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As you probably know, when you open System > Preferences > Appearance, the only way to preview the themes you have installed is to click on them, thereby applying the selected theme. While that’s not such a big deal, it does take a few seconds to redraw everything on the screen, and on less powerful machines this can be quite a drag.

But there are a couple of small apps around that can show you a preview within a single window. They are tiny downloads and easily installed, so if you plan on playing around with themes a fair bit, you should give them a go.

GTK+ Change Theme

To install via Terminal: sudo apt-get install gtk-chtheme

How to Run: Applications > System Tools > Gtk-ChTheme

Official blurb: ‘Gtk Theme Switch’ based utility that aims to make themes previews and selections as slick as possible. Themes installed on the system are presented for selection and previewed on the fly.

As you can see, everything you need is in the one small window. Simply click on a theme name to see everything in that window change. When you find one you’d like to change to, click Apply.

GTK Theme Switch

To install via Terminal: sudo apt-get install gtk-theme-switch

How to Run: gtk-theme-switch2 in the terminal

Official blurb: Utilities to easily switch GTK+ themes that can be run from the console, and has an optional GUI dock and theme preview. It can install themes downloaded from gtk.themes.org as well straight from the tarball.

Just select a theme and click Preview to see a small sample of it open in its own window; you will need to close each preview manually, as it does not reuse the current window. When you find one you’d like to change to, click Apply.

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There are thousands of GTK+ and Metacity themes available to change the look of Ubuntu, and to install them it’s as easy as dragging the archive file that contains it (usually a .tar.gz or .tar.bz2 file) onto the Appearance dialogue (System > Preferences). But while some will install just fine, they won’t actually look as intended because the “engine” required to render the graphics is not installed. If you’ve seen screenshots of the theme, this will become apparent immediately, as smooth gradients and glass-like effects will not be possible without the required engine.

You can check your installed themes for missing engines by clicking the Customise… button and selecting the theme under Controls. If an engine needs to be installed, it will tell you which one beneath the list of themes.

To look for engines, open Synaptic and search for gtk2- and browse through those packages with “engines” in the name.

Obviously, you can just search for “aurora” or whatever engine it is you’re after, but you may as well save yourself doing this again later, especially if you plan to install a variety of the latest themes.

Mark the one you needed for installation, as well as any others you think might be needed down the line. Since they are small downloads and won’t conflict with one another, you may as well install a bunch of them while you’re there. Engines of note include Aurora, Murrine, Nodoka and CleanIce.

You’ll occasionally come across engines that aren’t in the standard repos (like “ubuntulooks“), so just do a web search for the name and you should find the download page.

 

See also:

How to Quick Preview GTK+/Metacity Themes

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Google Chrome is a fast, lightweight web browser, and while it looks good, and there are many cool themes for it, you may prefer it to look like all your other programs. But you can in fact force Google Chrome to display a normal titlebar and window borders, that is themed like the rest of your system, whether it be by GTK+/Metacity or Compiz-Fusion/Emerald.

Simply go to the settings button and choose Options from the menu, and in the Personal Stuff tab check Use system title bar and borders under Appearance. Above it you can also click the Use GTK+ theme button, and the rest of Google Chrome will be themed with the colours, textures and buttons of your current system theme.

To restore the titlebar and windows borders if you make these changes and decide to revert, checkHide system title bar and use compact borders. To let Google Chrome look after the rest of the decorating, you can click the Use Classic theme button, or just install another theme. If you want to change between installed themes, read this.

See also:

Google Chrome Themes for Ubuntu Users

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Users of Ubuntu 10.04 onwards note that XSplash is no longer used, so read the “Plymouth” customisation guide instead. Since it is still basically GDM that is providing the login screen, the bulk of this guide should still apply.

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As you are probably aware, since Gnome is moving away from its own GDM login screen to that of X-Server’s XSplash to improve boot time, Ubuntu “Karmic Koala” has little to offer in the way of customisability of the login process. While the masses are wailing about the step backwards that Ubuntu has taken, it has to be stressed that this is something the Gnome developers have done, and that (unsurprisingly) there are ways around this. And as you’ll see, while before you had to download GDM themes and hope you liked all the aspects (or make your own), with these little hacks you can change one or more features of the login screen, so in effect create your own themes.

There is a command-line hack that involves logging out and entering a tty session, and you can change many aspects of your login there (everything but the throbber, welcome sound and user icon). However, since there are ways to change each aspect while at the desktop, usually with quick terminal commands, I’ll list those first, and include the former near the end. And I’ll also show how to do the same thing as the tty hack, but with the Appearance dialogue while you’re still logged into your current session; this is by far the easiest method for changing nearly everything visual about your login screen, so we’ll begin with that.

For some users, none of the cosmetic aspects matter as much as the user list being shown by default, which many see as a major security issue. I’ll include methods for rectifying this at the end.

