In this guide you will be shown how to customise the default Raspberry PI desktop environment.
You will be shown how to change the background image, how to amend the task bar position and elements that appear on the task bar, how to add a new panel and how to add launchers to the panel.
Essentially your desktop will change from this:
To something like this:
The easiest way to get started to is to focus on desktop preferences. Right click anywhere on the desktop and choose the “Desktop Preferences” menu option. Alternatively you can also click on the menu icon, navigate to the “preferences” sub menu and choose “Appearance Settings”.
The appearance settings screen lets you customise a number of elements of the desktop environment including the background wallpaper, the icons that appear on the desktop, the positioning of the default task bar and the icon sizes, text font sizes and mouse cursor size.
All of these options are separated across four tabs:
The first thing you will probably want to change is the desktop wallpaper. To do this click on the folder icon next to picture.
There are a number of default images available and they have “.jpg” extensions.
Click on one of the images and select “open” to make it your default wallpaper and to complete the amendment click “ok” on the “appearance settings” screen.
If you want to choose your own image save the image to the “Pictures” folder and change the path in desktop preferences to point to that folder instead.
As an example open a web browser and go to Google Images (images.google.com).
Search for “cool desktop wallpaper”.
Click on an image you would like to use
Right click on the image and choose “Save image as”:
Click on the “Pictures” folder and if this is your first new wallpaper image click on the create folder icon in the top right corner.
Enter a meaningful name for the folder such as “Wallpapers” or “Backgrounds” and click “Create”.
Give the file a meaningful name but make sure you leave the extension alone (ie .jpg, .png).
To make the downloaded image the background open desktop preferences and click the folder icon, click “PI” and navigate to the “pictures” folder and down to the “wallpapers” folder you just created and click on the image you wish to use. Click “Open” and click “OK”.
Your wallpaper should now be the image you have chosen.
If your image is too small or doesn’t look right then either download an image with a higher resolution or choose one of the layout options within the desktop preferences screen.
The layout options are as follows:
- Fill screen with image
- No Image
- Centre Image on screen
- Fit image onto screen
- Stretch to cover screen
- Tile image (repeat it)
If you choose to have no image at all you can have a simple background colour. To choose a background colour set the layout to “No image”, then click on the coloured box next to the word “Colour” on the desktop preferences screen.
Now choose the colour from the palette and click “OK”. You can also amend the text colour for the icons that appear on the desktop by clicking the coloured box next to the words “Text Colour” and choosing the appropriate colour from the palette.
The last part of customisation for the desktop is to determine which icons appear. By default the wastebasket appears but you can also choose to have an icon for the documents folder and for any external drives/disks that are available to the Raspberry PI. Simply place a check in the box for the icons you want to have and remove the check from the box of the icons you do not wish to see.
By default the Raspberry PI OS has one panel installed and it is called a taskbar.
On the desktop preferences screen there is a tab called “Taskbar” and from this tab you will see options for amending the size, position, background colour and font of the bar.
Later on you will be shown more ways to customise this panel and additional panels but for now if you simply want to move the taskbar to the bottom of the screen click on “Bottom” in the taskbar settings.
If you are used to using Windows computers then doing this will make the experience more familiar to you.
You can change the size of the icons on the bar and therefore the size of the bar by choosing the appropriate option from the “Size” dropdown.
You can change the colour of the taskbar by clicking on the coloured rectangle and choosing the appropriate colour from the palette. The text on the taskbar can be changed in a similar way by clicking on the coloured rectangle next to “Text”.
The system tab lets you change the font size and name and it lets you choose the colour for the title bars in applications and the colour of the text in the title bars. You can also change the cursor size.
The defaults tab lets you reset the desktop preferences to a set of defaults based on the screen size you are using.
Adding New Panels
By default there is one panel and it is called the taskbar but on some systems such as Apple computers there is a task bar and a docking bar.
You can add multiple panels to the Raspberry PI desktop.
To add a new panel right click on the task bar and choose “Create New Panel”.
The “Panel Preferences” window will be displayed and there are four tabs available:
- Panel Applets
The geometry tab deals with the positioning, alignment and size of the panel.
You can place a panel on each of the 4 sides of the screen and if you have multiple monitors you can choose which monitor the panel appears on.
