Setting up new systems

In May, I bought a new laptop. In this article, I go through a few of the most essential tweaks I set up with the new laptop.

When possible, I like to customize my system to support my workflow and to make working faster. Once you have customized something and got used to it, there’s no going back. This means every time I set up a new system (or an old system again), I have to set up the custom configuration up as well.


I prefer my interface completely English, but apart from that, I want some locale related things to be set to the Finnish standards.

In ~/.pam_environment, I have the following:


Thunderbird configuration

I use Thunderbird for all of my mail and feed related activities. However, I don’t like the default set of shortcuts. The Keyconfig extension helps me set up my preferred shortcuts and disable shortcuts I don’t want to use at all. The most important shortcuts are as follows:

  • B for Address Book
  • C for Calendar
  • E for Edit As New Message
  • F for Forward
  • W for (Write) New Message

I use the Hide Local Folders and Manually sort folders for some fine-grained control over what is shown on my sidepane – and how. I also use some calendars with Thunderbird. The Lightning (integrated calendar), Lightbird (standalone calendar UI) and Provider for Google Calendar extensions let me sync my calendars easily.

Finally, I have customized the UI with an userChrome.css file, currently holding the following CSS:

/* do not color folders/servers with new messages blue */
#folderTree > treechildren::-moz-tree-cell-text(isServer-true, biffState-NewMail),
#folderTree > treechildren::-moz-tree-cell-text(folderNameCol, newMessages-true) {
color: inherit !important;

Display sizes for fonts

The laptop sports a 13.3″ screen with a full HD 1920×1080 resolution. This makes some of the text a bit too small and hard to read, and thus I’ve done some adjustments to DPI related stuff.

I’ve set the Xfce desktop DPI to 108.

For Firefox and Thunderbird, setting the value of layout.css.devPixelsPerPx to 1.1 both makes the UI a bit more spacy and the text a bit more readable. I usually like small text though, so you might want to increase the value even more.

Scratching the surface

Ultimately, these tweaks are just scratching the surface of the level of modidfications I have done already. Not to even talk about modifications and custom workflows I’m using on my desktop…

What kind of modifications do you use?


  1. Lorenzo
    September 2, 2016

    Many! Something I always do on Xubuntu:

    1. Setting `vim` ad the default command line editor:

    sudo apt-get install vim
    sudo update-alternatives –config editor

    2. Pimpin’ XFCE panel

    Adding the folder menu applet the for the home folder, installing `xfce4-clipman-plugin`, adding notes, system load, workspace selector applets, setting date/time format as `%a %d %H:%M`, setting button as a shortcut for `xfce4-popup-whiskermenu`.

    3. Many tweaks to XFCE terminal

    Disabling automatic scrolling on output (it’s annoying as f!), hiding scrollbars and menu for aesthetic reasons, choosing Tango color scheme, setting default window geometry to a wider 110×24.

    4. Recompiling Xfwm4

    I tweak the window manager to add some spacing between screen border and windows positioned using the smart placement option (I found annoying that the stick to the edge, obstructing title bar and close icon of the maximized windows), and enable gdk pixbuf scaling for a better image quality for the screenshots in the Alt-Tab switcher.

    In `src/placement.h`:


    In `src/placement.c`, before the last two lines of the `smartPlacement()` function:

    if (best_x < xmin + SMART_PLACEMENT_PADDING) best_x = xmin + SMART_PLACEMENT_PADDING;
    if (best_y xmax – SMART_PLACEMENT_PADDING) best_x = xmax – SMART_PLACEMENT_PADDING;
    if (best_y > ymax – SMART_PLACEMENT_PADDING) best_y = ymax – SMART_PLACEMENT_PADDING;


    In `src/icons.c`, in function `getClientIcon()`, I edit the following assignments:

    app_icon_width = 0; /* Set to 0 to use gdk pixbuf scaling */
    app_icon_height = 0; /* Set to 0 to use gdk pixbuf scaling */