All the time, I hear people claiming that the first thing they do with a stock Ubuntu build is turn off “useless” Compiz. Now, I don’t mind that they’re turning it off – it’s their computer. But if these people are truly claiming that Compiz is useless and adds nothing, then they’re extremely ignorant of its features.
A lot of early focus surrounding Compiz was on the now famous (infamous?) “Cube” plug-in. Media coverage then honed into the truly “useless” features, such as burning up closed windows, “raining” on the desktop and painting fire on the screen. Not only does this do an injustice to the various extremely useful Compiz plug-ins, but I don’t recall any such furore surrounding the Macs introduction of such desktop effects, such as the Genie minimise effect.
Some of these effects are incredibly useful to people with disabilities, such as snapping windows or zooming the desktop. There are too many to feature in one article without boring the audience, but here’s a few choice plug-ins that I use daily and truly enhance the Ubuntu desktop experience. I used RecordMyDesktop to upload simple example videos to Youtube.
The Zoom Plug-In
My eyesight isn’t perfect, but it’s not bad. And I still need to enlarge the text of certain websites, or very simply lean closer to the monitor. At least, I did until I discovered this incredible plug-in which must surely rank amongst the most useful accessibility aid that no one knows about!
You hold down your Super key (windows or mac key, usually) and then scroll-wheel up/down to zoom in/out. It’s smooth, intuitive and best of all, you retain complete control over the mouse and keyboard, allowing you to interfact fully with the zoomed in section of screen.
The Scale Plug-In
Obviously inspired by the Mac’s “Expose” function, the Scale add-in lets you hit a key combination to instantly view a scaled version of every open window. Then you just mouse-over the one you want and up it comes. As with all Compiz effects, it’s slick and it makes window management extremely intuitive. In fact, it’s replaced Alt-TAB as my usual method of window management. I do have one gripe with Scale – it won’t show minimised windows (unlike its KDE counterpart). At all. There’s no option to change this, so if you like to minimise your windows then I’m afraid Scale might not be for you.
The “Cube” Plug-In
Yes, it’s been overdone on Youtube and elsewhere, and yes, it’s slightly gimicky and even yes, it’s not strictly required, given that you can still swap workspaces very efficiently without all those flashy, spinny cubes. However, in terms of visualisation, nothing can beat the Cube. Drag a window to the edge of your screen and the cube rotates to the next workspace, gradually at first to prevent error, then finally snapping into place when you keep dragging. Again, it’s intuitive, and it’s visually stunning, which is probably why it got the most attention when Compiz first launched all those years ago (three?)
So the next time you consider disabling desktop effects in Ubuntu, spare a wee thought for my favourite plug-ins and consider giving them a chance to shine.