How To Customize Ubuntu With The Unity Tweak Tool

While Unity isn't the most customizable of Linux desktop environments there are still a large number of tweaks that can be performed to make your Ubuntu experience as good as it can be.

This guide introduces you to the Unity Tweak Tool. You will learn how to customize the launcher, window styles and settings and general system behavior.

This article encompasses item 12 in the list of 33 things to do after installing Ubuntu.

After reading this guide you might consider clicking this link which shows how to customize the desktop wallpaper.

Other guides you might like in this series include:

If you haven't installed Ubuntu yet why not try it out by following this guide:

1
Install The Unity Tweak Tool

Install Unity Tweak
Install Unity Tweak.

To install the Unity Tweak Tool open the Ubuntu Software Centre, by clicking on the suitcase icon on the launcher, and search for Unity Tweak.

Click the Install button in the top right corner and enter your password when it is requested.

To open the Tweak Tool open the Dash and search for Tweak. Click on the icon when it appears.

2
The Unity Tweak Tool User Interface

Unity Tweak Tool Interface
Unity Tweak Tool Interface.

The Tweak Tool has a series of icons split into the following categories:

The Unity category allows you to tweak the launcher, the search tool, the top panel, the switcher, web applications and a few miscellaneous items to do with Unity.

The Window Manager category allows you to tweak the general Window Manager, Workspace Settings, Window Spread, Window Snapping, Hot Corners and other miscellaneous Window Manager items.

The Appearance category allows you to tweak the theme, icons, cursors, fonts and window controls.

The System category allows you to tweak the desktop icons, security and scrolling.

All of these features will be described in this article. 

3
Customize Unity Launcher Behavior Within Ubuntu

Customise Unity Launcher Behaviour
Customise Unity Launcher Behaviour.

To customize the launcher behavior click on the launcher icon in the Unity tool.

The launcher behavior screen is split into three sections:

  1. Behavior
  2. Appearance
  3. Icons

By default the launcher is always visible. You can however maximize screen real estate by making the launcher hide until the mouse pointer is moved to either the left side or the top corner.

To do this simply slide the auto-hide to on. You can then choose a fade transition theme and choose whether the user should move the mouse to the left or the top corner for the launcher to appear.

There is a slider control which lets you adjust the sensitivity. 

Also in the behavior section is a checkbox which allows you to minimize applications when you click on them.

The appearance section lets you adjust the background of the launcher. 

There is a slider to adjust the transparency level and you can set the background based on the wallpaper or a solid color.

Finally, the icons section lets you change the icon sizes within the launcher.

You can also amend the animation when an urgent action is required or when an application is launched via the launcher. The options are wiggle, pulse or no animation.

By default icons only have a colored background when the application is open. You can adjust this behavior so that icons have a background in the following circumstances:

  • All applications
  • Open applications only
  • No coloring
  • Colored edges
  • Alternated for each workspace

Last but not least, you can choose to have a show desktop icon in the launcher. By default this is turned off but you can change the slider to turn it on.

4
Customize The Search Tool Within Unity

Customise The Unity Search Tool
Customise The Unity Search Tool.

To adjust the search settings either click the search tab or from the overview screen click on the search icon.

The search tab is split into four categories:

  • General
  • Applications
  • Files
  • Run Command

The first option within the general section lets you determine how the general background looks during a search.

You can choose to turn background blur on or off by using the slider. By default blur is set to on. You can also tweak how the blur looks. The options are active or static.

A more interesting option is the ability to search online sources or not. If you just want searches to look at locally installed software and files uncheck the box.

Under the applications section there are two checkboxes:

  • Show "More Suggestions"
  • Show "Recently Used" applications

By default both of these options are checked.

The files section has a single checkbox:

  • Enable search of your files

Again, by default this option is turned on.

The Run Command section has buttons to clear the history.

You also have the option to restore defaults.

5
Customize The Panel At The Top

Customise The Unity Panel
Customise The Unity Panel.

To customize the panel click on the panel tab or from the overview screen click on the panel icon.

The screen is split into two sections:

  • General
  • Indicators

The general section provides the ability to determine how long the menu appears in seconds. Increase or decrease this as you wish.

You can also change the transparency of the panel by moving the slider left or right.

For maximised windows you can choose whether to make the panel opaque by checking the box.

The indicators section deals with the items in the top right corner of the screen.

There are four main items that can be tweaked:

  • Date & Time
  • Bluetooth
  • Power Settings
  • Volume

You can adjust the way the date and time is displayed to show a 24 or 12 hour clock, show the seconds, date, weekday and calendar.

Bluetooth can merely be set to be shown or not shown.

The power settings can be set to be displayed all the time, when the battery is charging or indeed discharging.

The Volume can be set to be shown or not and you can choose whether to show the default audio player.

Finally there is an option to show your name in the top right corner.

6
Customize The Switcher

Customise The Switcher
Customise The Switcher.

Most people know that if you press Alt and Tab on the keyboard you can switch applications.

You can tweak the way the switcher works by clicking on the Switcher tab or by clicking on the Switcher icon on the overview screen.

The screen is split into three categories:

  • General
  • Window switching shortcuts
  • Launcher switching shortcuts

The general section has four checkboxes:

  • Display "Show Desktop" icon
  • Switch between windows on all workspaces
  • Switch between minimised windows
  • Automatically expose windows

The window switching shortcuts shows the current key combinations for switching applications.

The shortcuts are for:

  • Start switcher (Alt + Tab)
  • Start switcher in reverse (Shift, Alt + Tab)
  • Start switcher for all workspaces (CTRL, Alt + Tab)
  • Start switcher for all workspaces in reverse (Shift, CTRL, Alt + Tab)
  • Flip through windows in the switcher (not set)
  • Flip through windows in the switcher in reverse (not set)

You can change the shortcuts by clicking on the shortcut and using the key combination you wish to use.

