Day 4: Tweaking the look and layout of Ubuntu Linux

Today I dive into customizing the look and feel of Ubuntu Linux to try and make it more familia for a Windows user

People don't like change. One of the things that some people get hung up on is the look and feel of the desktop. More precisely, some Windows users who look at Ubuntu Linux get hung up on how it doesn't look and feel like Windows. Well, it isn't that difficult to customize the look and feel of Ubuntu Linux to make it be whatever you want it to be.

Before we dive into that, though, let's recap yesterday's post. I detailed my efforts -- unsuccessful, fruitless efforts -- at trying to get iTunes installed and functioning properly in Ubuntu so I would be able to sync my iPhone and iPad without having to reboot and switch over to Windows 7 first. There were a lot of comments, the vast majority of which focused either on alternative solutions for syncing music and photos with an iOS device, or offered helpful tips like "ditch the iPhone".

None of the tips thus far seems to have actually addressed the problem -- which is getting iTunes to actually work so that the iPhone and iPad can stay up to date with iOS updates as well as music and photos. It does seem like it is possible using some combination of a Windows emulator of some sort and outdate versions of iTunes, but it is more effort than I am willing to invest right now. It seems that Apple might soon cut the cord and offer updates over the air, in which case it would be a non-issue. We'll just shelve that issue for now.

Suffice it to say, as long as it is that complicated to get things done, Linux geeks of the world should not expect the Linux to catch on as a mainstream OS. I realize it is not the fault of Linux that Apple has not developed a Linux version of iTunes, but Linux has to live with that catch-22 anyway. Because it is not a mainstream platform, mainstream software is not developed for it, and because mainstream software is not developed for it, it can't be a mainstream platform.

Now, let's move on to today's topic. In Windows, the Start button is part of the Task Bar, and it is located at the bottom of the screen. In Ubuntu, there is a sort of task bar and systray equivalent at the bottom, but the menu options are on top of the screen. No problem. Just right-click on the bar-called a Panel in Ubuntu Linux-and select Properties. In the Properties box, expand the list next to Orientation, and click Bottom to move the Panel to the bottom. Simple.

Changing the desktop background image, and color scheme is just as easy. On the menu bar -- which is now at the bottom of the display -- click System, then hover over Preferences to open that menu, and select Appearance. There are eight built-in color themes to choose from, or you can create a custom color scheme, or click the get more themes online link to surf a virtually endless list of theme options-including one called Vista Basic which essentially mimics Windows Vista if you want a more familiar look and feel.

If you click on the Background tab on the Appearance Preferences, you will find 21 different background images to choose from within Ubuntu Linux. Just like the themes, you can also select your own image to use as a background image, or you can click the get more backgrounds online link and find hundreds of images to choose from.

The System Preferences tools are a lot like the Windows Control Panel. On the list you will also find options to configure the mouse buttons and sensitivity, set up screensaver options, customize how windows behave, and more. The bottom line is that you can make Ubuntu Linux look, feel, and act how you want it to, and without too much effort you can make it look and feel a lot like Windows. So, if your only reason for not giving Ubuntu Linux a chance was that you miss the look and feel of Windows, you are going to have to find a new excuse.

As an aside to Linux developers -- it would really help "sell" Ubuntu Linux to Windows users if it were even easier. I appreciate that there is a theme called Vista Basic, but that is just a color scheme and it's not even part of the default options in the OS. There should be a script of some sort called "Mimic Windows", and it should be offered on install as an option for Windows users switching to Linux. The script should automatically adjust every setting possible to make Ubuntu Linux as close to Windows in look, feel, and behavior as possible without the novice Linux user having to go find all of the settings and tweak it on their own.

If such a thing exists already -- and I wouldn't be surprised if it does -- point me at it. But, again, it shouldn't be something that a novice Linux user switching from Windows has to go find. It should be boldly presented as an option that can't be missed. I find the look and feel of Ubuntu to be just fine, and I don't have any issue navigating around and tweaking what I need to tweak, but I am also not an average user. Just sayin'.

Read the last "30 Days" Series: 30 Days with Google Docs

Day 3: Dude, Where's My iTunes?

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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