Once upon a time, Linux desktops were full of wobbly windows, desktop cubes, and other over-the-top graphical effects. Ubuntu still includes the Compiz software that makes this possible, but it’s been toned down by default.
Ubuntu includes some basic graphical effects on its desktop, but provides no built-in option for enabling and tweaking more effects. All you need is a third-party tool to unlock the advanced features in Compiz.
This guide was written for Ubuntu 13.04, the latest version of Ubuntu at the time. Some of the steps or commands may be a bit different on other versions of Ubuntu.
Installing CCSM & More Plugins
To configure Compiz, we’ll need the CompizConfig Settings Manager, or CCSM. You’ll probably also want to install additional plug-ins for Compiz so you have more advanced effects to play with.
To install CCSM and the extra plug-ins, just open a Terminal window — you’ll find the Terminal application in Ubuntu’s Dash — and run the following commands:
sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager compiz-plugins-extra
Enter your password, type Y when prompted to confirm, and Ubuntu will automatically download and install the appropriate software.
You can now open the CompizConfig Settings Manager application and use it to configure Compiz. Just open the dash and search for CCSM or Compiz to find and launch it.
CCSM warns us that it’s an advanced tool that we could use to break our Compiz configuration. If you do manage to break your Compiz desktop, you can fix it by resetting it to its default values — we’ll cover that later.
CCSM provides a long list of different plug-ins. You should leave “system” plug-ins like “Gnome compatibility,” “Copy to texture,” and “PNG” alone. The most interesting plug-ins for configuring desktop bling are found under the Desktop and Effects categories.
To enable a plug-in, just click the check-box to the left of it. To configure an enabled plug-in, click its name. Different plug-ins have a wide variety of different options — everything from different animations to customizable speeds and hotkeys, depending on the plug-in.
Enabling Wobbly Windows
Check the Wobbly Windows checkbox under Effects and you’ll be prompted to disable the Snapping Windows plug-in.
Enabling wobbly windows is that simple — your windows will now appear to wobble as you drag them, as if they were made of jello. It looks better animated.
If you wanted to configure this plug-in more, you could click the Wobbly Windows name and adjust a variety of settings, such as the key that makes windows snap to the edges of the screen when held — Shift by default — and even the friction value.
Using the Desktop Cube
The desktop cube requires Ubuntu’s workspaces to be enabled. First, open the Appearance tool from Ubuntu’s Dash and check the Enable Workspaces option.
To use the desktop cube, which uses an animated cube-rotation effect when you switch between virtual desktops, as if each of your virtual desktops is located on the side of a three-dimensional cube, enable the Rotate Cube checkbox. You’ll be prompted to enable the Desktop Cube plug-in and disable the Desktop Wall plug-in, which is used by default.
You’ll now need to click the General Options button in the General section.
Click over to the Desktop Size tab, set Horizontal Virtual Size to 4, Vertical Virtual Size to 1, and Number of Desktops to 4.
Your desktop cube should now be working. Use Ctrl+Alt+Left or Right to switch between cube faces, press Shift+Ctrl+Alt+Left or Right to move windows between cube faces, or hold down Ctrl+Alt and left-click drag to manually rotate around your cube.
Some plugins are more practical than others. For example, the Water Effect plug-in allows you to hold Ctrl+Super (Super is the Windows key) and move your mouse to create a water-rippling effect that follows your mouse. It also allows you to press Shift+F9 to toggle a rain effect that makes your desktop appear as a pond rippling as raindrops fall on it.
You’ll find many other plug-ins in CCSM for everything from adding enhanced zoom functions for accessibility to painting fire on your screen for no other reason than to show off. Feel free to explore the available plug-ins and options.
Resetting Compiz to its Default Settings
When you’re done messing around — or if you managed to break something — you may want to go back to Ubuntu’s default Compiz settings.
To do so, press Ctrl+Alt+T to open a terminal window. This keyboard shortcut may even work if your desktop is somewhat broken.
Run the following command in the terminal window:
dconf reset -f /org/compiz/
Log out of your Ubuntu desktop, and then log back in — Compiz should be functioning just like it was after you installed Ubuntu.
You may also be interested in Emerald, which is an alternative window decorator — in other words, it handles window title bars and edges. Emerald enables a variety of different window decorator themes that can incorporate Aero Glass-like transparency and other effects.
Emerald is no longer being developed or supported, so it’s been removed from the standard Ubuntu repositories. If you do want to try it, WebUpd8 hosts a repository with a build of Emerald for the latest versions of Ubuntu. Try Emerald at your own risk, as it may be rather unstable.