Life with Linux: Up and running, and changing the look

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In the previous entry on this topic I did some basic personal customizations to my Ubuntu 9.04 Linux installation on my Lenovo T400 laptop. As I left it, I was about to install the IBM internal software layer that contains things such as Lotus Notes, SameTime, and Symphony. That went very well except for two problems, both of which were my fault:

  • I thought the VPN software I had on a USB storage key was up-to-date, but evidently it was backlevel and didn’t work. Thus I initially could not connect into the IBM network from my home office. Getting and installing the latest VPN software worked perfectly. For some reason I don’t remember, I rebooted after I installed this.
  • When configuring an essential application, I could not connect into the IBM network. Slightly before panic set in, I remember that I had rebooted but had not restarted the VPN. Once I did so, everything worked well.

At this point I loaded up the machine with data saved elsewhere: I replicated my personal Lotus Notes mail to the laptop, used FileZilla to download the contents of my website, and again used FileZilla to FTP over my saved documents from my desktop iMac.

So now I have a fully functional Linux laptop that I can use for work. Indeed, I’m using it right now to create this blog entry in WordPress, while also using Lotus Notes and Lotus SameTime.

There are a few more applications I want to install and I also want to change the look away from the default Ubuntu theme. I’ll save the former for later and now talk about the appearance.

I’m more of a “blue” guy that a “brown” guy, so I changed the Ubuntu GNOME desktop theme to Clearlooks. Go to System > Preferences > Appearance and click on the Clearlooks theme on the Themes tab. The decoration around your windows will immediately change. Choose a different theme if one of the other suits you. Other themes are available for download from various places around the web. Just make sure the theme you install is usable with your version of Ubuntu and GNOME. You can get the version information under the System menu.

Ubuntu themes

Next I want to change the screen wallpaper. I really like the images available at Interface LIFT. If you find an image you like on the website, click on a Select Resolution list, choose the size you need (mine is 1440×900), and then click Download. This brings up the image in your browser. Right click, choose Save Image As and put the image someone convenient. I put mine in the Pictures directory. I like to do this separate step rather the Set As Desktop Background option, since I tend to collect a lot of wallpaper images so I can change them frequently.

Now go back to System > Preferences > Appearance and click on the Background tab. Click the Add button and then find and open the image you just downloaded. You’ll now have a new background.

One final flourish: I like to change the menu bars to be about 50% transparent so I can see that beautiful background I just downloaded. To do this, right click on the top or bottom menu bar and click Properties. Next click Background and then the Solid Color menu item. Move the slider bar toward the right to make the bar more transparent (that is, less solid). I park mine somewhere in the middle. Now repeat for the other menu bar.

Ubuntu revised desktop

Next up: Life with Linux: Installing Adobe AIR and TweetDeck

Also see: Life with Linux: The series


  1. Have you tried setting up the Compiz effects? Wow! Astonishing.

    Basically you just have to go to the last tab (visual effects) and set them to “extra”: Wobbling windows, circulate through windows on different workplaces and the award-winning cube rotation. Most of them perfectly useless (apart from the circulate through desktop effect), but a show off for people thinking that Linux is gruesome.

    Finally, if you are on a limited, 16:9 screen estate, you might find that two panels consume too much of the vertical size. You have the options of autohide (let them appear only when the pointer reaches the edge) and to manually hide by enabling hide buttons. Both functions from the same “properties” menu (“general” tab).

  2. Here you can find out how to install a nice collection of beautiful themes.

    And here’s another one:
    Hope you enjoy them.

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