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Personalizing Your Computer with Linux

Although Operating Systems are largely customizable these days, they are still marketed to general people. Most users don’t need much customization and use the operating system as it’s shipped out, so this guide isn’t for everyone. But, if you want to create a custom experience for your PC, read on and learn about the world of customizing *NIX systems.

Why Use Linux

Most people think Linux is for crazy hacker-types, but anyone can use it. It can speed up old computers, beef up new computers, and customize the average users computer. The main thing that turns people off of linux is the hassle of installation and compatibility with popular programs, which will both be explained later in this article.

In reality, linux is used everywhere. It’s probably even used in your everyday life. The TV screens on plane seats? Linux. Computerized soda machines? Linux. The GPS installed in your car? Linux. Because of its open source architecture and therefore ease of customization, Linux can be used for anything under the sun.

One of the main issues that I mentioned before is that people think that Linux doesn’t have many of the programs they use every day. However, this is mostly false. Although there are many niche programs that aren’t supported, many popular applications like Mozilla Firefox/Firebird, Google Chrome, Steam, and more are currently on Linux. And because of Valve’s support of games being ported to Linux, it’s becoming a very popular gaming platform also.

Window Manager

Window managers are what make the world go ‘round in the world of Linux. There are all sorts of managers, so you’ll need to find the one right for you. Basically, window managers are what control the layout of the windows on your screen. Tiling managers arrange your windows into tiled portions on your screen, and will usually have options that let you customize the amount/size of tiles. Floating window managers are probably what you use on your current computer if you haven’t installed a 3rd party manager. These managers let you drag and resize your windows freely; which is seen in Mac OS X and Windows.

If you commonly find yourself losing a window on your screen, flipping between windows of different programs, or constantly adjusting windows in order to make things neat, you’ll probably benefit from using a tiled window manager. It’s so customizable that you can tweak it exactly to your liking, and you can always switch to a different style of window manager if you don’t like it. There are also a few hybrid managers like “Awesome” that let you switch between tiled and floating if you don’t want to commit to either.

If you like placing your own windows, overlapping windows, or don’t care too much about organization of windows, you can always just stick with the default window manager of your distribution or a floating window manager. As stated before, you can use a hybrid manager if you want the best of both worlds and see what tiled is like before you commit.

Desktop Environment

Desktop environments are what handle your window managers. These are meant to completely change how your computer work, and are a very personal choice. They can be tweaked into oblivion or left alone and used stock, depending on the user. There are many choices and are easy to install, so you can easily try a few out and see which one you like most.

One common issue that people run into while using a new DE is that they don’t like the stock feel and the look of the system, but this can easily be changed out. When trying out a new DE, make sure to focus on the core system and how it works over how it looks. You can always replace the window manager and theme it if you don’t like the look and feel, but you can’t change the way that you launch applications or files without changing your DE. Since a large amount of your time on your computer will be launching applications and files, you’ll want to pick a desktop environment that works well for you.

Theming

UI, Icons, Layout, Colors, and more. Anything can be customized with themes! These can be applied on a system-wide level that affects all default windows, or just your desktop or file browser. There are many different themes and many different places to find themes, so it might take a while to find the theme right for you. Also, you can make your own theme if you are technologically and graphically savvy, which will allow for complete customization. I have never done this, but I have read guides on creating Linux themes and it is an extremely viable option for users who would like maximum customization of their computer. You can also mix-and-match themes; take the icons from one, window style from another, etc.

Distributions of Linux

Finally, one of the deepest ways to customize your Linux distribution is to mess around with different “distributions” or “distros” of *NIX systems. Ubuntu is probably the most popular, but following up close behind are Linux Mint and Backtrack, two other popular distributions. Because Linux is so versatile, distros can be very different even though they are made from the same Linux backbone. When choosing a distro, make sure it’s right for you. If you like a lightweight, minimal experience, you’ll want to choose a lighter distribution that can boot faster and runs easier on your processor. If you want to play a lot of video games on your PC, you should look for a distribution that is optimized for a gaming experience. Almost every computer niche has its own Linux distro, you’ll just need to look for it. When installing a new distro, I suggest running a “LiveCD” of the OS first. This allows you to test out a distro without installing it onto a hard drive, which is nice for test-driving different OSs without committing to one or spending time installing it.

Why Personalize?

The better question is, why not? A more customized computing experience will lead to a more efficient, happier you. Take a day to tweak things, mess with things, and design things, and you’ll never go back!

Computers Unix/Linux | Software


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