Small, efficient devices such as the Acer Aspire One and Asus Eee PC are taking the battle for free software to a different front, bringing Linux to hordes of computer users who don't know or care about Linux. They just want something that works, and when they try it, they like it.

This isn't just empty rhetoric: our neighbours across the road at Vista Mansions frequently pop over to ask questions about their Linux-powered Aspire One and borrow a cup of sugar.

But the Aspire One's interface is aimed at newbies, and you're not a newbie: you're a Linux guru in the making, so let's see what we can fiddle with…

Changing the theme

The first thing we're going to change is the blue and red theme, which may be comforting for Windows refugees, but looks a wee bit garish to us. Acer has hidden the Aspire One's configuration options, so we'll have to use a few commands to get to them.

If you're used to Windows you'll probably be surprised by the extent to which you can change the way the system works, but that's part of what makes Linux so powerful: if there's anything you don't like, there will be a way to change it, so take a deep breath and press Alt+F2 to open the Run Program dialog. Type xfce-setting-show, then press Enter or click on the Run button and you'll get to the Xfce Settings Manager, where you can tell the Aspire One's Xfce window manager how to behave.

Click on the bottom-right icon to bring up the Window Manager panel. You'll notice a list of designs under the Style tab, some more attractive than others. Pick whichever arrangement takes your fancy, then go back to the Settings Manager, click on the bottom-middle icon (User Interface) and pick a theme and an icon set that's pleasing to your eye. Congratulations! Your netbook doesn't look like it's running Windows any more!

Easier access to software

The Aspire One's default menu system is ideal for letting people get access to the applications that the developers feel will be most commonly used, but there's a full Linux distro lurking under the surface just waiting to be explored. If you'd like easier access to the software, it's worth adding a standard Xfce right-click menu.

Again under the Settings Manager, choose the top-left icon (desktop preferences), click on the Behaviour tab and check the box marked Show Desktop Menu On Right Click. Now when you right-click on the desktop you'll get a traditional menu structure, which is much more familiar than the default setup and also means that you no longer have to enter text into a command prompt when you want to bring up the Xfce settings manager.

One side effect of this change is that it renders the big four-pane interface redundant. It's just taking up space, so let's get rid of it make the most of our nine-inch screen. To do this we'll need to make a change to one of Xfce's configuration files. To open this folder, right-click on the desktop and choose Terminal from the menu, then log in as root with the su command followed by your root password and enter
mousepad /etc/xdg/xfce4-session/xfce-session.rc

This command fires up the Mousepad text editor, then goes through the folders etc, xdg and xfce4-session, then opens the file xfce-session.rc. Scroll about halfway down until you find the line
Client0_command=xfdesktopnew

and change it so that it reads:
Client0_command=xfdesktop-xfce

Root around

You'll see a warning at the top of the window to the effect that while you're logged in as root you can really screw your system up if you're not careful, so this is not the time to be making typos.

When you've finished, save your changes, shut down the machine and restart, and you should find that those massive desktop buttons have been replaced with something a bit more grown-up. The desktop looks a lot better already, but you'll no doubt have noticed the huge search bar in the top-right of the screen.

You can search the files on your computer through any file manager window (just right-click and choose File Manager), and there's a little thing called Google that works well for searching the internet, so we don't need Acer's search bar cluttering up our screen permanently.

Again, there's no graphical tool to do this, so we have to go fiddling around in bowels of the operating system to change things. Open another terminal window, log in as root with su and enter the following:
mousepad usr/share/search-bar/start-search_bar.sh

This will open a text file that's 11 lines long. Unless you're a programmer it will look like gibberish, but you don't have to understand what's going on here – just put a # symbol in front of every line. This is sometimes called 'commenting out' the lines, and it means that, although you and I can read the code, the computer can't.

As this is the file that tells the computer to load the search bar, when it's commented out the search bar simply won't start up, and that's exactly what you'll find after you've saved your changes and restarted the machine.

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First published in Linux Format, Issue 116

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