Another ugly blaaahg

Howto: Tweak Gnome to look good


0. Introduction
1. Panels
2. Getting and using AWN
3. Getting Screenlets (widgets like Dashboard for OS, it even includes the actual dashboard)
4. Getting the Murrine theme engine and themes
5. Making Synaptic and other administrator apps blend in with other apps
6. Making KDE apps Gnomish
7. Making Wine apps look better
8. Some repos you might like
9. Getting beautiful fonts

0. Introduction

I’ve been installing Gutsy (or Gusty, as is often the typo), and even upgraded to 64 bit on my laptop. So comes the tweaking… Gnome isn’t very easily configurable, so I Google a lot to do what I want. I’ll try putting in the pieces of the puzzle as I go… Here is a screenshot:
Gnome tweaked

EXTREMELY IMPORTANT NOTE: WordPress screws up quotation marks, making them tilted stupid thingies like this: ” You need to change those to proper quotation marks when you copy/paste, otherwise this will NOT work.

Edit: Not after I sent a word to WordPress staff. They actually have really simple code to use for this stuff, even with sourcecode highlighting. I just didn’t know about it. Kudos to WordPress staff for making this web soooo much better!!

Here we go then…

1. Panels

Get rid of those old boring panels… Getting rid of a panel

Getting rid of a panel is easy. Just right click, and “Delete panel”. My bottom one is replaced by Avant-window-navigator (see below)

Making a panel transparent

Again, easy: Right click > Properties > Background > Radio button number two, and slide the scale

Changing panel font color and style

Alright, this is where we get down and dirty with config files. I use a dark wallpaper, and with the panel transparent, I want the font white. I also want it bold, because that looks a little cleaner. The heads up lies in applying this to only the panel.

I’m continuously looking at this to gain some perspective on how it works, and here is what I want to achieve: All writing on the panel should be white. They should all use the default system font. The menu should be bold, everything else regular. I did this with the following:

Whip out ~/.gtkrc-2.0,by doing:

$ gedit ~/.gtkrc-2.0

Now, put in the following:

style "my_color"
font_name = "Bold"
widget "*Panel*MenuBar*" style "my_color"
widget "*Panel*Task*" style "my_color"
widget "*gimmie*" style "my_color"

style "my_color2"
widget "*Panel*Clock*" style "my_color2"
widget "*Panel*Applet*" style "my_color2"
widget "*CPUFreq*" style "mycolor2"
widget "*PanelWidget*" style "my_color2"
widget "*fast-user-switch-applet*" style "my_color2"

The #FFFFFF means white colour. Install gcolor2 to set your colour just right.

Note: You can see I have Gimmie in there. That’s of course not needed if you don’t use it. Trouble with Gimmie is that the change of colour also applies to what’s inside Gimmie.

The font name stuff is apparently like so: [font name] [style] [size] To change the tooltips all across Gnome, put in this along with the rest:

style "tooltip"


bg[NORMAL] = "#F9F8F6"
fg[NORMAL] = "#000000"


widget "*tooltip*" style "tooltip"

bg is background colour, fg is font colour. This example is grey background with a black font. You could manipulate only the font used, the style of it, or the size. You can change default fonts by: System > Preferences > Appearance > Fonts

Now, save this file, and do:

$ killall nautilus gnome-panel

This also kills nm-applet byt the way but you can just start that over by alt+F2 > nm-applet

This fix does not handle the fast-user-switch-applet, so I changed that to icon view, by right clicking it > Preferences.

I use the gnome-blog applet, and it is not transparent. Make it transparent by adding “self.set_background_widget(self)” to between lines 32 and 33 in  /usr/lib/gnome-panel/
Thanks to Markus Korn for this. (link)

There are probably a million more options, but I can’t seem to find any documentation on this. Credits to for getting me started on this. Credits also to for how to fix the tooltips

2. Getting Avant-window-navigator (AWN) as a replacment for the bottom panel

NOTE: AWN needs compositing, either xcompmgr or Compiz Fusion (formerly Beryl/Compiz)

There are different ways of getting AWN, the easy way, and the hard way. The hard way isn’t very hard.

Easy way (the way I’m using at the moment):

Ubuntu Gutsy 64 and 32 bit:

Add the following repo:

deb gutsy avant-window-navigator New repo (recommended, but no AWN curves at the moment. If you want that, go with the hard way): deb gutsy main

Go with testing or trunk, it’s usually rather stable.

Hard way:

I want the icons on a curve, so I want to compile from source. And there’s a script for that in this thread (browse down some, it isn’t in the first couple of posts as of now).

Edit: The following strikethrough-ed is appearantly not necessary anymore.

In order to have the curve I needed to tweak it a little: Replace: AWNBRANCH=“trunk” with AWNBRANCH=””; NOTE: the above line doesn’t fully show on my computer. WordPress-weirdness I s’pose. Anyway, it works fine if you copy/paste it. Just remember the quotation marks I talked about earlier! and bzr co$AWNBRANCH $b with bzr co $AWNBRANCH $b

This script has been updated several times since I first wrote this article, so now, the only thing you need is to go to the AWNBRANCH line in the beginning, replace “trunk” with “awn-curves”, and you’re good to go the best thing is to check the thread on the AWN forums for updated information.

Make the script executable by:

$ chmod +x

Now, just run

$ ./

and it will all come to you.

Run AWN, by: ALT + F2 > avant-window-navigator

3. Getting screenlets

Here you go UPDATE – 02.02.2008: New development: Here is the info. New update: Check out the FAQ. That will be updated. (Please remove the spam if there is any, I’m tired of doing so myself…

After installation, do Alt+F2 (for run application dialog) > python /usr/share/screenlets-manager/ to start, or start it from System > Preferences

When running screenlets-manager you can check it to keep it in tray at all times.

