How to Configure And Customize Openbox [Linux]

If you have installed minimal Ubuntu or other lightweight distro on your PC, most probably you will also be using some lightweight Desktop manager as well. Openbox is a very good lightweight DE alternative, mainly because it runs very fast and is highly customizable. However, new users will find it intimidating because the only screen that greets you when you login is a complete blank screen, with no panel, menu, apps etc.

This guide will show you how to customize your Openbox so you can use it like a pro.

Install Openbox

Assuming you are using a Ubuntu/debian based distro, you can install openbox with the command:

Once you have installed openbox, logout of your current session and choose Openbox on the login screen.

Configure Menu

Don’t be panic if you see a blank screen upon login. All your applications are still intact, just that they are not displayed in the desktop. The first step is to add the Applications menu to the desktop so you can easily access your apps. Right click your mouse and you should see a popup menu. Select “Terminal Emulator“.

Type in the following command:

Note: In Ubuntu, the configuration files are installed to the /etc/X11 folder instead of /etc/xdg, so you should use the following commands instead:

What we have done above is

  1. Install the debian menu. This will automatically arranged your existing, as well as newly installed applications into an ordered list.
  2. copy the configuration files from the system to your own personal folder so your settings won’t get overridden in the next update.

By now, when you right click your mouse to access the popup menu, you should see the Debian item in the list. From there, you should be able to access your applications.


Next, we are going to add our frequently accessed application to the popup menu for quick access. To do that, we need to install obmenu (Openbox Menu Editor).

Run obmenu:


To add a new item, click the “New Item” button. At the bottom input field, enter a name for your item and the command to execute. For example, to create a Google Chrome shortcut, enter “Google Chrome” in the label field and “google-chrome” (without the quotes) in the command field.

You can repeat the same step for any of your favorite app.

Once you have completed your changes, click the “Save” icon to save the changes. Now, right click your mouse anywhere on the desktop, you should see your applications appear in the popup.

Autostart items/scripts/applications on login

When Openbox loads, it will run the autostart script in the “~/.config/openbox” folder. To add items/applications/scripts to the autostart list, you just have to open a text editor, add the command to run for each items (one item per line). Save the file as “autostart” (without the quotes and any file extension) in the ~/.config/openbox folder.

Adding a panel/taskbar

If you prefer to have a panel/taskbar on your desktop, there are several panels that you can use. Tint2 and xfce4-panel are two lightweight panels that you can use. There is also another popular choice: pypanel, but it has not been developed since 2005 and it is no longer in the Ubuntu repository.

You can install tint2 with the command:

or xfce4-panel with

Next, add them to your autostart script so it will launch everytime you login.

Alternatively, you can also install AWN or Cairo-dock to give you a dock launcher.

Change theme

If you don’t like the default theme of Openbox, you can always change it. Right click your mouse and go to “obconf”. The first option is the “Theme” option where you can change the system theme. If all the themes in the library is not of your liking, you can go to to search and download your favorite theme (make sure it is in .obt format). To install new theme, simply select “install a new theme”button in obconf -> Themes..

Change Background wallpaper

Still in the terminal, open the image with feh

When it loads up, right click on the image and select “File -> Background -> Set as Centered”.


Alternatively, you can use Nitrogen to change your desktop background. It comes with a GUI, so it is much easier to use.

Change the keyboard shortcut/Bind a new shortcut key

In Openbox, the keyboard shortcuts are configured in the ~/.config/openbox/rc.xml file. Open the rc.xml file with a text editor. Scroll down the file until you see the keyboard section. Below it, you should see something like this:

The ‘C’, ‘A’,’ S’ and ‘W’ characters stand for “Ctrl”, “Alt”, “Shift” and “Win” button respectively. For the example shown above, the “Ctrl + Alt + Left” shortcut key will move to the left workspace. You can create your own shortcut keys by adding into the list. For more actions that you can use, refer to the Actions list in the Openbox wiki.


Openbox is a highly customizable desktop manager and the above mentioned method only provide a glimpse of what you can do with it. For new users, that should be enough to get you started. For more info, do check out the Openbox wiki for guide and information.

Damien Damien

Damien Oh started writing tech articles since 2007 and has over 10 years of experience in the tech industry. He is proficient in Windows, Linux, Mac, Android and iOS, and worked as a part time WordPress Developer. He is currently the owner and Editor-in-Chief of Make Tech Easier.


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