Monday, September 5, 2016

Customising Ubuntu

I have been using ubuntu for the past 5 years and have done a lot of customization which helped me in organizing and optimizing the desktop and system for the time I spent on it. And this is how it looks now.
Workspace 1_128
Recently I have seen an answer in quora  regarding the customization done by programmers to their system and received a lot of requests to share how I did my setup. So in this post , I am going give a step by step guide on how to customize the ubuntu desktop.
Kindly note that the steps below are based on the customization I have done based on my preferences and may not be suited for your use case. Nevertheless, these customization has proved to be worthy of my time and is helping me a lot as programmer on my day to day work.

The system

I am currently using a Thinkpad T420 , Core i5 2.5 Ghz  , 16GB ram and 120 GB SSD drive. You can read the post of how to upgrade your Thinkpad here.
  • Thinkpad T420
  • Ubuntu 14.10 LTS
  • 1600 x 900 px resolution
Most of the customization links / installation commands are based on the Ubuntu 14.10 ,  you may find the alternate repository for other versions.

Ubuntu Customization

So , lets start with the customization. We are going to customize / install following components of ubuntu
  • Disabling of unity launcher
  • Installing docky ( Dock )
  • Installing synapse
  • Configuring conky
  • Installing icons
  • Configuring font
  • Terminal
  • The wallpaper
  • Other softwares
We will see each in details below:

Disabling unity launcher

I don’t have anything against the unity dash. It has improved a lot from the day it was first launched. But I still feel that the dash is missing so important actions and aesthetics that is required for the desktop. This may be due to the fact that I am also a fan of Mac look and feel🙂
So first things first, lets disable the unity launcher. But its not easy as it sounds. There is no option to disable the launcher completely !!!.  I mean, there is not switch that you flip to remove the launcher. We need to do a hack for doing this. This will only prevent the launcher from showing up in the desktop.
  • Right click on the desktop and click on “Change desktop background”
  • It will open up the following dialog and select the tab “Behaviour”
  • We need to make sure that the reveal location is “Top left corner
  • Set the reveal sensitivity to “Low”
  • Also set the “Auto hide the laucher” to true
This will prevent the launcher from showing up in the desktop again.

Installing docky ( Dock )

Since there is no launcher , we need to immediately have a replacement. The best dock money can buy is obviously “Docky”🙂
$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ricotz/docky
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install docky
You can run docky and it will appear at the bottom of the screen by default. Clicking on the dock icon ( The first icon in the dock and customize the dock )
Docky Settings_135

Installing synapse

Since the launcher is not visible, we need an alternate arrangement to find and launch the applications.
We have a super fast application launcher called synapse. Get a terminal window and fire up the following commands:
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:synapse-core/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install synapse
Synapse - Settings_137
You can configure synapse by clicking on the top right button of synapse which opens the Settings screen. I have configured the <Super> Space as the trigger, you may set what best suits you.
Clicking the activate button will bring up synapse and you can start typing the first letters and your files and applications will be magically presented without any delay.

Configuring conky

One of the major elements that provide the unique look in the desktop is the conky tool. Conky is basically a customizable monitoring system that can draw over the desktop without affecting the windows.
For using conky , you need to install the conky tool first
sudo apt-get install conky
You can run conky by typing just “conky” on the terminal.  Conky needs a configuration file to show the elements in the desktop. If conky is run without any parameters, then configuration is taken from ~/.conkyrc file. This is the file in your home directory.
For my system, I have used a custom conky theme called Infinity conky and did some customizations of my own.
Details of the infinity conky theme can be seen here
You will find .conky file and .conkyrc file. You need to put both under the home folder. Please note that the files and folders starting with . (dot) are hidden by default in the ubuntu file explorer. You will need to press Ctrl + H to show these files.
Once the files are copied, you can kill conky and start again and it will display the conky configuration elements in your desktop. The .conkyrc file is optimized for the resolution of 1600 x 900 ( my display ) . You may play around with the offset values in conkyrc file to match your setup.

Installing icons

Icons plan an important role in the look and feel of the system. I am currently using the numix circle icon set and has found it to really go well with the dock.
sudo apt-add-repository ppa:numix/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install numix-icon-theme numix-icon-theme-circle
You can find more details about the icons in the noobslab link.
Once you install the icons, you need to select the icon theme. This is done using an inevitable tool called “Ubuntu Tweak”. Install it using the following commands
sudo add-apt-repository ppa:tualatrix/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install ubuntu-tweak
Open the application and you will see the following below:
Ubuntu Tweak_138
Click on the “Tweaks” tab and then on the “Theme” button. Here you can select the icon theme for the system.
Ubuntu Tweak_139

Configuring font

The default font shipped with ubuntu is fair enough. But I like the Droid sans better and have changed the system font to reflect that.
You can download the font from here and extract the content to ~/.local/share/fonts
After installing the fonts, you can have them set from the Ubuntu Tweak tool by going to the fonts section
Ubuntu Tweak_140.jpg


I have setup my terminal to mimic the Mac style  We need to configure the custom font and the styles for the terminal.
 Run gconftool-2 –load terminal-color-scheme.xml
Goto Terminal -> profile preferences -> Change font to Monaco ( size = 10 )
CMS Staging_126

The Wallpaper

Please note that this is downloaded from a hd wallpaper site and will need abide by the terms and conditions specified by the owner.

Other softwares

I am using several other tools for my day-to-day work and would like to list some of them here for your reference:
  • Nemo file manager ( Supports splitting by pressing F3)
  • Filezilla for FTP client connections
  • Remmina for managing RDP connections
  • F.lux for controlling screen temperature
  • Shutter ( Excellent tool for screenshot capturing )
  • Thunderbird as email client
  • Sublime and gedit as text editors
  • WPS Office for office tools ( Spreadsheet, presentation and writer )
  • Google chrome as primary browser

This is my humble system setup and I hope that you will be interested in trying it out. Let me know if you are facing any issues with the setup of require any further assistance with any of the tools specified above.
All the best and happy customization🙂 !!


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