Oh, Unity, how we barely knew thee. In an attempt to unify users with their desktops, users with their Ubuntu phones, and users with other users; the Ubuntu team has managed to eliminate one of the most important aspects of Linux: customization. The Launcher on the left and purple everywhere… I mean, sure, it’s slick, but I need me some variety!
Fear not! With the Unity Tweak Tool and a few simple terminal commands, you can make your Unity your own!
First Things First
OK. Unity isn’t the most tweak-able desktop environment by itself, even if it is lightweight. I’m just going get that out of the way. There are a couple major tweaks, and a few visual tweaks, but the majority of customization comes in the different behavioral aspects of the Unity workflow. Since I have no way of knowing your preference, I want to focus more on the tweak-able visual elements so you can enjoy figuring out my workflow in Unity.
Luckily, your new best friends, the freyja-dev team, have created an all-in-one tool for you to configure a whole slew of under-the-hood settings in Unity. In fact, they call it the Unity Tweak Tool.
And guess what? It’s even in the Ubuntu Software Center!
Let’s Take a Look
On first glance, the Unity Tweak Tool looks pretty easy to figure out. Once you start exploring the tool, you can see how easy it really is to figure out. Each of the icons open up the options page for that particular setting.
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 by using the tabs at the top of the page.
I know you really want to click through all the settings and tweak my workflow, but I want you to make your desktop beautiful first, so open up a terminal (which gives me command line access) by clicking the Super Key (Windows key on a PC, Apple key on a Mac), and enter, Terminal.
Wow. A standard terminal window, with small fonts. That seems… interesting.
We can to change that. Move your mouse to the top of the screen and click the Edit menu, then choose, Profile Preferences. On this screen, you can change the terminal profile name and the default text size and font. If you are like me, you like working with text you can read, so increase the font to about 16 px, and of course, rename your profile to something other than default.
We also want to adjust our terminal’s transparency, so if there is a webpage open with a terminal command tutorial, we can see the page with our terminal open over the browser window. We can also change the color scheme, but we will be installing a new Unity theme which will change the terminal background, so just make a mental note that terminal colors can be adjusted later from this window.
As much as I like Unity, I like Material Design better, maybe you do too. Let’s install the Paper theme and iconset to give us that ultra modern look. First, we need to add the repo from the developer, so type:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:snwh/pulp
Next, we want to update our local software sources so we can download the theme and icon set:
sudo apt update
Now, the fun part… Let’s install the theme and icons:
sudo apt-get install paper-gtk-theme paper-icon-theme
Even though I like purple, I like to change my desktop background to spice up my life. I don’t know about you, but I really like the default Ubuntu wallpapers, but WE WANT MORE! You can add all the wallpapers from previous Ubuntu versions using this command in the terminal (you can also add all the wallpapers from the other Ubuntu distros by changing “ubuntu” to “lubuntu” or “xubuntu”):
sudo apt install ubuntu-wallpapers-*
Now that our theme, icons, and wallpapers are installed, I think we should move the launcher from the left side of the screen. Since we already have the terminal open, we might as well do this now (especially since this feature is not in the Unity Tweak Tool!):
gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Launcher launcher-position Bottom
That’s a pretty slick command. If you ever want to move the launcher back to the left side of the screen, you can just enter this command in the terminal:
gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Launcher launcher-position Left
Now that you have your theme and icons installed, and have the launcher where you like it, open up Unity Tweak Tool again (if you had left the tweak tool open, the new theme and icons would not have registered), and click on the Theme icon in the Appearance row. And there it is, our new Paper theme! After selecting the Paper theme, click the Icons tab, and select the Paper icons.
And since we installed all those extra wallpapers while still working in the terminal, if you right click on the desktop, you can select Change Desktop Background, and select any of the beautiful high definition backgrounds on your system. I like my background to change every so often, so I choose a background with a clock icon in the lower right corner, but you might like a particular wallpaper for your system.
That Is Smooth!
I am pretty happy with my Ubuntu desktop, what about you?. It was probably a lot easier than you thought to make your Unity experience your own; you probably just needed to know where all the options were, and needed a little help from the Unity Tweak Tool. There are a bunch more Ubuntu tweaks in the Unity Tweak Tool you might want to configure (like disabling web apps!), but take a break and start on that tomorrow. Maybe enjoy watching your background change! Or maybe go back and tweak your terminal colors and fonts to match your theme…
What theme do you think is the best looking? Do you have a favorite icon set? And is your launcher on the left or the bottom of your screen? What about wallpapers… have any good sources? Let me know in the comments below!