The list of topics covered here are:

  • Appearances GDM Customisation
  • Login Background
  • Logo & Throbber
  • Previewing Your Changes
  • GTK & Icon Themes
  • User Icon
  • System Sound
  • Gnome Control Center Hack
  • Disabling the User List
  • Things To Avoid
  • Conclusion

There should be enough alternative methods for each task that if one doesn’t work for you, another will.

Appearances GDM Customisation

You can actually change most aspects of the loginGTK theme (window borders, etc), background, font, and icon theme – via Appearance Preferences. But don’t go clicking on System > Preferences > Appearance, as that will only let you customise your desktop. Instead, run:

gksudo -u gdm dbus-launch gnome-appearance-properties

… and when Appearance Preferences loads, any changes you make will only be applied to the login screen. As you can see, you can change most aspects there, and only have to change the throbber, welcome sound and user icon manually. If for some reason this doesn’t work while logged in, log out and try the “Gnome Control Center Hack” method.

♣♣♣ If Appearance Preferences keeps reappearing every time you log in, read this.

Login Background

If you just want to be able to specify your own background image for the login, you can overwrite the existing one in /usr/share/images/xsplash (where all images for the login are stored). If there are wallpapers of all resolutions installed with the current theme, you would usually be correct in assuming the image size would match the screen resolution. Or if you’re used to boot and login images needing to be smaller, you’d assume a picture of a smaller resolution would be used.

But you may be surprised to find that the current background is in a higher resolution, so if you’re running a widescreen monitor set at 1680×1050, it will likely be:

/usr/share/images/xsplash/bg_2560x1600.jpg

To find out which image is being used as the login background (if there’s more than one wallpaper image in the folder), enter the following in a terminal:

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2 --get /desktop/gnome/background/picture_filename

You can then just replace the current background with a picture of your own. In the case of the previous example, you could rename a smaller image of 1680×1050 as bg_2560x1600.jpg and it would work fine. Since the folder is a protected system one, you’ll need to open it with root privileges before you can edit, delete or overwrite files therein, so enter the following in a terminal:

gksu nautilus /usr/share/images/xsplash

Then just drag your new background to the folder that appears and overwrite the original. Or you can specify a picture of your own, which can reside anywhere (like your ~/Pictures folder), via the command-line.

To change the image being used as the login background, enter the following in a terminal (replacing the path and file name on the end with your own):

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2 --set --type string --set /desktop/gnome/background/picture_filename /home/yourusername/Pictures/wallpaper.jpg

Logo & Throbber

If you’ve downloaded or made your own alternative logo (to replace the Ubuntu one) and/or “throbber ” (the progress animation), it’s really a simple process to add these to your login. All XSplash image files reside in /usr/share/images/xsplash, so it is a simple matter of replacing the default images there.

The logo images you need to replace are:

/usr/share/images/xsplash/logo_large.png
/usr/share/images/xsplash/logo_medium.png
/usr/share/images/xsplash/logo_small.png
/usr/share/images/xsplash/logo_xtra_large.png

The throbbers you need to replace are:

/usr/share/images/xsplash/throbber_large.png
/usr/share/images/xsplash/throbber_medium.png
/usr/share/images/xsplash/throbber_small.png
/usr/share/images/xsplash/throbber_xtra_large.png

So, if your images have different names, simply rename them to those outlined, and overwrite the current images in the folder. Since the folder is a protected system one, you’ll need to open it with root privileges before you can edit, delete or overwrite files therein, so enter the following in a terminal:

gksu nautilus /usr/share/images/xsplash

Then just drag your new images to the folder that appears and overwrite the originals.

Previewing Your Changes

To preview your current XSplash theme (it will show the background image, logo and throbber):

sudo xsplash (hit Esc to exit)

GTK & Icon Themes

To find out which GTK theme is being used to decorate window borders in the login screen, enter the following in a terminal:

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2 --get /desktop/gnome/interface/gtk_theme

To change the GTK theme being used in the login screen, enter the following in a terminal (replace “BlackPlastic” with the name of the theme):

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2 --set --type string --set /desktop/gnome/interface/gtk_theme BlackPlastic

To find out which icon theme is being used in the login screen, enter the following in a terminal:

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2 --get /desktop/gnome/interface/icon_theme

To change the icon theme being used in the login screen, enter the following in a terminal (replacing “Tangerine” with the name of the desired icon theme):

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2 --set --type string --set /desktop/gnome/interface/icon_theme Tangerine

You can also edit the file /usr/share/gconf/schemas/gdm-simple-greeter.schemas if you don’t like the computer icon. To do so, enter the following in a terminal:

sudo gedit /usr/share/gconf/schemas/gdm-simple-greeter.schemas

Then change the icon <default>computer</default> in the section:

<schema>
<key>/schemas/apps/gdm/simple-greeter/logo_icon_name</key>
<applyto>/apps/gdm/simple-greeter/logo_icon_name</applyto>
<owner>gdm-simple-greeter</owner>
<type>string</type>
<default>computer</default>
<gettext_domain>gdm</gettext_domain>
<locale name=”C”>
<short>Icon name to use for greeter logo</short>
<long>Set to the themed icon name to use for the greeter logo.</long>
</locale>
</schema>

The value you would change it to would be the name of the icon, minus the .png extension. If you look inside your icon themes folders (in ~/.icons and /usr/share/icons), you’ll see they all have a computer.png icon, usually in the Devices subfolder. So for icon themes to work, the images for all the system icons have to have specific names. Therefore, just change “computer” to another icon from the current theme, like “gnome-dev-keyboard” for gnome-dev-keyboard.png in the same folder.

