How To Make Elementary OS Look Like Old-School Ubuntu

Matthew Hughes 11-02-2016

Ubuntu didn’t always look like it does now. Before it adopted the Unity windowing environment Ubuntu 11.04 Unity - A Big Leap Forward For Linux It's here. The newest version of Ubuntu sports an entirely new user interface: Unity. It also includes a much-improved Software Center, alongside the usual updates for the thousands of free programs Ubuntu offers. Canonical decided... Read More , 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 3 Reasons Why Gnome Shell Is Better Than Ubuntu's Unity [Opinion] There's absolutely no denying the fact that there has been a lot of bickering between people about which desktop environment is the best. The discussion has been expanded and refocused, from not just Gnome vs.... Read More . 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 Elementary OS Freya: The Next Major Update To A Rising Linux Distro Now, we're getting a glimpse at the first beta of the next released, codenamed "Freya". What's new in Freya, and is it worth upgrading or switching to it from other distributions? Read More . 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 How to Use VirtualBox: User's Guide With VirtualBox you can easily install and test multiple operating systems. We'll show you how to set up Windows 10 and Ubuntu Linux as a virtual machine. Read More .


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.



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 Open Source Software and Forking: The Good, The Great and The Ugly Sometimes, the end-user benefits greatly from forks. Sometimes, the fork is done under a shroud of anger, hatred and animosity. Let's look at some examples. Read More .

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 What Is Git & Why You Should Use Version Control If You’re a Developer As web developers, a lot of the time we tend to work on local development sites then just upload everything when we’re done. This is fine when it’s just you and the changes are small,... Read More , 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 What Is An Ubuntu PPA & Why Would I Want To Use One? [Technology Explained] Read More 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.

Related topics: Linux Desktop Environment, Ubuntu.

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  1. Giles
    February 12, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    Great article, but my version of Elementary doesn’t have “tweaks”, or anything that looks remotely like it. Can anybody give me any clues on how to progress? Thanks in advance.

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 12, 2016 at 3:17 pm

      It's in the article. You just need to run the following:

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

      You should see then see Tweaks in your system settings.

  2. Mate
    February 11, 2016 at 11:01 pm

    I just came here to post the same as Eric. lol its just Ubuntu MATE. Brown colored haha!!!!

    These articles are getting kinda useless. Good for a laugh though.

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 12, 2016 at 12:50 pm

      Hardly useless if you're already on Elementary OS. Which is who this article was aimed at.

  3. Eric Curtin
    February 11, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    You could just install Ubuntu MATE instead? It would be a lot easier!

    • Matthew Hughes
      February 12, 2016 at 12:49 pm

      Yeah, but if you're already using Elementary OS, you're not going to want to reinstall your entire system for a theme, are you?

      • Eric Curtin
        February 12, 2016 at 1:47 pm

        In this case, I would probably try and install the MATE desktop environment on elementary, just because it has a larger community and is probably better supported. I would question why someone installed elementary in the first place in this case as the main difference is Pantheon desktop environment. But yeah, people do change their mind I guess. To each his own, this is probably a cool solution also, haven't tried it personally.