How to Install and Configure Openbox Window Manager in Linux

Openbox Customize Install Main

Openbox is a lightweight and highly configurable window manager. It’s perfect for lightweight distros like minimal Ubuntu. However, getting used to it can be a bit daunting for new users. For starters, when you first install it, you will be greeted with a black screen. While this can be intimidating, with a few pointers, you’ll get used to the setup and will be able to configure it so that you aren’t greeted with a black screen every time you log in to your computer. Here we show you how to install and configure Openbox on your Linux PC.

Installing Openbox

On Debian/Ubuntu based distros, use the following command:

sudo apt install openbox obconf

For Fedora:

sudo dnf install openbox obconf

For OpenSUSE:

sudo zypper install openbox obconf

For Arch Linux, use the following:

sudo pacman -S xorg-xdm openbox xorg obconf

Note: we will be using Ubuntu for this tutorial. However, the commands and steps can be adapted to suit other distros.

Applications Menu and Openbox Configuration Manager

This was mentioned before, but you will see a blank screen when you first log in.

Openbox Install Customize 1st Start 0

Have no fear, though – all of your applications are still there. You can access them from the Openbox Applications menu. To access this menu, just right-click on the desktop and hover over Applications.

Openbox Install Customize Applications Menu

If you want to change the theme, you can do so by right-clicking and selecting Obconf to open the “Openbox Configuration Manager.”

Openbox Install Customize Change Theme

There are a number of themes available, and you even have the option of installing new themes.

Openbox Install Theme Window

In addition to a Themes tab, you will also have access to the following tabs :

  • Appearance: here you can change the appearance of your windows and fonts.
  • Windows: this tab lets you change settings related to your windows.
  • Move & resize: here you can adjust how your windows are resized.
  • Mouse: this tab lets you change settings related to your mouse. For example, you can choose whether to focus windows when the mouse pointer moves over them.
  • Desktops: this allows you to change settings related to managing multiple desktops.
  • Margins: here you can set screen margins if desired.
  • Dock: this lets you adjust the appearance of your dock app.

Dock and Wallpaper Manager

Your desktop probably looks quite weird now without a dock, so let’s get that sorted out. Go to your terminal and install Cairo Dock with the following command:

sudo apt install xcompmgr cairo-dock

You will need to make Cairo Dock autostart now. You can do that with the following commands:

cd ~/.config
mkdir openbox
cd openbox
nano autostart

The last command will open the nano editor. Add the following entries to nano and save the file (using Ctrl + O).

xcompmgr &
cairo-dock &

Log out and back in, and you’ll be able to see the dock.

Openbox Install Customize Cairo Dock

Cairo Dock adds shortcuts such as an applications menu and a browser shortcut. You’ll also have access to a desktop switcher.

Openbox Install Customize Cairo Dock Desktop Switcher

With the dock in place, the next major thing that’s missing is wallpaper. You can get started with this process by installing Nitrogen. Do this with the following command:

sudo apt install -y nitrogen

After installing nitrogen, open the app’s preferences and choose locations where you have wallpaper stored. You can select them, and the images in these folders will be made available as wallpapers. You can then choose to set the wallpaper of your choice.

Openbox Install Customize Nitrogen Wallpaper

Wrapping Up

As you can see, it is easy to install Openbox, but it might initially be difficult to see why it’s so good. However, as you add familiar layers, such as the dock and wallpaper, you get to appreciate how versatile and customizable this window manager is. You may also want to check out some of the best Openbox themes to spice up your desktop. If Openbox does not appeal to you, you can also try another lightweight window manager like LXQT. Feel free to check out the Openbox Wiki for more information related to tweaking Openbox.

William Elcock
William Elcock

William has been fiddling with tech for as long as he remembers. This naturally transitioned into helping friends with their tech problems and then into tech blogging.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Our latest tutorials delivered straight to your inbox