User Icon

To change your user icon, enter the following command, then click the icon in the dialogue that appears, and pick another from the list (or browse to another folder and choose one of your own, like a photo):

/usr/bin/gnome-about-me

System Sound

If you’d like to change the welcome sound from the default drum roll, here’s a workaround you can employ. If you look in /usr/share/sounds/ubuntu/stereo, you will see that the default system sound, system-ready.ogg, is actually just a symbolic link to dialog-question.ogg. So you can delete that link and create a new one to another .ogg file, without actually deleting any sound files.

If you want to use another sound file from the same folder, for example desktop-logout.ogg, open a terminal in the folder /usr/share/sounds/ubuntu/stereo (or just launch a terminal and enter cd /usr/share/sounds/ubuntu/stereo) and enter the following commands:

sudo rm system-ready.ogg (to delete the symbolic link)

sudo ln -s desktop-logout.ogg system-ready.ogg (to create a new link to the desired sound file)

You can also specify your own sound file, and it can be anywhere, like your ~/Music folder, so use the following command to replace the one above (remembering to change the path and filename in the example to that of your file):

sudo ln -s /home/yourusername/Music/MyStartupSound.ogg system-ready.ogg

Gnome Control Center Hack

1. Log out of your current session to return to the login screen

2. Switch to the tty command-line prompt using Ctrl+Alt+F1

3. Log in using your normal username and password

4. At the command-line prompt type: export DISPLAY=:0.0

5. Then enter: sudo -u gdm gnome-control-center

6. Switch back to the login screen using ALT+F7

7. Gnome Control Center will be open, so use it to configure your login screen.

8. Click on the Appearances icon to change your login screen’s font, theme and background image.

9. Close Gnome Control Center and log in as usual. (If this keeps reappearing every time you log in, read this).

Disabling the User List

You can disable display of the user list if you’re worried about security on a multi-user machine via this command in a terminal:

sudo gconftool-2 --direct --config-source \xml:readwrite:/etc/gconf/gconf.xml.defaults --type bool\ --set /apps/gdm/simple-greeter/disable_user_list true

… or open Applications > System Tools > Configuration Editor, browse to /apps/gdm/simple-greeter/ and put a tick next to disable_user_list. However, while this looks like an easy method, you may find that it doesn’t change anything, but you can also log out and do it via a tty session:

1. Log out of your current session to return to the login screen

2. Switch to the tty command-line prompt using Ctrl+Alt+F1

3. Log in using your normal username and password

4. At the command-line prompt type: export DISPLAY=:0.0

5. Then enter: sudo -u gdm gconf-editor

6. Switch back to the login screen using ALT+F7

7. The Configuration Editor will be loaded.

8. Go to apps/gdm/simple-greeter.

9. Change the Value of disable_user_list to TRUE.

10. Close the Configuration Editor.

11. Reboot your machine.

Things To Avoid

When looking around for answers, you’ll occasionally come across some info that may have been at one time sound advice, but could now land you in all sorts of bother. Here are a few, and I’ll add more as I come across them.

Usplash: One bit of advice I certainly don’t recommend is for recreating the old Usplash – the image with progress bar you used to see before the login. Once upon a time, the command sudo dpkg-reconfigure usplash-theme-ubuntu would be good for recreating the Usplash if something had gone awry with it. I’ve seen this command mentioned as the way to change back the theme back to the original via the terminal, but that is incorrect, as it in effect redraws it and messes with the kernel while doing so. In Ubuntu 9.10 with XSplash taking over that and the login, this may cause a display driver error upon rebooting, and choosing to log in anyway in low-graphics mode may not get you anywhere (nor will trying to restore settings from a backup), and you’ll have to reboot and choose to create a new config file for the current hardware.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are actually many ways to customise your login process, so Gnome’s move away from GDM isn’t such a bad thing after all. Beforehand, you had to know how to create a GDM theme, or accept downloaded themes as-is, but now with XSplash you can tailor everything about your login to suit your tastes.

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Further Reading:

Stop Appearance Preferences Continually Loading at Startup

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Did this information make your day? Did it rescue you from hours of headache? Then please consider making a donation via PayPal, to buy me a donut, beer, or some fish’n’chips for my time and effort! Many thanks!

Buy Ubuntu Genius a Beer to say Thanks!

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