Posted by: reformedmusings | October 24, 2008

Compiz Fusion Desktop Effects and Kubuntu 8.10

One of the great features of Linux is the great variety of customization possibilities. Amongst those are some pretty nice eye candy. Long before Microsoft ever delivered their Aero interface (2007), Linux had Compiz (2003-2004) and Beryl (2006). These two efforts merged to become Compiz Fusion in 2007. For those who aren’t familiar with these 3D compositing window managers, here is a video that compares Microsoft’s Aero with Linux’s Beryl. Pretty cool stuff.

The impending release (October 31, 2008) of Kubuntu Intrepid Ibex (Kubuntu 8.10) incorporates the KDE 4.1.2 desktop, which in turn natively supports compositing capabilities. The question that I’ve been exploring asks: to what extent? I’ll start with some screenshots of my Compiz Fusion setup under KDE 3.5.10 on Kubuntu 8.04.1.

I’ll start with some basic window effects, like “beaming in” a new window:

Beam us down, Scotty!

Beam us down, Scotty!

As these beaming effects are resolving in milliseconds, the new window appears. When we close that window, we are less gracious. I just burn it up rather than expend the energy to beam it out:

Just burn the window when we're done

Just burn the window when we

These effects last just pieces of a second, and I just caught the fading embers of the consumed window. It goes like flash paper. There are a couple a dozen such effects for opening and closing windows, as well as rolling them up into their title bars. Compiz also supports transparency (including the window decorations), shadowing, and fading windows in the background:

Composited desktop with transparency and window fading

Composited desktop with transparency and window fading

Compiz Fusion can also present all windows on one screen for rapid selection, usually by moving your mouse to a corner of the screen:

Showing all windows

Showing all windows

Each window can have its application icon in the lower corner for quick ID if needed. Simply click on any window and it becomes active and the desktop returns to normal. While this is interesting, I don’t use if often. It’s considerably more visually pleasing to use the cube.

The cube is probably the most popular plug-in for Compiz Fusion, just as it was for Beryl. Linux natively supports multiple virtual desktops. Compiz can arrange those desktops (assuming that you use four or more) as the sides of a cube (or appropriately-named prism shape). With a simple key/mouse combination, all the desktops drop to their full cube position. You can rotate the cube to get to the desktop on which you wish to work. It’s a nifty piece of animation and is customizable in a number of ways. My cube is semi-transparent, has gears in the center, and the desktops are 3D on the cube. In normal quick-switch use, it looks something like this:

The cube in normal desktop-switching use

The cube in normal desktop-switching use

Also notice that the “floor” under the cube is reflective. You can clearly see the contents of each window on the cube as you move it around. You can even watch running videos in this way. To see the full effect, you need to tilt the cube up or down a bit:

The cube tilted to see the endcap and gears

The cube tilted to see the endcap and gears

You can see a very short video of the cube in operation here. Every time that you change desktops, you can see the cube rotate by adjusting the zoom appropriately. Very cool and can be very fast.

I am so attached to this effect, as are many who use the compositing window manager. All this takes a video card capable of 3D acceleration. The faster and more sophisticated the card, the smoother the effects work. But unlike for Vista’s Aero, you don’t need a full-fledged gaming card on which you could fry your eggs. Older 3D cards work fine. No money-sucking bloatware here.

So, what does this have to do with Kubuntu 8.10? I took a quick look at the Intrepid Ibex beta here and made a few observations. As I mentioned then, I cannot run the desktop effects in a virtual machine so did not explore them in the earlier post. Since then, I’ve looked through Intrepid’s desktop settings and found a few things.

First, as I said last time, Kubuntu 8.10 enables the compositing automatically if your video card supports it. However, it doesn’t turn everything on. You can do that in the System Settings window:

Desktop settings in Intrepid

Desktop settings in Intrepid

Note that Enable desktop effects is already selected. This enables the “common effects”, but more can be done. These extra settings are on the All Effects tab:

The Appearance effects in Intrepid

The Appearance effects in Intrepid

I show almost all the Appearance effects in the screenshot. Note that there are quite a few, but not nearly the full Compiz Fusion compliment. Most noticeably, the beloved cube is missing. So are a number of other great effects. Here’s a video of KDE 4’s effects. Compare that with the Beryl video, the cube video, and the screenshots above.

In order to get the fullest composite effect, it seems that one must install Compiz Fusion in Intrepid anyway. Wondering if it was only me, I searched related forums for what others are doing. It seems that a lot of folks are indeed installing Compiz in Intrepid.

As I said in my quick look at Kubuntu 8.10, KDE 4.1.2 seems like an early work in progress. It still lacks a lot of KDE 3.5.10’s flexibility and functionality. Its compositing is still missing a number of important effects. It surprises me a bit that a number of early adopters seem to really like the new version. We’ll see what happens on October 31st. Me, I’ll be watching the developments carefully on the forums and in my virtual machine.

One thing is for sure: Intrepid Ibex is still free!!!

UPDATE: I found an interesting page about KDE 4.1 and 4.2 called Is KDE 4.1 for you? In general, it backs up my assessment that KDE 4.1 is an early work in progress. I don’t use that phrase as a slam on KDE 4.1, but to warn folks not to expect as mature a desktop in Intrepid as Hardy has.



  1. […] Fusion in Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid I wrote about Compiz Fusion Desktop Effects in Kubuntu 8.10 previously. Ubuntu is built on the Gnome desktop and takes a fundamentally different approach to the 3D window […]

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: