A computer screen is two-dimensional (2D) in nature and until recently most applications were developed with a 2D layout.

However, advancements in technology fuelled the demand for more life-like on screen visuals, as in three-dimensional (3D) modelling and games. The operating system needs to perform complex calculations to display 3D images in 2D. Consequently, to reduce the burden on the operating system and increase the speed of applications, 3D accelerator cards were developed, which use the graphics processor on the graphics card instead of consuming valuable CPU resources. Almost all modern graphics cards have a built-in acceleration to display 3D.

Ubuntu can utilize the 3D capabilities of a graphics card for desktop effects. An example of these effects are the placement of the desktops on a rotating cube, windows have shadows, and motion effects.

The effects are enabled by default and can be controlled from the Appearance menu. From here the desktop effects can either be completely disabled or enabled. The number of effects can be controlled via the normal effects and extra effects setting.

If a graphics card does not have 3D capabilities or support for 3D is missing from the Linux drivers for the card, you will be notified that Desktop effects could not be enabled.

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