Make Linux look like Windows - 2021 edition

Updated: April 19, 2021

Here we go again. Roughly three years ago, I showed you how to skin your Linux installation to look more like Windows, should your particular taste lean in that direction. It was an interesting little experiment. Also nerdy to the core. But apart from possible nostalgia and tech glamor, there might also be practical reasons for why someone would want to make their distro look more like a Microsoft product. And the answer is: entice non-techie people who expect the familiar.

Say you install a distro for folks with zero Linux knowledge and some rudimentary Windows familiarity. Normally, this is a recipe for disaster. I call this The Grandma Gentoo Test (TGGT), AKA how likely is the ordinary person to master the subtleties of computer usage without your nerdy help? But this is true for all operating systems, except Windows had been around for a long time, and it's the primary desktop interface that most people somewhat know how to somewhat use. So then, can you make your chosen distro behave like Windows, and nonce the wiser?


Attempt 1: Fedora

I decided to start my test with a distro running the Gnome desktop environment - modified with a bunch of extensions to look and behave like the classic desktop. My chosen themes still hail from the B00merang project, which I also used three summers back. Icons and themes, for Windows 7 and Windows 10. Let us commence. I downloaded the stuff, extracted the archives, and duly copied them into their respective hidden folders inside my home directory. Then I used Gnome Tweaks to change things. I also needed to enable user shell extensions, so I could properly skin the system.

Fedora, extensions

Fedora, extensions, user themes

Results? So so. There were quite a lot of artifacts. The effects aren't seamless, and there's a weird mix of native icons, or near as, and the added icon packs. The skinning of window elements works mostly fine, but then you get odd things like item selection, pale elements on pale background, and vice versa. This could work, but maybe even the normies would be able to spot the difference.

Fedora, Windows 7

Fedora, Windows 10

Fedora, Windows 10 notifications

Attempt 2: Linux Mint

I decided to try the Cinnamon desktop next - well, similar to my first article. Here, the results are a bit more promising. Mint also gives us a fairer chance, 'cause it be like Windows in spirit and looks, to some extent. Overall, the integration looks better. I found the Windows 7 theme to offer a more complete look & feel - but far from perfect. The system menu shading is weird. The Windows 10 theme looks worse, with more artifacts, including icons that don't match the background, very non-Windowsy elements and such.

Mint, Windows 7

Mint, Windows 7, file manager

Mint, Windows 7, menu 1

Mint, Windows 7, menu 2

What about KDE?

This time I didn't do any KDE testing. One could argue that KDE has a very Windows-like feel to begin with, with a classic layout. And it's also extremely customizable, as I've shown you in my Mac transformation and Unity transformation guides. So perhaps I should invent some extra time and get the Windows side of things going, too. Something for future articles, perhaps. Hint hint, wink wink.


Three years later, there's some good progress, I must say. The b00merang Windows themes look a bit better than before. If you're aiming to confuse your non-techie friends, you have a better chance of doing it today than you could in 2018. Of course, you need to throw in some nice wallpapers and fonts, too. But fundamental issues will remain - like application names for instance, and unless you're willing to invest a lot of energy, you can't - and shouldn't - really make Linux be 100% like Windows. Because when problems do arise, and they shall, the users will be even more confused than they started.

Well, we haven't achieved much, but this is a decent start. If you want a Windows-look experience, Mint with the Windows 7 pack seems to give the best results in my little test. But I'm now quite curious how far I can take this endeavor, and will see if I can do a proper KDE transformation. Anyway, we're back where we started, boomerang style. Hi hi. Take care.