PlexyDesk: beautify your desktop

PlexyDesk is not a new concept to those who have used Google gadgets or GDesklets or Conky. PlexyDesk attempts to achieve the same thing – beautify your desktop and make it more useful through widgets. However, there is one big difference – it tries to unify the look and feel across multiple platforms like Linux, Windows and Mac. This is made possible by Qt which can run on multiple platforms retaining an uniform appearance. PlexyDesk is still under development and has the following features as of now:

  • Change desktop wallpaper by dragging and dropping any image
  • Fully supports Qt QML
  • Provides support for Qt/3D
  • PlexyDesk widgets can be programmed with shader programs (GLSL).
  • API for writing data models, and C++ widget plugins
  • Dbus api for changing the wallpaper on Linux
  • Various Utility widgets (like a Clock, File browser, and Photo Frame)

Webpage: PlexyDesk

LXDE on steroids!

While Unity has come a long way to silence its initial critics (I was one of them), I was still looking for an alternative desktop environment which is minimal and superfast. I spent the last weekend trying out and customizing the LXDE desktop environment with Openbox as window manager. To my excitement, I could get the same look and feel as SliTaz.

Power tips to customize LXDE as the perfect desktop.

Installing LXDE on stock Ubuntu is simple. Just select the package lxde from synaptic and install it. From the cmdline:

$ sudo apt-get install lxde

Once done, log out and login back selecting the LXDE desktop environment.

The Linux Mint LXDE PPA seems to maintain more recent packages than in the default Ubuntu repos. To install the latest packages, run:

$ sudo apt-add-repository ppa:mati75/mint-lxde
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get upgrade

I edited ~/.config/openbox/lxde-rc.xml to add keyboard shortcuts to turn screen or touchpad off. Some useful keybinds:

  • Windows  Super_L (in case you are used to it due to Unity)
  • ASSIST  Help (on Sony VAIO)
  • WEB  XF86HomePage (on Sony VAIO)

To get the changes in lxde-rc.xml into effect immediately, run:

$ openbox --reconfigure

Now let’s discuss the look and feel. I keep changing the theme, icons etc. occasionally for some variety and not to get bored watching the same desktop regularly. I found the following themes and iconsets give LXDE a stunning look:

  • Adwaita-X (Gtk theme)
  • Evolve & Evolve-Darker (Gtk theme)
  • Zukitwo (Gtk theme)
  • +1_25032013 (Gtk theme)
  • Vertex (Gtk theme)
  • Zorin OS 8 (Gtk theme)
  • Elementary OS Openbox (Openbox theme)
  • 1977 Openbox (Openbox theme)
  • Zukitwo Box (Openbox theme)
  • Ambiance Crunchy (GTK3 Openbox theme)
  • Elementary (icons from Elementary OS)
  • libreoffice-style-sifr (cool LibreOffice theme in default repos)
  • Vibrancy Colors (Gtk icon Theme)

I brought own the panel height to 18 along with icon size 16. More space for activities! CPU temperature varies between 42-50°C during normal usage. I have also installed preload recently. I didn’t add any mixer for volume control, the default keys just work fine. I can toggle the microphone with the following command:

$ amixer set Capture toggle

If you want a mixer pavucontrol is the best option.

If you want to remove Firefox borders completely (saves a lot of space since Firefox 29) for maximum screen space, you can do that. It removes the maximize, minimize and close buttons but shouldn’t be a big problem because you can click on the panel to do these. In addition, you can press <Alt-Space> to get the Window menu. Once again, you need to edit the lxde-rc.xml file and add the following within applications tag:

<application class="Firefox">
<decor>no</decor>
</application>

For more control on the Firefox Australis theme (introduced in version 29) use the HTitle or Hide Caption Titlebar Plus extension.

After updating to Saucy, I faced an issue with window placement. They do not open centered any more. To fix it, add the following in lxde-rc.xml:

<application class="*" type="normal">
<position force="yes">
<x>center</x>
<y>center</y>
</position>
</application>

To change or add default programs to handle mime types, edit ~/.local/share/applications/mimeapps.list.

To configure the LXDE main menu, edit:
/etc/xdg/menus/lxde-applications.menu

To control apps which would autostart, use:
~/.config/lxsession/LXDE/autostart
/etc/xdg/lxsession/LXDE/autostart

The system responsiveness and speed is incredible along with all this on LXDE. Without preload the memory usage immediately after a cold boot is 153MB and applications open and run in a snap!!!

Try alternative desktops on Ubuntu

If you are looking for a super-lightweight desktop environment on Ubuntu or just something different to Unity, you’re in luck. Almost any desktop environment available for Linux can sit on top of Ubuntu. For example, Razor-qt is a modern and clean alternative DE. It requires lesser processing power than Unity (razor-qt with openbox shows at least 5°C less [and < 50°C] on my laptop running an Ivy Bridge i5 processor). LXDE seemed to be the fastest (yet cute) to me. Some articles on how to install or configure some of the desktop environments on Ubuntu (tested on Trusty 14.04):

  • Budgie from Solus OS
  • Cinnamon
    $ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gwendal-lebihan-dev/cinnamon-nightly
    $ sudo apt-get update
    $ sudo apt-get install cinnamon

    The second option is to add the sources for Mint 17 Qiana. Run the following commands:

    $ echo "deb http://packages.linuxmint.com/ qiana main upstream import" | sudo tee -a /etc/apt/sources.list.d/cinnamon_qiana.list > /dev/null
    $ sudo apt-get update
    $ sudo apt-get install linuxmint-keyring
    $ sudo apt-get update
    $ sudo apt-get install cinnamon
  • Enlightenment
    $ sudo apt-get install e17

    Enlightenment 19

  • LXDE
    $ sudo apt-get install lxde

    LXDE is my personal favourite and here’s an article on how you can customize it to your heart’s content.

  • LXQt
  • MATE
  • Openbox
    $ sudo apt-get install openbox
  • Pantheon
  • Razor-qt
    $ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:razor-qt
    $ sudo apt-get update
    $ sudo apt-get install razorqt
  • Trinity
  • XFCE
    $ sudo apt-get install xfce4

Take your pick!