Updated: May 24, 2010
Recently, I received an email from a user asking how to install new themes in a Gnome-based desktop, in one of the popular Linux distributions, like Mandriva, Linux Mint or others. I have considered this setup to be trivial, but it turns out it is not.
Today, I will show you how to install new themes in a typical Gnome desktop and how to customize them, including changing windows decorations, colors, icons, and more. We will also talk about the best online resources for finding the themes, plus a few useful tips about browsing and using the varying content. So let's do-oo-ooooo it (as Captain Flashheart would say).
Install new theme
In a classic Gnome desktop, the desktop-related beautification is found in menu, in the left corner of the top panel, under System > Preferences > Appearance. The screenshot below is taken in Ubuntu Karmic, for instance.
In distributions like Linux Mint or openSUSE, which use a slightly altered version of Gnome, with the system menu located in the bottom panel, the Appearance sub-menu can be found via the Control Center. For example, in openSUSE, it's called Look and Feel > Appearance.
Your next step is to review the sub-menu and decide what you want to do. Several themes are already available, so switching between them is as simple as clicking on any one of them. But if you want additional, non-default themes, you will have to do a few more things.
Notice the Get more themes online link below the listed themes. If you click it, your browser will take you to Gnome Art page, where you will be able to look for many useful themes.
You can browse the themes by name or popularity, across a range of sub-categories, including icons, window borders, controls, splash screens, and login windows.
Just choose a few you like and download them. Next, click Install in the Appearance window and find the theme you just downloaded. You will be asked to switch:
If you agree, the theme will change. You can always revert back to your existing theme. You can also save the new theme, plus any additional, custom modifications by another name, simply click the Save As button in the main window. And the new themes in effect:
Once the new theme is installed, you can make further changes. For example, you may have only installed window borders or may want to change window border, without changing the colors or the controls. After a theme is applied, click Customize.
I've shown you a similar customization process in my CentOS review. On top of that, you can also make changes to your desktop background and apply new skins to your applications, like Firefox or maybe VLC media player. In a matter of seconds, you can really refresh your Gnome desktop:
More Gnome resources
Gnome Art is not the only place you visit looking for Gnome themes. Another useful resource is Gnome-look.org. The site offers tons of artwork, including decorations for different window managers, like Gnome 1.x, Gnome 2.x, Metacity, Compiz, Beryl, and others. It also offers wallpapers, mouse icons, cliparts, sounds, splash themes, screensavers, screenlets, and more.
For each chosen item, you will have a preview, comments and the user rating score, letting you know how good and popular the artwork really is. Truly recommended. It's my favorite source of themes, including Compiz and Emerald eyecandy. Tastes may vary.
This may sound banal, but you should be careful when downloading themes and/or any third-party content to your distribution, outside the official repositories. A few months ago, there was a case of malware packaged as a screensaver. Since, the offending content has been removed and additional steps taken to prevent this in the future, but this does not dismiss your own caution and discretion when handling unknown code.
In the worst case, installing themes does NOT require root (sudo) privileges. So you need not provide one when asked during the installation. And if this happens, stop the procedure and make sure you know what you're doing.
There you go, a very simple, pleasant tutorial. While Gnome may look spartan to some, the customization curve is very lenient. Customizing the Gnome desktop appearance is easy and the rewards are immediate. Just a single menu with all the options you need. There's even a security tip for the security-minded.
Hopefully, you've learned something new.
Thanks to Robert for the suggestion!