RGBA stands for Red Green Blue Alpha. When applied to the computer desktop it means a whole world more. It means full-blown transparency with the ability to control the transparency like never before. This feature was supposed to make it into Ubuntu 10.04, but because of some show-stopping issues, it was pulled. It is now slated to make it into 10.10 and, judging from how well it is working now, it will do just that.

If you’re curious as to what an RGBA-enabled desktop will look like, take a gander at Figure A. This is Ubuntu 10.04 with GNOME and RGBA support installed and enabled.

I’m sure there are many out there who are saying, “Who cares? It’s just eye candy!” But there are plenty of others saying, “Me too! I want!” (or some variation of that theme). Well, in this installment of the open source blog I will stand down from my soap box and show you how you can have this delicious eye candy on your Ubuntu 10.04 desktop as well.

What you will need

Outside of the necessary software, you will need a graphics card that will support full Compiz features. So if your desktop will not allow you to enable Extra features for compiz, either don’t bother with this or go get a new card that will. You will also need to enable Compiz with at LEAST Normal effects. With that set, you are ready to install.


Open up a terminal window and issue the following commands:

  • sudo add-apt-repository ppa:erik-b-andersen/rgba-gtk
  • sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade
  • sudo apt-get install gnome-color-chooser gtk2-module-rgba
  • sudo apt-get install murrine-themes
That’s it from the command line and the installation.

Enabling RGBA

There are a few steps to undertake in order to enable this feature.

  1. Click System | Preferences | GNOME Color Chooser. In this window, scroll until you see the Engines tab.
  2. Click the Global check box and then select Murrine from the dropdown.
  3. Now click on the Preferences button; scroll down until you see “Configuration of Enable/Disable RGBA support” (see Figure B), and make sure both check boxes are checked.
  4. Click OK and then click Apply in the main GNOME Color Chooser window. You can now dismiss this window.

The next step is to select an RGBA compatible theme. You installed these themes with the commands above. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Right-click on your desktop and select Change Desktop Background.
  2. Click on the Themes tab.
  3. Click the Customize button.
  4. From the Controls tab scroll down until you find a Murrine them.
  5. Select a Murrine them and click Close.
  6. Close the Appearance Preferences window.
Now all you have to do is log out and log back in to enjoy full-blown RGBA support on your Ubuntu desktop!
Final thoughts
Will RGBA support on the Linux desktop make you a better user? No, it won’t. Will it make your machine run better? No, it won’t. It’s like having a pretty girl or handsome man at your side. Would a less attractive person serve the same purpose? Sure, but everyone always wants to be by the side of the pretty people. And so it goes with the desktop. Give this a try and see if you think RGBA is the future of the Linux desktop.