Turn Debian into an appealing desktop

Debian is the mother of many popular distributions such as Ubuntu and Linux Mint. Debian has a cult following among its users. It is fast, smooth and free from the control of any company. If you are one of those users who want to run a ‘pure’ community driven OS, then Debian is the one. A caveat, Debian may require some extra work to make it work for you.

The default Debian looks like this (a) but you can transform it into (b). I came across a desktop on my Google+ circle and I was impressed by the look and feel. I was even more impressed to see it was Debian, so I invited Luis Medina to write an article for Muktware reader. Here is a detailed article, which also tells about how to install Debian and then how to transform into the ‘sexy’ Debian. We have divided the articles in various chapters so as to make it easier for you to use and install it.

Note: This guide is meant for advanced users who are comfortable with command line. Don’t try this if you have never played with fire before. If you have, you know sometimes you get burnt fingers. Now, if you are one of those dare deviles, continue to read on.

Install Debian KDE
Here we will focus on the base install of Debian. You need to download install image to able to install. You can either burn a CD of this image or create an install USB.

These are net install images which means you need active Internet connection during the installation process so that it can download files. (the following file is 64 edition, you can choose 32 bit edition from here)

Download Debian 64

If you don’t have a good internet connection, you can also download DVD image from here. Once you have the USB or CD ready, boot your system into Debian.

This a “Network install” which means that most of the packages will be install from the Internet, this is probably the best way to do it if you have a fast Internet connection, in case you want to download a “full DVD” the steps are the same, just it will ask you if on one of the steps if you want to install the packages from the Internet., after we burn the image to a disc and boot the PC, we will see this screen.

Since we are going to install KDE, select Advance Options and from Alternative desktops environments click on KDE, then choose the Graphical install or your preferred method of install (if you need help with installation, let us know and we will publish a guide.)

Debian Make Over Begins
Boot into your brand new Debian PC and log into your account. In order to install other packages, you will have to update the repository by editing the source list.

Open the Konsole and log in as root by running

su -

Enter password for ‘root’. Once root, run following command

nano /etc/apt/sources.list

In this file you have to change current entry which will look like this:

deb http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ testing main
deb-src http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ testing main

deb http://security.debian.org/ wheezy/updates main
deb-src http://security.debian.org/ wheezy/updates main

To this

deb http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ testing main contrib non-free
deb-src http://ftp.us.debian.org/debian/ testing main contrib non-free

deb http://security.debian.org/ wheezy/updates main contrib non-free
deb-src http://security.debian.org/ wheezy/updates main contrib non-free

Save your sources.list by Ctrl + o, Enter and quit trl + x. Update the repositories by running this command

aptitude update

Now, install following packages. These packages will allows us to customize our Debian.

aptitude install avant-window-navigator awn-settings awn-applets-common awn-applets-phyton-extras python-awn-extras conky-all lm-sensors hddtemp synapse zip unrar-nonfree

Creating Dock

In order to create space for Dock at bottom, we will have to move the panel to the top. You can also enable auto hide so that the panel doesn’t cover the windows. Its very easy to do so. Right click on the panel and click on ‘Panel Settings’ Then use th Edge option and drag the panel to the top. Next from more setting, select the ‘Center’ Panel Alignmnet option and autohide. You are done here.

Open synapse and click on the app, a launcher like the one on the image will appear, click on the little dot on the top right corner and select preferences.

Select “Startup on login” and/or “Show notification icon”, you can leave the shorcuts as it is, or change it as your needs, in my case I change it to Super + space.

Now we go to the Plugins tab, and make sure the “Command Search” is enabled. Click close.

Adding Dock Right

Now, open Avant Window Navigator and hit enter. A dock will appear at the bottom. Right click on any part of AWN (Avant window navigator) and click “Dock preferences”, under preferences go to ‘Themes’ and select ‘Clear looks dark’.  Click on ‘customize’ and make sure the values are like the next image, then click ‘Choose a theme’ and ‘Apply’.

Then go to the ‘Preferences’ and change as this

Now go to Applets and drag the apps you want to add to the ‘Active applets’ section, in this case we add a ‘Separator’, ‘Digital clock’, ‘Separator’ and ‘To-do list’.

Note: Make sure you add the Separator not the Expander, as they look the same.

Adding Dock Left
Now go back to Preferences and click add dock and move the position on the screen to the left, and add the follow “Preferences applet” “Separator” “Launcher/Task manager”

Adding Dock Center

Again go back to preferences and add another dock, but now the position on the screen move it to the center, and the apps you going to add there are: “Separator” “Places” “Trash” “Terminal applet”

Now our “Debian” should look something like this:

We need to add some themes/icons. Open System Settings and go to ‘Workspace appearance’ > ‘Desktop theme’. Click on Get new themes and search for a theme called ‘Helium’. Install Helium and select as the active theme.

Installing Icon Theme
Open a browser (Konqueror is the default) and download this file.

Extract it, you should get a .tar.gz file. Under the Worskpace Appearace settings, go to Icons option and click on ‘Install theme file’. Browser for the kawoken fild that you downloaded and extracted (.taz.gz), click ‘Ok’ to install and select ‘kAwOken’ as the active Icon theme. Close Workplace Appearance window and go back to the desktop. Right click on the desktop – ‘unlock widgets’ and move the ‘folder view’ to the bottom just above the ‘AWN’ dock at the left. Right click on the desktop and ‘lock widgets’.

Customizing Conky
Now launch synapse and type conky, a window like this should appear, that means we’re good to go and customize.

Again launch synapse and type ‘killall conky’, this will close conky. Go ahead and download this file.

Extract this file to your home directory and rename conky to .conky, this will make the folder to ‘dissapear’. Hit Alt + . (or select ‘Show hidden files’ from the file manager you are using. Now you will be able to see all hidden folders. Open a terminal (konsole) and type


This will take you to your home directory, now type

nano .kde/Autostart/startup.sh

This command will create a file to automaticaly launch conky at startup. And type this


sleep 9 &&

conky -c ~/.conky/conkyrc1 &

sleep 9 &&
conky -c ~/.conky/conkyrc0 &


Save the file and close. Now, we have to give the script permission to execute with the following command:

chmod +x .kde/Autostart/startup.sh

Conky allows you to show weather of the region you are in. In order to change the location for the weather go to this website http://weather.noaa.gov/ and find your city, then get the 4 letter code from there, for instance if we want to get the code from Big Sur California, we get the next code

FPUS66 KSTO 172210

So in this case we will use KSTO, now we do in the terminal this

nano  .conky/conkyrc0

We search for the following line:

${offset 200}${font Caviar Dreams:size=12}${color FFFFFF}${weather http://weather.noaa.gov/pub/data/observations/metar/stations/ MMVA temperature temperature 30} °C${font}

${offset 200}${font Caviar Dreams:size=10}VILLAHERMOSA${font}

Once you find this line, change MMVA with the code we just got, and change VILLAHERMOSA with the city we want.

To enable Gmail support, find this line:

${offset 140}${voffset -5}${font FreeSans:size=16}@Gmail${font}${execpi 300 python ~/.conky/scripts/gmail_parser.py usuario password 3}${offset 140}${voffset -5}

Make following changes in the above line: replace ‘usuario’ with your Gmail user and ‘password’ with your Gmail passowrd. Remember your password will be stored in plain text. Save the file and close.

Reboot your PC.

When your PC boots up, your Plain Jane Debian will look like this sexy Goddess!

Note: In order to get this effects you will need to have 3D support from your graphic card, for installation of Nvidia drivers you can Google for Nvidia privative driver on Debian and for ATI search for fglrx non-free.