Customize the Ubuntu Desktop

May 24, 2011, By Christian Cawley

Continuing our introduction to the Ubuntu operating system, we’re going to move away from application installation and open source alternatives to something much more important.

How are you going to customize your desktop? It is an important question, one that by now you should have given some thought to as you use Ubuntu to surf the web, send email and generally use as you would any other computer.

Various customization options are available that allow you to enjoy an Ubuntu desktop that reflects your personality and interests, and as they’re so easy to apply it doesn’t make sense to ignore them!

Customize the Ubuntu desktop

Adding New Icons to Ubuntu Shortcuts

One of the first things you should learn is how to add new icons to your Ubuntu shortcuts. A key example is the Firefox launcher in the panel across the top of the screen. You might have seen an alternative image online that you might like to use instead (there are many custom icon websites that you can download alternatives from for free) and saved this to the /usr/share/pixmaps folder. By right-clicking on the Firefox icon on the panel and selecting Properties, you can then click the default icon on the left-hand side of the Properties window and select the relevant image in the pixmaps folder for your alternative!

Repositioning the Panel

You can also adjust the position of the Panel in Ubuntu without upsetting anything else on your Ubuntu desktop. This is best done by right-clicking an empty portion of the Panel, selecting Properties and then using the Orientation drop down menu to select which side of the display you want it to appear on.

The size of the Panel can also be adjusted by specifying a new value in the Size field; note that this is measured in pixels. Setting a too-high value for the Panel width will result in background image repetition, which doesn’t look great, so you might opt to hit the Background tab to select a new background color or image. You can also use the Autohide option Show hide buttons to force the Panel to hide offscreen while you are not accessing it.

New items can be added to the Panel, such as shortcuts for any other applications that you have installed or built-in Ubuntu tools. For instance, you might right-click the Panel and select Add to Panel… which will display a list of useful widgets that can be added, while adding an application involves right-clicking the item from its relevant menu (such as Applications > Internet) and right-clicking and selecting Add this launcher to panel.

Changing the Ubuntu Desktop Background

While many users enjoy the default Ubuntu desktop background, it isn’t the most striking image. Luckily it can be updated without too much effort, with an impressive selection of static images and slideshows available.

You can access these by right-clicking on an empty portion of the desktop and selecting Change Desktop Background. Note that via the Theme tab you can also adjust the default Ubuntu desktop theme, swapping it for something less brown.

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