Screenlets: Eye Candy for Linux Users
A Linux desktop screen need not look drab. Whereas proprietary OSes like OS X and Windows have their widgets, Linux distro users can get just as much function-rich eye candy through Screenlets. Screenlets are miniature applications that reside on the desktop and provide constant information -- everything from system performance readouts to news feeds to photo galleries.
01/27/10 5:00 AM PT
Screenlets bring a collection of fun things and useful apps to add functional eye candy to the Linux desktop with little or no resource drain on the computer.
Windows and Mac machines have their widgets. Linux has its Screenlets. So you can scratch one more reason from the list of why you shouldn't migrate to an open source operating system.
When I held newbie status as a newcomer to the Linux OS, I had little interest in or use for Screenlets. However, back then I was struggling to master the basics of the open source world of computing. Now, though, Screenlets have become an integral part of my computing finesse.
Screenlets are small applications that reside on the desktop. They are not icons to run a program; they ARE the program. These apps are much like electronic Post-Its stuck on the screen. Each one does its own thing.
For example, on my Puppy Linux and Ubuntu Linux computers, I have Screenlets stacked vertically along the right edge of the desktop screen. One Screenlet shows me an analog clock with a sweeping second hand. The clock's settings allow me to create a series of reminder alarms. Below that is a monthly calendar.
A series of sensors and system monitors completes the stack of Screenlets. Depending on which desktop or laptop is at hand, these Screenlets vary with wireless signal strength indicators, CPU performance, RAM consumed, remaining battery power and a glimpse of hard drive and thumb drive free space left.
It's easy to configure the Screenlets, so you can adopt them to your own computing habits. Convenience is the rule.
For example, you can configure different profiles to run different sets of Screenlets.
I use a different arrangement. I set different Screenlets on each of the four virtual desktops on my various computers. This lets you run separate sets of widgets and applications on their own desktops without minimizing windows or clicking the Show Desktop icon. I resize the windows of running applications so they do not cover the Screenlets running on the edges of the screen.
Either way, the Screenlets always run. For me, this is far better than scrolling through menus or clearing the desktop to click an icon to start a program.
I even have my netbook computer configured so my Screenlets are visible despite the much smaller display space. I can right click on the top of each Screenlet to adjust its size and other properties to squeeze into the available space.
Screenlets range from very useful system sensors to fun and games. You can watch CPU, memory, Internet traffic and much more while you work or play on the computer.
The entertainment potential is endless with Screenlets. Internet radio, audio collections and favorite videos are always a glance away. Set up one or more picture frame Screenlets to display a collection of photos.
One of my favorite Screenlets keeps an open sticky note visible so I can instantly click the tiny yellow page and leave a reminder note. If I need multiple reminders, I can run numerous copies of the Screenlet.
Screenlets take up very little in the resources department. Plus, they blend into the desktop nicely. Screenlets are almost as numerous as iPhone apps. So whatever special interest you have, there is probably a Screenlet someplace for it. Just use your favorite search engine to scour the Internet.
As a starting point, look in your Linux distro's package manager. The beauty of using your distro's package manager to get and install Screenlets is that the process involved is hands-off. It is always easier to do these procedures automatically.
If your flavor of Linux does not include a ready-made Screenlet installation package, then roll up your sleeves. You still have a few easy options. Check out other package systems. You might see them listed in the Systems or Administration menu. Or you might have to find them in the package manager and download these other software repositories (software storage centers on the Internet).
Look for one of these: Synaptic Package Manager, Adept Manager, Debian Package Viewer, Smart Package Manager. These software managers will let you click on the software package you want -- presumably the Screenlets -- and automatically install them.
Another option to getting Screenlets installed on your system is to go to the home of the Screenlets Organization here. Once you have the Screenlets engine up and running, you can return for more Screenlets here.
A final place to look for screenlets is the Gnome Desktop Screenlets project at Gnome-look.org.
If your Linux distro's package manager does not include the Screenlets package, you might still find it on the developer's Web site. Some open source developers prepare packages for specific Linux distros. Read the files listed for download on the Web site. Often, you will see a Screenlet that matches your particular OS.
If you find the file matching your OS, download it. Your system's package manager will automatically install the software when you click on the file name.
If not, you will have to get the Screenlets package and install it the old-fashioned way. Manual package installation can be very daunting for Linux newbees. In this case, look for the compressed package that your system uses.
If all else fails, you will have to work with the compressed version. For any Linux OS system, download the .tar.gz. Any file that has ".tar" near the end of its name is a compressed file. This type of file is called a "tarball."
To uncompress the tarball and get it ready for installation on your Linux system, open a terminal window in the same directory as the downloaded file. Then enter this command exactly as it appears here:
tar -xzf filename.tar.gz
(Note: put the exact filename you downloaded in place of "filename" but do not use the quotation marks. And remember, with Linux, the case of the letters DOES matter!)
When the processing is finished, you will see this prompt: . Now enter this command:
python setup.py install
Screenlets are written in the Python programming language; this last command tells the OS how to complete the installation.
When the installation is completed, close the terminal window. If you do not see a menu entry for Screenlets, open another terminal window and enter this command to start the Screenlets engine:
For specific installation instructions for some of the most popular distros, see the directions here.
If your system runs the Compiz video enhancement feature, you will have extra-special eye candy. These additional options make using Screenlets even better. For instance, you can toggle Screenlets on and off. To do this, though, you need the latest widget plug-in for Compiz-Fusion installed.
For help with the settings, go to the Compiz forum here.
You can adjust the settings yourself. Go to the Compiz Settings Manager (System>Parameters>Advanced Desktop Effects Settings) in the General Options menu and uncheck "Hide all windows" and "Skip taskbar windows."
There is no end to the fun and functionality that go with using Screenlets. The eye candy factor alone adds to the flexibility of designing unique desktop views.
Think of Screenlets as the ultimate desktop display -- they're widgets gone wild!