You can also get some 3rd party screenlets

4. Getting the Murrine theme engine and themes

Murrine is one of those things that can really beautify your desktop. It will soon feature transparency. No, not just Compiz Fusion dependant transparency. More along the lines of this. Note that this is not necessarily IT, but it gives you an idea. It is still not out yet.

Anyway, here’s how to get Murrine:

Grab the engine from here
Install the engine

Grab some themes from here
Throw the themes in ~/.themes

Get the new murrine configurator
Install it and run it, setting up your purr-fect theme

5. Making Synaptic and other administrator apps blend in with other apps

The problem you’ll be facing is the following: Administrator applications are run with sudo (or similar, if you’re not on Ubuntu). Sudo reads themes and such from /root and not from your home, so, we do the following:

cd /root
sudo ln -s ~/.themes
sudo ln -s ~/.gconf
sudo ln -s ~/.fonts
sudo ln -s ~/.gtkrc-2.0
sudo ln -s ~/.metacity
sudo ln -s ~/.gnome2
sudo ln -s ~/.config

You might find yourself in the position that one of those things already exist in /root. Then do one or more of the following, depending on what you neeed:

sudo rm -R /root/.themes
sudo rm -R /root/.gconf
sudo rm -R /root/.fonts
sudo rm -R /root/.gtkrc-2.0
sudo rm -R /root/.metacity
sudo rm -R /root/.gnome2
sudo rm -R /root/.config

Now, all your sudo-ed apps should look like your normal apps 🙂
Some of these directories may not be necessary to link, but I don’t really care. If anyone knows any way that these could hurt a system, please let me know.It took a reboot for me to apply the changes, but chances are, a simple

sudo killall nautilus

might do the trick. FWIW: Synaptic changed appearance straight away (after I restarted Synaptic, of course.)

6. Making KDE-apps look Gnomish

Here you go

This also looks promising. I haven’t looked at it yet though, just found it at Digg.

7. Making Wine apps look better

Check out these links:

Wine-doors includes Ubuntulooks for Wine, and will get better implementation. See the bug report about this here.

8. Some repos you might like

I wrote a post covering this. Then I realized it got hit so many times, I’d rather make a page of it.

9. Getting beautiful fonts

Don’t miss the Liberation fonts. Get them here. If the link doesn’t work in the future for some reason, or if this is old, you might want to check for an update, try Wikipedia, or the Red Hat bug report.

Installing the fonts system wide (recommended):

  • Extract the files to /tmp
  • sudo mkdir /usr/share/fonts/liberation/
  • sudo cp /tmp/liberation* /usr/share/fonts/liberation/

Installing the fonts only to user account

  • Extract the fonts to ~/.fonts

Go to System > Prefernces > Looks (or whatever it’s called) and setup the fonts for use in menus etc.


  1. Thanks for this article, I found it very helpful

    Comment by Sean Hodges — November 24, 2007 @ 18:44

  2. You’re very welcome 🙂

    Comment by Ketil — December 29, 2007 @ 19:49

  3. I wish yours was at the top of the Google search. Its the only one that seemed to work with Gutsy 64 bit. Thanks a bunch.

    Comment by Brian Sheehan — January 5, 2008 @ 13:47

  4. That’s nice to hear! What was your specific problems earlier?

    Comment by Ketil — January 5, 2008 @ 15:02

  5. Great how to, specially for newbies like me. I have only 2 questions 🙂

    In the top panel I have the CPU Frequency Scaling Monitor, but I couldn’t manage to get the text white. Could you help me with that?

    Are your screenlets placed in a panel?
    How do you get that black thing on the right?

    Comment by gabor — January 22, 2008 @ 17:16

  6. edit: got the sidebar 🙂

    Comment by gabor — January 22, 2008 @ 20:26

  7. Hi Gabor. That particular panel applet does not work for me, but as far as I can tell, the applet process is called /usr/lib/gnome-applets/cpufreq-applet, so I’m guessing that the line

    widget “*cpufreq-applet*” style “my_color2”

    will do what you’re after. If anyone else encounters some applet that they want to change the font for, they can look at gnome-system-monitor, check commandline in Settings > Processes, and see the running processes.

    Be advised that some applets probably have non transparent background that will make them look not-so-great. Please file bug report for these applets when you find them.

    For anyone else wondering, the sidebar is a screenlet, found in Screenlets-new.

    Glad that my guide helped you!

    Comment by Ketil — January 22, 2008 @ 22:08

  8. that applet seems to be one of these unchangeable, I’ll try other freq applets.

    many thanks for your help and all the best


    Comment by gabor — January 23, 2008 @ 19:27

  9. […] Small update to Gnome appearance tweak guide Filed under: Computers, Gnome, Linux, Ubuntu — Ketil @ 0:55 Added some lines to change tooltips in all GTK apps. See the guide here. […]

    Pingback by Small update to Gnome appearance tweak guide « Another ugly blaaahg — [Ubuntu Linux, rants & raves] — January 25, 2008 @ 0:55

  10. widget “*CPUFreq*” should do it

    Comment by MichaelJ — January 30, 2008 @ 13:11

  11. thx Michael,
    that worked

    Comment by gabor — February 11, 2008 @ 4:55

  12. Do you know if its possible to get the tray clock and date to appear on two lines instead of one with a standard 24 pixel panel?

    Comment by carl — March 6, 2008 @ 15:49

  13. No, I’m sorry, I do not know if this is possible. Let me know if you find out.

    Comment by Ketil — March 6, 2008 @ 20:05

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