Ubuntu Mate as a Platform for Interactive Art Exhibition

I have recently been playing artist with my developer skills and have been learning quite a bit in the process.

One take away which I discussed in my previous post is that Ubuntu Mate is an amazing platform for displaying your work! When presenting a piece of digital artwork the last thing you want is Windows Update taking over the screen!

I want to share some simple tweaks I made to Ubuntu Mate in order to transform it into a digital canvas that can present your artwork without intervention for months at a time.

This list is short because there was not much I had to do. It pretty much works out of the box.

If you're totally new to Linux I recommend you check out the Ubuntu Mate web site for documentation on how to install it. For this use case keep in mind that you will probably want to check the box that tells the system to automatically log in on startup. Don't skimp on the password though because anyone that tries to abuse your system will need this PW to get root privileges. One of the great things about Linux is the ability to get everything setup how you want it, then lock it down.

If you used Gnome back in the day Ubuntu Mate is a trip down memory lane.

Power Management

Once installed the first thing you're going to want to change is the power management settings. No "sleep" for the wicked!

At the top of the screen look for the System Menu. Navigate through System/Preferences/Hardware and click Power Management. Set the options to Never, Do nothing, and Never.

Now you've got a fully caffeinated OS that never rests.

While you're in the Power Management settings go ahead and click the General Tab at the top of the pop-up window. Make sure that when the power button is pressed the computer does Shutdown.

Likely a gallery staffer will have to administer your piece. Now, to turn your exhibition off at night they simply have to tap the power button and the system will perform a safe shutdown, no need to leave a keyboard attached for kids to come up and play with.


Now you'll want to get rid of the screen saver, nostalgic as a screen saver may be. You can do this by going back to that top menu and clicking through System/Preferences/Look and Feel, then selecting Screensaver.

After that simply un-check the boxes.

Startup Applications

Next you'll want to make your program as simple to start as possible. Hopefully you've already written it to be full screen. Now just set it to run when the operating system starts. Navigate to Startup Applications under System/Preferences/Personal.

First lets prevent Ubuntu Mate's beautiful welcome menu from running, sad I know. Just un-check it, near the bottom of the list.

Now create a new entry for your project.

Clean and Helpful Desktop

Finally the last touch I like to add, is a nice clean desktop with just 3 icons. In theory no one should ever see this, but just in case...

  • I leave the standard link to the home directory.

  • A link to start the application

  • And most important, a read me file, which contains my contact information and any trouble shooting info you think useful.

Ready to Rock

With all this in place you should now have a solid setup. When the gallery staff need to start it in the morning they just tap power and it comes to life. At the end of the night they simply tap power again.

There are some other things you may want to consider in terms of how you write your application, handling crashes, and avoiding memory leaks. I talk more about these issues in this post. Now get out there and code some happy trees!