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Changing Desktop Appearance On Linux Mint 11 (Advanced)

This tutorial is supposed to show you how to change the GNOME desktop’s appearance on Linux Mint further than the standard options of the Appearance section in the Control Center allow. I am going to use several different applications for this cause.


1 Preliminary Note

This tutorial will describe how to alter the appearance of a Linux Mint 11 system with a GNOME desktop. This is the standard desktop that comes with Mint, so if you have not changed anything about that all steps should work fine for you. Be aware that the use of the nVidia proprietary drivers may not be unrisky!

This tutorial comes without warranty of any kind!


2 Things I Am Going To Change About The Desktop

If you have not changed anything about your Mint desktop yet, that is approximately what it should look like:


After I had gone through the options I am going to configure, my desktop looked like this:


Now what I have done expilicitly is:

  • Install nVidia proprietary driver – allows desktop effects
  • Install Compiz Fusion – software to use desktop effects
  • Install Webilder Applet – applet to download and switch wallpaper automatically
  • Install Gnome Color Chooser – GUI for easily changing the desktop’s colors
  • Install Docky – Apple-like dock to quickstart files and folders
  • Install Screenlets – Software to put helpful little widgets on your desktop
  • Make the panel’s opacity option affect the complete panel
  • Lower the window decorations’ opacity

Of course you can choose which of those options you would like to apply to your desktop, however Compiz Fusion, Docky and lowering the window decorations’ opacity need the nVidia proprietary drivers to be installed.


3 NVIDIA Drivers and Compiz Fusion

At this point I want to note that you should only try to install the nVidia proprietary drivers after you have backed up your system and no data would be lost if you had to reinstall Linux Mint. It may easily occur that the nVidia drivers are installed incorrectly, especially if you had other drivers installed manually in the past. Also, make sure that you have an installation medium of your present OS (which should be Linux Mint 11) in case there is no other way but to reinstall it.

If you decide to install the nVidia drivers, follow the installation as shown in this tutorial:

If your machine reboots properly after the drivers’ installation, proceed by installing Compiz Config and skip the rest of this chapter.

If it should happen that after installing and rebooting, your machine starts up with a black screen, the nVidia drivers were not installed properly. However you can still boot with another driver. To do so, press Alt + F1 to summon a terminal. Log in as root and enter

cd /etc/X11

to access the directory where your xorg.conf should be located. To check if that file exists, enter

ls -l

and you should get a list of files and folders that are located inside the /etc/X11 directory. If the xorg.conf file is among them, open it with

nano /etc/X11/xorg.conf

and find the line in the Device section that says

Driver "..."

Change the string in the double quote so that it looks like this:

Driver "vesa"

Now save the file and reboot your machine. If however there was no xorg.conf file in the /etc/X11 directory, create a new one using

touch /etc/X11/xorg.conf

and make it look like this:

Section "Device"
    Identifier    "Default Device"
    Driver        "vesa"

Save the file and reboot afterwards. Your system should then be booted using the vesa drivers which should be enough to either remove, or try to install the nvidia drivers again. If you choose the latter, make sure that the Driver line of your xorg.conf says nvidia instead of vesa.


4 Install Webilder

Webilder is a tool that automatically downloads images from flickr and/or webshots, sorts them in categories and rotates your wallpaper every once in a specified interval, using the wallpapers it has downloaded. You are also free to set tags for downloading, delete downloaded images and rotate the wallpaper manually. It is also the tool used to rotate wallpapers in the Ubuntu derivative Pinguy OS.

Download Webilder from here and unpack it into any directory. I will unpack it onto /home/ctest/Desktop.  After you have got the files, open a terminal and install the needed dependencies:

sudo apt-get install python-gtk2 python-glade2 python-imaging python-setuptools

sudo apt-get install python-gnome2 libglib2.0-0 python-appindicator gettext

Next, still in terminal, change into the directory where you have unpacked the files to and install them. They are in the webilder-0.7.1 folder, so in my case I enter:

cd /home/ctest/Desktop/webilder-0.7.1
sudo python install –install-data=/usr

Be sure to replace my installation path (and/or username) with yours.

If not started automatically, rightclick your desktop panel and select Add to Panel…. Browse the available applets and click on the Webilder Desktop Applet. Click on Add and the applet should appear on your desktop panel. If the applet was not available in the list of applets in the first place just restart your system and it should appear in the list. Leftclicking on the camera icon on the panel will give you the important menu points to deal with Webilder. To start with, select Preferences.


Here you can specify the intervals of rotation and download of wallpapers, which wallpapers should be downloaded and where they should be downoaded from. To add filters, head to the flickr tab, use the Add button and click on the filter fields to configure it.


