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I recently stumbled upon this article for applications that dim the background of your desktop, bringing focus to the active open window.

Of course the applications are for Windows. My question is, are their applications like this for Ubuntu too? I think Compiz can do it but I would rather not use compiz.

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Yes, in Compiz there is the Dim Inactive plugin. Once actived, it can be toggled with SUPER-p. This plugin is not enabled by default. It can be found in the compiz_plugins_extra package. It will dim all but the active window. – user85164 May 4 '13 at 4:23
I would rather not use the Compiz method as desktop environments such as Gnome Shell can't use compiz. I also heard Unity will stop using it soon. Is there another stand alone program? – JoeSteiger May 9 '13 at 2:27
@JoeSteiger I think you do want to do it with compiz. There is not going to be another program that does the same. Compiz also handles it with OpenGL (hence why it doesn't work with gnome shell). It'll be much better implemented anyways. (not saying that you can't build such an app, just saying that it's to easy to use) – labsin May 22 '13 at 0:11
When you add | Desktop to the types, it's also doing it for the Desktop. Only bad thing is that it's scaling slow... (like taking long to dim the other windows as it happens gradually) – labsin May 22 '13 at 0:26
Is there a way to have it dim background too? Not just windows? And have it done automatically? – JoeSteiger Jul 31 '13 at 21:52


The closest window manager that has a similar ability to compiz & dim-inactive is kde's kwin.

A couple of screen-shots will help here - both showing kwin running in xubuntu:

kwin running without dim effect


kwin running with dim effect



If disk-space is not an issue for you (150Mb+ install) then kwin can be installed as per this Q&A:

To run kwin use the following:

nohup kwin --replace &

Launch the KDE Control Module as per:

Then enable and configure Dim Inactive effect:


tip if you don't like the "glow" effect then turn it off in window decorations - Configure Decoration - Shadows and untick the active window glow check-box.

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There are are no other applications that do this currently, unfortunately. Unless you can use Compiz (which I know you won't want to ;), you'll be "out of luck". The best route would be to report a wishlist bug against your favourite Window manager and hope for something to come of it, or (yikes!) write the feature yourself (maybe as a Gnome Shell extension).

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