Docky makes Xubuntu look pretty

Xubuntu is my favorite Linux distribution. It is fast, pretty and minimal. Right now I am running version 15.04 and 14.04 (LTS). Previous versions used to have a sort of a dock on the bottom, but current versions do not have that. In the current version the top panel holds the “Application Menu”, “Window Buttons” and the “Notification Area”. When you move that panel down it will be familiar to Windows XP users. In order to make the transition for Mac OSX users easier you may some more adjustments. Apple desktop users need features like: a dock, expose and a quick launcher.

1) Docky is a good looking icon dock

xfce_docky

Docky is a dock that looks great and indicates open programs, so it can be a replacement for your “Window buttons” in the taskbar. Removing these from the panel is easy (right-click). I recommend installing docky with the following command:

sudo apt-get install docky

There are two tricks you may want to execute after installation, read about them below.

Docky: Remove the anchor icon

Docky has by default an anchor icon in the dock. It allows you to configure the dock. This can also be done by right-clicking a border or a separator, so you don’t really need the anchor icon. You can simple remove the anchor icon using the following command (source):

gconftool-2 --type Boolean --set /apps/docky-2/Docky/Items/DockyItem/ShowDockyItem False

You may replace “False” at the end of the line with “True” to revert the change.

Docky: Wrong Thunar and Terminal icons

The “Thunar” and “Terminal” icons may look bad/weird and the applications may have double entries in the dock. This problem is less serious than it looks. It is caused by Docky not being able find the corresponding application shortcuts (that contain the icon path). This can easily be fixed with the following commands (source):

sudo cp /usr/share/applications/xfce4-terminal.desktop ~/.local/share/applications
sudo cp /usr/share/applications/Thunar.desktop ~/.local/share/applications

NB: You may encounter other applications with this problem, but this easily fixed in a similar fashion.

2) Skippy-XD adds expose functionality

The “expose” functionality is in which a click-able miniature version of all windows are shown in a non-overlapping layout to enable quick and pretty switching of applications. For Ubuntu there is “Skippy-XD” an application that does exactly that. It has a daemon mode and a run once mode. The daemon mode is very usable. Here is how to install skippy-xd (source):

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:landronimirc/skippy-xd-daily
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install skippy-xd

To make start during login navigate in the main menu to “Settings” > “Session and Startup” > “Application Autostart” and add the following command:

skippy-xd --start-daemon

To make F3 act as the expose hot-key navigate in the main menu to “Settings” > “Keyboard” > “Application Shortcuts” and add the following command:

skippy-xd --activate-window-picker

Now logout and login to see whether the application indeed works as intended.

3) Launchy is a great quick launcher

You know how convenient you can search on OSX with a Ctrl-Space? This can easily and beautifully be configured using the “Launchy” application. This can easily be installed using the following command:

sudo apt-get install launchy launchy-plugins

After installation you may have to edit the settings to make launchy properly index you “Documents” and “Downloads” folders. Also make sure you check out the plugin configurations.

Conclusion

After installing and configuring these applications your Xubuntu is feeling a bit more like OSX. For people that are switching operating systems this may be a good thing (they could also try Elementary OS). I personally dislike having a dock and prefer the gnome 2 layout with 2 panels: one on top with the main menu and one on the bottom with the window buttons. This is exactly why power users like Linux: you can customize it to fit your needs.

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New XFCE features in Xubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr

Great news: on April 17th, 2014 Xubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr was released! Should you upgrade right away or to wait. This is a tough question. I was still on Xubuntu 12.04, because that was the previous LTS. My strategy is to upgrade from LTS to LTS. This gives me serious improvements every upgrade, but only once every two years. Also I think that most production environments will not follow Ubuntu’s regular release schedule of two new versions per year. So with the Easter days off I decided to give Xubuntu 14.04 Trusty Tahr a shot. I noticed the following new XFCE features:

1) New XFCE start menu (Whiskermenu)

whisker

It sure looks pretty, but I cannot start the start menu with the (Windows) “start” key on my keyboard (called “Super” in Linux).

whisker_start

By adding the above highlighted line, it works as I expected. Now I can press the “start” key and start typing. Also I would change the line that says “xflock4” from the default “Ctrl-Alt-Del” to “Super+L” allowing for locking pressing the Windows key and letter “L” combination.

2) Snap-to-side window maximizing

This image from WindowSpace shows how Snap-to-side works:
snap-to-side-2
It also clearly explains how “Snap-to-corner” works:
snap-to-corners-2
To get “Snap-to-side” behavior to work properly in Xubuntu you may want to disable the highlighted checkbox:

snap-to-side

To get “Snap-to-corner” functionality working in Xubuntu you may actually have to wait a little. Both Alistair Buxton and Štěpán Dalecký have written patches for XFCE:

These may make it in a next release. It is a pity that XFCE does not support this yet. Maybe PyWO – Python Window Organizer is a good alternative to this. Or does anyone have another trick for this?

3) There is only one panel

By default, XFCE now only has one panel and it is on the top. It contains both the start button, the window buttons (for all open windows) and the clock and notification icons. Actually, the panel is just like the one in Windows XP, but instead of on the bottom it is on the top. I prefer to add a bottom panel that contain the window buttons and remove those from the top panel. This gives me the old and familiar “Gnome 2” feeling and that makes me happy.

