Five Compiz features to boost Linux productivity
The Ubuntu desktop may look a little brown and boring to first-time Linux users but beneath that conservative skin lurks a powerhouse of desktop features just waiting to come out, if you are using Compiz Fusion. Here we look at five of the better Compiz features that actually make us more productive as well as looking good.
When you have multiple windows open on your desktop, all piled on top of one another, it’s hard to find what you want. With Scale you simply hit a key … and all the open windows are scaled down and tiled across the screen. Clicking on one of them brings it to the front. It’s a real time saver.
Most Linux distributions today include Compiz by default (in their distro-specific repositories or third party repositories). Compiz is a compositing window manager for the X Window System that uses 3D graphics to add special effects to the desktop. (See Wikipedia for in-depth details).
In Ubuntu Gutsy the Compiz core is installed by default. To see that in action use the System->Preferences->Appearance menu option and look at the Visual Effects tab. In base mode Compiz provides a few simple features such as fading windows, shadows around windows and the, infamous, wobbly windows. All good fun in themselves but they don’t really make us any more productive.
What you need to do to get the full power of Compiz is to install the compizconfig-settings-manager.
To do this in Ubuntu Gutsy:
sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager
(HowToForge has instructions on installing Compiz on Fedora.)
Once installed, openÂ System->Preferences->Advanced Desktop Effects Settings and behold the many useful (and some not so useful) options.
Scale is perhaps my favourite, and most useful, of the Compiz effects. When you have multiple windows open on your desktop, all piled on top of one another, it’s hard to find what you want. With Scale you simply hit a key (or in my case mouse-over the top right hand corner of the screen) and all the open windows are scaled down and tiled across the screen. Clicking on one of them brings it to the front (in real size). It is a real time saver.
The Cube effect that people most often associate with Compiz is pretty impressive and always wows newbies. But perhaps a more useful, even if a little less flashy, alternative is Desktop Wall. Hitting the Meta(Windows)-E key combination scales all your desktops down and pans them across in a single row. Again, clicking on one desktop makes it the primary one. One of the features that makes this particularly useful is that windows can be dragged from one desktop to another.
If you’re looking for a slightly cooler way toÂ move through your open windows then take a look at the Shift-Switcher add-on. When enabled you can tile all open windows on the screen in a 3D-like display not unlike aÂ RolodexÂ card list. Use the Meta(windows)-tab key combination to cycle through the windows. In the settings manager you can also choose whether to include windows from all desktops or just your current one. The former is particularly useful although the transition switching between desktops is not perfect, but does work.
Sometimes you need a little more information than just a title to remember what each window on your desktop is being used for. This is where Window Previews comes in handy. When enabled, thumbnails of each open window is displayed as you hover over the panel at the bottom of your screen. Making the previews just big enough to read makes it easy to get a quick overview of your current work.
The cube is perhaps the most hyped feature of the 3D desktop. And, surprisingly, I found that once you actually start using it Cube is actually quite useful, and not just flashy. When cube is enabled you can use the Ctrl-Alt key combination together with mouse to rotate the cube and display all the desktops you have active. It is remarkably easy to use and actually makes it easier to switch through desktops rapidly.
If you’re going to use the cube then at least pimp it out to the max. Make sure you enable transparency as well as the cube gears (shows working gears inside the cube as it rotates) and then top it off with cube caps which can have a customised image on the top and bottom panel of the cube.
Got a favourite Compiz feature? tell us about it in the comments.