What Does Your Desktop Look Like?

After my fourth desktop installation in as many days, I suddenly realized a couple of things.  One:  I like trying out new distributions, and two:  I noted how uncluttered my preferred interface is.  See below.

Driven by an urge to move out of my old, stale (to me, anyhow: I've been using KDE for years) KDE desktop environment, I went on an install binge,  successively slapping Ubuntu Netbook Edition 10.04 (UNE), plain ol' Ubuntu 10.04, and Linux Mint 9 onto unsuspecting hardware that I had laying around.  Yes, I know these are all Debian-based distros.  I've served my RPM time with Mandrake/Mandriva, RHEL, CENTOS, and Fedora.  It's Debian-based distros for me from now on, if I have a choice.

The install sequence went something like this:

  1. UNE 10.04 on the new Acer Inspire One 532h netbook.  Reactions: nice, clean layout.  Everything works.  Effective use of the limited real estate provided by the 10.1 inch screen.
  2. Ubuntu 10.04 on the Dell Inspiron 6500 laptop.  Reactions: not bad, buy why did Canonical move the buttons over to the left side of the window frame?
  3. Linux Mint 9 on my Kubuntu/Ubuntu AMD-64 Frankenstein desktop/server. A bit of explanation:  this machine has been running successive Kubuntu releases from 7.04 on over the years, with appropriate hardware upgrades every few years.  I recently found myself finally becoming fed up with certain KDE idiosyncrasies, and so just a week ago I had installed the gnome-session packages and was running the Gnome interface on it.  Reactions to the new install: Wow!  Mint is Nice.  Everything just worked, including (surprise!) PulseAudio with my SoundBlaster Audigy card.
  4. Mint on the Insprion 6500, overwriting the fresh Ubuntu 10.04 install, because I liked Mint so much on the desktop.

Now that the dust has settled, here's what my Mint desktop looks like on the AMD-64:

Look at all the Icons lined up at the bottom -- that's how I like to organize my most-used apps.  I have highly visual-type memory, but if I do forget what one of the icons is a brief mouse-over pops up the launcher comment.  Left to right, what they are:

  • A 32-bit Firefox installation.  My company uses Juniper's Network Connect in order to access the corporate network.  Juniper's NC only runs on 32-bit browsers.  Juniper has been taking lessons from Adobe.
  • Google's Chrome browser -- what I prefer.
  • A 64-bit Firefox.  I seldom use it.
  • A terminal launcher
  • Amarok.  Yes, Amarok is a KDE app, but it is the best all-round Linux music app that I've found.  I'm listening to RadioParadise.com streaming via Amarok as I write this.
  • Picasa
  • Sun (now Oracle) VirtualBox
  • Thunderbird email client, for reading my corporate email via an encrypted Juniper Networks VPN tunnel.
  • Skype
  • KMix, another KDE app
  • Simple Scanner app
  • Kompozer, an html WYSIWYG editor
  • Hulu Desktop
  • Screenshot
  • XKill
  • Calculator
  • GoogleEarth
  • Startup Disk Creator
  • Cheese, a webcam app
  • Emacs

So there you have it:  the ideal desktop for me.  Today.  Until I get tired of it, too.



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I also use Linux Mint

ntt2k's picture

I also use Linux Mint, but I tweak it to be more eye-catchy



Distros and DEs

Riki's picture

I also go through "distro-hunting" phases and find it refreshing to experiment but I always end up going back to PCLinuxOS and the dust settles once again. Same goes for DEs. Tried them all but haven't found any that can beat KDE. They all lack something, for me anyhow. I suppose it is a case of personal choice. Audio is still a nightmare with Linux systems, even PCLOS can't get it right. Hardware problems? Who knows...

The only audio issue I have

Anonymous's picture

The only audio issue I have had in linux before is with the microphone, odd considering its use in professional audio systems. And arguably that was probably the hardware since the audio controller was some weird one that was part of the PCI controller. Though I have not tested a mic on any other computers, nor any USB mics.

I used to distro hop a lot,

Cyorg's picture

I used to distro hop a lot, too. I got tired of constantly reinstalling everything. I've been using Arch for a while now, and really like it. I've installed a few new systems since then, but they've all been in a virtual environment.

Fervent Fan Base

Doug.Roberts's picture

PCLinuxOS certainly has an enthusiastic fan base, but it's not an option for me until they have a 64-bit version.

Re: audio, Mint 9 has certainly done a better job of configuring my audio than either Kubuntu or Ubuntu 10.04.


Linux Desktop

Greg Sayle's picture

At www.linuxnewsnow.com we have swapped all our desktop PC's to Linux Mint 9 "Isadora.

