Thursday, 3 March 2011

fAWNing over Avant Window Navigator

Perhaps the most notable feature of Linux is its versatility. Distros such as Ubuntu are endlessly configurable and there seems to be an inexhaustible supply of creative people developing applications to customize the user environment.

Of course, tweaking your system with the latest eye-candy is a less risky proposition if you can do your experimenting (and make your mistakes!) on a spare machine first. Doubtless, my recent acquisition has inspired me to explore Ubuntu's potential in greater depth and I can do so without making speculative and potentially disastrous changes to the stable configuration on my desktop.

Recently I added Compiz to both my Ubuntu machines. Whilst the graphics and visual effects are superb, I really wanted to differentiate multiple workspaces in order to improve their utility (in plain language, I was looking for a way to have a different wallpaper on each workspace!). Compiz handles this effortlessly and I was (reasonably) pleased with the results. However, the problem with different wallpapers is that you often need to adjust the window decorations like the dreary Gnome Panels to suit the theme and these panels just don't lend themselves to the task. So, obviously the best thing to do is to get rid of the panels all together and replace them with a dockbar.

Avant Window Navigator

Although I tried a couple of dockbars (including docky and Simbar), I finally settled on Avant Window Navigator (AWN). This application is available from the Ubuntu Software Centre (in both Karmic and Lucid), so there's no requirement to compile the source code. Moreover, it is an intuitive application, that provides for a wide range of customizations.

To install AWN, you'll need to have a compositing manager installed and running (there are several available, including the one that I recommend, Compiz). Also, there are some technical specifications to meet, particularly if you're running an older pc with ageing graphics support (Karmic Desktop Effects, Lucid Desktop Effects).

If your system meets the installation criteria, the easiest way to install AWN is from the Ubuntu Software Centre (type “Avant” in the search box and select Avant Window Manager). I also recommend installing the following packages if they are not installed by default:
  • Awn Settings
  • python-awn-extras
  • awn-applets-c-extras
  • awn-applets-python-extras
Once you have installed AWN and configured your launchers (for instance, make sure that AWN is displaying a log-out applet or another method of shutting down the system (a terminal applet perhaps): more of that in another post) and applets, it's time to say goodbye to those dreary Gnome Panels.

If you have more than one panel running on your system, you can right-click all but one and select the delete pane option. You'll get the usual dire warning about your settings disappearing, but just click OK. To get rid of the last panel, open the Gnome Config Editor either via the Applications > System Tools menu or open a terminal and type:


Navigate to desktop > gnome > session > required_components and delete the value in the panel option. Close the gconf-editor and you are good to go.

I'm currently running everything on AWN that I was on my two Gnome Panels including my bespoke FinchSync launcher.

On first sight, AWN appears a little MAC-centric for my tastes, but configuring it is easy and it is rapidly becoming indispensable – particularly the slick switcher application.

Now, that's really nice!

Sources & References:
Avant Window Navigator Wiki – Home Page
AWN Project Installation Guide
AWN Project Ubuntu Specific Installation Guide

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