The Linux Moderate

One Man Standing Up for Computers That Get Work Done

Transforming Xubuntu into DBCOS

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Part 1: Installing a New Window Manager

I promised to lead us through the transformation of Xubuntu into something completely different, so let’s get started. By the time we’re done, we’ll have Dr. Boli’s Celebrated Operating System, a Linux operating system with many of the advantages of Xubuntu, but one that runs much faster on old hardware.

You heard me right–we’re going to run circles around Xubuntu, which is supposed to be the fast and lightweight version of Ubuntu.

Our secret weapon is IceWM, a window manager that was conceived as a competitor to Windows 95 and hasn’t really changed much since its mid-Clintonian roots.

IceWM is fast and simple, but–unlike other minimalist window managers, such as PekWM or Fluxbox–it has the great advantage of working the way most Windows and Linux users expect a computer to work.

The great disadvantage of IceWM is that it’s ugly. You can get a package of alternate themes for it from the Ubuntu repositories, but almost all of them are in the ugly to hideous range, too.

But not to worry! We’re going to fix it by making up our own theme. That’s right! You and I, who are not computer programmers and have no idea how to write code, are going to create a new theme for IceWM.

Assuming we have Xubuntu installed, our first step will be to install IceWM, which isn’t hard. All we have to do is start up Synaptic Package Manager (Applications, System, Synaptic Package Manager) and search by name for “icewm”:

Mark the “icewm” package, which will also mark the package “icewm-common.” While you’re at it, mark the package “icewm-themes,” because we’ll need something besides the default theme. Push the “Apply” button to install everything.

Marking IceWM and some extra themes for installation.
Marking IceWM and some extra themes for installation.

That’s it–you’ve installed IceWM. But before you try it out, there’s one more thing we want to install. We’re going to use PCmanFM as our file manager instead of Thunar.

You could install PCmanFM from Synaptic, but the version that’s in the Ubuntu repositories as of this writing has a crippling bug: it can’t properly mount external disks. To get the latest version, we go to a useful site every Ubuntu user ought to know about: GetDeb.net.

Search for “pcmanfm” and download the latest version to your hard drive. When the file is downloaded, open it. It will start up an installation program, which will promptly warn you that you really ought to install the older version that’s available in the Ubuntu repositories.

Ignore this warning. Not that you should be in the habit of ignoring warnings, but ignore this one.
Ignore this warning. Not that you should be in the habit of ignoring warnings, but ignore this one.

Ignore the warning, because–as we know–we need the later version. Once you push the “Install Package” button, the program is installed automatically, just as it would be with Synaptic.

Now we’re ready to try IceWM. Push the exit button at the top right of your screen and log out. At the login screen, you can choose IceWM from the “Session” menu. Once you’ve logged back in, you’ll see something like this:

You can get the same menu by right-clicking anywhere on the desktop.
You can get the same menu by right-clicking anywhere on the desktop.

Ugly, isn’t it? And that menu is just about useless. It has hardly any of your applications in it. It’s just a sort of dummy menu, waiting to be replaced by the useful menu we’ll construct shortly.

Well, now what? You can try playing around with the interface to see how it works. But it’s not very useful yet. Don’t worry: it won’t be so sparse and difficult for long. We’ll have it working just the way we want it in a few more installments.

Next: Making IceWM Work Right.

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Written by cbaile19

August 2, 2008 at 12:59 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] got IceWM installed as the alternate window manager for our Xubuntu system. Now we have to make it […]

  2. […] Posted in Basic Instructions, DBCOS, Xubuntu by cbaile19 on August 5th, 2008 We’ve installed the Ice Window Manager or IceWM, and we’ve made it start up with the GTK theme we chose (and in my case with the […]


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