If you are feeling fairly adventurous or just simply want a change to get a simple but fast booting desktop you might want to consider installing a minimal desktop environment – that is, install the basic packages & software that YOU want rather what a distribution such as ubuntu/xubuntu/lubuntu/ubuntu gnome would present to you.
Its not particularly difficult – you just need to be fairly comfortable with a small bit of terminal work. Its actually great fun – you learn lots by tweaking stuff – installing your own themes and wallpapers etc.
Before you begin you need to have a plan – just a basic plan. Ask yourself the following:
- What desktop environment do you want – xfce / lxde/ unity/ gnome-shell ?
- Where are you in the world – i.e. what locale are you – you need to understand what two letter or four letter code applies to you
- You want graphics – what graphics card do you have and what drivers if any do you need?
- You want sound – what sound driver and configuration do you need?
- What web-browser do you want to use?
- What is your favourite file-manager?
- What extra software do you need to use?
Look at your current desktop – try to answer the above. You need to figure out what key debian package names for each of the above.
Quick Tip: – if you don’t know the package name, you can search through the descriptions quickly via the following:
apt-cache search greybird
This example reveals that the greybird theme that comes with xubuntu is installed via the package shimmer-themes
My recommendation is to use something like Virtualbox to play-around with minimal installs – you can easily snapshot various check-points and use the rollbacks to back out of stuff.
Lets be up-front, this article is inspired by this article but with a focus on ‘buntu.
First download the minimal ISO. This is a tiny basic installer containing very little itself. Everything is downloaded from the internet. So make sure you are using a wired connection – no wireless at this stage.
Write this to a CD using your favourite burning software such as brasero. Alternatively use unetbootin to write it to a USB stick – or if using Virtualbox, attach the ISO to a new virtual machine.
On boot you will receive a screen like this:
Press Enter and just answer each of the questions posed.
When you get to this screen you have a choice of choosing one of the standard desktop environments or just continuing to a basic text only interface. Lets choose the latter:
Let the wizard complete and install the remaining basic packages.
Reboot – remove the CD/USB/virtual CD drive and login using your username and password you defined during the text wizard stage above.
Next – make sure the repositories are up-to-date:
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade
Lets ensure we configure our system to not install suggested packages or recommended packages:
sudo nano apt.conf
Type in the following:
Save and quit nano – CTRL+O, CTRL+X
Quick Tip: when typing package names, type the first few characters and press TAB. This will either autocomplete the package name or display the matching package names allowing you to narrow down the correct full package-name.
Lets now install the basic graphics stack:
sudo apt-get install xserver-xorg xserver-xorg-core xfonts-base xinit x11-xserver-utils
Now lets install our chosen window manager and desktop environment + basic packages such as a terminal to type in. Here I’ve chosen XFCE – the window manager is xfwm4 and you must install a session i.e. xfce4-session:
sudo apt-get install xfwm4 xfce4-panel xfce4-settings xfce4-session xfce4-terminal xfdesktop4 xfce4-taskmanager tango-icon-theme
Finally lets install a basic graphical login manager – lets stick with lightdm but you could use something heavyweight such as GDM or MDM:
sudo apt-get install lightdm lightdm-gtk-greeter
Reboot and login graphically:
sudo reboot --
That is the basics. Everything else that follows is your customisation requirements.
Ok, I want to stick with thunar – you could use nautilus etc.
sudo apt-get install thunar
I want some nice automatic recognition of inserted USB sticks and disks by thunar
sudo apt-get install gvfs gvfs-backends policykit-1 udisks2
I also want sound – I like pulseaudio:
sudo apt-get install gstreamer0.10-plugins-base gstreamer0.10-plugins-good gstreamer0.10-plugins-bad pulseaudio gstreamer0.10-pulseaudio pavucontrol
Reboot for the sound packages to take effect.
Launch the pulseaudo volume control and check that the sound is configured correctly – check if the sound is muted. Obviously unmute if necessary
Next install your chosen browser – in this case firefox. Remember to install the associated locale – mine is english
sudo apt-get install firefox
sudo apt-get install firefox-locale-en
Smarten stuff up – choose your theme, add a compositor, opacity settings etc.
I want to browse YouTube – so I need Flash:
sudo apt-get install flashplugin-installer
For Virtualbox you should also install dkms before installing the guest-additions:
sudo apt-get install dkms
Remember to add the permissions for your user:
sudo usermod -a -G vboxsf <username>
Finally my media player is rhythmbox:
sudo apt-get install rhythmbox rhythmbox-plugins