MX Linux Downunder

MX-17 Desktop preview

A short introduction to Linux MX-17, based on the beta3 testing version is available now.

July 2017
MX-16.1 has been released for several weeks now and apart from some refinement of MX Package Installer, flash is now updated routinely. Underneath, lots of work with installers in mind, Live USBoptions, all the custom MX Tools and settings to adjust your system.

A brief guide to customising the MX-16 desktop and introduction to some of the common features, especially for newer users.

Pretty much everything you need to know about MX Linux covered in the MX User Manual. This is a detailed and comprehensive resource, being highly recommended reading for anyone using MX Linux.

If you haven't tried MX Linux, creating a live USB or disc is the simplest way to check your system compatibility, while also experiencing a fully functional operating system, without needing to install anything on your system. MX Linux boots a remarkable range of hardware by default, unlike many Linux distributions I've tested. A live system can also be used to boot and recover files from other systems, making it a useful system tool to keep handy.

In case you overlooked the previous paragraph and full potential of MX Linux, something that is easily done, I summarize again here. MX Linux can be run live, applications installed, updated and remastered, all from a USB flash drive. This gives you a mobile operating system that can be used or installed on other machines, complete with your personal or generic changes. Running MX via a live USB is essentially indistinguishable from MX running on a hard drive in most situations. This feature provides a range of options to duplicate, back-up, experiment or install a customized version of MX.

If you have installed MX Linux, possibly dual booting with another operating system, or with several other Linux systems, you may already have experience using Linux, partitioning internal drives and using a Grub menu to boot particular systems.

That said, the following notes and suggestions may be useful in demonstrating just how easily the default MX Linux desktop environment (Xfce) can be personalized.  The examples below are based upon a horizontal panel layout, using the default light theme. Most examples are, however, applicable to any layout.

Many users will initially choose to keep a vertical Panel or go for the horizontal look. This is incredibly easy to do via the MX Default Look tool, offering the added choice of a light or dark themes. If using the dark theme, checking the Firefox dark theme tweak box is highly recommended.

Settings Manager - This is where most settings are found. It might be convenient to add the Settings Manager icon to the Panel (add to Panel via context menu) or desktop while navigating MX and making adjustments to suit.

Settings Manager icon

MX Tools - you will find other useful settings and utilities like Boot Repair here.

MX Tools icon
Single or double click?

MX uses single click activation for desktop icons and in file manager (Thunar), by default. There are two settings you may change. If you prefer double-click activation, this is where you need to go:

For desktop icons:
  • Uncheck the Single click to activate items box above for the desktop.

For Files and folder:
  • Choose Double Click to activate items above using the radio buttons.

Localizing MX

For Australian users, there are a couple of additions not immediately obvious to those new to Linux or MX itself.

Spelling - Synaptic Package Manager is the easiest and most obvious way to add Australian Spelling and Thesaurus packages. These will provide spell checking  and thesaurus support within Open Office. Just search for 'Australian' and you will find myspell-en-au and mythes-en-au packages listed. Mark for installation, apply and you are ready to go in Open Office documents.

Firefox - Australian English Spelling can also be added as an extension to Firefox. Searching for 'Australian' in Add-ons will quickly locate this and add it to Firefox Dictionaries, if you elect to install.

If you use Firefox to watch local television, or similar streaming video sites, check MX Flash Manager periodically to see if PepperFlash is current. Updating may resolve any viewing issues you might encounter.

Updates to PepperFlash are performed manually by the user as needed, independent of system updates (eg. Synaptic). Regular updating is recommended. Automatic scheduling of updates is optional, for convenience.

Adobe Flash can also be installed, although I have currently found no need to do so yet. MX Package Manager offers alternative browsers, if preferred.

Time - You will probably have local time showing on the Orage Clock, in a 12-hour format, when you installed MX-16 or earlier versions. However, you may want to add am/pm to the Orage Panel Clock. To do this, select Properties while the cursor is over the clock, bringing up the following:

Under Clock Options you can also set local time. It may not be set to your location and time zone as was specified when installing, but it should still display the correct time. (I typically set Orage Clock for my location anyway). Either way, this gives you the regional default, the 12-hour time format commonly used in Australia, in this example.

To show am/pm indicators, I have simply added %P to Line 1: which specifies the time style and format displayed. If you prefer a capitalised AM/PM indicator, simply use %p instead. Any changes will be displayed immediately, before closing the Preferences window.

Customizing the desktop environment

Workspace Switcher - This feature works very smoothly in MX, allowing users to free desktop clutter by spreading applications between Workspaces. The default is two Workspaces, but more can be added.

For a horizontal panel, you may prefer Workspace Switcher to display in two rows, reducing the space used on the Panel itself. Just open Workspace Switcher-Properties and set Number of rows: to 2.

Whisker Menu - By default, the Whisker Menu displays applications then categories. This is easily reversed by checking the Position categories next to panel button box in Whisker Menu-Properties. If you want to hide application descriptions, go to the Appearance tab and uncheck the Show application descriptions box.

Notification Area - This shows icons like volume, network, clipper (clipboard utility) and Synaptic (which appears green when updates are available). You may wish to adjust Maximum icon size (px): to reflect any icons on the Panel itself, as I have done. For some themes, you may also want to uncheck the Show frame box.

Windows Manager Tweaks - To adjust your desktop appearance, you will probably want to check Enable display compositing.

I have set a modest level of opacity to different situations, such as resizing and moving or inactive windows, as above.

Panel - The Panel itself has quite a few options available. Panel icon size is adjusted under Measurements-Row Size (pixels): I have likewise adjusted mine to better suit the monitor resolution and aspect ratio.

If you have enabled compositing in Windows Manager Tweaks, via the Compositor tab, a range of setting and options become available for changing the Panel appearance. In Panel Preferences, Appearance tab (similarly for Whisker Menu, Appearance tab), settings under Opacity can be adjusted to provide effects when the cursor moves over or off the Panel itself.

For my Panel, I used a simple transparent image (blank.gif) as a background, which makes the Panel itself effectively transparent (excluding Panel icons and Orage Clock)

If you are unfamiliar with transparent images, the image used is provided below for convenience. Just save link as... to a convenient location and then choose via Panel settings (you may need to select and drag the white area with a cursor to highlight the actual image first).

Take a look at my own desktop with a transparent Panel look and slight opacity applied to the Whisker Menu, along with other changes described here, on the Screenshot page.

More application suggestions

Codecs Installer -  Codec Installer is a quick and efficient way to extend multimedia file support in a variety of a applications. Installation is recommended.

VLC Player -  if you use VLC Player for videos, you might want to go to Tools-Preferences and uncheck the resize video to interface size checkbox so that your VLC window remains the same size, regardless of the original video dimensions.

  • check show menu box (context menu in area adjacent to tabs) if this is your usual preference . These are hidden by default.
  • enable autoscrolling - Preferences-Advanced, General tab. Check use autoscrolling box.

File Manager (Thunar) -  Thunar can also be adjusted to display a tree menu in the side-pane (via View-Side Pane menu). This might make tasks like browsing or moving files easier for some users.
  • Showing details view for files and folders by default might also suit some users (set via Preferences).
  • Columns automatically expand as needed by default, but this can be unchecked via View-Configure Columns...
  • Select multiple files from the right of view pane:
Thunar with 'Tree' view left side pane, 'Detailed' view in main window