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Flipping the Linux switch: Cairo-Dock is pain free eye candy

Cairo panel, really freakin' smallIt's a weird phenomenon. Nearly every computer platform steals another one's look. Vista gets accused of trying to look too much like OS X. Linux desktops get accused of trying to look like Vista (except when they're accused of ripping off OS X).

Well, okay, we guess really what that proves is that there's at least something distinctive and cutting edge about OS X's look. Love it or hate it, everyone seems to think everyone else is ultimately copying it.

There's no denying, the first time we saw OS X, our hearts beat a little faster when we saw the dock.

Until now, though, the dock concept was really sort of a nuisance to get working effectively in Linux. There is the Avant Window Navigator, and though it does the trick quite nicely, many newbies (or extremely busy people) said the tweaking factor left them wanting something a little less involved.

We've been using Cairo-Dock of late, and we really like it. The beauty of it extends far beyond the physical appearance. There are source packages, and there are Debian binary packages. Installing isn't that difficult. We even installed it, quickly and with great success, on a 64 bit system (and yes, we'll show you how.)
Installation with a Debian-based system is pretty easy, especially if you use the binaries. Non-Debian system users will have to compile from source (for now), which is a bit more involved. Those of us using a 64 bit operating system (we're using Ubuntu Hardy Heron's 64 bit version) can use the binary packages as well.

The first step, of course, is to download the Cairo-Dock files. If you're going the binary route, you'll want both Cairo-dock and the plugins files. People compiling from source will just need the cairo-dock-sources file.

Installing on a x86 system via .deb is straightforward. Install libcairo2 and librsvg2-2 from a repository. Depending on distro you run, and what else you've installed on the system, this may not be necessary. Then click the Cairo-Dock files you've just downloaded and install them.

A 64-bit OS makes it a little stickier. Luckily, there's a nice Ubuntu user who wrote a script (that works on Debian and other Debian based distros, as well) called getlibs. It essentially gets the libraries that a program requires for 32-bit programs on 64-bit systems (so, yes, it's handy for things besides Cairo-dock).

So once we installed the getlibs program, we just needed to follow the instructions nicely provided at the very end of the Community Wiki on the Ubuntu site. The most important steps for us were to open a terminal and type:

sudo dpkg --force-all -i cairo-dock*.deb

and the ever so mysterious command:

sudo getlibs /usr/bin/cairo-dock

sudo apt-get -f install

Cairo-dock and getlibs do their thing in the terminal

This'll nicely force Cairo-Dock to install even though the libraries it needs aren't installed. The second and third commands install the libraries we needed, and associates them with the programs in question.

The big question, of course, is whether or not it actually worked. To check, all we need to do is either open a terminal, or get ourselves to a "Run application" dialog. We just type in the command cairo-dock, and we should see our nifty panel appear.

If you're running the command in a terminal, there may be a few extraneous warnings and error messages. The rule of thumb with these messages, for us, usually goes like this: Does it interfere with the function of the application? No? Then we're not worried.

Launching the panel on login depends on your desktop environment, but generally adding the command cairo-dock to Sessions in GNOME or to the Autostarted Applications in Xfce or KDE works fine.

That's all well and good, right? But what does it do? The really nice thing is that right from install, the panel is pretty functional. Further tweaking is pretty painless, too.

Let's just take a look at the pretty default panel. The only real switch on this panel is that the selected theme is Azur, an added Gimp launcher, and we've freed the Cairo-Penguin to walk around the panel and in general be extremely annoying (you can make him go away, should you choose).

Cairo dock panel. Pretty shot

If there's anything particularly disturbing about this dock, it's easy to change. Right clicking on the dock brings up the configuration menu. When we say "configuration menu," we mean you can pretty much configure everything about the Cairo-dock through this action. We can mess with the Cairo-Dock itself, add a random launcher, or remove or edit the launcher we clicked on when opening the menu (if we'd actually noticed what that was).

Cairo-dock configuration menu

Seems that configuring the Cairo-Dock makes the penguin ridiculously happy.

We would advise, before getting too far into configuration land, that you check for updates to the Cairo-Dock. We found that we did have some immediately after install. It didn't seem to wreak too much havoc with the layout, but hey, save yourself a little potential trouble.

Managing and changing themes is also easy. There are a goodly number included in the Cairo-Dock and plugins packages, and they can be altered slightly, customized, and saved quite easily.

Themes window.

Of course, we are also able to put the dock any where we want, and make it behave exactly as we'd hope with the Cairo-Dock configuration panel. We know some of you would hope that annoying freakin' penguin would wander off the dock never to return. Conveniently, that's located on the same screen as the dock placement.

Cairo-Dock configuration. Like, really... the Dock itself.

The finer points of adding launchers to the dock is a little tricky, but it wasn't bad once we got the hang of it. Adding a launcher for an application involved right clicking to call up the configuration menu, and clicking "Add a launcher." Okay, that part is pretty easy. We figured that part out. The next bit was a little alarming.

Cairo-dock launcher install

We were presented with this file browse window that was really puzzling. There were tons of applications listed (some that we don't even have installed), but they all appeared to be icons. First instinct was to haul ourselves over to /usr/bin and look for an appropriate executable.

Don't. Just don't. Select the program you want to add to the Cairo-Dock, and let it do the rest. It's odd, truly, but it worked. If anything looks out of line when you launch the program from there on out, you can right click and select "Modify Launcher." We haven't had any problems adding launchers in this manner.

Cairo-Dock is fun. It's totally unnecessary, but it's fun. It looks pretty good right out of the box, and is probably the easiest piece of eye-candy we've ever installed. It's very recommended for those who are big on aesthetics but a little short in the patience department.

[via Lifehacker]

Tags: Cairo-dock, configuration, deb, Debian, howtos, launchers, linux, linux-switch, menu, opensource, panel, Ubuntu