Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How to set up Compiz Fusion

SkyHi @ Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Attention: if you are looking for a guide to set up Compiz Fusion 0.7.4 (found in Ubuntu Hardy), go here.

This guide has originally been written for this blog entry that describes how to install Compiz Fusion on Ubuntu Feisty and is now updated to use with Gutsy. It is still mostly distribution-independent and you should be able to use it on every Linux install (you'll need to ignore the comments regarding Ubuntu's default settings, of course).

Configure Compiz and its plugins

Ubuntu has some unusual default configurations that makes you miss (among other things) the "infamous" cube.
If you like them, you can, of course, leave them as they are but here are some tips to advance Compiz' configurations. If you don't like them, you will at least get familiar with the settings manager.

CompizConfig Settings Manager

This guide makes use of the CompizConfig Settings Manager (ccsm) provided by the Compiz Fusion project.
So if you do not have it already installed, you need to install it first. On Ubuntu the required package is called compizconfig-settings-manager.
In order to install it on Gutsy (using Firefox), all you have to do is click here: apt:compizconfig-settings-manager

Now let's start the settings manager via System → Preferences → Advanced Desktop Effects Settings.
Or simply type in the terminal (or [Alt]+[F2]):


Since there are so many plugins, it's sometimes tricky to find the plugin you want. That's why there's the Filter in the top left corner of the application. So don't waste your time looking for the plugins all the time - just type the initial letters in there and it will get much clearer.

Getting the cube

Firstly, enable the following plugins (by checking the box next to them):

  • Desktop Cube - to actually use it, we might have to disable some other plugins (just follow the popup)

  • Rotate Cube - that is necessary to spin the cube

  • Viewport Switcher (optional) - if you want to change desktops with the mousewheel

  • Cube Caps (optional) - lets you use an images on top and bottom of the cube

Secondly, we have to increase the number of the virtual desktops to 4
at General Options → Desktop Size → Horizontal Virtual Size
(the other two options have to be left at 1 - it should look like this then)

Now we can switch desktops via [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[Left]/[Right] and spin the cube via [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[Left Mousebutton] (or via middle-click on the desktop).

Configuring the Cube

  • Set the cube (semi-)transparent
    Set Desktop Cube → Transparent Cube → Opacity During Rotation to 85.0000 (or what suits you best)
    • Additionally you might want to disable Lighing in General Options → Display Settings

  • Cange the cube's color
    Cube Caps → Appearance → Cube Top/Bottom Color - choose a color for each option, that fits best to your wallpaper

  • Cube on a glossy plane
    Enable the Cube Reflection plugin

  • Show the cube's engine
    Enable the Cube Gears plugin

Getting windows to wobble

  • First of all you obviously have to enable Wobbly Windows

  • Then, if you want your panel menu to be wobbly as well, choose Shiver in Wobbly Windows → General → Map Effect

  • And you might want to disable Wobbly Windows → General → Snap Inverted to prevent windows from adhering to screen edges.

Bind useful plugins to screen corners

  • Display active windows at once when moving the mouse pointer to the top right corner of the screen
    Double-click Scale → Actions → General → Initiate Window Picker For All Windows and choose TopRight

  • Display all virtual desktop when moving the mouse pointer to the top left corner of the screen
    Double-click Expo → Actions → Bindings → Expo and choose TopLeft

Tips & Tricks for Scale and Expo

  • If you enable the Scale Addons and Scale Window Title Filter plugins, it enhances your Scale mode:
    • Right-clicking a window lets you have a look at the application

    • You can close a window via [Middle Mouseclick]

    • And if you are looking for a certain application, just type the first letters of the window title

  • While in Expo mode
    • You can change the desktop by right-clicking on a different one

    • And you can even drag the windows from one desktop to another

Nicer window switchers

While the default [Alt]+[Tab] window switcher that comes with Compiz is certainly nicer than the one that came with your desktop environment, Compiz Fusion has much nicer ones, which can be initiated via [Super]+[Tab] (with "Super" being the win-key).

