Thursday, July 15, 2010

Pimp my Linux desktop!

Debian Linux, which I'm using at the moment, comes with a pretty standard blue-themed Gnome desktop common to several distros- Debian, Mandriva and Fedora- distinguished only by a branded wallpaper.
It's a simple and elegant theme, but over the last few days I've been customising my desktop, changing the theme and icons. The new theme is a dark one which I think suits my laptop with its grey-bordered screen.

(I used the New Wave 0.9.0 beta 1 theme. The wallpaper is Wassily Kandinsky, Composition VIII, 1923.)

But first of all I changed the icon theme. For some reason I never liked the default 'refresh' icon, particularly as it appears in Firefox/Iceweasel. To my eye, the appearance of Firefox using the Elementary or Gnome-Colors icon theme is much more pleasing.

I changed the theme and icon set pretty much by trial and error, and by Googling for Gnome themes and icons. After I'd finished, I found a couple of good 'how to's', so I won't repeat the information they contain, but rather describe a few issues I came across and the solutions I found.

How to install themes on Ubuntu/Debian.
Customize and Theme-Up your Ubuntu Linux.

(These guides apply to the Gnome desktop, so they may with luck apply to other distros using Gnome too.)

Here are the issues I came across:

Install an Ubuntu theme in Debian and it may depend on an icon theme that is not installed- New Wave for example told me that it was using the Humanity-dark icon theme, when in fact it was using the default theme- the Humanity-dark icon theme appeared on the menu but with no icon.

Install the missing icon theme manually, or another of your choice.

It's apparently possible to change the Main Menu icon in some distros using Gnome Configuration Editor, but this doesn't work in Debian Lenny. It is possible to change the icon by substituting one of your choice in the following folders:


(To use the Debian swirl, do a Google picture search. You'll need a .png and an .svg icon. Get a 32x32 .png and scale it with GIMP to the smaller sizes. The .svg icon goes in the /scalable/ folder, of course.)

After installing a theme in a user account, applications run as root do not fully adopt the theme- they have a "Windows 98" boxy appearance. The answer is to install as root, but when trying to start gnome-appearance-properties as root in Debian, I got the following error message:
Unable to start the settings manager 'gnome-settings-daemon'.
Without the GNOME settings manager running, some preferences may not take effect. This could indicate a problem with Bonobo, or a non-GNOME (e.g. KDE) settings manager may already be active and conflicting with the GNOME settings manager.
I found the answer was to copy the theme to the /usr/share/themes/ folder as root. After doing that, I ran gnome-appearance-properties as root, ignored the error message, and selected the theme I wanted- which seems to work without any problems.

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