Linux users: Not only can desktop decorator Compiz Fusion add eye candy to your system that leaves Windows and Mac users drooling on their keyboards, it can seriously boost your productivity. As Compiz Fusion creeps closer to its first official release, its effects are well ahead of anything found in commercial operating systems. Let’s take a look.
Installing Compiz Fusion
Depending on your distro, Compiz Fusion can be finicky to install. Ubuntu users have a few options that include TreviÃ±o’s repositories, Amaranth’s repositories or grabbing the DEBs manually. I strongly suggest using either of the repositories hosted by TreviÃ±o and Amaranth. If you’re running Ubuntu and have never used Compiz Fusion, this thread is probably the easiest way to get going. All other distro users should check the appropriate support forums for installation instructions. Compiz Fusion does not work with all graphics cards so make sure your card is compatible before starting. MacBook graphics cards work great out of the box. If you’re having a hard time getting CF up and running, give the support channel on IRC (#compiz-fusion) a try, they are extremely helpful.
Remove the annoyances
First let’s adjust two default settings that are a bit annoying. By default, CF uses sticky windows to facilitate easy window placement. I find that it interrupts my workflow more than it helps, so I prefer to disable it. CF settings are managed with CompizConfig Settings Manager. CCSM can be accessed through System >> Preferences >> CompizConfig Settings Manager. In CCSM, navigate to Wobbly Windows and disable Snap Inverted.
The second major CF annoyance is related to window placement. By default, every application is opened in the topmost portion of the screen. Anyone running a panel across the top will probably prefer to open applications in the middle of the screen. To change this setting, in CCSM, navigate to Place Windows and change Placement Mode to Centered.
With the installation and the annoyances taken care of, let’s get down to using Compiz Fusion to improve productivity.
Using the defaults to improve your productivity
Compiz Fusion has a bunch of great features built right into the default installation.
One of the most well-known and useful features is the “spinning cube.” The spinning cube is actually a virtual desktop manager. Virtual desktops (brought to Windows with Dexpot and Yod’m 3D and Mac with VirtueDesktops) are a great way to manage your open applications: email on one “face,” web browsers in another, music in a third and image editing on the fourth. Virtual desktops keep your workday modular and easily navigable. To use the cube effect, middle click anywhere on the desktop and drag the desktop face. Alternatively, CTRL + ALT and the arrow keys will change the desktop face. The entire cube can be unfolded with CTRL + ALT + Down arrow.
Hit the video clip to see the cube in action.
Expo is another virtual desktop management effect. Expo allows you to see all of your virtual workspaces simultaneously. In addition, you can drag and drop windows and switch virtual workspaces with Expo. Expo can be invoked with SUPER + E (“SUPER” is the Windows key on PCs and the Option key on Macs).
Similar to the SUPER+TAB effect for Vista and expanded with SmartFlip, CF has the same effect, known as Ring Switcher, which can be invoked with SUPER + TAB and reversed with SUPER + SHIFT + TAB.
Send active windows to the background and take screenshots
You can send active applications to the background simply by middle clicking anywhere in the title bar. Additionally, you can take screenshots by holding down the SUPER key and selecting the region of the screen you would like to capture.
Make the best better
A few simple tweaks to CCSM can make Compiz Fusion fly. To emulate the Expose effect used in Mac OS X, navigate to Scale, select the Actions tab and add a screen edge (I prefer top right) for Initiate Window Picker for Windows on Current Desktop. With this plugin enabled, you can then mouse to the top right of the screen and change the active application. Additionally, if you would like to show the desktop, you can click directly on the desktop and the active windows will disperse to the corners of the screen. When you want to restore the windows, click CTRL + ALT + D.
You can also enable task bar previews of open applications by simply activating Window Previews in the Extras section. Windows Vista users have this feature built in, and XP users can get the same effect with Visual ToolTip. Please note that this feature will only work if you have a window list in the menu bar. It does not work with Avant Window Navigator.
Since the Expo effect (mentioned above) requires heavy use of the mouse, it is a good candidate to set up a “hot corner.” You can set Expo to be activated when you mouse to the lower left corner by selecting Expo and then selecting the Actions tab and assigning a Screen Edge location.
It all comes together
Compiz Fusion has a ton of great features. The following is a nice compilation that gives a taste of everything Compiz Fusion can do to improve your productivity.
What do you love about Compiz Fusion? What did I miss? Share in the comments.