Monday, 14 March 2011

Splash and Plymouth in 10.04

I've finally decided that I've had enough of Lucid Lynx's splash screen at boot. To be fair, it is certainly an improvement on Karmic's dingy brown spotlight, but it's not terribly dramatic!

However, ever since the Hardy Heron release, changing the boot sequence has become increasingly difficult and I wonder whether new users will start to be put-off by the level of expertise required to make technical system changes to their eye candy. Fortunately, there are several excellent guides that provide instructions for changing Plymouth and the boot splash screen.

First of all, what is Plymouth? The official definition is:
"Plymouth is an application that runs very early in the boot process (even before the root filesystem is mounted!) that provides a graphical boot animation while the boot process happens in the background"
In other words, Plymouth replaces the xsplash package in Karmic (called usplash in earlier incarnations of Ubuntu) and provides the so-called throbber that appears when you hit the power button.

You can view Plymouth during an X-session. First, ensure that you have the plymouth-x11 package installed. You can install it from Synaptic:

or from a terminal:
sudo apt-get install plymouth-x11
Once installed, start plymouth-x11 from a terminal:
sudo plymouthd
Then invoke the plymouth splash:
sudo plymouth --show-splash
When you've seen the same sequence that you see every time you boot your system, quit Plymouth with:
sudo plymouth quit
The default setting for Plymouth is low-res (16-bit) and there seems to be good reasons for this setting: nonetheless, there are guides on the Internet that suggest that you can configure a high-res experience: the question for me is, why would you want to? I'm not sure it's displayed long enough to worry about!

However, it is a relatively straightforward operation to change the Plymouth theme using existing packages in the Synaptic Package Manager. Find the theme that you want and mark it for installation - then hit the Apply button. Once installed, from a terminal, type:
sudo update-alternatives --config default.plymouth
At the cursor, enter the number of your selection and hit the enter key. Next, update Plymouth with:
sudo update-initramfs -u
and next time you boot your system (or run plymouthd) you'll see your new throbber.

Changing the boot splash screen is also reasonably straightforward. First, identify the background image that you want to use for the boot sequence and copy it to the /usr/share/backgrounds directory. You'll need to be root to add images to the backgrounds folder:
sudo cp /location_of_image/name_of_image /usr/share/backgrounds/name_of_image
Change the location and names to suit!

Next, you'll need to invoke the Gnome Desktop Manager during the boot sequence. In a terminal:
sudo cp /usr/share/applications/gnome-appearance-properties.desktop /usr/share/gdm/autostart/LoginWindow
Now, when you restart your machine, the Appearances Preferences Manager will appear. You can make your changes and click the close button. Now login as normal.

To disable the Appearances Preferences dialog on startup, open a terminal and type:
sudo unlink /usr/share/gdm/autostart/LoginWindow/gnome-appearance-properties.desktop
Now you'll have a more exciting boot splash than the packaged warty-final-ubuntu.png!

In a future post, I'll look at adding button icons and a banner message to the login dialog.

Sources & References:
idyllictux (blog): High resolution Plymouth & Virtual Terminal for ATI/NVIDIA cards with proprietary/restricted driver
Scott James Remnant (blog): All about Kernel Mode Setting (or why your $500 nVidia card only displays in 16-colors)
Ubuntugeek (blog): How do you change login and plymouth image in ubuntu 10.04 (Lucid Lynx)

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