How to Customize the Ubuntu 16.04 LTS Desktop

Christian Cawley Updated 08-07-2019

If you’re relying on Ubuntu 16.04 LTS you may know that the default desktop customization tools are missing.


This was part of an attempt to unify the overall look of the Unity desktop. Fortunately, that doesn’t mean you can’t customize Ubuntu 16.04 LTS. With the Unity Tweak Tool and a few simple terminal commands, you can make Unity your own.

Customizing Ubuntu With Themes

Unity isn’t the most tweak-able Linux desktop environment The 12 Best Linux Desktop Environments Choosing a Linux desktop environment can be difficult. Here are the best Linux desktop environments to consider. Read More . There are some manual tweaks you can make, minor and major. Some of these are related to productivity, rather than visual.

Here, we’re focusing on visual tweaks, improving and customizing the Unity desktop. The freyja-dev team has created an all-in-one tool customization tool.

The Unity Tweak Tool handles various customizations, for the Unity environment, window manager, desktop icons, and appearance.

Install the Unity Tweak Tool

Designed to configure a slew of under-the-hood settings, the Unity Tweak Tool is found in the Ubuntu Software Center.


Open the software center app and search for “unity tweak tool”—it will be the first result. Simply select it and click Install to proceed.

Alternatively, you can use the terminal:

sudo apt install unity-tweak-tool

You can launch the tweak tool from the launcher, or in the terminal with


Customize Ubuntu With the Unity Tweak Tool

The Unity Tweak Tool is straightforward to use. Once you start exploring, you can see how easy it is to figure out. Each icon opens the options for the corresponding setting.


Customize Ubuntu 16.04 LTS with the Unity Tweak Tool

Each row of icons is associated with the group name, above the left-most icons in the rows. From the individual settings page, you also have access to the other options for that aspect of Unity. Access these via the tabs at the top of the page.

Using the tweak tool, you can:

  • Adjust Unity features such as the Launcher, Search, Panel settings, Switcher, and more
  • Configure the Window Manager’s General settings, Window Snapping, Hotcorners, etc.
  • Tweak Appearance items such as icons and themes, the mouse cursor, and fonts
  • Manage System elements including desktop icons, security (desktop lock and user profiles), and scrolling

In short, you can tweak all Unity desktop elements with the Unity Tweak Tool.


Customize the Ubuntu 16.04 LTS Terminal

While you no doubt want to tweak everything, it’s worth starting off by pimping the desktop.

Open the terminal by clicking the Super Key (Windows key on a PC, Apple key on a Mac), and enter “terminal”. Select the default terminal app to open it.

Right now, it looks functional, but little else. Solid terminal windows are useful; transparent ones are better, especially if you’re copying commands or code from the web.

To change that, click the Edit menu at the top of the screen and select Profile Preferences. Here, set a profile name, and if you want to, tweak the default text size and font to something readable.


Tweak the terminal in Ubuntu 16.04 LTS

Next, adjust the terminal transparency. The color scheme can be tweaked, but you may prefer to revisit this after installing a Unity theme. Once you have set the scheme you want, click OK to save the profile.

Take the time to set the profile selector in the Preferences > Profiles screen to your new profile before hitting Close.

Installing a New Unity Theme for Ubuntu 16.04 LTS

A good alternative to the default Unity theme in Ubuntu 16.04 LTS is the Material Design theme. The Paper theme and icon set will give you the ultra-modern look that resembles Android.

First, add the repo from the developer. Open a terminal and enter:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:snwh/pulp

Next, update local software sources:

sudo apt update

Now, the fun part—install the theme and icons:

sudo apt install paper-gtk-theme paper-icon-theme

While the default Ubuntu wallpapers 10 Innovative Linux Wallpapers For Ubuntu Users Read More are good, you can add all the wallpapers from previous Ubuntu versions.

Enter this terminal command:

sudo apt install ubuntu-wallpapers-*

Note that you can also add all the wallpapers from the other Ubuntu distros. Simply change “ubuntu” to “lubuntu” or “xubuntu”.

Change Position of the Unity Launcher

With the theme, icons, and wallpapers installed, you might want to edit the desktop layout. One popular tweak is to move the launcher from the left side of the screen. This might be useful if you’re right-handed, for example.

In the terminal, enter:

gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Launcher launcher-position Bottom

To return the launcher to its original position, use

gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Launcher launcher-position Left

Note that this feature is also available in the Ubuntu Tweak Tool. Find it in Launcher > Appearance, where you can choose between Left and Bottom options.

Apply Your New Unity Theme

Now that you have your theme and icons installed, repositioned the launcher, reopen the Unity Tweak Tool. This is important; if you had left the tweak tool open, the new theme and icons would not have registered. Click on the Theme icon in the Appearance row and select the Paper theme. Click the Icons tab and select the Paper icons.

Set a new Unity theme with the Unity Tweak Tool

Remember those extra wallpapers you downloaded? Right click on the desktop and select Change Desktop Background to choose any of the beautiful high definition backgrounds.

Prefer your background to change every so often? Choose a background with a clock icon in the lower right corner, to cycle through a gallery of backgrounds.

A Smooth Ubuntu Desktop

Install the Paper theme on Unity for a Material Design-like theme

Tweaking the Ubuntu 16.04 LTS desktop is probably a lot easier than you thought. To make Unity feel like home, you just need to know where all the options are. The Unity Tweak Tool clearly comes in handy; it features more than appearance-based tweaks, too.

Various Ubuntu themes are available beyond the material design-like Paper theme. Check our list of breathtaking Ubuntu desktop themes for suggestions.

Want some more Ubuntu desktop tweaks? Here’s how to make your Ubuntu desktop look like macOS Make Linux Look Like macOS With These Easy Tweaks If you like Linux but want it to look more like macOS, you're in luck! Here's how to make your Linux desktop look like macOS. Read More .

Related topics: Linux Desktop Environment, Ubuntu, Ubuntu Themes, Unity.

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  1. Mark
    July 9, 2019 at 4:17 pm

    Unfortunately this approach is the opposite of what the world needs. The goal is to remove windows altogether and run windows apps directly on Linux. Any time windows is touching bare metal, you're doing it wrong.

  2. Bob R
    July 9, 2019 at 12:01 pm

    Why did you do this on an older distribution? 18.04 is the latest LTS version.

  3. KGF
    July 9, 2019 at 9:59 am


  4. DrMP
    October 20, 2017 at 12:26 am

    The Ubuntu Unity extension I use most often is Drawers, which enables folders on the taskbar for applications. For example, in an Editing folder I created are Kate, gedit and LibreOffice Writer. . Minor gotcha: though icons can be dragged to change the sort order, that order is not saved. Edit the resource file (by clicking on the pencil icon) instead.

  5. Leo
    September 19, 2017 at 5:27 am

    How can these settings be saved so if in case someone else messes up with the desktop the system resets my settings at reboot?

  6. Rick Smith
    March 9, 2017 at 11:23 pm

    I would not recommend installing this app. It caused a problem with my machine that fortunately was easy to fix by an uninstall. Had me worried for a few minutes though.

  7. Elaine
    September 7, 2016 at 1:52 pm

    Appreciated the tutorial. I used Windows 10 about 10% of the time, so it is nice to have the bar on the bottom of the screen.

  8. AJ
    August 30, 2016 at 4:48 pm

    Don't forget to drop Conky in the middle there.
    You'll get a nice Sci-fi look and some useful information