Linux allowed users to bring that personal feeling to computing for years. However, some people are not shy of going the extra mile to free themselves from the shackles of the default experience. It's called 'ricing,' and we have some of the best examples to show you.
But first: what's 'ricing'? It's a term commonly used to refer to making visual improvements and customizations on one's desktop. Kids of the '00s might be more familiar with the phrase ‘pimping,’ popularized by MTV's Pimp My Ride.
The analogy to a TV show about cars is not accidental. The legend goes that the term ‘rice’ was inherited from the practice of customizing cheap Asian import cars to make them appear to be faster without tweaking the car's insides.
If you are going to spend so much time working on your computer, why not make it look pleasing as well so that you don't feel like a prisoner?u/Axarva27
Predictably, there's a dedicated community on Reddit where 'ricers' meet to exchange ideas or show off those neat custom-made, one-of-a-kind interfaces.
"Here on /r/unixporn, the word ("rice") is accepted by the majority of the community and is used sparingly to refer to a visually attractive desktop upgraded beyond the default," - states the dictionary of the community that unites 289,000+ site users.
Origins of the term are, however, murky. Some claim that ‘rice’ is an acronym for ‘Race Inspired Cosmetic Enhancement,’ while others think that term is a pejorative, applied initially to Japanese vehicles imported to the US.
In any case, /r/unixporn members don't meddle with cars but with operational systems, and it has nothing to do with Asia.
Usually, ricers use a Unix based system, mostly Arch Linux. That’s intentional.. Arch comes with the bare minimum of custom features, allowing ricers to have a lean system from the beginning. The less stuff there is, to begin with, the easier the customization.
To build a design, ricers use various window managers (WM) to operate tiling, package installers, terminal emulators, status bar creators, application launchers, and other tools to create a custom-built feel that they're going after.
There are different types of tools for different objectives. Thus, every ricer might be using a different combination. Github offers a neat guide for beginners, detailing which tools are easier to use for newbies.
As one ricer, whose designs brought him thousands of upvotes, told CyberNews, what's most important is one's ability to hack around your system, bend it to your will, and then make it pretty.'
"You don't need to have Arch to make rices. Neither do you need a window manager, and package managers are shipped by default on every distribution. I've seen many rices done on Ubuntu with GNOME on the subreddit that look very great as well, therefore I have never thought as distro or WM being a hurdle," - Reddit user Axarva27 said.
Once ricers are acquainted with the tools, there is virtually no limit to what can be done. Some designs go as far as to customize lighting on RGB keyboards to allow easier recognition of necessary shortcuts. A ricer makes a machine to feel and act genuinely personal.
Members of the r/unixporn community not only share their complete works but share their creations. Unlike with more commonly used operating systems such as Windows or iOS, *NIX systems have their inners written down in DOT files. These are the real treasures among ricers. Authors of many popular posts, however, share their dotfiles for others to reuse and build on.
As with any customization project, excellence requires time. Some designs might take hours or days to make, while others take months. Axarva27, whose design was selected as the top post at r/unixporn in December, told CyberNews the design took two months to make from scratch.
The key reason to put in the effort was searching for a balance between pleasing aesthetics and functionality. Axarva27 explained that being a programmer, he wanted to work within an environment that doesn't feel foreign.
The first version is full of inconsistencies, while the redesigned one fixes it. Redesigning also means refactoring the code, so it will mostly take a day or two of my life,u/ilovecookieee.
"If you are going to spend so much time working on your computer, why not make it look pleasing as well so that you don't feel like a prisoner? That was the motivation that kept me going, not to mention this subreddit where so many awe-inspiring configurations are posted," - he said.
The redditor explained that creating a design is a tedious process with a lot of uncertainty, as every single element is designed and redesigned one at a time. However, the result, as well as the time spent achieving it, is worth it.
Meanwhile, Reddit user ilovecookieee, whose design was selected as the top post of April 2020, told CyberNews the custom design took only several hours to create, with a couple more days dedicated to polishing the look.
The redditor explained that the key is to have an aesthetic and functional system. For example, something lightweight like the windows manager acting similarly to desktop environments such as KDE and Deepin.
"There's a time that I redesigned all the setups because of UI inconsistencies. Like for example, there are two "Floppy" setups on r/unixporn. The first version is full of inconsistencies, while the redesigned one fixes it. Redesigning also means refactoring the code, so it will mostly take a day or two of my life," – ilovecookieee explained.