Posted by: reformedmusings | January 2, 2009

Customizing Ubuntu 8.10 Intrepid

Configurability stands as one of the notable characteristics of the KDE 3.5 desktop. Not only can almost anything be customized, but the capability almost entirely resides in their control panel. I found the arrangement quite logical and rarely had difficulty getting what I wanted.

Gnome, on the other hand, is designed for simplicity rather than configurability. The underlying assumption is that the overwhelming majority of users will like it out of the box, or close to it. I’m not one of those users.

Basic Stuff

Simple changes, like the overall color scheme, wallpaper, and the like are easy enough. The System -> Preferences menu has a long list of changeable features. You can change the color scheme under System -> Preferences -> Appearance on the Theme tab. You can find some nice, additional GTK 2.x themes for download at

I moved the top Ubuntu panel to the bottom of the screen. If you want to move a panel, simply right click  a blank area on the panel, and select “Allow Panel to be Moved” from the popup menu. Then left-click-and-hold on the panel. The cursor will turn to a hand. Now drag it wherever you want it. Ubuntu won’t allow you to drop it anywhere it can’t go. When you’re happy, release the mouse button. Then right-click again on an empty spot on the panel and select “Lock Panel Position” from the popup. I’ve noticed, though, that the order of the panels on the bottom isn’t consistent across logins. Sometimes the task panel is above the application panel and visa versa. Haven’t found a way to fix it yet.

I also made the two panel backgrounds almost transparent. This may or may not look good on your system depending on your wallpaper. To change the panel properties, simply right-click on an empty area of the panel, and select Properties from the popup.

config-panel-transSelect the Background tab, then select “Solid color”. The default color will be set by your theme, although you can change it here. Move the slider bar from Opaque towards Transparent to get the degree of transparency that you prefer. As you can see, mine is very transparent. This works well for me with my background and theme font colors. You’ll have to do this for both bars if you want them to look the same. The change happens real-time, so you can visually match the two panels without difficulty.

You can add both application shortcut icons and “gadgets” to the application panel. To add program shortcuts, pull up the desired application in the Applications menu, right-click on the program name, then select “Add this launcher to panel” from the popup. You can move them around on the panel by right-clicking on the icons and selecting “Move” from the popup. Then drag it to your desired location and left-click to plant it there.

If you right-click on an empty spot on the panel, then choose “Add to Panel” from the popup, a list of gadgets and tools appears. Select the one(s) that you want. You can move them in the same way as described above. I have the weather, hardware sensors, and network monitor added to my panel.


There are also appearance-related features under System -> Administration. One of the hidden jewels is under Systems -> Administration -> Login Window. From the Local tab, you can change your login screen theme:


There are some excellent GDK themes at You can search by keyword, but that’s hit-or-miss. I found two GDK themes which I especially liked: New Style and Tux G2. I chose styles that allowed the picking of users from a displayed list. You can use the Users tab to control who appears or doesn’t appear on the login list. You can also put custom “faces” next to each login name. This is done from System -> Preferences -> About Me:

config-about-bobSimply click on the icon in the upper left of the Contact tab. A dialog will come up with a list of files in the default faces directory. You can choose other faces simply by navigating to another location. If you are so inclined, there are some great Tux graphics available at Tux Factory on CrystalXP. Go Eagles!

One caution on the Local tab. If you want only one login theme, then be sure to set the Theme pull-down list at the top to “Selected only”. Otherwise, it defaults to rotating between multiple selected themes. When unintentional, the rotation could make it look like you didn’t change your theme when you actually did so, causing confusion.

Digging Deeper

To get deeper into the system, you need to add some programs. In particular, I installed StartUp Manager (startupmanager), Configuration Editor (gconf-editor), and BootUp Manager (bum). These can be installed with Applications -> Add/Remove… Be sure to set the window to Show: All available applications at the top as shown below.


StartUp Manager provides a graphical interface to edit your Grub menu and change your splash screen.

config-startup-bootOn the Boot tab, you can control the Grub menu settings, including setting the default startup system and resolution. I found the resolution particularly helpful because it defaulted to an ugly 640×480 on my initial installation. Setting it properly made my usplash screen look much better.

config-startup-appearThe Appearance tab gives you access to the colors and behavior of the boot screens. You can also change your usplash theme here. You can download alternate usplash themes from Make sure that if you install a custom usplash, that it supports all the features you desire. Some of the simple ones show very little.


Applications -> System Tools -> Configuration Editor opens the holy grail of settings. Many of the settings here can be accessed from the System -> Preferences menu and should be changed from there. However, there are settings not accessible from any menu and that’s were Configuration Editor comes into its own. If there’s some subsystem that won’t work right for you, perhaps this is the place where you can set things right. You can even fix many file associations here.

The good news is that Configuration Editor allows you to change almost any setting in the system. The bad news is that it allows you to change almost any setting in the system. Tread lightly. You can change such innocuous settings as your wallpaper, default browser, and media program. But you can also change the core of your Internet access, font rendering, sound system, and windows manager settings. I didn’t find anything here that could render your system unbootable, but you could break your sound, Internet, or something else you value.


I saved the most dangerous for last. System -> Administration -> BootUp-Manager provides a GUI for editing the active services in your system, allowing you to terminate them or stop some from loading in the first place. Be careful. If you delete a critical service, it will hurt. Maybe badly. If you don’t have a laptop, you can get rid of the battery-related ones. Other than that, do your homework before wandering around the services list with a hatchet.


If you check the Advanced box at the bottom, you get multiple tabs with greater detail and more available control. Please don’t even think of going here unless you really know what you’re doing.

Wrap Up

Overall screen now:


These are the tools which I found to help customize and/or fix settings in Ubuntu’s Gnome implementation. Use them at your discretion. Don’t blame me if you get bunyons or if your acne flares up. Collectively, they still don’t have all of the flexibility provided in KDE’s controls, but they’ll get you close.

Of course, these configuration changes are mostly in addition to those I discussed previously in obtaining a full-function Ubuntu 8.10 setup and using Compiz Fusion.

I’m still exploring Gnome, so if you have additional suggestions, please let me know. Overall, I’m pretty happy with this setup.



  1. […] related questions either in Ubuntu Tweak or Gnome Configuration Editor. I’ve written about Configuration Editor before, including installing it from the Ubuntu Software Center. Ubuntulady wrote a nice post about Ubuntu […]

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