3. Customizing the Desktop

Introduction

The LXDE desktop environment in Peppermint is, like many other open source desktop environments, extremely customizable. Almost every element can be changed in one way or another. This chapter will cover the basics of working with the default Peppermint session. 

The Wallpaper

We at Peppermint like to think we have pretty good taste when it comes to default wallpapers, however it’s certainly possible that your taste might not agree with ours. Should this be the case, the wallpaper is very easily changed.

The first step is to simply right-click an unoccupied spot on the desktop. This will bring up a context menu containing a few options including “Desktop Preferences” located at the bottom. Alternatively you may access “Desktop Preference” from the “Preferences” section of the menu.

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From here you will see the option to change the wallpaper. The default wallpapers are stored in the /usr/share/peppermint/wallpapers directory, but from here you can navigate to any part of the filesystem and select any .png or .jpg image that suits your particular taste. In this example I will select the Peppermint_Four.png image that is included as the default wallpaper in Peppermint Four.



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The “Customize Look and Feel” Application

Peppermint makes use of a nifty little application called “lxappearance”. Since the name of this application leaves a bit to be desired, the application developers have chosen to have it called “Customize Look and Feel” so that everyone can have a more clear understanding of exactly what it does.

Take a look in the “Preferences” section of the menu and “Customize Look and Feel” should be the first entry you see. Opening the application should present you with the following:

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As you can see, this application contains most of the functionality necessary to make the desktop look pretty much any way you like. There are a couple of things that may seem every so slightly out of place, for instance the system-wide default font is on the “Widget” tab rather than on the “Font” tab. You’ll notice that within “Customize Look and Feel” there are functions to install downloaded themes for all sections except “Widget”, which we’ll cover below.

The Window Manager

Unlike previous versions of Peppermint, Peppermint Four uses Xfwm4 as the default window manager rather than Openbox. As such the options to change window manager settings such as the theme and the font are no longer present within the “Customize Look and Feel” application. Looking in the “Preferences” section of the menu, you will notice the “Window Manager” application. This application handles settings such as the window manager theme.

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In addition you will notice the “Window Manager Tweaks” application which has more options including the settings for things like window transparency.

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Installing GTK Themes

The section label as “Widget” in the “Customize Look and Feel” application really refers to what are technically known as “GTK Themes”. GTK, short for “Gimp Tool Kit”, is a widget rendering toolkit commonly in use by a number of open source desktops including LXDE, Gnome and Xfce.

Although “Customize Look and Feel” does not currently offer a simple graphical method to install GTK themes, this can still be done quite easily with just a couple of steps. In this example, I’m going to use the “Bamboo” theme available here on gnome-look.org. Note that Peppermint currently only accepts GTK 2.x themes. After downloading the theme, it should be present in your “Downloads” directory in the file manager. From here we can double-click the .tar.gz archive which will open the “Archive Manager” application. Simply opt to extract the contents in the current directory and we should be left with the original archive and a directory simply called “Z”.

With the file manager open to the “Downloads” directory, press the F4 key to open a terminal there. In this terminal we can enter two simple commands to install the theme:

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Now I’m perfectly aware that many new users may be uncomfortable with using the terminal. I have to state that though it can be a daunting task to learn to use it efficiently and effectively, there’s no reason to shy away from occasionally using it to perform simple tasks. The terminal is often the most efficient manner in which to perform operations both simple and complex. Allow me to break down these two commands so that they make sense to everyone:

mkdir ~/.themes

The first part of this command is “mkdir” which is basically an abbreviation for “make directory”. You can use this command to create directories anywhere in the filesystem presuming you have the proper permissions to do so. In this instance we’re creating a directory called “.themes” in your home directory. There are a couple of things here that need some additional explaining though: In all terminal instances the characters “~/” represent your home folder, and the period (or dot) in “.themes” indicates that this is a hidden directory. GTK is programmed to look for themes in the “~/.themes” directory so adding any GTK themes here will make them immediately available. Once you create the “~/.themes” directory you will not have to do it again for additional themes you wish to install.

cp -r Z ~/.themes/

In this command we make use of “cp” which is basically an abbreviation for “copy”. The “cp” command is rather simple in that you type it, tell it any specifics about how to perform the operation, choose what you want to copy, and finally tell it where you want to copy it to. In this case the “-r” means to recursively copy something, which is basically a glorified way of saying that in addition to copying our target we want to copy absolutely everything inside our target as well. Next we see “Z”, which is the name of what we want to copy. Finally we see “~/.themes/”, which is the location where we want Z to end up. If any of this seems a bit abstract, don’t worry. Just know that if you wish to do this with additional themes, just replace “Z” with whatever the name of the folder is that results from extracting the archive.

Congratulations! The theme is now installed. If you open the “Customize Look and Feel” application you’ll see that the theme is ready to be used.

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Changing the Panel

The default Panel in Peppermint can also be customized to your liking. The location, appearance, and layout of the panel are all easily customized by simply right-clicking anywhere on the panel and selecting the “Panel Settings” option. The panel supports multiple positions on screen including either side of the screen. Be warned that this does not always look the best though. You can even specify the width of the panel or set margins on either side in order to place it precisely where you want it.

When it comes to appearance, the panel gives you several options. By default it uses an image that is a single pixel wide, yet repeated all the way across to give it it’s appearance. You may wish to experiment with some images here, or simply opt for one of the other options. Transparency is supported by choosing a solid color and reducing the opacity. The option of using the GTK theme is also available. Do note that some changes to the panel appearance do not take place immediately and may require you to log out of your session and back in for them to take full effect.

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In addition to all of this, you’ll also find the “Panel Applets” tab which allows you to take any number of available applets and place them anywhere on the panel you like. Examples are a CPU frequency monitor, a directory menu, and application launch bars which allow you to place shortcuts to your favorite applications directly on the panel, thus eliminating the need to navigate the menu to launch them.

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Next – Chapter Four – Installing and Removing Software