How to Give Any KDE Desktop An Ubuntu Makeover

Although some might consider it blasphemous, the default KDE desktop is not a style everyone automatically likes. If it were, would not be filled with desktop themes, window manager themes, and more. KDE is all about customization, and the ability to make it look however you want is part of that.

I have spoken to many people who dislike KDE solely based on its default appearance, the Air/Oyxgen set of styles and themes. Some have even argued that it looks too much like Windows (although evidence strongly suggests that Windows 7 mimicked KDE, rather than the other way around). What those people may not realize is that you can make KDE look as much like Gnome or any other desktop environment as you want.

The customizations in this guide are just examples. They will not give an exact Unity or Gnome appearance, as most people change those defaults anyway. Instead, this example will use some of the common customizations that Ubuntu and Gnome users often apply.

KDE desktop with Ambiance theme

The Desktop Theme

KDE-Look has a plethora of desktop themes you can use. To change your theme, do the following:

  1. Open “System Settings” from the kickoff menu (or press Alt+F2 and type it)
  2. Click “Workspace Appearance”
  3. Click “Desktop Theme” on the left-hand pane
  4. Click “Get New Themes” at the bottom
  5. Choose whatever theme you want and click “Install”. For this example, I have chosen the “Ambiance” theme.
  6. Click “Apply”

KDE Ambiance theme selection

The Window Decoration

Since you are already in Workspace settings, now is a good time to change the window decoration.

  1. Click “Window Decorations” from the left-hand pane.
  2. Click “Get New Decorations”
  3. Following the same example, search for Ambiance Aurorae and click “Install”
  4. Choose the decoration theme and click “Apply”.

If you want to really be like Ubuntu/Mac OS X, you can move the window buttons to the left side:

  1. Click “Configure Buttons”
  2. Check the box labeled “Use custom title bar button positions”
  3. Simply drag each button type to the left in the order that you want them.

Application Appearance

Getting the application appearance you want is a little more tricky. That is because KDE does not currently offer users the ability to install new styles from within System Settings. Therefore, before you choose a style, you will need to make sure the one you want is installed. You have two options: 1. You can install the actual GTK style that you want and use it, or 2. Find an actual KDE or Qtcurve style that matches the one you want.

If you decide to go with the Qtcurve option, you can download something like Ambiance-like. Download it and extract it to the folder of your choice. To install it, do the following:

  1. Open “System Settings”
  2. Click “Application Appearance”
  3. Choose Qtcurve and click “Configure” (If you do not have Qtcurve installed, it is probably in your distribution’s software repository)
  4. In the “Presets” section, choose “Import”
  5. Find the Ambiance-like theme (Ambiance-like.qtcurve) and then click “OK”
  6. Click “Apply”
  7. Click the “Colors” button in the left-hand panel
  8. Choose “Import Scheme”
  9. Locate the Ambiance colors (Ambiance-like.colors) and click “OK”
  10. Click “Apply”

Alternatively, you can use the Ambiance color scheme from KDE-Look.

Panel and Launcher

In most distributions, the KDE panel is at the bottom and is rather large. To move it to the top:

  1. Right click on the panel and click “Unlock widgets”
  2. Click the cashew button on the far right
  3. Click and hold the “Screen Edge” button and drag the panel to the top.
  4. Click and hold the “Height” button to make it the size you want

KDE can use a global menu that works for KDE, Qt, and GTK apps. To use it:

  1. Click the cashew again and click “Add widgets”
  2. Choose “Window Menubar” and drag it to the panel

You have a couple of options for launchers. You can either use a KDE-native launcher like Daisy or Fancy Tasks, or you can use a separate launcher program like Docky (mono-based but very reliable), Plank (fast, light-weight next-gen Docky), AWN (robust and powerful), or Cairo Dock (all about options).


KFaenza icon theme

KDE uses a slightly different icon theme system from Gnome and Ubuntu. Therefore, it may not be the best idea to use those themes directly, but they will still work. The alternative is that you can find one specifically modified for KDE. Faenza-Cupertino is a very popular iconset for Ubuntu users, and KFaenza is an excellent KDE version.

To install it:

  1. Open “System Settings”
  2. Click “Application Appearance”
  3. Choose “Icons” from the left-hand pane
  4. Click “Get New Themes”
  5. Search for “KFaenza”
  6. Click “Install”
  7. Select the icon theme and click “Apply”

Mixing and Matching

You are certainly not limited to the examples I have shown. You can mix and match whatever you like to get your KDE desktop looking exactly the way you want.

Tavis J. Hampton

Tavis J. Hampton is a freelance writer from Indianapolis. He is an avid user of free and open source software and strongly believes that software and knowledge should be free and accessible to all people. He enjoys reading, writing, teaching, spending time with his family, and playing with gadgets.

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