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In March of 2010, I finally moved from my venerable XFCE4 + Xfwm setup to a glitzy GNOME + Compiz desktop. The experiment is largely successful thus far.

Disabling gnome-shell

gnome-shell, from what I can tell, is launched as part of the session definition file (/usr/share/xsessions/gnome.desktop). You can copy this to gnome-fallback.session in $XDG_CONFIG_DIR/gnome-session/sessions and run gnome-session out of .xsession without arguments, or (probably better) provide the --session argument to gnome-session and keep the modified file somewhere personal.



  • Get compiz running via compiz --replace.
    • Add this to GNOME's startup applications to make it your default window manager
    • Better than this command in your .xinitrc/.xsession is changing the "Window Manager" element of GNOME's Session-RequiredElements registry key.
  • Enable Alt+Tab window switching via the "Application Switcher" plugin
    • I don't like the zooming effect; scale it to 0x
  • Enable Super+Tab folded window switching via the "Shift Switcher" plugin
    • Has some conflicts with "Application Switcher" by default; I disable all but "Next Window", "Previous Window" and "Initiate"
    • Be sure the "Text" rendering plugin is enabled to get window titles
  • Enable desktop backgrounds with the "Wallpaper" plugin
    • You'll want disable Nautilus's attempt to manage the background: use gconf-editor and unset apps/nautilus/preferences/show_desktop
    • Note that this will disable your desktop icons.
  • Enable Ctrl+Alt+arrow virtual desktop switching via the "Rotate Cube" plugin
  • "Trailfocus" handles general transparency
    • Set "Window to Start Fading" to 1
    • Change opacity levels of unfocused and focused windows to 60 and 95, respectively
  • Cube: I use
    • transparency on rotate (requires that Compiz draw wallpaper)
    • Spherical deformation on rotate
    • Inside-the-cube view
  • App Switcher
    • Maximize "Speed"
    • Minimize "Timestep"
    • Enable "Mipmap", "Bring to Front", "Icon", "Minimized", and "Auto-Rotate"
    • Reduce "Opacity" to 10

Other Plugins

  • I like the "animations" plugin
  • The "Window Titles" plugin is useful in conjunction with SSH forwarding
  • Go ahead and use "Bicubic Filtering" if you've got the horsepower


  • "General Options" -> "Key Bindings":
    • Toggle vertical maximize: Ctrl+Up
    • Toggle horizontal maximize: Ctrl+Right
    • Disable everything else save "Close Window" (Alt+F4), "Window Menu" (Alt+space)
  • "Commands"
    • /usr/bin/x-terminal-emulator: Alt+F1
    • /usr/bin/x-www-browser: Alt+F3


  • Video thumbnailing requires totem-video-thumbnailer, part of the totem package
    • You'll also likely need raise the limit on thumbnailable media files; I thumbnail any local file < 1G


  • Users of taskbars (the "Window Selector" applet) will want to look into Compiz's "Window Preview" plugin
  • Transparency can be had regardless of the GTK theme if using compiz's "Opacity, Brightness and Saturation" plugin
    • Add an opacity rule (I use a value of 50): "(class=Gnome-panel) & !(type=PopupMenu | Dialog)"
  • I use avant-window-navigator now

GNOME Control Center

  • Ensure hinting and subpixel ordering is optimized via a trip to the Lagom LCD Test page
  • Don't set wallpaper here if Compiz is handling it

See Also