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I just installed Ubuntu on my netbook, and I'd like to customize it but don't know where to start. Do you know of any tips or guides for customizing Ubuntu?

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up vote 5 down vote accepted

Gnome-Look is a good place to start for all around customization. Themes, Icons, Fonts, Wallpapers, Screensavers, and more. It's all there.

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The Ubuntu desktop environment is composed of several different components that can be individually tailored. This is great for flexibility, but can cause confusion if you were expecting one single entity to configure.

From Wikipedia:

On systems running the X Window System (typically Unix-like systems), the desktop environment is much more flexible. In this context, a desktop environment typically consists of a window manager (such as Metacity or KWin), a file manager (such as Nautilus or Dolphin), a set of themes, and programs and libraries for managing the desktop. All of these individual modules can be exchanged and individually configured to achieve a unique combination, but most desktop environments provide a default configuration that requires minimal user input.

Desktop Environment
On a fresh Ubuntu install, you'd typically be using the GNOME desktop environment. The other major alternative is KDE, but there are lots of other options for those with a different taste.

Window Managers
The desktop environment delegates the handles the actual placement and appearance of windows to the window manager. If you're using GNOME, you're likely to be running Metacity, Compiz or even just a window decorator like gtk-window-decorator. If you're running KDE, you're probably using KWin. As usual, there's a wealth of options to choose from.

This are a little more complicated that what I just said above, but we'll stick to that for now.

So, once you have figured out the environment you're running, head over to and look through the themes available for the desktop environment and window manager components. Look under the relevant sections, and look up instructions on how to install themes for your window manager and desktop environment.

Do not get discouraged if some themes do not install properly; move on and try another. If this interests you, learn further about the desktop environment. There are many different components you can theme. You can even configure the GDM (GNOME display manager), the graphical login program, with some beautiful themes.

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Probably the two things that will have the greatest effects are the GTK+ theme (general colors/look and feel) and the Metacity theme (window borders, minimize/maximize/close buttons). There also other things like icons. (Yes, there are themes for icons).

Go to:

Look for GTK themes and Metacity themes that you like. Install them (un-zip to ~/.themes/) and change the theme from the control center.

By default, GNOME presents the theme to you as a whole theme. It doesn't say "click here to choose a GTK theme, and then click here to choose a Metacity theme. However, if you click on "customize", you'll be able to mix-and-match various components of the theme; including the window borders and icons.

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You might want to check out Epidermis, its a program for customizing everything in ubuntu.

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+1. The program would be a welcome addition if it really kicks off. Options are a bit thin on the ground right now, probably because they seem to require a new xml meta-type wrapper before they can incorporate a theme. – nagul Aug 31 '09 at 23:52

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