Monday, 13 June 2016

Raspberry Pi: adding extra desktops

As a Lubuntu/LXDE user, I hate many of the changes made to the Raspberry Pi desktop over recent years.


But I have to keep reminding myself that this little single board computer is not targeted towards me.


So this is a memo to me on how to add virtual desktops to a Pi, now that they have removed the Openbox Configuration Manager.

When the Pi first arrived in the world, the LXDE desktop layout was pretty familiar to me. The panel was at the bottom of the screen, and the menu groups and individual items where very similar to Lubuntu.

But as the product matured and the Foundation grew, someone was hired to re-work the desktop, and hide or remove things they felt unnecessary (or didn't understand).

The beauty of virtual desktops


One example is the ability to set the number of virtual desktops, a concept totally alien to many Windows users, but generally much loved by Linux people.

By running with a number of desktops (I generally use 4) you are able to click between desktops which are already laid out with an open application. This avoids much of the maximise/minimise operations that are needed if you just have a single desktop.

For me, it speeds up switching between applications. I also often have 2 or more documents open that use the same application. So desktops 1, 2 & 3 may all have open spreadsheets. I may often have multiple instances of file manager open (sometimes a mix of regular user and root instances).

I should hold my hand up and confess that I often have a lot of open applications. And that when I still had a day-job, I always had 2 physical screens connected to my work-station computer. This was something colleagues used to find amusing, until they eventually tried it for themselves, and became converts.

Adding desktops


So on the most recent Raspbian image, there are probably 2 or 3 ways to add extra desktops;

The hard way: you could open /home/pi/.conf/openbox/lxde-pi-rc.xml in a text editor and search for: <desktops>
It is then just a case of changing the <number> tag from 1 to whatever.
But you don't really want to do this.

Install the Open Box Configuration manager: this should give you an extra Preferences menu entry and you can then add desktops from there.

The preferred option:-
  1. Right click on the panel and select: Add/Remove Panel Items
  2. Select: Add
  3. Add the Desktop Pager
  4. Move the Pager up the list to suit your needs
  5. Go be Menu > Preferences > Main Menu Editor
  6. Select Preferences from the left-hand pane, then enable Desktop Preferences
  7. Close Menu editor and now select: Menu > Preferences > Desktop Preferences> Advanced
  8. Enable "Show menus provided by window manager when desktop is clicked"
  9. Right-click on the desktop > Desktops > Add new desktop

Once you have enough desktops, you can de-select "Show menus provided by..." if you prefer the default pop-up menu.

Top panel with 4 desktops to choose from

You can open your application in any desktop. You can also move an open application by clicking on the window header icon and selecting: Send to Desktop

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