Many people don’t really care about how their desktop is set up. Those people tend to leave things pretty much at the defaults, or maybe just change the wallpaper or color scheme. Some of us, however, consider desktop layout to be vitally important to productivity. Personally, I like to keep maximum information available at all times, with the ability to access my preferred communication tools. Today, I’m going to show you the methods I use to create my own personal Ultimate Desktop.
Not everyone has the same goals for their desktop interface, so before we get much further I’d like to explain the reasons for this design. The single most important aspect of this design is the “info bar” on the right.
As you can see, this setup is designed for a widescreen monitor. Without that extra space on the side, the info bar (as configured in this guide) would take up too much screen space.
I have a lot of requirements for my info bar, and finding and configuring the software necessary to meet those requirements took a lot of research and testing. No single solution met all my needs, so I had to combine several tools.
The standard Lucid Lynx Gnome install, as of Beta 2, is the basis for these modifications. All software, unless otherwise noted, is available in the standard repositories. The wallpaper is from wallpaperbox.eu, and I’m using the Dust theme for Gnome.
Panel – Gnome Panel
Some may be surprised that with all the fancy 3D docks available, I stuck with gnome-panel. The main reason is simple – applets. Specifically, the Gnome Panel in Lucid was the only dock or panel available that includes a useful interactive notification area for chat clients.
From the standard Gnome desktop, remove the lower panel completely, and open the properties for the top panel. Change location from Top to Right, and increase the size to 64. In the screenshots, the panel is set to solid black with about 60% opacity to match the Gadgets sidebar. Choose your panel applets at will, but if you’d like to copy my setup the objects are ordered as follows (from top to bottom):
- Main Menu
- Indicator Applet
- Indicator Applet Session
- Application Launchers (Moblin Icon Theme, desaturated)
- Weather Report
- CPU Frequency Scaling Monitor
Full panel can be seen in the desktop screenshot above
UPDATE: Download link added for icon theme
Google Desktop Gadgets
There are two features of Gadgets that make it essential to my setup – the Gmail app, and the ability to block off a section of the screen. With the Gadget sidebar active and set to Always On Top, maximized windows will not cover the sidebar. Without it, Gadgets would be far less useful to me as they’d always be covered by running applications.
There are other mail-checking panel applets out there, but only the Gadgets version gives me a fully interactive interface where I can read, compose, and reply without ever opening up a web browser or email client.
Conky is an extremely powerful system information tool. To use it, you edit a text file to list the items you want displayed, and Conky embeds itself into your desktop background, frequently updating itself to show real-time system information.
Configuring Conky is beyond the scope of this guide, but fortunately we’ve already taken care that. By using the Gnome Panel weather applet, we can greatly reduce the complexity of our Conky setup. If you’d like to copy my Conky setup, you can download my .conkyrc file here.
Important Note: If the Gadget sidebar is set to Always On Top and you want Conky to sit behind it, you’ll need to edit your Conky config file to include own_window yes and own_window_type override. If you’re using my config file, those entries are already set.
Desktop Management – Compiz Expo
I can’t live without virtual desktops, sometimes called workspaces. X has supported them for decades, but until recently there’s been very little innovation. The Expo plugin, part of the Compiz package, provides a fast, beautiful, efficient way to view and manage your virtual desktops.
If Compiz and Expo are already installed, you can activate it with the Win+E key combo. If not, Expo can be activated from within the Compiz settings manager. The 3×3 pattern in the screenshot is a result of setting Gnome’s workspaces to 3 rows, 3 columns.
Finally, there’s Guake, the drop-down terminal. If you’ve played a lot of PC first-person-shooter games, you’re probably familiar with the concept of a drop-down command terminal. Guake and similar apps like Yakuake for KDE are extremely useful for heavy users of the command line, as you no longer need to alt-tab or switch workspaces to get to a terminal.
Room for Improvement
The biggest problem with this setup is that it requires several different applications to get the proper functionality from the info bar. For this to truly be a top-notch setup, we’d need a sidebar application capable of handling all the required tasks. I’d like to abuse my position as an internet writer to ask the software community to help with this. Can we create an application that can act as system info center, notification area, messaging center, and dock? Google Gadgets bring you pretty close, but I think we can do better.
If you’ve got any suggestions or other desktop customization tips, let us know in the comments!