Get some serious transparency in GNOME and Compiz

Jack Wallen
Aug 22, 2009
Updated • Apr 26, 2015

As I have said repeated, I like eye candy. One of the aspects of eye candy I like more than any other is transparency.

With the right Linux desktop there is almost no limit on how you can configure the look and feel of your desktop. And that means you can  have as transparent a desktop as you like.

To really push the limits of transparency you will need to have Compiz working. For more information on Compiz check out my articles: "Enabling the Cube in Compiz" and "Configuring the appearance of the Compiz Cube".

You might also want to check out my article "Add Emerald for slick window decorations" to get the full effect of transparent titlebars and window decorations. As well you can check out my article "Avant Window Navigator: OS X-like dock on Linux desktop" if you're wanting to mimic my personal desktop.

The big picture

I thought I would start out by showing you the desktop I am working with so you can decide if this is something you want to achieve. Figure 1 shows the end result of the configurations (Click on the image to see the full-size version).

The tools to will use

In order to get the transparency you see in the image the following configuration tools will be used:

Compiz Settings

Panel properties

The following themes will be used:

GNOME: Dust Sand

Avant Window Navigator: Glass 3D

Emerald: Gabriel

I am going to assume you know how to install the various themes and wallpaper used, so I won't go over those topics.


Panel Properties

The first thing to take care of happens to be the easiest - the GNOME panel. You will notice I removed the bottom panel on my desktop and replaced it with the Avant Window Navigator. So the only GNOME panel to deal with is the upper panel. To set the transparency on this right click an empty spot in the panel and select "Properties". When the Properties window opens (see Figure 2) click on the "Background" tab and do the following:

  • Check the Solid Color radio button.
  • Slide the Style bar to the left until it is as transparent as you like.
  • Click Close.

Your panel should now be transparent.


Compiz Config

Now that your panel is transparent you don't want to ruin the over all look by having solid menus and/or drop downs. So let's take care of these pieces.  The first thing to do is open up the Compiz Settings tool. You will find this in the Preferences sub-menu of the System menu.  When the settings window is open you will want to click on the Opacity Brightness and Saturation section (see Figure 3).

What you need to do is add new Window specific settings. When you click the New button a small window will open where you add the type of "window" you want to set transparency for. When the window opens you want to add the following line to get Menus, Drop down windows, and popups set for transparency:

(type=Menu) || (type=PopupMenu) || (type=DropDownMenu)

Once you have that entered, set the transparency level to 67 (to match what you see in this article) or to whatever level you desire.

And that's it. You should now have full-on transparency on your desktop.

Final thoughts

Of course you can take this farther. You can even set application windows as transparent as you like. The only problem with that is you need to be able to clearly see your work.

Get some serious transparency in GNOME and Compiz
Article Name
Get some serious transparency in GNOME and Compiz
Find out how to add a serious level of transparency in GNOME and Compiz.

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  1. alextud said on August 23, 2009 at 3:57 pm
    1. Mathieu said on May 3, 2011 at 2:01 am

      @alextud Just to complicated for someone who start with linux :(

  2. jack said on August 23, 2009 at 1:26 pm

    @ely: I don’t think you can change the text transparency. you can adjust the transparency level so it’s more opaque. that way you might not have as much trouble. Or you can change the system font to use a bold font instead of a standard font. that will help a lot.

  3. ely said on August 23, 2009 at 6:12 am

    great article. thanks.
    it will be nice if drop down menu’s texts are note transparent… any ideas how?

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