Installing and Customizing Ubuntu 10.x Desktop Themes

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Changing the Ubuntu 10.x GNOME Desktop BackgroundConfiguring Ubuntu 10.x Desktop Fonts

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One of the key advantages of Linux desktops in general is the fact that they can be customized to meet any particular preferences. In this chapter of Ubuntu Essentials we will look at changing the theme used by the Ubuntu 10.10 GNOME 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 GNOME 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 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 selecting the Administration -> Preferences -> Appearance menu option and clicking on the Theme tab of the resulting dialog. Once selected, the panel appears as follows:

Ubuntu 10.10 theme preferences

To install a new theme from the list simply select it and click on the Install.... button. 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:

Ubuntu 10.10 customize theme window

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:

Ubuntu 10.10 High Contrast theme

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:

Ubuntu 10.10 dust theme

Finally, the style of icons displayed in the desktop can be changed. By default Ubuntu uses the Ubuntu Mono Dark style of icons. The following image shows a portion of the desktop showing icons using the Human icon theme:

Icons using standard Ubuntu 10.10 theme

The following image shows the same desktop icons after the icon theme has been changed to the GNOME icon theme:

Ubuntu 10.10 custom icon theme

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 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.

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:

The metagrip theme listed in the Ubuntu 10.10 theme preferences dialog

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 a new Ubuntu desktop theme

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


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 fully updated Ubuntu 11.04 version of this eBook in PDF & ePub formats for only $12.99
PDF/ePub version contains 39 chapters and over 250 pages.

PreviousTable of ContentsNext
Changing the Ubuntu 10.x GNOME Desktop BackgroundConfiguring Ubuntu 10.x Desktop Fonts