To place the panel on the bottom of monitor 1 for instance change the “Edge” setting to “Bottom” and make sure the monitor dropdown is set to 1.
If you want the panel to appear on all the monitors in the same place change the monitor dropdown to “All”.
The alignment option determines whether the panel aligns to the left, centre or right of the screen.
You can determine how big the panel is and this is useful if you are creating a docking panel as you only want it to be as big as the items in the dock.
To get a docking effect set the width to something like 30% and change the alignment to “Center”. The height and icon size determine the height of the panel and the icons within the panel.
The appearance tab lets you choose the background colour of the panel and the font size of the text on the panel. To get a see through effect change the option to “Solid Colour” and click on the coloured box.
Choose an appropriate colour from the palette and slide the “Opacity slider” until the bar disappears enough from the screen but still shows some colour.
The “Panel Applets” tab is where you add the items that are going to appear on the panel.
To add an item click on “Add”
There are a lot of different items that can be added to a panel such as weather information, clocks, power bars etc but for a docking bar the type of item you will need to use is the “Application Launch Bar”.
Click on the item you wish to add to the panel and click “Add”.
Certain items when added to a panel enable the “Preferences” button on the “Panel Applets” tab. In the case of an application launcher this will show the screen above.
From this screen you can navigate through the installed applications and add them to the application launcher. For a normal docking bar you will want to only add one installed application.
To get a row of icons you would add multiple application launchers and link a single application to each one. If you add multiple applications to an application launcher it becomes a menu of icons in the docking bar.
The advanced tab lets you set the default file manager and terminal, lets you choose whether the panel is treated as a dock, lets you choose whether the panel is covered by other applications and lets you determine whether to hide the panel when it isn’t in use.
To change the file manager click on the dropdown next to file manager and choose customise. Navigate through the menu to find another file manager that you may have installed.
To change the terminal emulator enter the command for running the emulator.
If you want the panel to be treated like a dock then leave the box ticked and similarly if you don’t want applications to cover the dock then keep the “reserve space, and not covered by maximised windows” option ticked.
If you want the dock to hide from view when not in use then place a tick in the box “Minimise panel when not in use”. You can determine how much space is taken on the screen by the minimised panel by entering a value into the size when minimised option.
To open the taskbar settings right click on the taskbar panel and choose “Task Bar (Window List) Settings”,
The options available are as follows:
- Show tooltips
- Icons only
- Flat buttons
- Show windows from all desktops
- Only show windows on the same monitor as the task bar
- Use mouse wheel
- Flash when there is a window requiring attention
- Combine multiple application windows into a single button
- Disable enlargement for small task icons
- Show task icons smaller than rest of panel icons
- Maximum width of task button
Let’s deal with these options one at a time.
All of these options are turned on and off by placing a tick against them apart from the maximum width and spacing option.
The show tooltips function when enabled displays a description when you move the mouse cursor over an icon.
Icons only hides the text for open windows, leaving just the icon for the application displayed.
Flat icons displays all icons in 2 dimensions no matter how they would normally appear.
In Linux there is the concept of virtual workspaces. If the “show windows from all desktops” is checked then every open application across all the workspaces will be displayed in the task bar, if unchecked only the applications open in the current workspace will be displayed.
Similarly if you are using multiple monitors then the “only show windows on the same monitor as the task bar” when checked will only show applications in the task bar displayed on that monitor.
If the mouse wheel option is checked then the mouse wheel can be used to navigate the task bar icons.
The “Flash when a window requires attention” option will cause the icon on the task bar to flash if the application requires input.
If you have multiple versions of the same application open then the “Combine multiple applications into a single button” option will show a single task bar icon for that application and when clicked you can navigate a mini menu to pick the one you need.
The “show task icons smaller than the rest of panel icons” shows the icons for open applications slightly smaller than launcher icons.
The maximum width of a task button limits the size of a task bar item to the set size so if you had an application with a really long name it would truncate the task bar item.
The spacing determines the gap between each item.
With all of the information in this guide you should be able to get some nice looking interfaces as shown below:
The next step if there aren’t enough options here is to install a different desktop environment such as XFCE or MATE. You might also want to consider adding other desktop options such as Conky.
Guides for these will be coming out shortly.