To browse the wallpapers already downloaded, leftclick the icon on the desktop panel again and choose Browse Photos. They are organized in recently downloaded photos and monthly categories, however you can also add your own albums:


You can also delete, download and switch wallpapers manually by leftclicking the panel icon and selecting the appropriate action:


5 Install GNOME Color Chooser

GNOME Color Chooser is a tool that lets you modify the colors of your current theme. Either get it in the Synaptic Package Manager or enter the following into a terminal as root:

apt-get install gnome-color-chooser


With this tool you have the option to apply the looks of your windows, menus, desktop icons, buttons and everything to the way you would like your desktop to look like. Simply run it through the Mint Menu, configure some colors, enable them, and click on Apply to see what they look like.

6 Install Docky

Docky is an Apple-like dock that is placable on any of the screens borders where you can put applications and folders onto to quick-access them. Remember that you need the nVidia proprietary drivers to do this!


To install, just access the Docky package in Synaptic Package Manager or enter following into a terminal as root:

apt-get install docky

On first startup there is not much placed in the dock, however there is a Docky icon with an anchor on it, which you can rightclick to configure it. To add new items to the dock, just drag and drop them onto it!


7 Install Screenlets

Screenlets are small visual applications comparable to widgets that you can place on your desktop to fulfill a certain function such as displaying time, processor load, calendar or the weather.


To install screenlets, either enter screenlets into Synaptic Package Manager’s searchbar and follow the usual steps or enter

apt-get install screenlets

into a terminal logged in as root. On startup you will be shown a window with a selection of already preinstalled screenlets that you can instantly launch, however you also have the option to download new screenlets from the appropriate websites.


To add screenlets to your desktop, doubleclick them or select them and hit the Launch/Add button on the left. Then drag the screenlet to the location you want it to have. There you are free to Lock it by rightclicking and browsing the Window category. To install new screenlets, download the packed files from a website (such as the GNOME screenlet website) and click Install or Install New Theme to browse your files for the downloaded package.


8 Make The Panel’s Opacity And Color Options Affect The Complete Panel

The default preferences of the control panel in the bottom of the screen allow you to either use a picture as its background image or to choose a color for it and lower its opacity if you use that action (access those by rightclicking free space on the panel and choosing Properties). If you color the panel however, not all elements of it will be colored but only the background, leaving all the buttons and backgrounds of panel icons grey.


Now there is an option that allows you to configure the panel even more, which involves editing its configuration text file. For that, open /usr/share/themes/Mint-X-Metal/gtk-2.0/Apps/panel.rc and replace Mint-X-Metal with the theme you want your panel to configure in. Inside the panel.rc file there are three values that are set equal “Panel/panelbg.png”. Find these and comment out their lines by placing a # in front of the whole line. Switch to another theme and back afterwards to reload your edited theme. Now the panel will look approximately like this:


Although it has become more pleasing to the eye, there are still some annoying grey areas left if you use the Mint-X(-Metal) theme, while the others will look nice now. These areas originate from the imagefiles of the buttons, which are not completely transparent. The two options that you have if you still want to use one of these themes is to either disable the graphical buttons at all or to edit their borders to be completely transparent.

To disable the imagefiles of the buttons and display the tabs solely with their name and the application’s icon, open the panel.rc file from before again and search the style sections for all values including Apps/Panel/button. Like before, comment the entire lines out by placing a # in front of them.

To make the borders of the button graphics transparent you will need to edit them manually with a graphical editor like The Gimp. The files are located in /usr/share/themes/Mint-X-Metal/gtk-2.0/Apps/Panel. Open them as administrator by rightclicking and choosing the appropriate action, then open them with an editor with the help of the control bar. Erase the colored transparent areas arount the actual buttons and save the files (The checkered area is the “table” beneath the image itself – it is only visible through transparent areas. You have to remove all color from the areas where this table shines through).

Then switch to another theme in the Control Center and back afterwards to use the updated theme. Your panel buttons should then either have their border removed or vanished completely, depending on which option you took.


9 Lower The Window Decorations’ Opacity

By using this option you achieve something that looks quite like the glassy look of window decorations that Microsoft Windows uses since its Vista Version. Remember that you need the nVidia proprietary drivers to do this!


If you want your window decoration to be transparent, open a terminal and enter following as the user whose window decorations’ opacity you want to lower (if it does not work properly you might have run it as root):


A graphical user interface will appear that helps you to modify all kinds of keys. The ones you are searching for is under Apps > gwd.


metacity_theme_active_opacity is the value for the currently active window, while metacity_theme_opacity is the value for all windows running in the background. Rightclick the keys and choose Edit Key… to change their values. You can select a number between 0 and 1, where 1 is full opacity and 0 is highly transparent.