Posted by: reformedmusings | December 9, 2008

Compiz Fusion Desktop Effects 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 manager than the KDE system used in Kubuntu. This will not be a Gnome vs. KDE discussion, although I may yet write one of those, but simply a walk-through how Compiz is set up in Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid.

First, in order to use a 3D window manager, you need a capable 3D video card in your computer. NVidia and ATI both support Linux with drivers for their cards. I’ve found NVidia Linux drivers more stable and friendly than ATI offerings, but YMMV. I have an NVidia GeForce 8800GTS chip set in my box, which works great under Linux.

Ubuntu natively takes a 3-level preset package approach to 3D desktop effects. You can choose the level of effects from the menu bar using System -> Preferences -> Appearance. Once the Appearance dialog appears, click on the Visual Effects tab. It looks like this:


At first, the None button will be selected. When you choose either Normal or Extra, the Restricted Driver window will appear if you don’t already have a proprietary 3D driver up and running:


In my case, I get the list of available NVidia drivers. Again, at first none of these will probably be selected and the “This driver is not activated” button will be lit. Choose the driver you wish to use (the recommended one is usually a good choice), then click on Activate. Ubuntu will then download and install your selected video driver. After the installation and setup, you will be prompted to restart your computer. After you do, Ubuntu will be using the appropriate 3D driver. You should return to the Visual Effects window to ensure that it is set as you desired.

I wish that I could give you a list of the differences between Normal and Extra, but even the Ubuntu help page doesn’t list those. I can say that Extras enables a minimal set of effects which includes animation for windows creation (zoom/fades in), closing (zoom/fades out), minimizing/restoring (zooms/fades to/from task bar), switching desktops (slides them laterally), wobbly windows, snapping windows, resizing windows, and the visual task switcher. If it does more than that, I didn’t notice. There was no transparency or most stunning Compiz effects. Hmmm.

For more bang, you need to install the Compiz Configuration Settings Manager (called Advanced Desktop Effects Settings in Add/Remove), the Emerald Theme (if you want to customize program windows) , and I also recommend the Fusion Icon. These can be installed by opening Applications -> Add/Remove, then typing “compiz” in the search box:


You will apparently have to use Synaptic if you want to add Emerald, as I did not find it in the Add/Remove list. Select the boxes as shown above and accept the support libraries offered in the popups. Click on Apply Changes to complete the installation.

Compiz Settings may be found under System -> Preferences -> Compiz Config Settings Manager. The application is pictured below:


Oooo, now we see lots of choices! You can scroll though the screen and see what is enabled by the standard Ubuntu Visual Effects settings. The manager works very simply. You can accept the defaults for each effect you desire by selecting the box next to each name desired. Or, just click on the name of the effect that you wish to explore or set, and the settings dialog for that effect comes up. For instance, clicking on the name for Desktop Cube brings up its settings:


From here, you can go through the tabs and adjust both the appearance and speed of the cube’s operation. Click on the Enable Desktop Cube box on the left of the window to enable the cube. Don’t forget to choose Rotate Cube as well to get the most from your cube.

Some effects conflict with others. For example, enabling the cube will produce a dialog saying that the cube conflicts with the desktop wall:


You are offered a choice between the two. This is typical for such conflicts. Simply choose between the competing effects and press on. If you don’t like the net result, you can always change it back.

The Animations effect is one of the most complex:


Don’t be intimidated. Go ahead and play with the settings (within reason) and see what happens. Most settings have an icon on the right (the yellow brush) that allows you to return the setting to its default. Think of it as the “oops recovery button”. The last tab contains settings for the individual animation effects (speed, etc.) Setting changes take effect immediately, so there’s no reason to close the window each time you adjust a parameter.

Also note that there’s another setting for Animations Add-On. This provides additional animation schemes that, when enabled, will appear in the primary animations settings. These include burning windows, beaming in/out, paper airplane effects, and others. However, the detailed settings for the add-ons (speed, # of burn particles, etc.)  is under the Add-On dialog. If you don’t see these, you may have to add additional compiz fusion plugins using System -> Administration -> Synaptic Package Manager:


Note that I typed “compiz plugins” in the Quick Search box. That’s the best way to use Synaptic if you know what you want. I added all the plugin packages, including the unsupported ones.

Here’s another important safety tip on animations. Sometimes you change an animation type for an action but it doesn’t “take” right away. You can fix this by clicking on the “oops recovery button” to return the setting to its default, then make your change again. It should work the second time. I don’t know why it does that, but it’s easy to recover.

I’m a big fan of the compiz fusion cube. Like my KDE setup, I have Ubuntu set to swing the cube to the next/previous face by using ctrl-alt-right/left respectively. The zoom is set so that I can see it change size as it rotates. Using the trackball, I can swing it around to bring up the side I wish. 3D Windows sets the open windows off of the cube face. Partial transparency combined with the cube gears give the whole thing a mechanical-system look. The net result is hard to catch in a still screenshot, but here’s my attempt:


Very cool. Or, you can add surface reflection and deform it to a sphere to get this:


I didn’t bother with the Emerald Theme Manager for this post. It can tailor the appearance of program windows quite a bit and is easy to work. A little artistic acumen helps produce visually pleasing results. I created a custom theme for KDE, but haven’t done that yet for this Gnome test system.

With a little extra effort, it’s not difficult to create a very sharp 3D desktop using Compiz-Fusion in Ubuntu. On a good 3D video card, these effects can fly across the screen (quite literally if you use the paper airplane animation). By default, Ubuntu will enable some simple effects. For the hard core, though, Compiz Configuration Settings Manager comes through!



  1. […] installed Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid to another hard drive, I merely intended to explore the workings of Compiz Fusion and Sun VirtualBox in it that I could not test in a virtual machine. During that process, I came to […]

  2. Excellent guide dude

  3. Thanks, Danny.

  4. […] I read this excellent (if lengthy) guide, turned on a whole mess of stuff […]

  5. […] If you don’t have the graphics card problems I have there is a good set of instructions here on getting the drivers and running […]

  6. keren euy,,bisa bulet2 gitu…itu pake apa ya?yang jelas bukan cube kan?

  7. […] See also on […]

  8. […] -> CompizFusion Configuration Manager. You can find instructions on how to install them in this post, as well as how the effects generally […]

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