How To Make Elementary OS Look Like Old-School Ubuntu

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Ubuntu didn’t always look like it does now. Before it adopted the Unity windowing environment, and changed its theme to one that was flecked with purple (the actual name for it is “Canonical Aubergine”), it had an aesthetic that was earthy and natural, and perhaps reflected Mark Shuttleworth’s South African origins.

The design revamp ultimately proved to be a costly one, as well as divisive and controversial. The end result was Ubuntu, although remaining the most widely used distribution, lost its dominance as former die-hards fled elsewhere. Despite that, they never reverted to the old Ubuntu aesthetic, known as “Human”.

But, as with all things in the open source world, if there’s a demand for it, someone will make it. Recently, Canada-based developer Sam Hewitt released a theme and icon pack for the popular Elementary OS Linux distribution. It’s called Humanitary. Here’s how to get it.

What Ubuntu Used To Be Like

First, let’s take a throwback to what Ubuntu used to look like. It turns out that they still serve ISOs of older and deprecated versions. I downloaded a copy of version 6.06 Dapper Drake, and fired up VirtualBox.


Perhaps the first thing you will notice is how radically different it is. It looks completely different to modern-day Ubuntu. Gone are the transparent visual effects and the sidebar. In its place is a static design devoid of any animation, and a double-helping of Orange, gray, and brown.

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Not that’s a bad thing, mind you. It was simple, and effective, and its lack of visual pizzaz allowed it to run on the most rudimentary of computers. I actually remember running it on an ancient Pentium 3 computer when it first came out.

Nelson Mandela

One of the biggest hallmarks of old-school Ubuntu is its icons. In short, they’re chunky and oversized, and perhaps a little over-designed.


Overall, it’s a simpler design than what exists now. Personally, I can see the appeal of it. So, how can you get this theme on a modern distribution?

Humanitary: 2006’s Ubuntu on 2016’s Linux

Humanitary is a fork of Elementary’s icon theme and GTK theme that has been modified to look like retro Ubuntu. We’ve written about forks before.

If you’ve been reluctant to install third-party themes in the past, you shouldn’t be deterred. It’s actually really easy to install it, and it shouldn’t cause any damage to your installation. First, you need to meet some prerequisites.

First, you’re going to need to download the Git client, and then clone the repositories containing the two themes. These can be found on Sam Hewitt’s GitHub page. To do that, you’re going to need to run the following commands.

sudo apt-get install git
git clone
git clone


Then, you’re going to need to create the folders where the theme assets will be placed. To do that, run the following commands.

mkdir ~/.themes
mkdir ~/.icons

Installing the theme requires you install an application called Elementary Tweaks. To do that, you’re first going to have to add a repository to your system.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:mpstark/elementary-tweaks-daily
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install elementary-tweaks


Then, you’re set to start adding the themes. We’ll start off by installing the GTK theme, before moving onto the icons.

Installing The GTK Theme.

First, navigate into the folder containing the GTK theme. Then you’re going to have to move the Humanitary theme into the theme folder you created earlier. Do that by running the following command.

cp -r Humanitary/ ~/.themes

Then, open Settings and click Tweaks. You should see something like the below image. Then, click on the dropdown menu next to GTK Theme and select Humanitary.


Automatically, Elementary will start using the theme. You won’t have to restart your machine – it’ll just happen. While the background will remain the default (we’ll touch on that later), your windows will look more like old-school Ubuntu. Just contrast this Terminal window to the earlier ones.


Installing The Icon Pack

Now we’re going to install the Icon pack. This will work as before. First, enter the folder containing the icons, which you downloaded through git. Then, copy it into the icons folder with the following command.

cp -r Humanitary/ ~/.icons

Next, as before, open Elementary Tweaks. It’ll be in the same place as before. Then select the dropdown next to Icon Theme and choose Humanitary.


This one is a bit more subtle than the last one, but you’ll notice that some icons start to resemble the Ubuntu you used ten years earlier, such as the power buttons.


If you want to see more of how Humanitary works, check out this video from YouTuber WOGUE, who installed it on Elementary OS Loki.

Not On Elementary?

If you’re not on Elementary OS, but you’re still pining for the Ubuntu of yesteryear, don’t despair. There’s still something you can do.

In addition to keeping the older ISOs online, the Ubuntu Foundation have also archived all the older artwork and graphical assets. These stretch back all the way to version 4.10 Warty Warthog. Should you wish to customize your preferred distro, everything you need is there.


If you want to get an original Ubuntu wallpaper for your modified Elementary OS install, you can get it here too.

Will You Be Installing It?

Before we wrap up, it’s worth noting that the instructions above are totally different to the ones found on the Humanitary documentation.

Truth be told, I couldn’t get it installed by following them. However, if you get into difficulties with the instructions above, consider checking them out. Failing that, leave me a comment below, and I’ll try and help you out.

So, over to you. Will you be installing Humanitary? Or do you think old-school Ubuntu is best forgotten? Whatever you think, let me know below.

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