Linux Mint we have found is very easy to install and maintain. A couple of clicks of the mouse and the updates are installed.


Maverick's picture

Nice article. I found it ironic that I am going the other way. Started off in Debian distros (Kubuntu) and worked my way to RPM distros (Mandriva). I did try a gnome distro or two(Mint ironically and PCLinuxOS gnome and KDE versions)but didn't like the desktop interface. (It just wasn't the way my brain works, soz)
It's all good though when you finally find the distro for you. I for one am very happy with mine. (Mandriva.)

I hear ya!

lefty.crupps's picture

> I've served my RPM time.... It's Debian-based distros for me from now on
I have also, and I am with you on this. Once I started with Debian-based distros I couldn't believe how much cleaner and easier the package management was. However, none ever seemed to work quite as well as Debian itself, even Debian Sid or Testing, so that is what I am using these days. But, I am sticking with my KDE, I love it too much!


glenda's picture

I thought I was the only one who still used emacs!

Still a couple

Doug.Roberts's picture

Hey Glenda,

There are still a couple of us left who use Emacs!



Anonymous's picture

Rest of us use Vim now!

Emacs forever

Emacian's picture

Yeah, everyone is using VIM, unless they want to do some work... then any sensible person would switch to Emacs.

As a long time Linux and Unix

Anonymous's picture

As a long time Linux and Unix user, I have always been curious to why some would choose Emacs (or for that matter Vim or anything else that is not on a standard Unix box by default). Jumping onto different boxes, they all seem to have Vi, so for support at 3am you do not really have any choice. For my own boxes I have a choice with what to load and so could put on Emacs.
Could an Emacs user tell me what are the advantages that would make the change worthwhile? I am not bothered about the size which I think is in tens of MB as these days that is nothing.
Is it because you have many tools in the one system or does it really give an advantage once learnt?
As a Devil's advocate argument, would it not be better to have many excellent tools that do one job rather than one tool that does many jobs adequately?
Emacian above said "unless they want to do some work". What type of work? Is Emacs better suited to certain tasks?
I am willing to switch and try if there is a benefit and I am old enough to know that I do not know all the answers (if any these days).


blue_bullet's picture

Talk about a hammerhead. I use THE (The Hessling Editor) and Regina REXX to get around Ubuntu. I use it for heavy duty edit chores (THE) and use REXX for scripting chores (even with cron). Works great for me cuz that's where I come from - VM/CMS. What is interesting is that it all works under linux just as well.

Otherwise I use many of the apps the author uses and line them up about the same way. That should give him cause for concern. ;-> Good article.


Doug.Roberts's picture

I'll start worrying now.



Funtime's picture

Did wireless work right out of the box on your Inspiron laptop with Mint Linux? I have been having nothing but problems with Ubuntu 10.04 on my Dell XPS M1330 with wireless disconnecting after a few minutes. Right now I have my laptop wired into my router with an ethernet cable running across the living room. I would like to clean it up. Any information would be helpful.



Doug.Roberts's picture

Yes, my wireless did work, but after a day I noticed that it would occasionally drop the connection. This was on an Acer Aspire One netbook with the Intel chipset and drivers. It is a generic (K)Ubuntu problem, and not just a problem specific to Mint. The solution is to install the backports wireless modules:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install linux-backports-modules-wireless-lucid-generic
sudo reboot


I'll have to give that a try

Funtime's picture

I'll have to give that a try and see if it works for my current setup. I'm interested in trying Mint out, but need to get everything off my current system first.

RE: wireless on Dell XPS M1330

GreyGeek's picture

IF what Doug suggests doesn't work out I've found that wicd always works reliably.

Wicd is good

Doug.Roberts's picture

I used to use it when I was running Kubuntu, and their stupid network-manager plasmoid kept crashing. However, I believe that the problem being reported is with the Intel wireless driver, which needs to be updated by installing the backports. Wicd alone would not solve this problem, as it would be using the same driver.



GreyGeek's picture

Nice article, Doug!

I installed Linux Mint 9 KDE (not GNOME) under Virtual Box to check it out. It's a great distro, but it wasn't good enough to tempt me away from Kubuntu 10.4 running KDE 4.4.5.

Cheese is a great webcam app, too. In my experience some webcams won't run at all unless Cheese (and more specifically some of its libraries) is loaded first.

However, IMO, the king of webcam apps is guvcview. It has excellent audio and visual controls, and take pics and movies. It's a must have app regardless of which distro or DE one uses.


Shawn Langlois's picture

I'm a very desktop oriented person myself. I like to keep things neat and clean, but still have an element of style. I have an irrational hatred for desktop icons and much prefer keeping things either on a dock or in a panel.

