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Desktop Linux: Compiz

written by: jlwallen•edited by: J. F. Amprimoz•updated: 7/4/2011

If you're looking for a desktop that will wow your friends and family (and bring fun back to your computing experience) then Compiz, the 3D Linux desktop, is everything you need. This article introduces you to a new type of desktop.

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    What are Compiz and Compiz Fusion?

    Compiz is a composting window manager that works thanks to 3D acceleration via OpenGL. Compiz Fusion is the result of the merging of the now defunct Beryl Project and Compiz Extras. Compiz Fusion uses Compiz as a base. Imagine that your computer desktop is no longer a flat space but a cube that you can rotate, zoom out, expand, see through, and more. You can have one face of the cube dedicated to writing, one face of the cube for networking, one face of the cube for games, or mix them up into any organization you like. And that is what Compiz and Compiz Fusion are – a computer desktop that can expand along with your imagination.

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    Compiz Cube View

    This images shows the Compiz Cube in action
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    History of Compiz and Compiz Fusion

    Compiz was created by David Reveman, Danny Baumann, Dennis Kasprzyk, Matthias Hopf, Dave Arlie, Adam Jackson, Jon Smirl and is released under the MIT license. Compiz Fusion came about when the Beryl Project forked off of Compiz but when the developers realized they had gone too far away from the original intent of Compiz the Beryl developers wanted to rejoin with Compiz. Unfortunately the Compiz developers decided against allowing Beryl to fold back into Compiz. So the Beryl developers decided to differentiate themselves even further from Compiz and created Compiz Fusion.

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    What are the pieces of Compiz and Compiz Fusion?

    Compiz is made up of a number of plugins, including:

    • Anotate
    • Clone
    • Cube
    • Decoration
    • Fade
    • Minimize
    • Move
    • Resize
    • Rotate
    • Scale

    Compiz Fusion contain a number of amazing plugins. The plugins fall into four different categories:

    • Main Plugins (such as Animation, Color Filter, Enhanced Zoom, JPEG, Negativity, Opacity, Put, Resize, Ring Switcher, Shift Switcher, Scale, Snapping Windows, Text)
    • Extra Plugins (such as 3D Windows, ADD Helper, Cube, Motion Blur, Reflection, Scale window, Show Desktop, Group Windows, Firepaint)
    • Unsupported Plugins (such as Fake ARGB, Snow, Mouse Switch)
    • Third Party and Experimental Plugins (Compiz Scheme, Sound, Cube Atlantis)

    Compiz is one of the most complex and configurable desktops around.

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    Getting and Installing

    Both Compiz and Compiz Fusion can be a huge challenge to install. Both Compiz and Compiz Fusion require the standard X.org server using AIGLX. Intel, NVIDIA, ATI cards are all supported. The OpenGL software is required. Beyond having the proper hardware you will need to be running one of the more recent Linux distributions. From within your graphical installation program (such as Synaptic or Yumex) do a search for compiz and install that application. Hopefully the package management system will pick up the following dependencies for GNOME:

    compiz-gnome compizconfig-settings-manager compiz-fusion-plugins-extra libcompizconfig-backend-gconf or for KDE: compiz-kde compizconfig-settings-manager compiz-fusion-plugins-extra libcompizconfig-backend-kconfig.

    Once you have installed, log out and log back in. If Compiz does not start at log in you might have to enter compiz -- replace at the command line.

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    Final Thoughts

    Compiz and Compiz Fusion are amazing desktop environments. Both desktop additions bring a level of fun to the desktop that no other has offered. This article was just a brief summation of what Compiz and Compiz Fusion can do. It should have piqued your interest (with good reason.) Later on we'll take an in-depth look at the installation and configuration of Compiz.