cairo-dock with people who seem very willing to answer the most basic questions about installing and configuring this MacOSX style application dock.
I found I much preferred Docks to Gnome-Panel; although there probably isn’t a lot of difference once you’ve customised your Gnome-Panel to look like a dock, I like the flexibility and customisability of it. It’s a friendly, adapatable, thing, and I never did figure out how to make my own GTK2 theme. With Cairo-Dock, I can manipulate it to look pretty much like anything I want.
It took me a while to get the hang of customising Cairo Dock, it’s still in early stages of development and there’s still a few things to refine. There are other dock-style apps out there, such as Kiba Dock and Avant Window Navigator. I haven’t tried them yet though, because after some fiddling, I found Cairo-Dock did everything i wanted.
Embedded apps – Conky and Screenlets
Next, I explored ‘screenlets’, which can be downloaded from Synaptic. These are basically ‘widgets’, the inspiration for those now used in Windows Vista. There are all sorts of different things you can do with them, and I briefly experimented with the clock, but the one that really caught my eye is a little embedded terminal, which can be downloaded at . This is a really useful little tool for anyone who likes using the command prompt.
Having got the hang of Screenlets, I followed the guide onto Conky, a highly customisable system monitor that can be embedded into the desktop to show pretty much any system information you like, plus your emails, your current music, weather, and all sorts of other plugins.
The difficult bit is that it is customised through its configuration text file, which can be a bit daunting. A common trick is to download someone else’s configuration, and there are plenty posted on the Ubuntu Forums. I preferred to make my own, and after a bit of reading and studying configurations I liked, I didn’t find this too hard. Here’s the result:
You can find the code to create this look here. Just copy and paste it into an editor, and save the file in your home directory as ‘.conkyrc’.
While exploring conky configs, I saw a screenshot of someone with seethrough glass borders, which led me to thinking ‘I must have those!’ After some research and asking around, I discovered they come from a theme manager called ‘Emerald’, part of the Compiz suite, which can create metallic and see-through glassly effects around the frames and titlebar of windows. It’s available through Synaptic, so I easily installed it, and started looking for themes.
By this time I had learned to modify my gnome panel (but wasn’t entirely satisfied with that), replace my gnome panel completely with Cairo Dock (much better), embed system info, terminals and other useful information into my desktop, and make my windows look pretty. Finding a backdrop I had been able to do for years, and is much the same in Linux as it is in Windows. The difference is that I couldn’t have separate backdrops easily; I had to either glue them together into one picture in Gimp (tricky since I have different sized monitors) or just make sure I’m using a backdrop that doesn’t look rubbish stretched across both screens.
Having got the hang of customising my desktop, I found it got quicker and easier to do everytime. As a result, I have found myself changing desktops with my mood.
The results of a few of my experiments are here: