Feb. 18, 2011, 7:37 p.m.
posted by bigfish
SUSE Linux is similar to Windows in many ways, but stops short of completely mirroring the experience. This is for various reasons, but perhaps the most prominent is that few people believe Microsoft developers got everything perfect with Windows. There are user-interface tricks they missed and tweaks that they didn't adopt.
SUSE includes many of what it thinks are improvements in the interface of SUSE Linux. For example, it offers multiple virtual desktops—long considered a very useful user-interface feature. And, by default, you need to click desktop icons only once to launch a particular program or user service.
SUSE Linux can match Windows in most regards, including its user interface. But you're not alone if you feel you've run into a few of its annoyances. These are usually related to how SUSE Linux doesn't work quite like Windows, something that can catch newcomers off guard. For example, if you're used to double-clicking desktop icons, you might end up starting the same program twice, as shown in Figure.
Figure. If you're used to double-clicking, SUSE's single-click program launching often means you start the same program twice.
The good news is that SUSE Linux lets you tweak the way it works so you can get things just right for your tastes. It's even possible to create a faithful reproduction of the way Windows works, if you wish. This might be a good idea if you find the culture shock of the way SUSE Linux works a bit too much. After all, you can always change things back later on.
You might choose to stick with the way SUSE Linux works by default. You'll almost certainly find that, after a few weeks, you'll get used to things so much that you'll wonder how you ever had initial worries. You might even find single-clicking an icon to launch a program much more useful than double-clicking, for example. Think about all the times when you double-clicked but not fast enough, and had nothing happen (or, worse, Windows interpreted your slow double-click as an attempt to rename the file or icon). With a single-click, you really can't go wrong!
Tweaking the user interface is done using the KDE Control Center, which you can access from the K menu. The Control Center is a little like the Control Panel within Windows—virtually every setting you could ever need is found there.
The appearance of SUSE Linux is designed to mimic that of Windows XP while introducing a measure of individuality. Appearance refers to the borders of the program windows, such as the scroll bars and the Close, Minimize, and Maximize buttons at the top right of each window. Figure shows an example of the default appearance of a SUSE Linux window. Together with other items you interact with on the screen, such as buttons and check boxes, these are grouped together under the heading of "themes."
Figure. The styling applied to aspects of a program window, such as scroll bars and title bars, is referred to as the "theme."
SUSE Linux lets you alter the theme and choose from a variety of alternatives, some of which are smaller and perhaps more refined than the default choice. In addition to changing themes, you can also alter the color scheme and tweak miscellaneous items such as the desktop wallpaper. The default fonts used throughout for elements like icons and menus can also be changed, much as they can in Windows.
All in all, you can radically personalize SUSE Linux to your tastes. To show how this is done, we'll work through re-creating the Windows 98/Me look and feel (the so-called "Classic" visual appearance, according to Windows XP's Display Manager applet). This should make any Windows convert feel right at home.
Open the Control Center from the K menu, and then click on the Appearance and Themes icon.
The first thing we'll do is change the way the windows look, so click the Windows Decorations icon (the last in the list on the left).
At the top of the screen is a drop-down list from which you can select a variety of themes. Take a look through them. You'll see a preview of each in the area below.
The theme we're interested in is Redmond, so select that. You'll see that it's a pretty passable imitation of Windows 98/Me, as shown in Figure. If you want to try it out immediately, click the Apply button at the bottom right. This will apply the theme to all the program windows you have open.
Click the Style icon on the left. At the top of the screen is another drop-down list of various themes. Here, your choices apply to visual items such as buttons, sliders, progress bars, and so on (called widgets).
Try clicking a few entries in the list. Once again, you'll see a preview of what it will look like in practice. The themes range from svelte and neat, all the way to fairly ugly. We're interested in one called MS Windows 9x, so click that.
Later on, you might want to take a look at the Effects tab on the Style configuration screen. Here, you can set various special effects, such as menus fading into view. Unfortunately, some of the features offered here work on a handful of the visual themes and not on the Windows-like theme we've selected (although it is possible to make the menus slide into view, as with Windows 98). Older PCs can be hit quite hard if you use special effects. If you find your PC slowing down or becoming slow and jerky after activating them, consider scaling them back or even turning them off.
