Make the Pinebook your own (for Linux newbies)
#1
If you are an experienced Linux user then this post is probably not for you, but if you are new to Linux and the Mate desktop then here are a few pointers on how to make the Pinebook your own. To keep this post as newbie friendly as possible I decided to stay completely clear of the command line and focused on what's already there in the GUI. Before you read this post I’d also like to make it clear that what I outline below is not something you have to do, but rather something you may wish to do.  

First things first; before you start tweaking things to your liking, make sure to download the Installer utility to your computer and flash the newest Ubuntu Mate OS image to your Pinebook.
Now you are ready to roll: 

1) Creating a new user

Creating a new user may just be the first thing to do after the initial boot. All first and third party images (bar Armbian) come with a preset user and password. The stock user on the Pinebook Ubuntu image is called ‘pine64’.  Many if not most users will be perfectly fine with being referred to as ‘pine64’ and having a home folder called ‘pine64’s home folder’, but some of you may wish to have a user and home folder in your prefered name. Now, there are ways to rename the existing user and home folder, but they require a bit of tinkering in the command line. Therefore the easiest option is to create a new user from scratch in GUI. To do so, logged in as pine64 navigate to: System → Administrations → Users and Groups. Once the Users Settings window opens, click +Add in the lower left corner and follow instructions. Once you’ve created your user, select your newly creased profile and navigate to Account Type and select Change. You will be given two options, make sure to set your new user as Administrator and exit. Now you can log off pine64 and log into your user name. Logged in as your new user, you can now remove pine64 by navigating to Users and Groups, selecting ‘pine64’ and clicking Delete.  


2) The desktop environment layout
 
Out-of-the-box the Mate desktop looks near identical to old-school Gnome2 that many longtime Linux users recognise and enjoy. While this is great for (some) old-school users accustomed to this type of workflow, those of you coming from Windows or Mac OSX may find it a bit alien. Luckily the mate desktop comes with a pretty nifty utility called Mate Tweak which allows you to quickly and easily adjust the desktop environment to your liking. You will find the Mate Tweak utility under: System → Preferences → Look and Feel → MATE Tweak.  The utility has three tabs: Desktop, Interface and Icons. Under Desktop you can choose which icons, if any, will appear on your desktop. Interface allows you to change the actual layout of the desktop. The first drop-down menu has a number of preset layouts which you can choose from. Surely many of you will quickly recognise that Cupertino and Redmond (Apple and Microsoft’s campus towns) refer to Mac OSX and Windows layouts. Lastly, in the Windows panel you can also switch the close, minimise and maximise button position from right to left by switching from ‘traditional’ to ‘contemporary’.

   

3) Themes and Icons

There is nearly an endless amount of themes available for the Mate desktop. The stock theme that ships with the image is alright and functional, but I find darker and ‘flatter’ themes easier on the eyes.  To change the desktop theme, navigate to System→ Preferences → Look and Feel → Appearance.  You will find that Mate comes with a number of preset themes which you can choose from. It is also possible to further mix and match the look of the desktop by clicking the Customise button. The Customise button with open an new panel in which you’ll find Controls; Colours; Window Border: Icons; and Pointer tabs, all of which are pretty self-explanatory. Aside from the various pre-existing themes and icon-sets, you can also download many others from Noobslab and other similar sites. Noteworthily, you can also set your wallpaper in the appearance window – just navigate to the ‘Background’ panel. Wallpapers can also be set by right-clicking the desktop and selecting ‘Change Desktop Background’. 

   

4) Applets and custom launchers

Applets are indicators which can be added to the top and/or bottom panel(s). Custom applets can display weather, notify you of new email, relay SoC performance, allow you to adjust some GUI parameters on the fly, etc. To add new applets right-click a panel and select ‘Add to panel’ - a new window will open and you will be presented with a number of applets to choose from. On the pinebook, I strongly suggest adding the LCD Brightness applet, which allows you to easily set the desired brightness levels of your screen. You can also create your own application launchers. Launchers can run applications in both GUI and the terminal. I will use Chromium browser as an example; if you follow Prophesi’s guide to installing Chromium, you will notice that it requires a flag to work. Rather than launching Chromium from the terminal, you can create custom launcher to include the required flag. Select and add ‘Custom Application Launcher’, name the launcher Chromium and paste the command including the flag in in the ‘Command’ box. The launcher should recognise the application name and set the correct icon for it automatically; if it doesn’t, you can manually select an image by pressing the icon box. Your Chromium launcher is now ready to use.      

   

If you know what sort of desktop experience you’re after then completing points 1-4 should take no longer than a couple of minutes. I find that it's worth putting in the time and making the desktop experience suit your needs and preferences – after all this is Linux, so it's all about how you prefer to interact with the operating system. 
Did I forget about something or leave out some important information? - let me know.

Edit: Having tinkered a bit with the desktop I arrived at this - I'm enjoy Apple's desktop paradigm, hence the dock and the top bar. Unfortunately I can't embed the image because there's a limit on the number of attachments Sad
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