This will get you a very minimal gui. XFCE is designed to be much lighter on resources than Unity or the more full fledged desktop environments. This makes it perfect for the BeagleBone Black, and VNC Connections.
To install xfce4 you can do all sorts of various setups, but the easiest way is this
sudo apt-get install xfce4
This will add an additional 330MBs of GUI software to your Device. For the Beaglebone black, this plus debian will take about 65% of your available 2GB eMMC storage.
Once this completes, you can launch the gui with this command
startx or startxfce4
More information about XFCE4 can be found here: https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/Xfce
However this only works if your Beaglebone black is hooked up to a monitor. If you want to access to gui remotely, you will need to also install TightVNC server.
sudo apt-get install tightvnc
Once this installs and you enter your setup credentials, you can then launch tightvnc server from the command line with this command.
This will allow you to connect to your BeagleBone Black via any VNC program. Windows, Mac and Linux all have a number of VNC programs and native OS screen sharing options. If you have followed the Netatalk tutorial on this blog, then this is the quickest way to setup TightVNC with Mac OSX’s native screen sharing application: http://www.huement.com/blog/?p=1014
Web Browsing with Iceweasel
Iceweasel is fork of Firefox. Its a bunch of legal jargon as to why, but its basically a one of clone and can be installed from the Debian repository with
apt-get install iceweasel #(it provides mozilla-firefox)
Native language versions such as iceweasel-l10n-fr are also available. This is really just the start tho, after that, you are probably want to go and install all those classic firefox addons, like noscript, add-block, ghostery and whatever else you favor.
Iceweasel will install just about any add on that firefox has. Go here to install and view them: https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/
Get better XFCE4 theme
I personally find the greybird and bluebird themes to be great looking when it comes to xfce and lxde. On ubuntu they are present in the default repositories. However on debian we have to add the ubuntu ppa repository to get them.
Grab the Files from Here: https://github.com/shimmerproject/Greybird
Extract the contents to /usr/share/themes
Now go to
Applications Menu > Settings > Appearance
And from the style tab, select greybird theme.
Also switch to a better font like Droid Sans. Enable anti aliasing with full hinting and RGB subpixel order. Now that should make your fonts look a great deal better.
Now that you have a fairly minimal desktop environment and gui setup, you should look into backing up your Beaglebone black eMMC storage incase something goes wrong.
You might also want to install a few more desktop applications, like Tor. Instructions for installing Tor on Debian can be found here: https://www.torproject.org/docs/debian
Unfortunately as of writing this article there is not currently a tor-browser-bundle for arm devices. You best bet is to configure tor, and install iceweasel. Then install a proxy button addon. For the proxy information, you instead enter your local Tor server information. It’s kinda a pain to setup at first, but once you’ve got it setup, its a one button on/off toggle for Tor browsing on the BeagleBone Black.
This is “probably” a better idea than routing all your laptop’s traffic through the beaglebone. There are a number of projects, and applications like hostapd that will let you turn your beaglebone into an access point, and all clients have their outbound traffic routed over tor.
However, then all your laptops traffic is leaking, including your calls back to apple, google, microsoft, time servers, email accounts, facebook cookies whatever. Instead using a VNC and singular browser, you’ve got a much cleaner working environment.
For further reading, Here is a post about adding a VPN Layer to your Beaglebone black. http://www.huement.com/blog/?p=1021.