How to Customize Desktop in Ubuntu 10.10: Guest Post

By Dr. Muhammad Saleem, PhD
Pakistan Center for Advanced Studies in Engineering

There are variety of desktops available in Ubuntu; GNOME, KDE, Xfce. In this article, we primarily focus on the GNOME desktop. However, once you are familiar with GNOME, it would be easy for you to tackle other desktop environments.

1.            Changing the position of windows control-buttons

ASUS Eee PC 1015PX-PU17-BK 10.1-Inch Netbook (Black)In Ubuntu 10.10, the windows control button - minimize, maximize and close – appear on the top left of the screen by default. If you don’t feel comfortable with this setting, you can switch them to the top right – their old position. Here are the steps:

·         Run the application window by pressing ALT-F2 and type gconf-editor in the text box. Finally choose Run to fire the configuration editor.
·         Browse to /apps/metacity/generalusing the side pan. Finally, double click on button_layout.
·         Change the position of the colon such that it appears on the right side of the pan. The colon position determines whether control buttons appear on the left or right side of the window. Click OK to complete the process.

2.            Customizing desktop panels

Panel is an area of desktop through which you interact with the system e.g. running an application, to see/set time & date etc. Ubuntu comes with two desktop panels – the bottom and the top panel. The top panel consists of icons for launching applications, clock applet, volume control, menu bar and notification area. The bottom panel consists of show desktop icon, workspace switching applet and window list. Their functions are self explanatory. For instance, show desktop icon can be used to minimize all running applications thereby exposing the desktop to the user. Here are few tips to configure these panels.

Official Ubuntu Server Book, The (2nd Edition)

  • To change the side of a panel, click on the vacant area in the panel, press and hold ALT button and drag the panel to a desired location. You can also change the properties of a panel e.g. autohide, orientation, size etc. by right clicking on a vacant area and choosing Properties from the drop down menu. You can also add new panel to desktop / delete existing by right clicking and choosing New Panel / Delete This Panel.

  • Interacting with the panel objects is also simple. Left click on the object launches the application, middle click is used to drag the object to a new location and right click will open the panel object menu. For adding a new object to the panel, right click on a vacant area of the panel and choose Add to Panel. You can also remove, change properties, lock or move a panel object by right clicking on it and using the drop down menu. Locked objects do not leave their locations until unlocked.
3.            Configuring the main menu
The main menu – on the top bar - consists of three submenus; Applications, Places and System. As the names suggest, Applications menu is used to run installed packages, Places contains short-cuts to different file locations on your system an System consists of utilities to customize system or perform other administrative tasks e.g. create users. Whenever you install a new package, it is automatically added to a suitable category which you can locate later on e.g. Internet, sound and video etc.

4.            Configuring the visual effects

The desktop in Ubuntu can be made look attractive by changing the visual effects e.g 3D desktop capabilities, shadow effects, translucent windows, animations etc. Visual effects are enabled by default but they may be disabled if your display adaptor does not support them. Here is how you can configure these visual effects.
·         To configure visual effects, click on System, Preferences, Appearance and then Visual Effects. There are three basic options.
                                                              i.      None – for simple desktop
                                                            ii.      Normal – for a rather balanced desktop
                                                          iii.      Extra – to please your aesthetic sense

Changes will take few seconds and screen may get unstable during this time. Be patient and enjoy your coffee till it asks you to “Keep Settings” or “Use Previous Settings”. If you continue to enjoy coffee and did not respond in 20 seconds, it will revert back to the previous settings.

Morale of the story: Bring another cup of coffee for the next round.
·         For more advanced effects, you need to install advanced desktop setting utility. If you have it, invoke it by clicking on SystemPreferences - CompizConfig Settings Manager.
                                                              i.      To enable an effect, check the box adjacent to it.
                                                            ii.      For changing the current settings, click on the effect

Warning: If you notice any problem with your screen or get an error message e.g. visual effects can not be enabled, we recommend you to revert back to None. Your PC may also get slow due to visual effects – because after all - they do waste the precious computing resources. So, do not play with your PC if it is aged. We all need to respect the elders.

5.            Configuring through preference tools

HP EX495 1.5 TB MediaSmart Home Server (Black)System - Preferences menu allows you to configure several other features of GNOME desktop. Keyboard shortcuts menu enables you to set combinations of different keys for different actions. Through the Windows configuration menu, you can set different window features e.g. window roll, window movement key etc. Mouse and Keyboard are the tools used to configure mouse and keyboard. System – Preferences –Appearance contains tools to handle several configuration tasks related to: themes, background, fonts, interfaces and visual effects.  Please visit for more detailed explanation.

Editor's Note: Dr. Muhammad Saleem has done PhD from the Center for Advanced Studies in Engineering, Islamabad, Pakistan. He spends his spare time writing as a freelance writer. He is also the author/co-author of several research publications in the area of Ad Hoc networks

The article above does not reflect the opinions, observations and recommendations of and are the views of the author. Always confirm information before you do something with your computer.