Ubuntu 11.04 Dual Monitor Backgrounds are Easy with Shotwell

One thing I do not like about Ubuntu 11.04 is the changes made to dual monitor support. Actually, Fedora 15′s new interface (as well as several other Linux distros) has much of the the same issues, so this solution works there too. It could be that, for now, Ubuntu’s Unity and Fedora’s Gnome 3 interfaces just have not had enough developers take a look and provide solutions yet for multiple monitors. At this time, multi-monitor support is a bit lacking, at least in GUI configuration applications.

Because of the work I do, I spend a lot of time with multiple screens open. Could I simply do this using stacked windows that I switch between? Could I use Linux’s desktop switching feature? Well, sure. But it is a whole lot more convenient to be able to have, for example, my HTML editor open on one screen and the Website I am working on open on the other. Or, I find that writing an article is much quicker and easier when I can have research sources available and open on one screen and my word processor or HTML editor open on the other. I can even drag applications from one monitor to the other if I want to. Once I realized the benefits of this method, there was very little chance I would go back to single monitor computing. In fact, I may eventually go to three or even four monitors on one computer!

Unfortunately, Ubuntu made some changes to its monitor configuration GUI tool with the release of 11.04. Heck, I don’t know… the previous version I was using was Ubuntu’s 8.04 LTS, so these changes might have even taken place in version 9 or 10. Anyway, I used to be able to simply select Zoom, Stretch, etc. in the Desktop Background chooser to apply those alterations to an image that would automatically span both screens. 11.04 makes me pick Span, which does not do anything to adjust the image to fit my 2880 x 900 desktop (two side-by-side monitors each with 1440 x 900). So, an image, depending on its size, might be stuck in the middle of the big desktop and only take up half of each screen. Any other option results in a cloned desktop background image on each monitor.

A little experimenting showed me a really simple method to create desktop background that will completely fill both monitors. Yes, that is one, big, single image that will span across both monitors, half of the image being displayed on each side. Of course, other options could certainly include using an image editing application like GIMP to create a final image that is the size of your desktop.

Ubuntu 11.04, by default, comes with Shotwell, an image display and simple editing application. For Windows users, you might liken it to Windows Photo Gallery, with simple options to fix red-eye, crop, or adjust color and exposure. Shotwell has a really slick way to crop desktop images for your dual monitor setup, however.

If you double click on an image file, it opens in the default image viewer. What you will want to do is right click the image file, then choose to open the image using Shotwell. On the top bar, in the Shotwell application window, you should immediately see an “Edit” button. Click on it and the image opens in a new window. On the bottom of that window, there are options for Rotate, Crop, Red-eye, Adjust, and Enhance.

Now, before I go any further, I want to tell you what I did so I did not mess up any of my original images. I made a separate folder in my Pictures folder specifically named so I would recognize it as being for my desktop images. I simply copied and pasted any images I thought I might want to use as a desktop background. I would recommend you do something similar, rather than adjusting and possibly destroying an original image you might not easily get back.

Back to Shotwell….

Click on the Crop button and you will see a white-bordered frame that represents your screen size. To create my desktop and maintain a good aspect ratio (exactly 2880 x 900, not 2560 x 900 or 2880 by 1060, etc.) you would click on the option button that says “Unconstrained” and select “Screen” instead. Notice that your frame size may very well have changed to reflect your actual screen size. You can click and drag on the corners to make adjustments, or click and drag on the inside of the frame to move the entire frame around. You should notice that the ratio of the side to top frame size (Your screen ratio) will always remain the same. You won’t be able to drag one side out or in without affecting the size of all four sides. Make sense? If not, that is a good reason to have a duplicate image. Then you can feel free to experiment a bit.

All you will need to do is okay the changes and save. You will also be presented with the option to reload the image in its new form. Choose Yes if you like. To make the new image show up on your desktop, open it with the default Image Viewer application by double clicking the image in your new folder, then right click the image and select “Set as Desktop Background”.

One final note. You may find some images are too grainy (low resolution) to use on a big, giant desktop. You might also find that some images won’t be positioned well for the dual monitor arrangement you have. In those cases, your option might be to use GIMP or another advanced image editing application that will allow you to create a unique image for your desktop size. If nothing else, the Shotwell option is a quick means to get the dual monitor desktop background you want until the Ubuntu community provides better support for dual monitors.

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