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Customizing Your Linux Desktop (or Making Your World Your Own)

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In this chapter, you will learn how to make your system truly your own. You'll learn how to change your background, your colors, your fonts, and anything else you'll need to create a desktop as individual as you are.
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After having taken the first steps into the Linux world, you are probably thinking, "Hey, this is pretty easy" and "I wonder what the fuss was all about." For what it's worth, I'm thinking the very same thing. Now that the fear of dealing with a new operating system is gone, it's time to get really comfortable.

In this chapter, I show you how to make your system truly your own. I show you how to change your background, your colors, your fonts, and anything else you'll need to create a desktop as individual as you are. Would you like some icons on your desktop, perhaps some shortcuts to programs you use on a regular basis? No problem. I cover all those things, too.

I Am Sovereign of All I Survey . . .

As I've already mentioned, working in the Linux world is working in a multiuser world. What this means is that everyone who uses your computer can have his or her own unique environment. Any changes you make to your desktop while you are logged in as yourself will have no effect on little Sarah when she logs in to play her video games. If she happens to delete all the icons on her desktop or changes everything to a garish purple and pink, it won't affect you either.

Let's start with something simple. The first thing most people want to change is their background. It's sort of like moving into a new house or apartment. The wallpaper (or paint) that someone else chose rarely fits into your idea of décor. Same goes for your computer's desktop. Let's get you something more to your liking.

Changing the Background

Start by right-clicking somewhere on the desktop. From the menu that appears, choose Configure Desktop and the Configure dialog will appear (see Figure 6-1). On the left side of that dialog is a sidebar that allows you to change various settings. One item is called Background. Click on that, and you will be able to modify your background settings.


Figure 6-1 Choosing a background image for your desktop.

Over on the right side, a display shows you a preview of what your new desktop will look like. Right at the top is a drop-down list labeled Setting for desktop—this gives you the opportunity to change your settings for all your virtual desktops or each individually. When you start feeling particularly creative, you can play around with creating a unique identity for every virtual desktop, but for now leave the setting at the default, which is All Desktops.

To change the background image, make sure the Picture radio button is selected. To the right of the Picture label is a drop-down list with the default system backgrounds. You'll find that quite a few are already installed. Scroll down the list, highlighting titles as you go, and notice that a preview of your new background appears in the small monitor image. To find images in something other than the default directory, click the directory navigator icon to the right, and a Konqueror-like file manager will pop up, allowing you to navigate the disk in search of your personal images. When that file dialog opens, make sure you click on the icon directly beside the drop-down navigation bar. Those are the navigator settings, and one of them is Show Preview, which, as the title implies, turns the image preview on. You'll definitely want it on. Pressing <F11> has the same effect.

When you see something you like, click on either OK or Apply to make it official. The difference between the two is that OK will exit the configuration program, whereas Apply will change your background but leave the settings program running (in case you are feeling particularly indecisive).

It is also possible to configure multiple backgrounds. What this does is provide you with a means of picking several wallpapers that you can set to automatically switch at whatever interval you decide on (the default is 60 minutes). Click on the Slide Show radio button instead of Picture. The Setup button will become active. Click here, and you'll be asked to select the time interval for the images to rotate. There's a checkbox here to turn on random mode instead of the default sequential display. I happen to like random. Now click Add, and that Konqueror-like file manager will pop up so that you can select the images you want to use in the random rotation. Select as many or as few as you like, click OK to exit the various dialogs, and you are done.

Directly below the Background selection area is an area labeled Options. One of these options is Position. This tells the system how to treat the image you select. Some images are only small graphic tiles, designed to be copied over and over until they fill your screen. For these, you would change the mode to Tiled. If the image you are using is a bit small for your screen, you might consider Centered Maxpect, which will grow the image as much as possible while retaining the relative width and height. If you just want the image to fill your screen and you don't care what it looks like, go for Scaled. Play! Experiment! These are your walls.

Incidentally, you don't have to have a background. You can create a nice, plain background by selecting the No picture radio button. Then, in the Options section, you would select different patterns, color schemes, and different ways of blending those colors.

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