Click the Splash Screen icon on the left. This lets you change the screen that appears when SUSE Linux's desktop boots up. A variety of designs are offered, but for the complete Windows look and feel, you can again select the Redmond option. This mimics the Windows XP Welcome screen that appears just after bootup.
Click the Colors icon on the left. This is where you can change the colors used throughout SUSE Linux, as shown in Figure. As you might expect by now, a variety of choices are available, including several that imitate the subtle color differences among various versions of Windows. You can choose Redmond 2000, Redmond 98, or Redmond XP. Redmond 2000 is most like that of an actual Windows machine, but the choice is up to you.
Click the Background tab. This is where you can choose to change the wallpaper. The default already looks a lot like Windows XP's Bliss wallpaper, but you might want to go with a plain color, just like Windows 95, 98, and Me. To do this, click No Picture, and in the Single Color drop-down list, click the color bar to choose a suitable Windows-inspired shade of teal. This will bring up a color spectrum that you might be familiar with from Windows. Just click and drag the mouse around within the color box until you find a shade you like.
At this point, you should have a pretty faithful Windows clone (don't forget to click the Apply button to put your changes into practice).
There's just one last screen area to tweak: the Panel (the toolbar at the bottom of the screen that contains the icon shortcuts and list of running programs). This still looks a little too flashy and not boring enough to be something you might see in Windows.
Right-click a blank spot (away from icons) of the Panel and select Configure Panel, as shown in Figure. This will open up the ConFigure Panel screen.
There are various functions here you can play with (you can reposition the Panel so it runs down the side of the screen, for example), but we want to change its appearance, so click the Appearance tab at the top of the window, as shown in Figure. At the bottom, remove the tick from the Enable Background Image option. Then click Apply. Presto—everything should look fairly dull and uninteresting, just like your favorite version of Windows!
The mouse is a little odd in SUSE Linux in that only one click is required for most activities. Some people have Windows set similarly and may want to stick with this way of working, but the rest of us quickly get fed up with starting two instances of the same program via an accidental double-click.
Many of the people I spoke to during my testing while writing this book also felt that the default mouse speed in SUSE Linux is too fast. The cursor seems to fly from one end of the screen to the other with even the lightest push, particularly with the popular Logitech range of mice.
Fortunately, both these settings can be altered quite easily. Once again, you access the settings through the Control Center (listed on the K menu beneath the majority of the program entries). Click the Peripherals icon, and then click the Mouse icon. You'll see the mouse settings shown in Figure.
YaST2 also has an entry for mouse configuration, but this is to alter the mouse's hardware driver, rather than tweak its day-to-day settings.
To double-click rather than single-click throughout SUSE Linux, select the relevant option under the Icons heading. If you find the small animation that follows a single/double-click annoying, remove the tick from the Visual Feedback on Activation option.
On the Cursor Theme tab, you can also select a different color cursor. The best choice for those who want a plainer format is Crystal White Non-animated. This will remove the perhaps annoying animated clock cursor that appears when the computer is busy.
On the Advanced tab, you can click and drag the slider to alter the mouse acceleration. There's a setting beneath this that you might not be familiar with: Pointer Threshold. This is the amount of pixels the cursor must move before acceleration kicks in (before it starts to move more quickly). Most people will find a larger value works best here, to allow for accurate clicking in confined areas. However, you should experiment to see which is best for you. All the other settings should be fine as they are, although if you have a physical disability that prevents you from double-clicking quickly (or you are just a little slow when clicking), you might find the Double Click Interval (also found on the Advanced tab) worth cranking up a few notches. In each case, you can click Apply to test your choices.
You will need to log out and then log back in again to see the changes to the mouse cursor themes.
You might also want to take a look at the Mouse Navigation tab. This includes an option that lets you turn the numeric keypad on the right side of your keyboard into a makeshift mouse— pressing 8 moves the pointer up, 2 moves it down, and 3 and 6 are left and right, respectively.
This introduction should have given you an idea of the kind of personalization available in SUSE Linux. By all means, stay with the Windows look and feel for the moment if you find it helps you or others who use your PC to get used to working with SUSE Linux. However, don't forget what's offered and, above all, don't be afraid to tweak!