10 May 2012

Installing Compiz on Xubuntu 12.04

I have been a fan of Compiz for a couple of years and I usually install it on each of my distro-hopping adventures. Somehow, it just doesn't seem right any more for a window to simply vanish, rather than exploding, slithering off in pursuit of the cursor, or retreating to the perspective vanishing point. And of course I insist on the option of turning the desktop into a colorful ball that spins around on command. This addiction to eye candy I pursue even at the expense of loading down otherwise ultra-light desktops like LXDE or my current favorite, Xfce.

Installing Compiz is almost always a matter of pointing and clicking one's way through some routine operations, and the Ubuntucentric distros carry it in their Software Centers for easy access in a user-friendly mode. I tend to avoid those, because I am never sure just how much of the vast Compiz storehouse of visual tidbits is included in any particular one of the prepackaged offerings. I prefer to use Synaptic because I want all the bells and whistles I can get, but I am far too inexperienced to figure out on my own just what dependencies I would have to include to get them all. In fact, the more you use Compiz, the more you find out that even though Synaptic will take good care of the genuine dependencies, there are a lot of ought-to-haves and even can't-do-withouts if you want a really elegant final result.

I've found by experience on recent Lubuntus and Xfces (both 32- and 64-bit) that the particular selection of Synaptic downloads I show below will provide a Compiz installation that can do just about anything you can find in the CCSM (CompizConfig Settings Manager). I have always had a successful installation when I used these, but as usual, your mileage may vary. You will find that some of these are automatically marked as dependencies as soon as you mark the first, others you will have to select separately. My Old Reliable set of components is:
fusion-icon <- edit 14.05.2012 by DarkDuck
As distros evolve, Synaptic updates if more components become necessary. My practice is simply to accept whatever additional packages have been automatically marked. That is the way this list was built up, and I will allow it to grow as necessary. It is probable that more than a few of those I've included are not absolutely essential, but the combination has always worked so well for me that I never quibble over an extraneous entry or two.

Once those are all downloaded and installed, I usually pick a few effects to enable from CCSM even before I go to a terminal and type in the magic words to start a Compiz session: compiz --replace (in case you haven't done this before, that's meant to be a double hyphen, not a dash, in front of the replace). That way I can tell at once whether it is up and running by using the Compiz key binding for the effect. The Xfce desktop has a rich set of keyboard shortcuts of its own, and many of them are the same as Compiz key bindings. Still, they never interfere with one another, since once Compiz is running, it takes over the desktop management role.

Compiz has such a prodigious array of optional effects, and even variations within the effects, that it would be useless for me to suggest any specific ones. In fact I don't think I have ever set up two distros with identical effect combinations – the fun is in mixing and matching. It does take some practice to become familiar with some of the fine-tuning processes, but it usually turns out to be worth it.

In my brief (3 days so far) experience with my latest installation, I have the impression that Compiz integrates more smoothly with Xubuntu 12.04 than it did with 11.10, and even that was a nearly flawless experience. So unless exploding windows and spinning sperical desktops just aren't your cup of tea, I recommend you give it a try – you might enjoy it!

Edit 14.05.2012 by DarkDuck: In order to get Compiz automatically start in Xubuntu 12.04, you need to add an item fusion-icon into Xubuntu's Startup Applications in Configuration manager.

This is a guest post by Emery Fletcher


  1. Hi, isn't the whole idea of running Xubuntu to have a lightweight Linux installed?
    Then isn't adding Compiz to it just load it with more weight that originally desired?

    Just thinking aloud.

    1. It depends on the reasons why Xubuntu is used. Light resource usage may be not the only one of them.
      Just as another example: fallback solution for GNOME2 fans who can't accept GNOME3.

  2. I'd love to see Compiz become usable with Openbox. :)

    1. I have not checked myself, but it seems possible.

    2. It's not (and your link confirms that) openbox and compiz are both window managers, and therefore can't run simultaneously. If you want some effects in openbox i'd suggest cairo-compmgr

  3. All instaled!!, but dont work :(
    The ATI driver has been instaled too, and still working.

    This option "reload windows manager" flicks the screen and not working

    More packages to install???

    Running Xubuntu 12.04 in HP DM1-3250BR - ATI HD6310

  4. !!! The real trouble is : dont show windows borders

  5. Fernando, the same problem. No borders at all, can't drag windows etc. Help, pls!

    1. My Compiz is running well. That's why I can't be of much help, unfortunately.
      Have you tried to ask on forums?

    2. i think window-decoration must be set to enable the borders

  6. You need a window decorator...gtk-window-decorator doesn't go well with compiz on ubuntu...Tried running emerald too but failed.. Migrate to arch linux : compiz+emerald runs perfect.

    1. Migrating to other distribution is not an answer to the bug. :-)
      Especially because a jump from Xubuntu to Arch requires quite a lot of Linux knowledge, which is not necessary the fact for many Xubuntu users. :-(

  7. This works well, last bit of help for the noobs, right click fusion icon, select gtk window decorator, then fusion icon->settings manager->effects and select window decorator. under window management of settings manager->tick move window, shift switcher (window logo and tab), resize window, then it works. the rest of the tweaks such as refresh 200, unredirect fullscreen (fliker free video and gaming) I will leave this up to you guys to find.

  8. True that Compiz works better with Xubuntu. Could you tell me, whether it is possible to uninstall xfwm4, as it is not needed when Compiz is there?

  9. I've installed everything, gone thru step by step but not even wobbly windows wants to work :( Even when I do compiz --replace and the compiz wm loads up successfully. There must be something I'm missing...

    1. Is there anything worrying in dmesg?

      I would recommend ask at the forums, where more people can read and probably help you. When you ask, a link to this guide would help them to understand what you've already done.