Guide to customizing Ubuntu’s look and feel
In this guide I’m going to explain, as easy as humanly possible, how to customize the look and feel of just about anything in Ubuntu.
note: this page is not bandwidth friendly.
It’s going to cover the following subjects.
1. Setting a different wallpaper (for each workspace)
2. Installing a new theme
3. Changing the panel size, transparency
4. Installing a new icon set
5. Setting up Compiz Fusion (and it’s effects, like the rotating cube)
6. Setting up transparent windows borders
7. Setting up true panel and menu transparency
8. Installing/changing system fonts
9. Installing/using new system sounds
10. Installing “widgets” and adding new ones
11. Making root applications use your theme/icons
12. Installing a dock
13. Installing a different login screen
14. Use a splash screen/install a new splash screen
15. Install a different grub theme
16. Install a new mouse theme
17. Conky, a lightweight system monitor and more.
Right-click your desktop and click “change desktop background”.
Navigate to the picture you would like to use, double-click it.
In the “style” drop down menu, you can choose how the picture will be displayed on your desktop.
I suggest using “fill screen”, but you can play with this and select the one you like the best.
Then you can close the window.
If you want have a terminal window as background, click here
If have compiz fusion 0.7.6 installed, there is a wallpaper plugin you can used called “wallpaper”.
It will allow you to set a different wallpaper for each workspace.
Installation notes here.
The best site for gnome themes is called “gnome-look”.
In the “GTK 2.x” section of the website you can download the themes.
After you downloaded a theme, make sure it’s extention read “.tar.gz”.
Some times you download more than just a gtk theme. If that is the case, you’ll need to extract the archive (right-click, extract here). If there isn’t a .tar.gz for the gtk theme, but just a bunch a little picture files. Right-click the folder containing the pictures and press “create archive”.
The same goes from themes downloaded as .rar of .zip or .7z, extract them and then create an .tar.gz archive.
That being said, in most cases it will already come in a .tar.gz container.
After the file is downloaded, navigate to “system -> preferences -> appearance”.
Press the “install” button and select the theme you downloaded (or repacked).
Some times a message box will appear asking you if you want to use the theme, press yes.
If this is not the case, click on the “customize” button, in the “controls” tab, select the theme you installed.
Right-click the panel (top or bottom) you want to change and click “properties”.
There you can change the panels size.
In the “background” tab, you select the second option to get a transparent panel, but this will not use the theme style you selected previously.
If you want transparency and still use the theme style, look at point 7. of this guide.
The same as installing a new theme.
You can download icon sets on gnome-look.org.
Navigate to “system -> preferences -> appearance”, click install and select the icon set you downloaded.
If you don’t get a message box asking you the use the new icons set, click the “customize” button and in the “icon” tab, select your icon set.
Compiz fusion is installed by default on your ubuntu OS (from gutsy and up).
Your graphics card should be working before you attempt this.
Even though Compiz Fusion is installed by default, it settings manager isn’t (don’t ask me why, I have no clue).
Navigate to “applications -> add/remove” and search for “compiz”. Select “advanced desktop effects settings” and press “apply”.
I’m not 100% sure this next step is neccessary, but it can’t hurt.
Navigate to “system -> preferences -> appearance” and it the “visual effects” tab, select “extra”.
Then navigate to “system -> preferences -> advanced desktop effects settings” to change customize compiz fusion.
I will not explain all the options, but just the basic ones to get a nice looking setup.
I’ll embed a youtube video for each one, so you know what the effect does.
1. Desktop Cube
For the cube you will need to enable the following plugins
– Desktop Cube
– Rotate Cube
– Cube Reflection (optional, but better lookin imho)
– Cube Caps
You can also use “3d windows” and “cube gears”, but those are totally optional and will put more stress on your system.
To set the images on the top of the cube, click “Cube Caps” and point the images you want to use in the “appearance” tab.
To set a background image behind your cube, you’ll need to download a “skydome” picture and set it up in “Destkop Cube’, appearance tab. If you pick “animated skydome” the skydome will be “moving”, if not, it will just sit there and will not change.
Also, in “Desktop Cube” you can set the cube’s transparency in the “transparent cube” tab.
Now, by default you’ll only have 2 side on the cube, so it won’t even look like a cube.
Go the the “General Options” plugin, and in the “desktop size” tab, set the “horizontal size” to 4.
To use the rotating desktop, press the scroll button of your mouse in an empty area of your desktop and move it while holding it pressed in.
Or hold in “ctrl + alt + left mouse” to use it.
Just select the “expo” plugin to start using it.
You can set a screen edge for this plugin, which I find very usefull.
In the “bindings” tab, click the “expo edge” and select a windows edge.
If you now move your mouse to that edge in a swift manner, you’ll activate this plugin.
In the “appearance” tab, you can set some effects in the first drop down menu. It’s up to you if you use them.
Animations basically are the little effects you get when you close/open/minimize an application, menu, pop-up window.
In each of the tabs you can set the effect for an action.
My advice is to edit the first one and from the drop-down menu select another effect. Test it out to see if you like it and pick another one if you don’t.
4. Wobbly windows
The video says it all.
5. Trail Focus
I didn’t find a video for this one, but this basically just darkens the windows that aren’t in use, so you can focus more on the active window.
6. Shift switcher
This one “emulates” windows vista “aero” effect or the “coverflow” effect used in ipod touch devices.
In the “appearance’ tab, from the first drop down windows you can either select “flip” (aero) or “cover” (coverflow).
