Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Add some better screensavers to Linux Mint

I'm loving Linux Mint 16 (64-bit MATE Edition). For the most part, it's cute as a button... but why don't we do something about those naff screensavers?

The selection of screensavers that comes bundled with Linux Mint 16 is pretty feeble, you have to admit. (I'm talking about the MATE edition here - I can't really speak for the Cinnamon flavour or Xfce). Okay, so you can create some kind of a slideshow using all of the contents of your 'home/pictures' folder. But apart from that, you're left with a coloured slabby tiley thing or a bunch of monochrome MATE logos, drifting around the screen in the manner of mid-eighties toasters. Or a blank screen. You're definitely not going to impress your Linux-sceptic friends with any of that stuff, are you?

The solution is to install X-Screensaver. This is a collection of more than a hundred different screensavers (I haven't counted!), so there should be something in there to suit anyone's taste. Not all of them are exactly fantastic, of course, but hidden amongst all the usual pipes and cubes and tunnels and bouncing balls and references to "The Matrix", there's some pretty impressive 'savers. Everything from beautifully rendered firework displays and volcano effects, to trampolining cows (I kid you not!).

Now it has been suggested elsewhere that you could configure the existing 'mate-screensaver' , adding all the 'x-screensaver' features, but I've Googled around and none of the methods worked for me. I admit, I tried piecing together a solution by cherrypicking bits from here and and there on the old Double-You-Double-You-Double-You, but in the end, the only way I could get 'x-screensaver' to work properly was to remove the old 'mate-screensaver' aka 'gnome-screensaver' setup altogether and then replace it entirely from scratch.


1. Remove the existing 'mate-screensaver' package. Open a terminal and type:

sudo apt-get purge mate-screensaver

Enter your password if prompted and wait for it to do its thing until you are asked "Do you want to continue [y/n]" . Enter 'y' to continue, then wait for it to finish.

2. Install the new 'x-screensaver' package. Type into the terminal:

sudo apt-get install xscreensaver xscreensaver-gl-extra xscreensaver-data-extra

Again, after it has loaded up, you will be asked if you want to continue. Enter 'y' and wait for it to finish installing.

3. You now have to create an 'autostart' file for the new screensaver. To do this, you have to call up the text editor Pluma (or maybe Gedit, depending on your setup), and write a new '*.desktop' text file. Type this into the terminal:

sudo pluma /etc/xdg/autostart/screensaver.desktop

Your text editor will open. Type this into the empty document:

[Desktop Entry]
Exec=xscreensaver -demo

Save and close the file.

4. Search in your Menu for the 'Screensavers' icon. It should now be in 'system/preferences'. I found first of all that there were two icons in mine, because the old one was still there! You might find that the top one does nothing at all and the second one opens up the 'new' screensavers dialogue window as expected (You can edit the menu to remove the old one). The 'Screensavers' dialogue deals with the appearance of the screensaver (natch!) and there is a 'Power Management' dialogue to control the other screen-blanking and powering-down procedures.

You might also find that you have to remove or uncheck the old Screensaver item from the 'Startup Applications' dialogue window (that's also in 'system/preferences' or via the Control Center). Make sure that only the new 'xscreensaver' one is checked in the Startups.

And there you have it! You just installed X-Screensaver on Linux Mint! You will notice when you open the Screensaver Preferences dialogue that this piece of software hasn't been updated since 2011, but that shouldn't worry you, as long as it works. If it ain't broke, then why try and fix it, eh kids? Have fun!

Credit Where It's Due...