How I make my Ubuntu more beautiful and (even more) usable

I think Ubuntu is a pretty good and solid Linux distribution. However, after installation, there are still a couple of things that I tweak to make it better match my taste. Namely, I think Ubuntu has a pretty bad default theme, and made some strange decisions regarding usability. (E.g. I like the new logout menu, but what is that with the new notifications? It does not help me with anything. Or this one: yes there is a problem, because firefox is not consistent with the rest of the desktop, but the solution is a bit weird: make Nautilus also be inconsistent with the rest of the desktop.) Note that most of the stuff is probably a matter of (my) taste and preferences, so take this as it is. So here is what I usually change:

  • Install Epiphany browser. I don’t see any immediate advantage over Firefox (I don’t make heavy use of plugins, and the stuff that I want, adblocker, etc, is in Epiphany too), and Epiphany is just nicer and blends better into the desktop than firefox. The rendering engine is the same anyway, so there are no compatibility issues either.
  • Switch Nautilus to spatial mode. Actually I have no real preference of browser vs. spatial mode. But I made an interesting obervation with some non-computer-experts like my wife or my mother. They found the (default) browser mode quite confusing. Like, after clicking on a folder to open it, ‘where is the other folder gone’. Then I need to teach them, there are no such things as folders, it’s a browser, and you navigate in the folder hierarchy (wtf is a hierarchy) etc. I believe the spatial mode is much more intuitive for non geeks, and the experts know how to change to browser mode anyway.
  • Turn on the couple of icons on the desktop: Home folder, Computer, Network, Trash, etc. I don’t really like to navigate to the Places menu, and infact I think it’s just a bit less intuitive. (Similar in style as the point above: it needs additional thinking/searching to find what you need if you don’t know it yet).
  • Make the panels translucent. Looks a bit better IMO, but this is really a matter of taste.
  • Change the GDM theme. Really, the default GDM theme of Ubuntu 9.04 is just aweful. It might be well suited for heavy metal fans, but for normal people (mother, wife, kids, ..) I would be ashamed to give them a desktop with such a login screen. Mostly black with yellow-brown-reddish colors doesn’t exactly trigger positive feelings. (As an occasional Heroes of Might and Magic series player, it reminds me most of the demon fraction ;-). ) The previous Ubuntu GDM theme was at least kind of neutral (not beautiful). I like the Linsta theme the most (I just like nature motives).
  • Change the desktop theme and background image. My personal favorites are Clearlooks theme and the backgrounds that ship with vanilla gnome. The default Ubuntu background is just weak, and the human theme is, well, boring.

To make the long story short, I mostly turn off all Ubuntu modifications/theming of the GNOME desktop and in most cases use the default GNOME settings, especially on computers that are also used by my family. Ubuntu has a lot of good points, but theming/artwork surely isn’t one.


8 Responses to How I make my Ubuntu more beautiful and (even more) usable

  1. Mario Torre says:

    Spatial mode is broken!! (flame flame)
    Ubuntu is broken!! (flame flame!!!)
    Use Fedora!!! (flame!!!!!)


  2. shamaz says:

    ubuntu without ubuntu modifications/theming….
    well then what you need is just Debian 🙂

  3. Mario Torre says:

    Shamaz, you have to udnerstand that Roman used windows for too much time (two weeks), so now he’s doomed 🙂

  4. Dave Gilbert says:

    @Mario: Rich people use Windows.

  5. windmonger says:

    At least Ubuntu has stayed away from the commonplace, overused and boring BLUE which is the colour theme of every other distro.

  6. shamaz says:

    @windmonger : wrong ! opensuse uses green 🙂

  7. roman says:

    Shamaz: As does Foresight! And yeah, Debian. I came from there, but I prefer current software and a reasonable predictable release cycle. The ideal distro would be a mix of Ubuntu (release cycle, current software) and Debian (mostly vanilla Gnome). Any ideas?

  8. ,..] is another interesting source of tips on this issue,..]

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