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Ubuntu 12.10 – Spice Up Your Desktop

One of the most common complaints about Ubuntu since the launch of version 11.04 (Natty Narwhal) is the inclusion of Unity as the default user desktop. Although version 12.10/13.04 has come a long way since then in terms of stability and useability, many people miss some of the ‘eye candy’ that was so easy to set up in previous versions. Today we are going to talk about how to set up Compiz for composite desktop effects like the 3D Desktop Cube, Window Wobble and many others.

Let’s Get Started
At this point in our journey, the installation of anything in Ubuntu is pretty standard faire. However, there are a couple of packages other than Compiz that you want to be sure to install in order to get the most out of your desktop. Let’s execute the following at a command line:
sudo apt-get install compiz compizconfig-settings-manager compiz-plugins

Alternatively, you can indeed open your ‘Ubuntu Software Center’ and install the appropriate components from there. We do it at the command line because we can, call me a purist.

Take A Look Behind the Curtain
So now that we have all of our pieces in place, we need to enable the Compiz Compositing Manager before we can set up our desktop effects. In this case, the easiest way to get started is to hit your Unity menu and type ‘Compiz’ to search for the ‘CompizConfig Settings Manager’ (although us purists simply execute ‘ccsm’ from a terminal). That will bring up the following:

CCSM Main Menu

At this point, the main item you need to be sure is checked is the ‘Ubuntu Unity Plugin’. This is necessary both because it will set Compiz as the compositing manager and it does offer some indications when certain plugins do not work right with Unity (and not all do).

Composite Me A Question
On the left hand side of our screen above, under ‘Category’, you will see the various items we can look at one at a time. Since many of them have either hard dependencies on other sections (which will pop up when selecting them) or logical dependencies (no need to enable Cube Reflection without enabling Desktop Cube), I usually choose ‘All’ and get a view like so:

All Effects At Once

I find that the best effects to enable (and those that are the most stable with both the free and proprietary 3D video card drivers) are:

  • Desktop Cube
  • 3D Windows
  • Animations
  • Cube Gears
  • Cube Reflection
  • Reflection
  • Wobbly Windows

Once enabled and after closing ‘CCSM’, you will be able to view your new rotating 3D desktop with a ‘CTRL-ALT-Mouse2’. You can set transparency in the cube settings so that if you desire you can see completely through the cube to the other side. Any windows, movies included, will then be viewable as if looking through a semi-transparent cube.

Note: If you are going to enable the desktop cube, you actually want to have enough virtual desktops to make a cube. I usually use four virtual desktops in one row, but if you do any even combination and rows and desktops, it will turn out ok. In fact, try six virtual desktops in a single row and see what your rotating ‘cube’ looks like!

Final Thoughts
This is just a small taste of some of what you can do with Compiz. Compiz has been around a long time and, although all but one of the original developers has left the project, still remains the compositor that offers the most eye candy for your desktop. There are other options (Gnome Shell is getting more mature and new features are added all the time, albeit with less user control or features), one of which is maturing quite nicely and perhaps we will cover it in a future article. I use KDE and the ‘kwin’ manager has my favorite effects built in now – Desktop Cube, Wobbly Windows, Transparency and Exploding Windows.

Leave me a comment below and tell me how you customize your desktop to get the most enjoyment our of your distribution!

Terrence T. Cox

A veteran of twenty years in Information Technology in a variety of roles. He has worked in development, security and infrastructure well before they merged into what we now call DevOps. He provides training in Linux, VMWare, DevOps (Ansible, Jenkins, etc) as well as containers and AWS topics.