  1. Cover Switch - if you enable the Shift Switcher this will be the default mode

  2. Flip 3D - choose Flip in Shift Switcher → Switcher Mode

  3. Or enable the Ring Switcher plugin
    (if this one is enabled, the Shift Switcher won't work anymore, since it's bound to the same keys)

You can bind those to different key combinations, if you like and have three different window switchers at a time (the "usual" one, one of the "Shift Switcher" ones and the "Ring Switcher").
Additionally you can use them for different needs, like Ring Switcher for the current workspace and a Shift Switcher for all active windows - just set them the way you like in the plugin's Key bindings of the respective Actions tab.

Reasonable window effects

There's nothing particularly wrong with the settings provided by Ubuntu but some of them can get quite annoying and it's always fun to fiddle with that part of Compiz.
All of the options are located at the Animations plugin.

  • Close Animation
    Double-click on the first entry ("Glide 2" by default) and pick Zoom in the drop-down menu.
    Additionally, double the Duration to 400 (that's obviously not the most reasonable thing to do but it's such a nice effect)

  • Minimize Animation
    Double-click on the first entry ("Zoom" by default) and pick Magic Lamp

  • Open Animation
    Double-click on the first entry ("Glide 1" by default) and pick Glide 2

  • Focus Animation (optional)
    I don't recommend changing the effect, just increase it's duration to 300 or 400 to actually see the nice effect. But if you're a wobbly fanatic you can change the Focus Effect to Wave or choose Dodge if you want some eye candy.


One of the main reasons for me, why I wanted to try Compiz, was the fact that you could have real transparency (and not just the fake one, where you can't see what's actually going on below your window). It's still one of the most impressive effects to me, that you are able to move a transparent window over your desktop and it's like, well, an actual window, where you can look right through.

  • Real transparency in the GNOME-Terminal
    That's the easiest way to enjoy real transparency, since the GNOME-Terminal already supports it. All we have to do, is open the terminal and go to Edit → Current Profile → Effects and select Transparent background. You can change the level of opacity with the scrollbar, if you like.

  • Steplessly adjust window transparency
    That's a basic feature of Compiz. Just press [Alt] and increase/decrease the level of opacity with the mousewheel while hovering over any window (even the panel).

  • Transparent panels and menus
    Unlike the Xfce panel, the GNOME panel doesn't support real transparency. Therefore we have to adjust this manually.
    • Go to General Options → Opacity Settings and choose Add. Then in the popup window type dock and for Opacity Window values type 85 (that means the transparency is set to 15% - you can set it higher or lower, of course - but I wouldn't recommend something lower than 75, because icons and the like get transparent too).

    • Now that you have a transparent panel, the opaque menus doesn't fit too well. Click on Add again, this time type dropdownmenu and set the transparency the same way as your panel.
      (If you are using the Main Menu, you have to type popupmenu instead of dropdownmenu - this will make your context menus transparent too!)

  • Transparent windows on the move
    Go to the Move Window plugin and set Opacity to 85. Now the windows get 15% transparent every time you drag them.

  • Getting lower windows to dissolve
    This is a very nice effect, that makes the windows more transparent the later you last focused them. To achieve this, all you have to do is enabling the Trailfocus plugin. (The Brightness effect is also very nice in this one - you can enable it, by lowering the Brightness Level of Unfocused Windows)

* * *

There are obviously many other plugins and lots of additional options to explore and we haven't even mentioned the really useful effects like "rain on your desktop" and "setting your screen on fire" (OK, we already had the incredibly important gears) but I guess you should be experienced enough by now to find them yourself - and customizing everything on your own is much more fun.


No window boarders (titlebars)

Insert the window decorator of your choice (gtk-window-decorator, kde-window-decorator or emerald) in CompizConfig Settings Manager → Window Decoration → Command

Additionally for Nvidia users:
Make sure you have a nvidia-glx driver installed and use the following command to configure your xorg.conf:

sudo nvidia-xconfig --add-argb-glx-visuals -d 24

(you have to restart X to make it work)

16 Desktops instead of 4 (although configured correctly)

This can happen on KDE, try starting Compiz like this from now on:

compiz --replace --ignore-desktop-hints

Can't drag windows around

Make sure the Move Window plugin is enabled.

No Cubecaps or Skydome

Make sure the JPEG and/or Png plugin(s) are enabled, depending on the image(s) you want to use.