How to customise the Acer Aspire One GUI
Get the look you want
We like the Acer Aspire One netbook's out-of-the-box UI. It's like Mac OS X's Dock writ large: a way of giving you easy access to key apps, but right in front of you, not tucked down at the bottom of the screen. However, you really should be presented with the apps you want, not what Acer believes you should have.
Customising the AA1 UI isn't the doddle it might be under Windows or Mac OS X - there are no GUI tools, for a start. But as confirmed under-the-hood tinkerers, we couldn't leave it at that. We think Register Hardware readers with a penchant for mucking about with operating systems will feel the same. And it's not hard to do.
Go from the default AA1 GUI to...
Now, because we use our netbook as an application appliance - we don't store any significant amounts of data on it - we're happy with the built-in UI. If you're not, this hands-on isn't for you. And it's not about replacing the standard UI with a full PC-style desktop.
We'll split the customisation process into four steps: changing the desktop picture, getting rid of the search box, changing the icons and altering the panels under the icons.
The first is easy. Hit Alt-F2 to open the AA1's Run Program... panel and type in
xfce-setting-show, click on the Desktop option in the Xfce Settings Manager window that appears. At the bottom of the Desktop Preferences panel you'll see an Image section in which you can enter the path of the image you want to use on your desktop, or browse for one.
Have a look in
/usr/share/pixmaps/backgrounds/ for a series of images - including the one we've used here - and it's worth nosing around
/usr/share/backgrounds/ too. Or download your own 1024 x 600 pictures.
...one of your own
If you do, run Terminal - hit Alt-F2 and type
terminal - and, assuming you've downloaded the file to your main Downloads folder type:
sudo cp /home/user/Downloads/filename.png /usr/share/pixmaps/filename.png
filename.png to the name of the file you've downloaded. This puts the new image in a handy place and makes sure it has the correct ownership to display correctly.
Now you've got your preferred background, you'll notice the AA1's search panel no longer looks correct. The easiest thing to do is remove it. Go back to the terminal window and type:
sudo mousepad /usr/share/search-bar/start-search_bar.sh
You'll get an 11-line bit of code that tells the AA1 where to place the search bar depending on the screen resolution. Just add a
# to the start of every line, and when the script is activated at start-up, the bar won't be placed.
Editing start-search_bar.sh in nano
Alternatively, you may want to experiment with those
--y= values after the
acer-search-desktop command to put the search bar in a different part of the screen.
The files the AA1 desktop control app uses are hidden from the File Manager, so they have to be initially accessed through the terminal. In fact, since they need to be owned by the system's über-use, root, it's best to use terminal and its
sudo command - which makes your commands appear is if they were entered by root - throughout.
The key configuration file is group-app.xml, and it's stored in the
/home/user/.config/xfce4/desktop/ folder. So, in terminal, type:
sudo mousepad group-app.xml
The main screen panel 'groups' in group-app.xml
Acer's programmers didn't leave
group-app.xml as tidy as they might, so we recommend separating out the various sections with blank lines to make them easier to find and focus on in future.
The important bits are in the various
<group>...</group> tags. The first four deal with the four panels you see on the main desktop. The next four list what icons each of these contain.
Look at the first entry, for the Connect panel. The
tag_background= points to the title bar graphic while the
<background_picture>...</background_picture> holds the panel graphic itself. For our desktop, we used the
/usr/share/backgrounds/images/gray-bk.png - for the title bar and panel, respectively - throughout.
Backgrounds in /usr/share/pixmaps/backgrounds/cosmos/
We'll come back to the
/usr/share/desktop-directories/Connect.directory file later. For now, change the
<app>...</app> entry to
/usr/share/applications/blue-more.desktop, which is the config file for the blue More arrow. Replicate these entries throughout the first four
Save the file then restart the AA1. If you get the old-look desktop, it means you entered some text incorrectly - have another go. If all four desktop panels are now grey with blue More arrows, you've got it right.
Fire up the terminal, type
cd /home/user/.config/xfce4/desktop/ then
sudo cp group-app.xml group-app.bak so it's there as a back-up if your next set of edits contain a typo and the AA1 replaces them with the default file. We recommended backing up
group-app.xml this way every time you reboot and your edits have been accepted.
The second set of four
<group>...</group> tags define the panels you see when you click on each of the four More arrows. The panels' background and title-bar graphics are set as before and can be changed likewise. Ditto the 'back to main screen' arrows. Again, we changed the panels and title bars to the grey ones, and the arrows to the blue ones, copying the .png and .desktop files throughout.
Plenty of icons in /usr/share/pixmaps/
The final, ninth
<group>...</group> set defines what appears when you click on the main desktop's Settings button.
<dir id="1" parent_dir_id="0"> block specifies what appears when you click on the Play icon in the Fun panel.
Back to the main panels. You can re-arrange the icons by changing their
sequence= numbers - make sure each one is unique and they all run from 0 upwards in each group. They're not fixed, so it's easy, as we did, to choose your 12 favourite apps and simply paste sets of three into each of the 0, 1 and 2 positions across the four panels so they're ready for you as soon as you start your AA1 up.
Each entry points to a .desktop file which tells Linux what to do when the icon is clicked. It also tells Linux and the AA1 UI what icon image to display, but you can change that by adding an
icon=filename.png into the
<app...> tag. We downloaded series of 512 x 512 .png files from the net, used
sudo cp... them into
/usr/share/pixmaps/ then added them to the appropriate
group-app.xml entries. Look for .png files that are at least 128 x 128.
Change this line in Connect.directory to alter the Connect panel's name
How did we change the panel titles? By editing the relevant .desktop files in
sudo mousepad /usr/share/desktop-directories/Connect.desktop for instance. Inside the file, you'll see a
Name= field - change this from
Connect to, say,
Internet. Save the file and restart the AA1 to see the change.
Editing the various .desktop files referenced in
group-app.xml - always with
sudo - will let you change how the icon is subtitled on the desktop (change the
Name= entry) and the tooltip that appears when you hover the mouse pointer over the icon (change the
The other fields govern how the app's loaded, so you should leave these alone.
At this point, you're possibly thinking you can replace the various panel and titlebar graphics with your own. Since they're .png files, why not replace them with fully transparent images and have your icons 'float' over the desktop?
Change this line in Settings.directory to alter the Settings link's icon
We tried it, and the AA1 refused to play ball. Acer's code appears to expect the pre-loaded graphics to be used. If they're not, it defaults to single-colour panels. We made sure our images were the correct sizes, had the right permissions and used the RGB colour model as the pre-loaded ones do. Still no joy.
If anyone - Acer software engineers, in particular - has any insight into get past this apparent restriction, we'd love to hear from you and will update this piece accordingly.