In the same windows you can set some more detailed preferences for the effect.
You use this effect by pressing “super + tab”
On most computers the “super” key is the one with the windows logo on it.
There are a lot more effects, try them. Some effects are not compatible with other effects so a pop-up windows will appear asking you to disable the other effect or cancel.
Update: The compiz version in the ubuntu repositories is a bit outdated.
You can install the newest version of ubuntu by going to “synaptic package manager”, go to settings -> repositories. In the “third party software” press add and copy/paste this line
deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/compiz/ubuntu hardy main
Then press the reload button in synaptic.
The update manager should inform you that updates are available for compiz fusion.
Install them and you’ll be using the latest version.
Some of the new effects in this new version.
You’ll need to download a program called “emerald” either using “applications -> add/remove” or “system -> administration -> synaptic package manager”.
Not all emerald themes are transparent, like some of the mac osx ones.
You can download these borders from gnome-look. Either in the “compiz” or “beryl” section.
The file must end .emerald.
Navigate to “system -> preferences -> emerald theme manager”.
Press the import button to select your downloaded theme, double click it to use it. It could be possible that you’ll need to enter a command to use it.
Press “alt + f2” and copy/paste “emerald –replace”.
(NOTE: it is “- – replace” without the space, wordpress.com changes this automatically)
Add the same code to “system -> preferences -> sessions” ,after you press “add”, in the middle field to start emerald when you start up your pc.
Note: it might be a good idea to install “compiz fusion icon” from “add/remove” so you can change between emerald and the standard windows borders, that way if you add a new emerald theme, you don’t have to enter the command and can just use that little program.
I’ll already covered this topic, so I’ll direct you to that page.
There are a lot of fonts that can be installed from “system -> administration -> synaptic package manager”.
If you want the true type Windows fonts, search for “msttcorefonts”. This package is in the ubuntu-restricted-extras, so you might already have them.
Another popular font set are the Red Hat Liberation fonts, search for the package “ttf-liberation”.
You can also downloads lots of fonts from the web. The best website for free fonts is dafont.com.
If you download and they come in an archive, extract it first. You only need the .ttf files.
To install them, go to “places -> home folder” and press “ctrl +h”. This will show the hidden folders.
Look for “.fonts” (note the dot!). If the folder does not exist, create it (again, make sure you put the dot before it).
You can instantly use the fonts after you restart the application you want to use them in.
Now, to change the fonts the sytem uses, navigate to “system -> preferences -> fonts”.
The options are pretty straight-forward.
I already cover this subject, so I’ll just provide you with the link to the post.
Tombuntu.com wrote a complete and easy to follow tutorial on this one.
It happens to be the case I already wrote about this, so I’ll point you to my post about it.
There are loads of dock, and I compared them in this post.
I believe the best dock is “cairo-dock”.
First install the dock, then the plugin package.
Install them by double-clicking the file.
You’ll need to enter your password. Then press the big button on the top right.
After you installed both packages, go to “applications -> system tools -> cairo-dock”.
You’ll be greeted by a little wizard that will help you select the theme, …
You can easily change it’s option by right-click the dock, go to “cairo-dock” and press “configure’ or “manage themes”.
To start the dock when you boot up your pc, go to “system -> preferences -> sessions”, press “add” and in the middle field enter “cairo-dock” (without the ” “). You can make up what you put in the other fields.
First you’ll need to download one, I suggest this site.
After you download it, navigate to “system -> administration -> login window”, press on the local tab and drag the file in there.
Then select it and make sure no other login windows are selected.
Close the window.
If you like the login screen, but dislike the wallpaper it uses, follow this link to use your own wallpaper.
First install the package “gnome-splashscreen-manager” from “system -> administration -> synaptic package manager” (or use apt-get).
Select the “show splash screen on start up” to start using a splash screen.
The default is the blue gnome splash screen, and changes are it won’t fit with your themed desktop, so let’s install a new one.
As you might have figured by now, the best place to get splash themes is gnome-look.org.
In the splash screen manager (to open, press alt+f2 and enter gnome-splashscreen-manager), there is an install button.
Select your file and the splash screen should be installed.
Some people reported that the above solution didn’t work.
If that is the case, you can try “ubuntu tweak” to set a new splash screen.
Download the .deb file here.
Go to “startup -> session control” and then tag the “show splash theme” box.
Then press the big button and select the splash screen you like.
(note: I haven’t tried this, should it not work, let me know)
You can download themes from the same gnome-look link from point 14.
Look for the themes with a “grub” mentioning.
After you downloaded one, open up a terminal (applications -> accessories) and do this
sudo ln -s /home/username/Desktop/my_image.xpm.gz /boot/grub/splash.xpm.gz
Replace “/home/username/Desktop/my_image.xpm.gz” with the actual location of the grub theme.
(you can find the path name in nautilus, if you don’t it)
You will need an x11 cursor theme.
These can be found on many places, but I suggest going to gnome-look for them.
Untar the downloaded package (right-click, extract here) and copy the folder to /home/username/.icons
.icons is a hidden folder in the home folder. Press “ctrl+h” to view them.
Then navigate to “system -> preferences -> appearance” and press the “customize” button.
In the “pointer” tab, select your new mouse theme.
Conky will draw system info on your desktop. It can do a lot of things, an example:
Install and customizing instructions can be found here.
Any suggestions to improve this guide or other requests dealing with customizing Ubuntu (or my bad spelling) can be made in the comments.
Feel free to use/modify this guide on your site, but posting a link back here would be nice.