I'm curious if there was any aesthetic reason for the preference of Mint over Ubuntu? Personally, I'm a big fan of the Mint Menu, but I was wondering if there were specifics about the style that you think makes Mint look better.

Thanks for the fun article!

Mint vs Ubuntu

Doug.Roberts's picture

Hi Shawn.

Glad you asked! Mint just impressed the hell out of me, as compared to both Ubuntu and Kubuntu 10.04. Everything just worked! Right out of the box. All the codecs I needed for multimedia viewing were there, no need to do the medibuntu thing to install them. Pulseaudio worked! I had never been able to get pulseaudio to work properly with my Audigy SoundBlaster card.

Mint struck me as Ubuntu done right. Polished and finished, with no irritating half-finished edges sticking out to trip you up.

The appearance of your Mint desktop is of course customizable. If you like icons, you can certainly put them in the desktop itself, rather than putting your apps all on the task bar like I did.


Nice Artcicle

Ajibola's picture

Reading through your article, am I right in concluding that you prefer ready made distros like Mint, Ubuntu et al. than say ArchLinux where you can(if you want) customize everything.

I would say you give ArchLinux a try and you would thoroughly enjoy the experience and also I disagree with you on one point, Banshee and not Amarok is the best media player on Linux IMO.

I also work for a living

Doug.Roberts's picture

ArchLinux is the antithesis of what I want out of a desktop experience. Because I work full time in addition to writing for Linux Journal, I really don't have the time it takes to build and configure Arch. I want my desktop distro to come up running with minimal configuration right out of the box. Arch is for people who seriously like to twiddle.

Re: Banshee, I tried it, and decided that I liked Amarok's search interface better.

It's nice to have these choices -- pick the one you like and use it!


I also also work for a living

archtaku's picture

... and I run Arch Linux on my workstation. One gets the feeling you've never even tried to install Arch Linux, because if you did you'd know that you don't have to "build and install" it. It's not Gentoo. You install a base system, and then install pre-built packages from there. There's no "building" necessary.

It's not nearly as difficult as you make it out to be. You might run into a few obstacles the first time you configure an Arch installation, as things aren't configured a certain way "out of the box" (something I appreciate, personally, because I'm not particularly fond of the way Ubuntu, Fedora, etc. handle things like sound, etc.). Once you've gotten it set up the way you want it, it's easy to keep note of which packages you installed to get your system running the way you want it, and remember to install them immediately upon a new install. I store my package list in a text file and pipe it into the package manager. Easy. Easy enough, at least, that friends of mine do the same thing to set up a new Ubuntu installation.

As for your comment about Arch being for "people who like to twiddle", I don't think you could be more wrong. I run Arch because I know what I want and I want to set it up myself, the way I like, without the distro maintainers making a lot of the decisions for me. Ubuntu may set a lot of things up so that they work "out of the box", but that's all useless to me when I have to spend time re-configuring their "out of the box" setup because it's not to my liking.

I'd be happy to send you my install notes, I'm sure they'd make getting Arch up and running easier for you, should you get some free time and want to try it out in a VM. I won't pretend the learning curve is comparable to Ubuntu/Mint/etc., but it's not much harder for an experienced user.

FWIW, I think Banshee > Amarok, too, though prior to Amarok 2 I would have said the opposite. I just read recently about the Clementine project (Amarok 1.4.x forked and ported to Qt4), I'll have to try that out. But I spend most of my time in a terminal anyway and usually end up using MPD instead. Especially on my low-powered netbook.


Doug.Roberts's picture

Clementine sounds interesting, thanks for the tip. Amarok does have a few quirks that I would like to see ironed out.


One's feelings would be correct

Doug.Roberts's picture

I've never installed Arch. I have, however, read several reviews on the installation process, and they indicated that it would be more time-consuming than I felt I could spend. My requirements on the installation & configuration time investment for any distro that I would use for myself is on the order of about an hour. I simply don't have the time to futz with setting up a distribution because

a) the day job,
b) the night music gigs, and
c) the fact that I maintain a fair number of platforms.

This post was not intended to start (yet another) distro flame war, btw. It's a good thing that there are so many distros to choose from. Pick the one you like. Use it. It's probably not a good idea to complain when other people have different preferences, however.

Not that you were complaining. Just sayin'.


Installing Arch or something like it

joe f.'s picture

I, too, love the choices in the Linux world. That said, I think you're being penny wise and pound foolish when it comes to time spent installing a distro. In my experience the lean distros are faster and generally more stable than the "full-featured" distros, and over the course of the lifetime of an installation you'll make up an extra hour or two several-fold. I haven't installed Arch in about a year, but I run Slackware on a Sony laptop. For my last install I tried Mint and the current Ubuntu and several other distros. Going from Slackware to Mint was like having some invisible task soaking up CPU cycles in the background. And this is on a dual-core 2Ghz machine with 2GB of RAM and a pretty fast SSD.

