This is a guest post by Taylor Douglass

After a Ubuntu install one of the first things that users want to do is customize the look to their liking. Lynucs.org has a great collection of screen shots to provide some inspiration for this process. This article is meant to get you going in the right direction as far as customizing the look and feel of Ubuntu.

Wallpaper

One of the easiest and quickest ways to change the look of your desktop is simply to change the wallpaper. One of my favorite wallpaper repositories is socwall.com. Their wallpapers are very well organized and voted on by the community. Once you have a wallpaper that you think would look nice on your desktop you have two options. Please keep in mind that in both of these examples I am using Firefox.

Option one is to right click on the image and select “Set As Desktop Background“. From there you will presented with a dialog box that gives you different options for your wallpaper such as center, tile, and stretch. You can also set a background color if your wallpaper doesn’t cover the entire desktop.

The second option is to first save the wallpaper by right clicking on the image and selecting “Save Image As“. Save the picture in a directory you are familiar with such as your home directory under Pictures. Now go to the System menu, then preferences, click Appearance, and then select the background tab. Click the Add button, navigate to the place where you saved your wallpaper, and select your wallpaper.

Changing Your Gnome Theme

Changing your theme will give you the most dramatic results as far as the overall appearance of Ubuntu. If you go back to the Appearance Preferences (System -> Preferences -> Appearance) you will notice a tab named “Theme“. These are the themes that are currently available on your system. None of these really tickle my fancy, so let’s go out to gnome-look.org and get a nice looking theme.

When it comes to themes you can get really carried away very easily. Some themes require that additional modules, tweaks, and minor fixes be applied before the theme will work correctly. Gnome-look is very good at explaining everything that you need to do in order to correctly install your theme. For simplicities sake, let’s install a theme called Green Lemon 2. Download the theme (green lemon 2.tar.gz) and save it to a place that you can easily find it. Now go back to your appearance preferences, under the theme tab, and click install. Navigate to the place where you downloaded green lemon to and click open. You will then see the theme magically change before your eyes. After it’s done changing you should see a dialog box that says “GNOME Theme Green lemon 2 correctly installed”.

Panels

Panels are a quick and easy way to customize Ubuntu. You can use panels to display various information such as notes, weather, and the time. You can also use panels as tool bars to launch applications and documents. To begin playing with panels right let’s add a weather report. Right click on the top panel on your desktop. This will bring up a menu that has various options such as add to panel, properties, delete this panel, and new panel. We want to select add to panel. You should now see a list of various different items that you can add to your panel. Under the accessories section, select Weather Report, and click close. Now you have an icon on your panel that has a question mark and two dashes after it. This is because we haven’t yet set our location, so the weather report doesn’t know what to report. Right click on the icon and select preferences. Under the general tab set your preferences such as temperature unit and wind speed unit. Now go to the location tab and set your location and then close the preferences window. Before your weather information is displayed you may have to refresh it. Simply right click on the weather icon and select update. Now we want to move the icon. Right click on it and select move. Now move the icon to where you want it to be. I prefer that my weather icon sits right next to my clock. An interesting thing about the weather icon is that if you right click on it and select details, you get a lot more information such as current conditions, a forecast, and a radar map.

Something I will mention but is well beyond the scope of this tutorial is AWN or Avant Window Manager. This is a much more powerful application that is similar to Ubuntu panels. It allows you to add various tool bars and applets to your desktop. For more information about AWN, check out the wiki.

Pushing the Customizing Window

Something that is fairly new to the Ubuntu world is Beryl/Compiz. This application allows you to take customization to a whole new level. With Compiz you can adjust the opacity of windows and menus, add flashy affects when opening, closing, or moving windows, and change the way that you switch between desktops. Although Compiz requires a decent graphics card and a faster computer, it is rather amazing what is possible with it. For more information about installing and using Compiz, check out compiz.org.