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Ubuntu 11.10: Be wary of Compiz Config Settings Manager (ccsm)

Have you recently installed Ubunty 11.10 and are you marvelling at the Unity Desktop? Not many are. Marvelling at the desktop that is, but it’s growing on me. I said that last time too so we’ll see how it goes.

Anyway, the point of this little rant is to tell you to avoid or be very careful with CCSM, or “Compiz Config Settings Manager” as it’s known to it’s enemies. This little app allows you to edit practically everything related to Compiz settings. Literally everything!

Unfortunately it can also lead to a world of pain. After fiddling around with it I went into the preferences and clicked on the “Plugins” link at which time my desktop froze and I couldn’t even CTRL-ALT to a different session. Forced reboot was the other of the day.

When I finally got back in my external monitor wasn’t detected and I was left with a 1024×768 display. I spent a few hours trying to figure out what the hell had gone wrong. I deleted .config/monitors.xml and tried editing it but nothing worked. Eventually I rebooted a few times and suddenly my monitor was recognised again!

Then it was on to the workspace switcher. It didn’t work the way it used to. I hesitantly fired up ccsm and dug into the settings in Viewport switcher, then in Rotate Cube, then Desktop Wall. It was then I discovered I couldn’t deselect “Desktop Cube”. ccsm would segfault every time. Switching workspaces using the cube was painful as my hardware just isn’t up to the task. Open windows would flicker slightly after I rotated the workspace. Eventually I discovered that I could take drastic action to restore normality. First I had to login as a different user and then go into my home directory and then move some configuration directories out of the way.

mkdir bak
mv .gconf .gconfd .gnome .gnome2 bak/

After logging in again I fired up ccsm and Desktop Cube was disabled! I usually switch between workspaces using CTRL 1-4 and I was able to configure Viewport Switcher to do just that with a minimal sliding animation.

After looking in the bak directory it appears that Compiz stores it’s configuration data in various compiz directories in .gconf/apps/. I suspect it’s enough to remove them rather than all the Gnome configuration files.

I like Ubuntu 11.10 so far, I’m getting used to Unity but the top menu bar feels to me like it’s crowding out the screen. The lack of Unity themes included is troubling too as there are only 4 (2 of which are for visually impaired users by the looks of things). I’ll have to go look for some more.