Also, very few people seem to appreciate what the kernel and KDE4 changes have meant for distros like Slackware. I can install and have Slackware booted into KDE4 in less than half an hour. Everything auto-detects, I don't have to have a xorg.conf file, run alsaconfig or any of the old bugaboos. I have to install all of one extra package -- wicd -- in addition to the default install (and it's on the installation DVD) and everything on the laptop is running except the non-standard Sony webcam that humanity begs me to cover with electrical tape anyway.

Don't get me wrong, I applaud anybody using any kind of Linux. But I think installing some of the distros perceived as geeky would give you a lot of perspective that would come in handy.


Doug.Roberts's picture

Thanks for your comments. Slackware was my first distro, and I ran it for years.

My problem is too much to do, not enough time to do it all.


Icons and launch bars are for the weak

joe f.'s picture

Your desktop looks cluttered to me. As a Fluxbox user I've been off desktop icons for years. Launch bars, too. I had fbpanel on my machine for a while, but always found myself right-clicking on the desktop and launch my programs from there (I have them lined up in the menu by order of how frequently I use them, and no icons showing). I put the task bar on top and maximize programs under it, so I don't lose the space formerly given over to the useless title bar. This may seem silly, but with a 13.3-inch laptop as my main machine, every pixel counts. I would go to Openbox, but without the task bar and system tray Fluxbox gives me I'm forced to click around more to switch desktops, and I can't have that.

If you're going to use

setz's picture

If you're going to use openbox, I highly suggest xfce4-panel. Thats what I use. As for clicking to switch desktops, thats something I never do. You can easily set 1px borders so that even when programs are maximized, you can just mousewheel to get to the previous/next desktop, or right click to bring up the menu (on the edges, of course).

That aside, I encourage everyone to really experiment with different window managers and desktop managers, panels, and everything, theres so much flexibility here that most people will never notice.

gnome, kde, other??

Anonymous's picture

Nice article! One thing I wonder about-- what difference does it make if an app is a KDE app, or a Gnome, or a something-else? Is there some kind of weird purity at stake? They should all run fine. Sometimes the integration isn't complete, for example Digikam on Ubuntu 10.04 for some reason does not get a menu icon, and it does not appear in any right-click menus. Which is a small nuisance, but otherwise it runs fine. I don't want Linux to get to where apps only run in certain environments. As far as I am concerned Xorg is the base graphical environment.

extra dependencies...

TravisP's picture

If you are using a lightweight Desktop Environment such as XFCE (which is GTK based (so is Gnome)) then you will most likely favor gnome/gtk applications and not want to install KDE applications because of the extra dependencies required for KDE such as QT.
If you prefer such an enviroment (as I do) then deciding to install a KDE or QT based applcation means that you are now require to download and update those dependencies (via a package manager of course)

I know about dependencies and

Anonymous's picture

I know about dependencies and extra libraries-- and I don't care :). aptitude install foo and done with it. I don't see why that is even a factor, except when one is very constrained for disk space. To me the desktop environment is just a graphical framework for my applications, not an end in itself.

Agree completely

Doug.Roberts's picture

I've got a handfull of KDE apps running on my Mint box: Amarok, ktorrent, kmix. sudo aptitude install: dependencies are all painlessly taken care of for you.


Virtual vs. Physical Desktop

Carlie Fairchild's picture

Us folks in the #linuxjournal IRC room were afraid you meant physical desktop. ;)

Carlie Fairchild is the publisher of Linux Journal.


Doug.Roberts's picture

You are virtually correct!



Doug.Roberts's picture



JShuford's picture

Nice write-up!

Have you ever considered trying "Ubuntu Ultimate Edition"? I have been using their custom work for some-time now and have found it to be THE most comprehensive distro rel out there!

Try: http://ultimateedition.info/

Just a thought!

...I'm not just a "troll", but also a subscriber!

First I've heard of it

Doug.Roberts's picture

I'll check it out, thanks!


Network Connect

qedi's picture

The easiest way to use Network Connect doesn't involve a browser at all, there's a simple network connect script.

I use to connect to it right on the command line. It even allows you to not avoid opening up the Java window (as that's never worked right for me on Ubuntu anyway). A lot easier than keeping a 32-bit Firefox install just for it, I find.


Doug.Roberts's picture

I've got the junipernc network connect script, but I've never been able to get it to successfully connect with my Ubuntu-based Mint system. My company might have a customized NC web client. I get as far as entering my userid and pin and passcode, and then get an error "Cannot connect to IVE server".