Ubuntu Tutorial: How To Redesign Your Desktop The ‘WOW’ Way

I love Ubuntu as it is simply the best operating system that I have come across. If there is one thing that I dislike about Ubuntu, it has to be the desktop. Don’t get me wrong, it is not GNOME that I dislike, but the default color and theme that Ubuntu use for their distribution. I just can’t stand the brown color and theme.

In this tutorial, I am going to show you how to redesign your desktop and transform it to a nice eyecandy that makes people ‘wow’. The distro I am using is Ubuntu Gutsy.

desktop Screenshot thumbnai

Changing of theme

The first step to redesign your desktop is to change the desktop theme. Go to http://www.gnome-look.org where you can find great themes that you can download for free. Gnome desktop theme can be found under the GTK 2.x section. Select the “most downloads” tab to see the most popular theme in the library. The theme that I am using is Clearlooks, a simple but elegant theme.

Still in the same website, go to the Wallpaper section and select your favorite wallpaper. Omit this step if you already have a wallpaper.

Next, proceed on the icon theme section and select a theme that you like. The theme I am using is “Glass Icon”.

The themes are in tar file. After downloaded, DO NOT UNTAR THEM. Leave them as it is.

Now, go to “System -> Preferences -> Appearance”.


At the theme tab, click on the install button. This will bring up a window. Navigate to the folder where you download the theme. Select the desktop theme (the tar file that you have downloaded) and click ‘Open’. It will automatically install. When prompted, select “Apply New Theme”. You can now see changes to your desktop. Repeat the same step to install your icon theme.

Next, proceed on to the Background tab, this is where you add your wallpaper. Click the ‘Add’ button and select the wallpaper that you have downloaded.


You should now have a nice desktop, but it haven’t finish yet.

Changing the bottom panel

The next thing that I am going to do is to convert the ugly panel at the bottom of the desktop to a Mac-style dock. This is just the imitation; there won’t be any animation of the icon. To achieve the Mac dock effect, you may want to try Cairo-dock.

Remove the window list

Launch any application. You should see the window list on the bottom panel. Toward the left of the window list, there is a bar where you can drag the window list around. Right click on the drag bar and select “Remove from panel”.

Resize the panel

Right click on the panel and select “Properties”. On the General tab,

  • set the size to 50 (This will change your icon size. Depending on your screen resolution, you might want to vary this. I am using 1280×800 and a size of 50 suits me well).
  • Uncheck Expand.
  • Check Autohide.

On the Background tab, select “Solid color”. Under the style, drag the slider all the way to the left that says Transparent. This will make the background of the panel transparent. Click Close.

You will now see the panel shrink to a mini dock on the bottom of the screen. Move your mouse over the panel and it will unhide itself. The workspace switcher does not blend in well with the panel, so right click and “Remove from panel”. At this moment, your panel should have only “Show Desktop” and “Trash” icons. Right click on the panel again and this time, select “Add to panel”. Add the icon of the applications that you frequently use to the panel.

Everything seems fine with the dock except for one problem: it is not responsive enough to mouse movement. The default timing for the panel to unhide is 500ms. We need to change it to 100ms for better response. This can be solved easily. Open up a terminal. Type in

terminal screenshot

This will open up the configuration editor. On the left, navigate to “apps -> panel -> toplevels -> bottom_panel_screen0”. On the right, scroll down to find the row with “unhide_delay”. Change the value to 100. Exit the editor. Your panel is now responsive to your mouse.

configuration editor screenshot

Changing the top panel

We are done with the bottom panel. Now we will deal with the top panel.

For a better uniform effect, it is a good idea to remove the Firefox and Evolution icons from the top panel and add them to the bottom panel. Right click on the Firefox icon and uncheck “lock to panel”. Right click again and select “Remove from panel”. Do the same for the Evolution icon.

Right click on the panel and select “Properties”. Go to the Background tab. Select “Solid Color” and under the style, drag the bar to the center (half way between the transparent and opaque). This will give a translucent appearance to the panel.

Remember just now we removed the window list from the bottom panel? Now we need to replace it back to the top panel. Right click on the top panel and select “Add to panel”. Scroll down till you find the Window list icon. Click “Add”.

If the window list is not align to the left, you can drag the bar on the left all the way to the left.

Done. You have just redesigned your desktop.

Damien Damien

Damien Oh started writing tech articles since 2007 and has over 10 years of experience in the tech industry. He is proficient in Windows, Linux, Mac, Android and iOS, and worked as a part time WordPress Developer. He is currently the owner and Editor-in-Chief of Make Tech Easier.


  1. @Steve: The clock is part of the screenlets package. You can find it at http://www.screenlets.org

    @Patrick: The wallpaper I used is from Gnome-look. You can find it at http://www.gnome-look.org/content/show.php/Drops+in+the+net?content=39326

  2. thanx for providing such nice tips now i can make my desktop better than previous one


  3. I use the gdesklets starterbar, i believe this is the same as an animated docking bar. Well at least it’s very pleasing to me.

  4. This is pretty cool, but – it’s not a reason to use Linux, or to switch to Linux. It’s nothing more than eye candy, icing on the cake.

    I think that trying to be as flashy as Vista kind of misses the point. Linux isn’t Vista; it will never be Vista; and that’s perfectly OK. It shouldn’t be Vista, or there would be no good reason to use Linux.

  5. @Chiron: You are right. Having a cool desktop is not a compelling reason to use Linux, or to switch from Windows. But the ability to fully customize Linux to what you want (including the desktop) and what you need is, and that is what makes Linux so attractive. How many time have people succumb to Windows to do what they want, rather than they providing with what you want?

  6. I wouldn’t use Linux just for the eye-candy, I use it because I need the core functionality. Occasionally it’s nice to have pretty things to look at, though; just as it’s nice to work in a pleasant work environment.

  7. The theme install failed for me like most everything does the first, second, third, and fourth time in the gnu/linux world. Guess I’ll have to do hours of research to accomplish something that can be done in 2 minutes on Windows. No wonder MS has 90 percent desktop share.

  8. You can just drag launchers between panels. You don’t need to delete them on one and recreate them on the other.

  9. Thankyou so much! This is exactly what I needed.

    I HATE the brown theme in Ubuntu (and the name and logo) but I love the system itself. Now that you have showed me how to make it look great, I love it.

    I am starting a new computer business that will sell itx small form factor pc’s and this will be the os that i will use now, thanks to you!


  10. I downloaded folder icons with .png extensions. How do I install these to make them the default folder icons system wide in ubuntu?

  11. You have just made more sense than ALOT of other tutorial websites I have visited. Can you come live under my stairs?

  12. hello, great tutorial, really helpfull…
    just one question…
    say i want to return my bottom panel to the way it was, how do i do that?
    im kind of a n00b…

    1. That’s easy. Right click on the bottom panel and select Properties.
      Check the box “Expand” and uncheck the box “Autohide”. Go to the background tab and select None. This will restore it to the default setting.

  13. Im a total noob with linux.. and searching.. i cant find the Clearlooks theam you used.. little help please? im useing ubuntu 9.04

    1. You can find it at System->Preferences->Appearance. Under the Theme tab, you should be able to find the ClearLooks theme

  14. Nice, came across this site while researching KDE stuff. Just wondered if you’d seen these Gnome themes from the Bisigi Project: http://www.bisigi-project.org/?page_id=6&lang=en

    They are quite beautiful & very different to the default Ubuntu theme. They also work very well with the Ubuntu Netbook Remix (UNR) v9.10 – Karmic Koala.


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