Getting around with the Avant Window Navigator

Apple Polishing

© Maria Bell, Fotolia

© Maria Bell, Fotolia

Article from Issue 98/2009

The Avant Window Navigator brings a Mac OS look and feel to your Linux desktop. With just a couple of steps, you can add a taste of Apple to your Linux user experience. We show you how to set up this breezy panel alternative.

Avant Window Navigator (or Awn for short) is more than just a panel. This handy app brings the look and feel of Mac OS X to a Linux desktop (Figure 1). Although Avant is happier with Gnome, it also runs on Xfce and KDE. This attractive desktop companion offers numerous effects, such as rotating or expanding icons; it also scales and optionally replaces the existing panel. The latest version is not just pretty, it also knows a couple of neat tricks – if you install the right extensions. The panel only works if your graphics adapter supports 3D acceleration and if you enable desktop effects.

Figure 1: The Avant Window Navigator provides an icon-based panel for a Mac-like desktop experience.

After completing the preparation, enable desktop effects on both systems. On Ubuntu, this means selecting System | Preferences | Appearance, then changing to the Visual Effects tab and selecting Normal to enable a more restrained variant of the effects.

On openSUSE 11, you can enable effects in the start menu by selecting Applications | Utilities | Desktop | Desktop Effects. Next, check Enable desktop effects and click Close (Figure 2), then pop up a console, become root, and add an Option "Composite" "on" entry to Section "Extensions" in the /etc/X11/xorg.conf file, or change the existing entry from "off" to "on". Now save the file and type init 3 to terminate the X server. Again working as root, type init 5 to relaunch the graphical desktop.

Figure 2: On Ubuntu and openSUSE, you need to enable desktop effects to use Awn.


If the desktop effects work, you are almost done. On Ubuntu, use Synaptic to install the avant-window-navigator and awn-manager packages. OpenSUSE users need to launch YaST and add the Packman repository as an installation source before installing the avant-window-navigator and awn-extras-applets packages. If you will be running Awn on KDE or Xfce, you are in for a surprise: The package manager will additionally install a whole bunch of Gnome dependencies – consider whether you have enough hard disk space for this before you press the button.

To launch Awn, press Alt+F2 on Ubuntu 8.04 and openSUSE 11 and type avant-window-navigator. Doing so should take you to the panels shown in Figure 3 (for Ubuntu 8.04). Ubuntu does not automatically launch Awn each time you launch the desktop. To change this behavior, select System | Preferences | Sessions in the Gnome start menu, and then press Add in the Start programs tab. In the dialog that follows, type the name of the program, avant-window-navigator, in the Command line.

Figure 3: Avant Window Navigator directly after launching on Ubuntu.

Managing Awn

Avant Window Navigator is made up of two components. In addition to the panel (also known as the Window Navigator), a tool called the Awn Manager helps you customize the panel to reflect your own needs. For instance, you can choose effects or fix the icon alignment.

When you first launch the Navigator, you will not see very much – maybe a couple of icons from active applications. Of course, you will need a full-fledged taskbar that lets you open your choice of programs. To do so, press Alt+F2 and type awn-manager to open the configuration dialog.

On the right, you will see a number of vertical tabs with the categories on the left. To start, go to the General category, change to Launchers and click Add (Figure 4). On openSUSE 11, first type a Name and a Description for the program. The last line is for the command that you would use to call the software at the command line, such as firefox.

Figure 4: To install new applications in the panel, first launch the Awn Manager and then choose Launchers.

A button on the left lets you select an icon for the starter: If possible, you should choose an SVG-formatted vector graphic. The advantage is that legacy icons are pixelated and out of focus when you scale the panel, whereas vector graphics scale to match their environment. OpenSUSE and Ubuntu include a number of SVG images in the /usr/share/icons directory (check out the Tango subdirectory on openSUSE), but you will not find a matching motif for every application. In this case, you can search for SVG files on the web, unpack your goodies in a local directory, and click on the Directory drop-down list in the image selection dialog – at least in openSUSE. On Ubuntu, press Browse to specify an alternative icon source.

The next step is to specify the panel's appearance. The first question is, "Do you want the bottom bar to be in view all the time or do you want to hide it while you are not working with it?" In the latter case, check Automatically hide taskbar. This tells the taskbar to disappear when you maximize a window. If you check the Keep below maximized windows when not in use option, the taskbar will hide behind maximized windows, unless you move the mouse down to the bottom of the screen.

Generally speaking, there is an issue in both cases: Awn juts into the full-screen window if you accidentally move the mouse too far down the screen. To prevent this, the Maximized windows do not overlap the taskbar option does about half of what it promises. The Ubuntu and openSUSE versions give you floating icons (Figure 5).

Figure 5: The version of Awn delivered by the two distributions in our lab had a bug: The icons "float" above the panel.

Either you should install a very recent version of Awn (see the "Applets and Themes" section) or you should do without this option. Check out the wiki [1] or the FAQ [2] or the project's FAQ for more tricks and options for configuring the panel.

Full Effect

The Awn Manager also manages the appearance of the bar. The Icon Effects drop-down conjures up various effects for icon presentation. If you select classic, your icons will jump up and down slowly. In contrast, 3D Spotlight Turn rotates the icons in the light of a virtual spotlight – this is almost too much of a good thing. The Label tab lets you choose a label that appears when you hover the mouse over an icon. Also, you can change the shadow color, font size, and so on.

The Taskbar design tab is more exciting: Set the Look to 3D look, and restart the Navigator to change the bar's appearance, color, and frame. Also, you can choose whether Awn displays a Cutting line between launchers and windows. If you like, you can also change the bar height and offset. This just leaves two final tabs: the Glass Engine tab lets you set the AWN menu colors and transparency, and the Pattern Engine tab lets you decorate the bar with a picture.

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