Instructions:

  • Right click the top panel
  • Choose: Panel – Panel Preferences
  • Press the green “+” to add “Panel 1”
  • Drag it to the bottom
  • Make the “Display” tab of “Panel 1” equal to “Panel 0”
  • Add the “Show Desktop” and “Window Buttons” in the “Items” tab
  • Remove the “Window Buttons” from the “Items” tab in “Panel 0”

xfce_new_panel

Conclusion

I added a shortcut for the start menu, changed the way the window snapping works and added a second panel. With these small modifications on, I like XFCE in the new Xubuntu even better. If you want to highlight other new XFCE features, or have improvements on the ones above, then let us know using the comments.

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Fast Symfony2 served on a stable Xubuntu

Ingredients:

Introduction:

This recipe is for people who want to install symfony2 quickly with all dependencies, without having to read the excellent documentation that can be found here:

  1. The quick tour
  2. The book
  3. The cookbook

This recipe can be used by linux users or by windows users that run linux in a virtual machine.

This will get you:

  • A working Symfony2 installation
  • Pretty URL’s (using mod_rewrite)
  • Optimized execution speed (using php5-apc)
  • Configured timezone settings and internationalization support (using php5-intl)
  • Run as a specific user and not as www-data (using apache2-mpm-itk)
  • Created a database and installed a database management tool (phpmyadmin).

The instructions are meant for a development platform. If you use these instructions on a production platform the least you should do is choose a more secure password. NB: You also might want to run Ubuntu Server instead of Xubuntu in such a case.

This will NOT get you:

  • A debugging environment (using XDebug)
  • An PHP IDE with debugging integration (Eclipse PDT)

For serious web development you might want the above: a full-featured IDE and a step-by-step debugger. This will be discussed in another post.

Instructions:

The lines below with a “-” are actions and the lines with a “$” are commands:


- Download and install Virtualbox
- Download xubuntu iso
- Configure a new Virtual Machine with:
  OS set to: Linux/Ubuntu 64
  4 cores (assuming you have 8 cores)
  2048 MB RAM (assuming you have at least 4096)
  20 GB VDI dynamic disk
- Select the Xubuntu iso file in the first run wizard
- Install Xubuntu by following the steps
- Install additional drivers (guest additions) and reboot
- Open up a web browser
- Go to http://symfony.com/download and click download
- Save "Symfony_Standard_Vendors_2.x.xx.tgz" and unpack it
- Move the "Symfony" folder to your home directory and rename it to "public_html"
$ sudo apt-get install lamp-server^ php-apc php5-intl php5-sqlite phpmyadmin
 choose a mysql root password
 choose to configure phpmyadmin for apache2
$ sudo apt-get install apache2-mpm-itk
$ sudo a2enmod rewrite
$ sudo nano /etc/php5/apache2/php.ini
 NB: use Ctrl-W Ctrl-R to search and replace
 search: ;date.timezone =
 replace: date.timezone = Europe/Amsterdam
 NB: enter your local timezone if you are not in Europe/Amsterdam
 (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_tz_database_time_zones)
 search: short_open_tag = On
 replace: short_open_tag = Off
$ pwd
 NB: note down the output, as this is the path of your home folder (in my case: /home/maurits)
$ id -un
 NB: note down the output, as this is your user name (in my case: maurits)
$ id -gn
 NB: note down the output, as this is your group name (in my case: maurits)
$ sudo nano /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/000-default
 NB: use Ctrl-W Ctrl-R to search and replace
 search: /var/www
 replace: {YOUR_HOME_FOLDER}/public_html/web
 NB: you have to enter the home folder path you found from the pwd command instead of {YOUR_HOME_FOLDER}
$ sudo nano /etc/apache2/sites-enabled/000-default
 NB: add the following line under the DocumentRoot
 AssignUserId {YOUR_USER_NAME} {YOUR_GROUP_NAME}
 NB: you have to enter your user name and group name instead of {YOUR_USER_NAME} {YOUR_GROUP_NAME}
$ sudo service apache2 restart
- Open web browser and go to http://127.0.0.1/phpmyadmin
- Login with root user and chosen root password
- Click "Privileges"
- Click "Add a new User"
- Enter/choose:
 username: symfony
 host: localhost
 password: symfony
 retype: symfony
- Select "Create database with same name and grant all privileges"
- Click "Create User"
- Open a web browser and go to http://127.0.0.1/config.php
- verify that symfony does not complain about anything
- click "Configure your Symfony Application online"
- Enter/choose:
 Driver: MySQL (PDO)
 Host: localhost
 Name: symfony
 User: symfony
 Password: symfony
 Password again: symfony
- Let symfony generate a "Global Secret"
- Choose "Next Step"
- Symfony should say: Your distribution is configured!
- Click "Go to the Welcome page"
- Click "Run the Demo"
- Play around with the demo to see that everything works

Bonus instructions:

Some nice tips on how to customize your Xubuntu:

That is it for today, have fun!

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