Chapter 10: Personalizing Ubuntu: Getting Everything Just Right

An excerpt from Beginning Ubuntu Linux: From Novice to Professional by Keir Thomas, published by Apress.
Installing Additional Components

If you get tired of the built-in possibilities, you can download additional theme components, such as window borders and controls, to enhance your desktop experience. You have two ways of getting new themes:

  • Download themes from the official Ubuntu repositories.

  • Visit the GNOME Art web site ( and download items from there.

Downloading from Ubuntu Repositories

To get theme components from the Ubuntu software repositories, you use the Synaptic Package Manager. Setting up Synaptic Package Manager to use the online repositories is described in Chapter 8.

Select System→Administration→Synaptic Package Manager, click the Search button, and enter gtk2-engines as a search term (gtk2-engines is how Ubuntu refers to theme components). In the list of results will be those gtk2-engines already installed, indicated by a dark green check box, and several that are available for download.

Icons rarely come in gtk2-engines packages, and instead are contained in their own packages. To find icons, use the Synaptic Package Manager to search for gnome icon theme (without any dashes).

Although each theme component comes with a description, you won't really know what it looks like until you see it. The best policy is to download all of them and audition them one by one. However, be aware that themes can be large, so they may take some time to download on a slower connection.

Caution: Unless you've already installed the KDE desktop, don't download gtk2-engines-gtk-qt. This is a piece of system software designed to give KDE applications the same look as GNOME applications. Selecting it will cause the entire KDE desktop subsystem to download, too.

Don't forget that you're downloading theme components, rather than entire themes. To use your new theme components, select System→Preferences→Theme, click the Theme Details button, and choose from the various lists.

Downloading from the GNOME Art Web Site

Visiting the GNOME Art site (, shown in Figure 3, gives you access to just about every theme ever created for GNOME. In fact, the site also contains wallpaper selections, icons, and much more besides. All of the offerings are free to use, and most of the packages are created by enthusiasts.

Figure 3. The GNOME Art site contains the latest themes, and you can use all of them with Ubuntu.

Installing new theme components is easy. If you wish to install a new window border, for example, click the link to browse the examples and then, when you find one you like, click to download it. It will be contained in a .tar.gz archive, but you don't need to unpack it. Simply select System→Preferences→Theme and click the Install Theme button in the Theme Preferences dialog box. Then browse to the downloaded theme and click Open. You can delete the downloaded file when you're finished.

Note: The same principle of sharing that underlines the GPL software license is also usually applied to themes. This means that one person can take a theme created by someone else, tweak it, and then release it as a new theme. This ensures constant innovation and improvement.

Changing the Wallpaper

The default Ubuntu wallpaper, Lagoon, is a love-it-or-hate-it affair. Some find its emphasis on dark colors depressing; others appreciate its humanist metaphor. If you're one of those who prefer something different, it's easy to switch. Simply right-click the desktop and click Change Desktop Background. If you want to use a picture of your own as wallpaper, click the Add Wallpaper button, and then browse to its location.

In the Style drop-down list, you can select from the following choices:

  • Centered: This option places the wallpaper in the center of the screen. If the wallpaper is not big enough to fill the screen, a border appears around the edge. If it's bigger than the screen, the edges of the wallpaper are cropped off.

  • Fill Screen: This option forces the picture to fit the screen, including squashing or expanding it if necessary (known as altering its aspect ratio). If the wallpaper isn't in the same ratio as the screen, it will look distorted. Most digital camera shots should be okay, because they use the same 4:3 ratio as most monitors (although if you have a wide-screen monitor, a digital camera picture will be stretched horizontally).

  • Scaled: Like the Fill Screen option, this option enlarges the image if it's too small or shrinks it if it's too big, but it maintains the aspect ratio, thus avoiding distortion. However, if the picture is in a different aspect ratio than the monitor, it may have borders at the edges.

  • Tiled: If the picture is smaller than the desktop resolution, this option simply repeats the picture (starting from the top left) until the screen is filled. This option is primarily designed for patterned graphics.

Don't forget that the GNOME Art web site ( offers many wallpaper packages for download.

Tip: Looking for some good wallpaper? Visit Flickr ( This is a community photography site where many people make their pictures publicly available.



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Ya Linux is awesome i am

Jack's picture

Ya Linux is awesome i am running a dual boot of vista and ubuntu... linux is great so far how can i customize more any websites anyone can direct me too

On Ubuntu Edgy use this

Anonymous's picture

On Ubuntu Edgy use this command for configuring font:
sudo dpkg-reconfigure fontconfig-config

You should mention which

Jaques Haas's picture

You should mention which version of Ubuntu you're using. I'm using 6.10, and lots of the tools you describe aren't where you say they are. For example, I have no configuration editor. A few other things too.

Good guide though, and thanks.

The configuration editor is

Anonymous's picture

The configuration editor is there, you just need to add it to the menu bar. I believe if you go to the menu and click add, you will be able to select it.

Ubuntu Rocks. Who Needs Windows Vista

Comp keyboard's picture

Windows Vista is going to launch pretty soon, but I am definitely not excited about that. Who want to pay extra hundreds dollars when you can get ubuntu for free and more stable operating system?

ugh...not vista

Durand's picture

well, im glad im not the only one who thinks like that!