Eee 701 Planetoid

2011/11/02

Adding visual effects to Fluxbox with Cairo Composite Manager

Filed under: Desktops, Linux, Software — Tags: , , , , — Tim @ 17:30

(or “My Eee Desktop – November 2011″ :-) )

The other day, I was skimming through the Wikipedia article on the Fluxbox window manager (which I use on my Eee), and a sentence which I hadn’t spotted before, caught my eye:

Effects managers such as xcompmgr, cairo-compmgr and transset-df (deprecated) can add true transparency to desktop elements and windows.

In (relatively) plain English, it seemed to be saying: if you use Fluxbox, you can now add desktop “eye candy” such as translucent windows, fades, slides, etc. to your slimline desktop.

This came as a surprise to me. I’d always believed that you couldn’t add “compositing” effects to Fluxbox, because the leading compositing effects managers like Compiz used their own window manager—in other words, if you want the whizz-bang visuals, it was “bye-bye Fluxbox”.

In fact, there is a composite manager which works with the window manager of your choice (including Fluxbox): Cairo Composite Manager.

The article on Cairo in the Arch Linux Wiki tells you how simple it is to install from the Arch community package repository (sudo pacman -S cairo-compmgr), and from there you can test it by running cairo-compmgr & from the terminal. If you like what you see, and want the manager to start with your X session, you just add cairo-compmgr & to your .xinitrc file.

Image of Fluxbox desktop with Cairo Composite Manager

Fluxbox desktop with cairo-compmgr (note the transparent terminal window)

For me, it really was as simple as that, and here is the obligatory screenshot to prove it :-) The main indicator that cairo-compmgr is running, is the truly-translucent XFCE Terminal window in the middle—I could’ve experimented a bit more with the translucency effects, but at present I haven’t had time to do much more than use the default settings. I’d like to see if the Fluxbox “slit” (dock) can exhibit true transparency/translucency, and I’ll probably try that out when I put together the December (Christmas) instalment of “My Eee Desktop”. (Yes, that time is coming around again…)

I would’ve liked to add a video as well, to show off some of the animated desktop effects, but am not sure that the screen-capture solutions available would display them to best effect. I’d probably end up pointing a camcorder at the Eee’s screen!

Oh, and in case anyone wondered: the only different addition to the desktop since last month aside from Cairo, is the XMMS Spectrum analyzer dockapp I found in the AUR. It installs as an XMMS plugin, and I thought it might make a change to add this to the slit this time around.

One small tweak I had to make as a result of Cairo’s arrival, was to my Conky setup file (.conkyrc). When I activated Cairo, my Conky display disappeared—a quick Google revealed that this was basically Cairo and Conky disagreeing about which program could draw to the root window. This is similar to how Conky works with the GNOME desktop (Nautilus grabs the root desktop for itself), so the solution is to add some lines like this to your .conkyrc:

own_window yes
own_window_type desktop
own_window_transparent yes

As ever, you may have to experiment if you try this for yourself, but it fixed the Conky issue for me.

I haven’t noticed Cairo making the Eee work much harder, although clearly there will be an impact on the system (even if it is a small one). Until (if?) I notice anything untoward, I’m content to keep this app running, simply because it adds some polish to an already lean and functional desktop—I’ll be sure to come back here and update you, should this change.

In the meantime, if you’re running a lightweight desktop or window manager, but still crave some of that composited eye-candy goodness, you may find Cairo Composite Manager fits the bill nicely.

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6 Comments »

  1. cairo-compmgr is very buggy for me (I’m using dwm).

    Comment by OK100 — 2011/11/02 @ 18:53

    • Wow – dwm? And I thought I was brave with Fluxbox ;-)

      Seriously: I’ve never tried dwm, but it was a surprise to me that cairo-compmgr worked with Fluxbox, let alone any other (more) minimalist window managers. I haven’t noticed any bugs with cairo yet, but then I’ve only been using it a couple of days, and Arch packages tend to be kept quite up-to-date, so maybe I’ve just been lucky…

      Comment by Tim — 2011/11/02 @ 19:10

  2. nice font in the screenshot. what its name?

    Comment by peter — 2013/02/13 @ 18:28

    • This was two years ago, but I’ll try :-) Do you mean either the title bar font, or the one I used for Conky?

      Comment by Tim — 2013/02/13 @ 18:33

      • title/taskbar – i ve seen it somewhere else but i dont remember where

        Comment by peter — 2013/02/14 @ 18:39

      • It’s one of the “artwiz” bitmap fonts – I think the name is “Alex”. The font is a bit more complex to set up than a TrueType one, and I had to put an X11 font string in the Fluxbox style file to get “Alex” to work, but it looks good… hope this helps! :-)

        Comment by Tim — 2013/02/14 @ 18:43


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