Installing and Customizing Ubuntu 11.04 Unity Desktop Themes

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One of the key advantages of Linux desktops in general is the fact that they can be customized to meet just about any particular preferences. In this chapter of Ubuntu 11.04 Essentials we will look at changing the theme used by the Ubuntu Unity desktop environment.




What is a Desktop Theme?

The theme of a desktop defines how various aspects of the desktop appear. Each theme contains a number of categories which define how different elements of the desktop appear:

  • Controls - Define how items such as pushbuttons, toggles and sliders appear.
  • Colors - Specify the color scheme of windows, input boxes, selected items and tooltips. A different color is specified for each item.
  • Window Border - The design style of the border surrounding each window on the desktop.
  • Icons -Defines the design of icons which appear on the desktop (for example Folder, Trash and Computer icons).
  • Pointer - Defines the size and style of the mouse pointer icon.

A number of different themes are installed by default with Ubuntu. In addition, a wide range of other themes are available for download. Also, a theme may be further customized if you do not like a certain aspect of a particular theme. Note that themes are not considered to be a system-wide setting. This means that changes made to the current theme affect only the currently logged in user. Other users will still see their preferred theme when they log in.

Changing the Unity Desktop Theme

The desktop themes define the color and shape of the decorations around the Windows and the color schemes used for the foreground and background of dialog contents. By default Ubuntu 11.04 uses the Ambiance theme. A number of pre-installed themes are also available for selection, and many themes are available for download online.

Themes are controlled by the Theme Preferences panel accessed by clicking on the power button located in the top right of the screen and selecting the System Settings menu option. In the resulting control center panel click on Appearances to display the Appearance Preference dialog:


The Ubuntu 11.04 Unity Appearance Preferences Dialog


To install a new theme from the list simply select it and the desktop will immediately change to reflect the new theme.


Customizing a Desktop Theme

In addition to selecting a theme it is also possible to customize themes. For example, it is possible to change the colors and borders of the theme. To try this, select the Clearlooks theme from the main screen of the Theme Preferences dialog and click on the Customize button:

The clearlooks theme selected on Ubuntu 11.04 Unity


Any new selection from the list of Controls will immediately be reflected by the desktop. For example the following screenshot shows the Theme Details dialog with HighContrastInverse selected:


A high contrast theme element selected for Ubuntu 11.04 Unity


Colors can be changed by selecting the Colors tab of the Customize Theme dialog and changing the color settings for the window borders, text input fields and text selection highlighting.

The window border can similarly be changed by selecting from a range of pre-designed styles using the Window Border tab of the Customize Theme dialog. The following screen shows the Dust Window Border Theme:


An Ubuntu 11.04 Unity customize theme window setting


Finally, the style of icons and pointer displayed by the desktop can be changed via the Icons and Pointer tabs of the Customize Theme dialog.

Downloading and Installing a Theme

Although Ubuntu is installed with several different theme options, in reality this represents a small subset of themes that are available online. A wide range of themes are available for download from http://art.gnome.org/themes. This site may be accessed from within the preferences dialog by clicking on the Get more themes online link.

The themes are downloadable by theme sub-category (i.e. Window Border, Icons etc). Let's start by installing a new Window Border theme. On the GNOME Art website click on the Window Borders link. This will filter the list of themes so that only Window Border themes are displayed. Scroll down the list and click on the download button for a theme that is not currently available on your Ubuntu installation (for this example we will use the MetaGrip theme). A download dialog will appear providing the option to either save the file to disk or to load it into the Theme Installer. If you elect to use the Theme Installer during the download process the theme will automatically be added to the theme library once it has been downloaded. A dialog will appear providing the option to apply the theme or keep the current theme. For the purposes of this tutorial select the Keep Current Theme button.

Once the theme has been added you will notice that it does not appear on the main screen of the Appearance Preferences Theme page. This is because this is a Window Border theme, not an entire desktop theme. It can, however, be used to create or customize a theme package.

Creating a Custom Theme Package

Any theme may now be used to either customize an existing theme, or to create a new desktop theme.

In this example we will create a custom theme which includes our new Window Border design. Click on the Custom theme in the Appearance dialog and click on the Customize... button. In the resulting Customize Theme dialog select the Window Border tab so that the list of available window border themes appears:


Customizing an Ubuntu 11.04 Unity Theme


Scroll up and down the list of themes until you find the new theme (in this case the MetaGrip theme). Select the theme and watch the desktop window borders change instantly to this new style. Spend some time changing some of the other theme settings such as text colors and icon and pointer styles. When you have a new theme that you are happy with simply close the Customize Theme window.

Assuming this is a theme you would like to use again the next step is to give the theme a name and save it. To achieve this make sure the Custom theme is selected from the list of themes and click on Save As.... The Save Theme As dialog will now appear. Provide a name for your theme and add comments if desired. You may also optionally include the current desktop background in the theme package:


Saving an Ubuntu 11.04 Unity custom theme


Once the theme is saved it will appear in the list of available theme packages along with the standard Ubuntu themes.

Summary

In this chapter we have looked in detail at selecting, installing and customizing Ubuntu desktop themes. In the next chapter we will look at configuring Ubuntu desktop fonts.


Purchase and download the full version of this eBook in PDF & ePub formats for only $12.99
PDF/ePub version contains 39 chapters and 255 pages.

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PreviousTable of ContentsNext
Ubuntu 11.04 Unity Screensaver, Desktop Lock and Power Management ConfigurationConfiguring Ubuntu 11.04 Unity Desktop Fonts