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The One Stop Shop for Ubuntu Customization

Notice: This post is more than a year old. It may be outdated.

There are a lot of things that make people switch to Ubuntu.

Perhaps it’s older hardware that needs a refresh, or a complete loathing of all things Apple and Microsoft, or maybe a desire to run all open or free source software.

However, I would hazard a guess that for many of us, a desire to tweak, alter, and otherwise change our desktop experience is at the top of our lists of why we use Ubuntu.

But with all of the resources we have available in free software and the ability to dig into the open source and change for our own tastes, we all occasionally run into a wall of lack of inspiration of just what to customise, or what new usability tweak to try out.

So I’ve gathered up some of the things I’ve done to my Ubuntu system to help it look great and work better for, as well as some other ideas and links to other guides we’ve done on customizing Ubuntu.

Hopefully some of these ideas and guides can help you out if you’ve run into a dry spell of inspiration, or as a place that you can point new users to get them started in Ubuntu.

Install Some Stuff


This is an obvious section if you’ve been using Ubuntu for any amount of time, and has been well covered in our previous posts on what to do after installing Ubuntu, but it still bears mentioning.

Head to the Software Center and grab the Restricted Extra’s package, the Compiz Config Settings Manager, and maybe some apps like Docky, AWN, or Gnome-Do to help with app launching and such.

Go to the websites and grab some .debs for Ubuntu Tweak, Skype, Dropbox, and other handy apps.

My must have applications are as follows:

  • Dropbox
  • Chromium (In Software Center)/Chrome
  • Skype
  • Comix (Software Center)
  • TeamViewer
  • Docky (Software Center
  • Gnome-Do (Software Center)
  • Synergy (Software Center)
  • Getting Things Gnome! (Software Center)

Need some ‘iLife’ style apps? Take a look at these:


In addition to apps, utilities, and codecs, you should probably get some additional themes and such. Some of our favorites include Victory, Elementary, Smart, Homosapien, and many more.

I personally can’t get enough of Victory at the moment.

In addition to that, there are many other themes and icon packs available that you should check out.

Customization Hacks

Possibly our favorite thing to do is to customize everything we can get our hands on.

The first thing you should do is to start clicking on the preferences of just about everything you can, but there are some things that either don’t make it quite apparent enough that you can customize it, or you need a separate app (like previously mentioned Ubuntu Tweak) to make the change.

For instance, just recently I learned I could make Open Office look like this

[image broken]

Pretty sweet, huh?

You can turn off lots of things like rulers and the status bar in the view menus, and there are a few other options in the (obviously named) Options dialog, under tools.

Now, some of you might be freaking out over the lack of page numbers or what have you, but I use mostly keyboard shortcuts so I keep just the one menu for some visual cues on fonts and I have everything else to help me focus.

The point is, You don’t have to make yours look like mine; you can have yours however you want.

Some other sweet ways to customize your desktop:

There are additional, but ever more dangerous, visual hacks available in Gconf-Editor.

This is not recommend for noobs, but if you’re interested, take a gander through some of your favorite apps in gconf to find some cool things, like these Docky hacks.

Usability Hacks

Often, when it comes to usability, it can be much harder to simply list things off, as they often have to do with how you use your computer and your particular needs.

However, there are a few things you can look at doing.

First of all, you can set up some keyboard shortcuts. System>Preferences>Keyboard shortcuts. These are useful for launching apps, changing workspaces, minimizing or maximizing, and so on.

In addition to that, I highly recommend using Compiz Config Settings to set some additional commands. For instance, I don’t actually use the Close/Min/Max buttons on the window borders, and I haven’t for nearly a year.

Instead, I have the right, left, and bottom sides of my screen set with the right button to do various command. Putting my mouse all the way right and right clicking maximizes/restores the window, all the way to the left and right clicking is minimize, and the bottom and right clicking closes.

I also have a whole load of commands in the grid plugin to help tile windows.

Other Random Tidbits

Eventually I’ll have more things to go here, as only one or two tricks pop into mind.

But a nice quick trick for those of you with more than one computer and with some torrents to seed (and yes, there are perfectly legitimate uses for torrents besides piracy) than you can set up Dropbox and Transmission to give you headless control of your downloads.

  • First of all, install Dropbox on the computer and set up an account if you haven’t already.
  • Then, navigate to the preferences menu of Transmission. In the first check box, activate it, then direct it to your dropbox folder to watch for new torrent files.
  • Then click over to the Web tab, and activate the web Client, and put on a password and such. Make a note of the settings, you don’t want to set it to only be accessible from an IP address you’re not using!
  • Now all you have to do is download a torrent file, drop it in your dropbox folder, and it will automatically get synced over to the other computer, and just automatically get added to transmission! To check on the progress of your torrents or pause or what have you, open a web browser to:
    • where the ip address is obviously the IP of the computer running transmission, and the port is whatever you had it set to in the settings (probably 9091)
  • Hooray!

If you really want to get crazy, you can do as I do and run that computer totally headless (that is, with no monitor) by setting up remote access… but we’ll get to that some other time.

Do you have any great hacks or customizations? Did I make spelling mistakes?  Where did I make spelling mistakes? Any part of this post out of date? Do you hate this? Do you love it? Do you have any other answers to questions I didn’t ask?

Than tell us in the comments!

Thanks to Seif Sallam who put the idea for this in my head months ago, only to get ignored so I could graduate.