How to turn Rocky Linux 8 into a perfect desktop

Updated: June 21, 2021

Several days ago, I tested Rocky Linux, a community-led CentOS successor, created following the decision by the CentOS team to discontinue version 8 ahead of its long-off long-term EOL. Long [sic] story short, my first impression of the preview release was decent - decent enough to try to polish it up for home use.

Thus, we embark on another desktop beautification journey. In a manner similar, perhaps even identical to what I've done with CentOS 6, CentOS 7 as well as CentOS 8, and let's not forget Fedora either, right, I want to do the same here. I want to show you all the different tweaks you need to transform a rather dull server distro into a desktop system, replete with nice software, good looks plus the rock-solid stability and longevity. Now, embark on this journey, we must.

Teaser

Step 1: Desktop customization

If you find the standard Gnome desktop workflow restrictive, inefficient, wrong, then you may want to change how it behaves. To that end, unfortunately, you will need several extra tools, as the desktop environment does not let you alter its default configuration easily. The first utility you want is Gnome Tweaks:

sudo dnf install gnome-tweaks

We will need this program for numerous reasons. But let's grab all the components, so we can make the changes all at once. Bear with me for a while longer.

New fonts and icons

This is mostly decorative - but a new set of fonts can also significantly improve the clarity of displayed text. In the Linux world, the Ubuntu font family offers the superior results. Grab the necessary files from any reputable font source you trust. As to the icons, I like the La Capitaine set, available on GitHub.

One you download the fonts, copy them to /usr/share/fonts/ (this will make them available globally).

unzip "font-archive.zip" -d "some directory"
sudo cp "some directory"/*.ttf /usr/share/fonts
fc-cache -f -v

Similarly, extract the icons into ~/.icons hidden directory inside your home. If it does not exist, create it first.

mkdir ~/.icons
cp -r "desired icon set" ~/.icons/

Extensions

If you want to have a more conventional desktop experience, i.e., a permanently visible dock/launcher/panel with application shortcuts, in Gnome, you will need to install several Gnome extensions. To achieve that, there are several steps. One, launch a browser, navigate to Gnome Extensions, and install the browser add-on. Two, reload the page, and then search for panel-enablement extensions. Overall, You can choose Dash to Dock (D2D) or Dash to Panel (D2P). I prefer the latter. Install it, that is, toggle it on. You will immediately see that your desktop has changed, and that the top bar and the hidden Launcher (available under Activities) are now permanently visible at the bottom of your screen, like you'd expect in a standard desktop configuration.

Dash to Panel

Putting everything together

Launch Gnome Tweaks. Now, we need the following:

Appearance

Extensions

Fonts

Step 2: HD screens & display scaling

If you're running Rocky Linux 8 on a device with a small screen and high resolution, the desktop elements may appear too small. You may want to scale the display up. Unfortunately, in the Linux world, the only desktop environment with proper fractional scaling is Plasma. Other environments offer cruder full-integer scale or partial fractional scaling (increments of 25%). Alternatively, you can simply change the font scaling factor. In most cases, this results in a reasonably decent scaling effect, even though the actual interface isn't truly scaled up. We will have a full-blown tutorial on how to scale Gnome applications on HD displays very soon.

Scaling

Step 3: Additional repositories and popular software

By default, you won't have access to various third-party applications for common everyday fun. Rocky Linux 8 is designed to be a server system, hence gaming, media and similar programs aren't necessarily all there by default. However, much like with Fedora or CentOS, you can enable a set of third-party repositories to gain access to these additional applications and utilities. There are many RHEL-compatible sources. Here, I will enable RPM Fusion free and non-free repositories.

Once you've downloaded the two RPM files, install them:

sudo dnf install "RPM Fusion free".rpm

sudo dnf install "RPM Fusion non-free".rpm

Now, you can install extra software like:

sudo dnf install gimp lyx vlc

Please note that I've not put Steam in the list above, because that's a bit trickier. Well, tricky enough that we will have a separate guide for just this application. Not ideal, but remember, we're converting a server distro into a desktop, so we're already neck deep in lovely chaos. Plus, don't forget, Rocky still hasn't been officially released, so anything you see or read here may change and/or become irrelevant.

Apps

Google Chrome

Just download Google Chrome from the official page. Install it. This will auto-configure the relevant repository and thus subsequent browser updates. The repo gives you access to all three build versions of Chrome - beta, stable and unstable. Install, whichever version you like:

sudo dnf install "google chrome".rpm

sudo dnf install google-chrome-stable

Microsoft Edge

If you want an extra browser, and this be Edge you have in mind, then:

sudo rpm --import https://packages.microsoft.com/keys/microsoft.asc
sudo dnf config-manager --add-repo https://packages.microsoft.com/yumrepos/edge
sudo mv /etc/yum.repos.d/packages.microsoft.com_yumrepos_edge.repo /etc/yum.repos.d/microsoft-edge-beta.repo

Alternatively, you can also use the Dev channel build (the difference is in the suffix, -dev versus -beta).

Then, install the browser:

sudo dnf install microsoft-edge-beta

Vivaldi

Next on the menu:

sudo dnf config-manager --add-repo https://repo.vivaldi.com/archive/vivaldi-fedora.repo

The name of the repository is misleading - it is not Fedora-specific. In fact, the contents of the repo file are:

cat /etc/yum.repos.d/vivaldi-fedora.repo
[vivaldi]
name=vivaldi
enabled=1
baseurl=https://repo.vivaldi.com/archive/rpm/$basearch
gpgcheck=1
gpgkey=https://repo.vivaldi.com/archive/linux_signing_key.pub

You can now install the browser:

sudo dnf install vivaldi-stable

Brave

Another one:

sudo dnf config-manager --add-repo https://brave-browser-rpm-release.s3.brave.com/x86_64/
sudo rpm --import https://brave-browser-rpm-release.s3.brave.com/brave-core.asc
sudo dnf install brave-browser

Skype

The exercise looks familiar by now:

sudo dnf config-manager --add-repo https://repo.skype.com/rpm/stable/skype-stable.repo

Then, install Skype:

sudo dnf install skypeforlinux

Le results!

And here we go, apps aplenty:

Extra apps

Step 4: Various system tweaks and utilities

You may also be interested in some extras like NTFS read/write access, especially if you're dual-booting, and/or need to access devices that (most likely) have Windows. In that case, you will need the NTFS libraries.

sudo dnf install ntfs-3g ntfsprogs

Fix Python link - in case some applications explicitly expect Python to be versionless:

sudo ln -s /usr/bin/python3 /usr/bin/python

JAVA runtime:

sudo dnf install java-11-openjdk

Step 5: Enjoy your desktop!

Some lovely screenshots, at your disposal, guv:

Desktop 1

Desktop 2

Desktop 3

About

Conclusion

And here we are, at the end of our journey. We started with a workstation slash server distro that is designed for serious work, development and such, not for games or music or alike. We ended with a system that doesn't look that different from most contemporary Gnome desktops, full of cool, popular software. Yes, Linux lacks some of the stuff you get in Windows, but Rocky doesn't lag behind other distros overall. Most of what you need or expect is available.

Of course, the command-line way is a big blocker for ordinary users. But then, even installing a distro on your own (or any operating system) is a very nerdy task. That aside, I'm more than happy with this transformation. The polished-up Rocky is stable, fast, pretty, and it has a lot of nice software. You could also try the self-contained packaging formats like Flatpak or snaps, which give you access to even more cool stuff. Mission accomplished. I like. Do tell me if you need more tips and tricks of this kind, and there shall be additional articles. See you around.

Cheers.

You may also like: