Thursday, February 27, 2014

desKtop projeKt

Putting a touch of PROG-ROCK in your laptop... a distinctively ungreen look for my Linux Mint!

Now you know me... if I've said it a thousand times on these pages, I don't like a cluttered desktop. But I often look on those screenshots posted on the GooglePlus Linux communities, bestrewn with all manner of dockies and conkies, weird backdrops, weird fonts and even weirder colour combinations and think "I ought to try some of that, even if just for the purposes of education!". I mean I couldn't actually live with all that stuff for long, but you don't know how it's done until you try it...

So... I needed a theme for my project. I didn't have to look very far, as the iconic sleeve for a certain pioneering 1969 release on Island Records stares out at me on a daily basis. It literally screams out to be turned into a desktop theme...

What you need

A Wallpaper... Out there on that internet, there are lots of naughty copies (of widely varying provenance and quality) of that famous Barry Godber painting, but I found this one to be the best quality for my laptop screen. The 'gatefold' layout of the picture, with the face itself to the right side of the screen, will affect the 'typographic' design of the screen. You don't want to position any permanent widgets on the desktop in a place that will obscure the poor distraught fellow's face. I also decided that, with all those other launching options available to me now, I don't need any icons on the desktop. This will be a controversial issue with some, I'm sure.

A Dock... There are some really fancy docking stations available, some of them clones of the one featured on a certain fruity computer, some them with a uniquely Linux flavour of their own. Some of them are demanding on your graphics chip and will require that you are running an equally 'intense' Cinnamon desktop to take advantage of all their features. I'm often baffled, when I look at those screenshots I mentioned, as to why people go to the trouble of building a docking bar to launch their apps, yet they still have a desktop full of duplicate icons. But maybe that's just me and my 'minimalism' talking... I'm running a MATE version of Linux, with its Gnome ancestry and all, so I googled-about until I saw something suitable for my own needs. DockBarX sure ain't fancy... but it does what I wanted, which is to sit in the corner and hide itself away when not required, as well as lending itself to a little graphical customization to suit my scheme.

A Conky... As you will know if you read my previous bloggy here, I plumped for the relatively simple Conky-Hardy as being the most suitable for my needs. As you will also know from that same blog, I've modified my own version somewhat. For this project, I applied some further changes to the '.conkyrc' file. Usually, I like my system feedback to run down the right side of the screen, but for this layout I put it over on the left, rather like the sleevenotes on the back of an album (oh yes, prog-pedants... I do know that the original "ItCotCK" gatefold didn't have any typography on the outside!). I also gave the text a pinker shade of off-white to suit, and I edited the time and date line so that the time is still visible when I have windows open.

A Colour Theme... My MATE version of Mint is a bit lacking in themes of its own. How 'bout yours? You go to the "Appearance" section of your preferences and you find that there is just the option to tweak the Mint-X scheme by replacing the icons with some rather dull looking old Gnome ones. There's a link at the foot of the screen that says something like "Add more themes"... but it doesn't do anything! Not much help there. No, the best repository for all those themes and icons and much else besides in the wonderful world of Linux Personalisation is That's where I found my Conky and this is also where I found page after page of additional themes that will work with my flavour of Linux. There's some really nice, well-designed stuff there (there's also quite a lot that wasn't to my taste at all!), but I eventually settled on the zonColor collection as being a likely source for what I needed for this scheme, as well as offering a large and varied selection to keep in my "Appearances" for any future whimsies. My immediate requirement was for something with a touch of 'crimson' to match my background. There is a very nice 'zoncolor-red' theme that does exactly that.

A Customized Panel... Obviously, the first thing you want to do is put the regular panel at the top of the screen, because your dock panel now occupies the bottom. I also decided to set both panels to 'autohide' (Did I mention I don't like clutter?) The default MATE version of the panel is a bit dull - it's normally just this plain off-white thing that won't compliment your wallpaper whatever colour that is. I figured at first that this might be somewhere where my knowledge of CSS would come in handy, but in the end, I've found a more painterly solution. Using our old friend the GIMP, I created a gradient-filled tile (27 px square) that would act as the background texture for the panel. In fact, I've now created a number of these in different tints of shininess which will go with different colour schemes. My customary Minty one is 'shiny-with-a-hint-of-green', but for this exercise I made one that was the same shade of purply-pink as the bottom dock panel... As for the contents of the panel, I apply the same Rule of Redundant Duplication as I mentioned when talking about desktop icons. If you've created launchers for all your apps on the new docky, then why do you need those extra icons on the panel anymore? Strip it down to the basics. A menu array in the top-left corner, some handy additional widgets in the right (stuff that you might need occasionally, but don't necessarily need for immediate call-up via your dock. In my case, that includes the AntiVirus scanner, the network doobry, the preferences for the DockBarX app and the Update Manager) ...and that's all you need from a panel, folks.

There you have it. I've now reverted my own Mint back to the business-like 'study in green' that it was before, but I enjoyed exploring the possibilities offered by all those bolt-on goodies that folks are so clearly fond of. Just goes to show how versatile Linux is. You can make it work exactly like a Windoze or a Mac, but it's also possible to build something that is uniquely your own. It helps that MATE is a particularly robust version of the Linux Mint distro, based as it is on the well-tried Gnome architecture. It's pretty hard to make anything go too horribly wrong when you muck about with it (I'm afraid I didn't find that to be the case with Mint's much heralded Cinnamon flavour... but maybe that's just me).

Being a graphic designer, here I've tried to take a more holistic approach, a way of keeping things tasteful by colour-coordinating the elements and making sure that none of those add-ons look too added-on (or thrown together!)

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