A Guide To Setting Up And Using Cairo Dock

Modern desktop environments such as GNOME, KDE, and Unity have overshadowed the brilliance of the Cairo Dock but if you want to really customize your desktop then you won't find a more stylish solution.

The Cairo Dock provides a great application launcher, menu system and cosmetically pleasing features such as the built-in terminal window which pops up from the dock.

This guide shows you how to install and set up the Cairo Dock.

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What Is The Cairo Dock

Cairo Dock
Cairo Dock.

The Cairo Dock as shown in the attached picture provides a way of loading applications using panels and launchers at the bottom of the screen.

The dock includes a menu and a number of other useful icons such as the ability to connect to wireless networks and play audio tracks.

A dock can be placed at the top, bottom and either side of the screen and can be customized to your liking. 

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How To Install Cairo Dock

Installing Cairo Dock
Installing Cairo Dock.

It doesn't particularly make sense to install Cairo Dock if you are using Unity, GNOME, KDE or Cinnamon as they have fairly fixed ways of navigating around the desktop.

If you are using something more customisable in nature such as the Openbox window manager, LXDE or XFCE then Cairo Dock will make a nice addition.

You can install Cairo Dock using a Debian or Ubuntu based distribution using apt-get as follows:

sudo apt-get install cairo-dock

If you are using Fedora or CentOS use yum as follows:

yum install cairo-dock

For Arch Linux use pacman as follows:

pacman -S cairo-dock

For openSUSE use zypper as follows:

zypper install cairo-dock

To run Cairo run the following in the terminal:

cairo-dock &
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Install A Compositing Manager

Install A Composite Manager
Install A Composite Manager.

 When Cairo Dock first runs you will be asked whether you want to use openGL graphics. Answer yes to this question.

A default Cairo Docking bar will appear. You may receive a message stating that a compositing manager is required.

If this is the case open a terminal window and install a compositing manager such as xcompmgr.

sudo apt-get install xcompmgr
sudo yum install xcompmgr
sudo pacman -S xcompmgr
sudo zypper install xcompmgr

To run xcompmgr run the following in the terminal:

xcompmgr &
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Launch Cairo Dock At Startup

Launch Cairo Dock At Startup
Launch Cairo Dock At Startup.

Launching Cairo-Dock when your computer starts differ from one setup to another and are largely based on the window manager or desktop environment you are using.

For example here is a guide to setting up Cairo to work with OpenBox which in my opinion is the best way to use it. 

When you run Cairo Dock you can also right click on the default dock at the bottom, choose Cairo-Dock and then click the "Launch Cairo-Dock At Startup" option.

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Choosing A New Cairo-Dock Theme

Choose A Cairo Dock Theme
Choose A Cairo Dock Theme.

You can change the default theme for Cairo Dock and choose something which is visually more pleasing for you.

To do so right click on the default dock and choose Cairo-Dock and then "Configure".

There are 4 tabs available:

  • Current Items
  • Add-ons
  • Configuration
  • Themes

Choose the "Themes" tab.

You can preview the themes by clicking on a theme.

To switch to a new theme click the "Apply" button at the bottom.

Some themes have single panels at the bottom whilst others have 2 panels. A few of them put applets on the desktop such as the clock and audio player.

It is simply a case of finding the one which suits your needs the most.

After you have downloaded the theme you can add it to the list by dragging and dropping the downloaded item onto the themes window or by clicking the folder icon and choosing the appropriate file.

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Configure Individual Launcher Icons

Configure Cairo Dock Items
Configure Cairo Dock Items.

 You can configure individual items on a Cairo Dock panel by right clicking on it.

You are able to move the item to a different docking panel and indeed a new one if no other panel exists. You can also remove an item from the panel.

You can also drag an icon from the panel onto the main desktop. This is useful for items such as the rubbish bin and the clock.

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Change Individual Launcher Settings

Configure Individual Launchers
Configure Individual Launchers.

 You can change other settings about an individual launcher by right-clicking on it and choosing edit.

You can also get to the configuration screen by right clicking on the panel, choosing Cairo-Dock and then "Configure". When the settings screen appears, click on "Current Items".

For each item, you can adjust different things. For example, the audio player icon will let you choose the audio player to use. 

Other settings include icon size, where to put the icon (i.e. which panel), the caption for the icon and things like that.

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How To Add Cairo Dock Panels

Add A Cairo Dock Panel
Add A Cairo Dock Panel.

 To add a new panel right click on any other Cairo Dock panel and choose Cairo-Dock, Add and then Main Dock.

By default, a small line appears at the top of the screen. To configure this dock you can either move items to it by dragging them from another dock, right clicking on launchers on another dock and choose the move to another dock option or right click on the line and choose to configure the dock.

You can now add items to this dock in the same way you would other docks.

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Useful Cairo Dock Add-Ons

Cairo Dock Add-ons
Cairo Dock Add-ons.

 You can add a number of different add-ons to your Cairo Dock. 

To do so right click on a panel and choose Cairo-Dock and then "Configure".

Now choose the Add-Ons tab.

There are a large number of add-ons to choose from and all you need to do is check the box to add them to your main panel. You can then move them to other panels or to the main desktop by dragging them.

The terminal add-on is useful as it provides a pop out terminal from the dock which is useful when you want to run ad-hoc commands.

The notification area and notification area old add-ons are also useful as they will make it possible to choose wireless networks.

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Setting Keyboard Shortcuts

Setting Cairo-Dock Keyboard Shortcuts
Setting Cairo-Dock Keyboard Shortcuts.

The final area of the Cairo-Dock to focus on are the configuration settings.

Right click on the Cairo Dock panel, choose Cairo-Dock and then "Configure".

Now choose the Configuration tab.

There are three more tabs:

  • Behaviour
  • Appearance
  • Shortcut Keys

The behaviour tab lets you adjust the behaviour of the selected dock such as letting you hide the bar when applications are open, choose where to position the dock and choose mouseover effects.

The appearance tab lets you adjust colours, font sizes, icon sizes and the style of the dock.

The shortcut keys tab lets you set shortcut keys for various items such as the menu, the terminal, notification area and browser.

Choose the item you wish to change by selecting it and double click the item. You will now be asked to press a key or key combination for that item.