Talking tech since 2003

One of the biggest features attributed to Apple’s Mac OS X operating system is the ease of which users are able to organize their icons – for applications that are running and idle – in a single dock that is minimalistic and organized in appearance.  While many people know the dock as a major component of the OS X operating system, a similar dock is easily achievable in the Linux operating system.

In this guide, I will be covering the process of installing the Avant Window Manager on the wildly popular Ubuntu Linux distribution, and more importantly, removing the standard Gnome panels so that you can use AWN exclusively.  Just as a side note, this is only a mild cosmetic change to the operating system, and can be easily reversed.  Moreover, while I am using Ubuntu for this guide, the same process can just as easily be carried out with other Linux distributions.

Installing AWN is a relatively easy process, and can be done in one of two ways.  Your first option is to select the “Ubuntu Software Center” from the “Applications” menu.  From there, simply type “awn” in the search bar, and you should be presented with the “Awn Settings” package.  Simply click the “Install” button and enter your password, and you’ll be ready to go.

Alternatively, you can fire up your terminal (“Applications” -> “Accessories” -> “Terminal”) and type in the following command:

sudo apt-get install awn-settings

This will download the same package to your computer, and like with the Software Center, you simply need to enter your password and you’ll be good to go.

Once you have the Avant Window Navigator installed, it will be available for you from your the “Accessories” category of your Ubuntu applications menu.  Upon launching AWN, you will be presented with a dock at the bottom of your screen.  From there, it’s simply a matter of right-clicking on it and selecting the “Dock Preferences” option.  From here, you can configure various aspects of your dock, including the size, location, theme, and content of the dock.

If you plan on disabling the standard Gnome panels (the bars located in the utmost upper and bottom regions of the screen), you will definately want to check the “Start Awn Automatically” box in order to ensure that AWN starts up when you log in.  If you neglect to do this and you disable the Gnome panels, you will log in only to find an empty desktop.

The applets component of the settings window will allow you to choose exactly what is displayed on your dock.  If you intend to disable the Gnome panes, I suggest a layout consisting with at least the following components:

  • Cairo Menu
    This menu is similar to what you see in the upper-left region of a default Ubuntu install, and allows you quick access to your application categories, places, and preferences/settings.  You can think of this like the “Start” menu in Windows.
  • Launcher/Taskmanager
    This is truly the heart of the “dock” in the sense that it is where your shortcuts and open programs will reside, much like the dock in Mac OS X or Windows 7.  I would recommended “pinning” frequently-used applications to the dock.
  • Trash, Volume Manager, Clock, Shutdown Menu, and Notification Area
    While these are all self-explanatory items, the fact of the matter is that they are components of the default Gnome panels that you will loose if you choose to use AWN exclusively.

Last but not least, you will more than likely want to abandon the traditional Gnome panels once you have ensured that AWN is meeting all of your expectations.  Doing this is a relatively easy process, and only takes a matter of seconds.

First off, you will want to run the “gconf-editor” program by running it through the terminal.  From there, a friendly configuration manager will appear on your screen.  To disable the Gnome panels, you need to drop down the “desktop” category, and then the “gnome” category.  From there, you will find a category entitled “session.”  When you select this, you will see a few values on the right-hand side of the window.  Simply double click the “required_components_list” value, and remove the “panel” option from the list.  Once you log out and back into your desktop, you will find that the Gnome panels are no longer there, and you will be able to use your dock in a very minimalistic environment.  Again, I cannot stress enough that you need to make sure that AWN is configured to start automatically before you disable the traditional Gnome panels.

AWN is a very minimalistic and clean dock, and can save a great deal of your screen real-estate.  I have personally found that a standard Ubuntu install with AWN is significantly more productive than the Ubuntu “Netbook Remix.”  Moreover, power-users can easily take advantage of AWN to give them quick (yet out of the way) access to all of their important files and applications.

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