Chapter 10: Personalizing Ubuntu: Getting Everything Just Right

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

If you've read this book from Chapter 1, by this stage, you no doubt have become comfortable with Ubuntu. You've started to realize its advantages and are on the way to making it your operating system of choice.

Changing the Look and Feel

Ubuntu is similar to Windows in many ways, but the developers behind it introduced improvements and tweaks that many claim make the software easier to use. For example, Ubuntu offers multiple virtual desktops—long considered a very useful user-interface feature that seems to have passed Microsoft by. It also moves the programs menu to the top of the screen, leaving the whole width of the screen at the bottom to display taskbar buttons. This is very sensible, because the buttons don't look cramped when more than a handful of applications are open. However, if you're not satisfied with Ubuntu's out-of-the-box look and feel, you can change it.

You might be used to changing the desktop colors or wallpaper under Windows, but Ubuntu goes to extremes and lets you alter the look and feel of the entire desktop. Everything from the styling of the program windows to the desktop icons can be altered quickly and easily.

Altering the Theme

Ubuntu refers to the look of the desktop as a theme. Because it's built on the GNOME desktop, Ubuntu allows you to radically personalize your desktop theme. Several different themes come with the distribution, and you can download many more themes. Each lets you change the way the windows look, including the buttons and the icon set (although some themes come without additional icons).

However, unlike Windows themes, most GNOME themes don't change the fonts used on the desktop, and the wallpaper and color scheme will probably remain broadly the same. You can change these manually, as described in the “Setting Font Preferences” and “Changing the Wallpaper” sections a bit later in this chapter.

To alter the theme, select System→Preferences→Theme. Then it's simply a matter of choosing a theme from the list in the Theme Preferences dialog box, as shown in Figure 1. A useful hint is to open a Nautilus file browser window in the background (Places→Desktop), so you can see how the changes will affect a typical window.

Note: The default Ubuntu theme is called Human and is designed to represent the skin tones of the world's population. This is intended to reflect Ubuntu's mission of being accessible to everyone, no matter where or who they are.

Figure 1. Ubuntu comes with several theme choices.

My favorite themes are Clearlooks and Mist, largely because they're simple and uncomplicated. Remember that you'll be working with the theme on a daily basis, so it should be practical and not too distracting. Those miniature close, minimize, and maximize buttons might look stylish, but they're useless if they're so small that you can't reliably click them with your mouse.

As well as changing the overall theme, you can also modify individual theme components, and even download more theme components.

Changing Individual Theme Components

You can alter the three aspects that constitute a GNOME theme: the controls (sometimes known as widgets), the window borders, and the icons. Controls are simply the elements you click within dialog boxes and windows: buttons, scroll bars, and so on. The window borders are, as seems obvious, the borders of program windows and dialog boxes, with particular attention paid to the top of the window, where the program name appears along with the minimize, maximize, and close buttons.

Note: To make matters a little confusing, some window borders have their own selection of close, minimize, and maximize controls, which can't be overridden with individual selections for controls.

To make changes to a theme, click the Theme Details button in the Theme Preferences dialog box (Figure 1), and then click each tab to see your choices, as shown in Figure 2. Unfortunately, there are no thumbnail previews of each style, but as soon as you click each option, it will be automatically applied to the currently open windows. To preview the effects fully, the best policy is to keep a Nautilus window open (Places→Desktop).

Figure 2. You can create a theme by choosing your own controls, window borders, and icons.

When you've made your choices, you can save the theme for further use. Simply click the Save Theme button in the Theme Preferences dialog box. You'll need to give the theme a name and, if you wish, a short description for future reference. If you don't save the theme, as soon as you select another one, the changes you made will be lost.

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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!

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