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 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.

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