Ubuntu 9.10 (karmic koala) – How to Customize Themes and Appearance after a New Installation

Screenshot of Ubuntu 9.10 Desktop

Screenshot of my desktop

Note: this article is an updated version of an earlier article I wrote detailing how to customize Ubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope).

Ubuntu 9.10 (karmic koala) is a fine exhibition of a solid, stable and powerful open-source operating system.

There is one facet where it is good but could be somewhat better – the built-in default themes and general appearance from icons to desktop wallpapers. However its weakness is ironically its strength in that the open-source community have provided a host of excellent and high quality supplementary material that is available for free.

The first port of call for the curious is Gnome-Look.Org

I will outline below in concise form the customizations I have made to the default themes and appearance that come with a vanilla Ubuntu 9.10 installation. Needless to say, these are a reflection of personal taste and thus are provided for reference only for those who wish to investigate further.

Customizing the Theme

It has been my experience upon spending a considerable amount of time on a computer that a dark-ish theme tends to be easier on the eyes. To that end I installed the Ubuntu Exotic Theme located at the Bisigi Project. The Bisigi Project has several very beautiful themes that I would recommend to all. I chose the Ubuntu Exotic Theme in particular because of the combination of a dark window title bar and gentle grey menu bar and the beautiful clean set of system wide icons. However, the default background image that comes with this theme is a little too bright for my taste and so I choose a different background. More information on the background appears further on.

The installation instructions for the Ubuntu Exotic theme are available  at the author’s site but I shall briefly outline them here.

  1. Edit your software repository’s remote location list:
    In a terminal (from the Menu bar, select Applications | Accessories | Terminal)
  2. sudo gedit /etc/apt/sources.list

  3. Add the following lines to the bottom of the file. Then save the file and exit the editor.
  4. ## Project Bisigi Ubuntu Themes
    deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/bisigi/ppa/ubuntu karmic main
    deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/bisigi/ppa/ubuntu karmic main

  5. In a terminal, run the following command:
  6. sudo gpg --keyserver hkp://keyserver.ubuntu.com:11371 --recv-key 881574DE && gpg -a --export 881574DE | sudo apt-key add -

  7. Now update the local package repository reference database with the newly referenced packages.
  8. sudo aptitude update

  9. To install the Ubuntu Exotic Theme:
  10. sudo aptitude install exotic-theme

  11. To install all of the themes available at the Bisigi Project:
  12. sudo aptitude install bisigi-themes

  13. To activate the Ubuntu Exotic Theme – from the menu bar select System | Preferences | Appearance
    Under the Themes Tab:

    • Scroll through the list of themes and select Murrine Exotic
    • Do not select Apply Background
    • Exit by selecting Close

The Background Image

Dm-Intrepid Desktop Wallpaper

Dm-Intrepid Desktop Wallpaper

The background image I use is taken from the DM Intrepid GDM 1.0 theme available at Gnome Look.Org. I feel this image complements the Ubuntu Exotic theme nicely.

You may view the full image by clicking on the thumbnail and then right-click to save the image.

To change the desktop wallpaper, right-click on any clear section of the desktop and select Change Desktop Background.

Icon Shortcuts

I have placed several icon-shortcuts on the System Panel (the default location for the System Panel in Gnome is the top of the screen). The most useful shortcuts are for the terminals. I use two types – the Gnome-terminal and the Xterm.

There are several ways to add a shortcut to the System Panel:

  • Drag and drop an application icon from the desktop to the panel
  • Right-Click on the panel and choose Add to Panel. A list of preset applications is presented. To create your own icon (as we will below) choose Custom Application Launcher.


Depending on what tasks need to be accomplished I have configure both half-screen-length and full-screen-length terminals.

The settings (properties) for the gnome-terminal launcher on the System panel are below. The geometry settings (AAxBB) determine the width and length of the terminal on the screen. Adjust the BB parameter to according to your display settings and resolution to be half length or full length.

Type: Application
Name: Gnome-Terminal
Command: gnome-terminal --geometry=80x55
Full-Length-Icon: /usr/share/icons/gnome/scalable/devices/chardevice.svg
Half-Length-Icon: /usr/share/icons/exotic/scalable/apps/gnome-terminal.png

Xterm Terminal

The settings (properties) for the Xterm terminal launcher on the System panel are similar.

Type: Application
Name: XTerm
Command: xterm -geometry 80x72
Full-Length-Icon: /usr/share/icons/hicolor/scalable/apps/gnome-display-properties.svg


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