The launcher switching shortcuts section has two shortcuts:

  • Start Switcher (super + Tab)
  • Start Switcher in reverse (Shift, super + Tab)

Click here for a guide to the super key.

Again you can change the shortcuts by clicking on the shortcut and using the key combination you wish to use.

7
Customize Web Applications Within Unity

Customise Web Apps
Customise Web Apps.

To customize the default web applications in Unity click on the web apps tab or click the web apps icon in the overview screen.

The screen is split into two sections:

  • General
  • Preauthorized Domains

The general tab has an on/off switch for integration prompts. By default it is on.

The pre-authorized domains has options for Amazon and Ubuntu One.

If you don't want web results in Unity uncheck both of these results. 

8
Customize Additional Settings Within Unity

Customise The HUD
Customise The HUD.

To customize the HUD and Keyboard Shortcuts, click on the additional tab or choose the additional icon under the Unity section within the overview screen.

The HUD can be customized to remember or forget previous commands by checking or unchecking the box.

The keyboard shortcuts section has a list of the following shortcuts:

  • Invoke HUD
  • Show the launcher
  • Execute command
  • Put keyboard focus on the launcher
  • Open the first panel menu

You can change the keyboard shortcuts by clicking on them and using the shortcut you wish to use.

9
Change General Window Manager Settings

Customise Unity Window Manager Settings
Customise Unity Window Manager Settings.

You can change some general window manager settings by clicking the general icon under window manager on the overview screen within the Tweak tool.

The screen is split into four sections:

Under the general section you can determine whether desktop magnification is switched on or off and you can choose keyboard shortcuts for zooming in or out.

The hardware acceleration section has a single dropdown for determining texture quality. The options are fast, good or best.

The animations section lets you turn animations on and off. You can also choose the animation effects for minimise and unminimise. The animation options are as follows:

  • None
  • Random
  • Curved Fold
  • Fade
  • Glide 1
  • Glide 2
  • Horizontal Folds
  • Magic Lamp
  • Magic Lamp Wavy
  • Sidekick
  • Zoom

Finally the keyboard shortcuts section has shortcuts for the following actions:

  • Close window (Alt + F4)
  • Move window (Alt + F7)
  • Show desktop (not set)

10
Customise Workspace Settings Within Unity

Adjust Unity Workspace Settings
Adjust Unity Workspace Settings.

To adjust the workspace settings click on the workspace settings tab or click the workspace settings icon in the overview screen.

The screen is split into two sections:

  • General
  • Workspace shortcuts

The general tab lets you turn workspaces on or off and you can determine how many vertical and how many horizontal workspaces there are.

You can also set the current workspace color.

In the workspace shortcuts section you can set the keyboard shortcut to show the workspace switcher (default is super and s).

11
Customize The Window Spread In Unity

Customise Unity Window Spread
Customise Unity Window Spread.

The window spread shows a list of open windows. You can tweak how this screen appears by clicking the window spread tab or by clicking the window spread icon on the overview screen.

The screen is split into two sections:

  • General
  • Window Spread Shortcuts

The general tab lets you decide whether it is turned on or off. You can also choose how spread out the windows are by increasing or decreasing the number.

There are two checkboxes:

  • Icons on previews
  • Click to access desktop

The shortcuts provided are as follows:

  • Start windows spread (super + w)
  • Start windows spread for all windows (super, shift and w)

12
Customize Window Snapping In Ubuntu

Customise Ubuntu Window Snapping
Customise Ubuntu Window Snapping.

To customize the Window Snapping functionality in Ubuntu click the window snapping tab or click the window snapping icon on the overview screen.

The screen is split into two sections:

  • General
  • Behavior

The general lets you turn snapping on and off and also to change the colors for the outline color and fill color as the snap takes place.

The behavior section lets you determine where a window snaps when you drag it to either of the corners of the screen or the top or bottom middle.

The options are as follows:

  • Do Nothing 
  • Bottom Left
  • Bottom Half
  • Bottom Right
  • Left Half
  • Fill Screen
  • Right Half
  • Top Left
  • Top Half
  • Top Right
  • Maximize

13
Customize Hot Corners Within Ubuntu

Ubuntu Hot Corners
Ubuntu Hot Corners.

You can adjust what happens when you click in any of the corners within Ubuntu.

Click on the hot corners tab or choose the hot corners icon on the overview screen.

The screen is split into two sections:

  • General
  • Behavior

The general section simply lets you turn hot corners on or off.

The behavior section lets you determine what happens when you click in each corner.

The options are as follows:

  • Disabled
  • Toggle desktop
  • Show workspaces
  • Window spread
  • Spread all windows

14
Customize Additional Windows Settings Within Ubuntu

Additional Ubuntu Windows Settings
Additional Ubuntu Windows Settings.

The final tab in the Unity Tweak tool dealing with the window manager deals with miscellaneous options.

Click the additional tab or choose the additional icon under the window manager on the overview screen.

The screen is split into three tabs:

  • Focus behavior
  • Titlebar actions
  • Resizing

The Focus behavior deals with auto-raise. You can turn it on or off and set how long the delay is before the window raises. Finally you can choose the mode out of the following:

  • Click
  • Sloppy
  • Mouse

Basically if one window is slightly hidden from another you can click on it to bring it forward, move your mouse closer to it or hover with the mouse over the window.

The titlebar actions section has three dropdowns:

  1. Double click
  2. Middle click
  3. Right click

These options determines what happen when you perform these actions.

The options for each dropdown are as follows:

  • Toggle shade
  • Maximize
  • Horizontal expand
  • Vertical expand
  • Minimize
  • No action
  • Lower
  • Menu

The resizing section lets you determine the colors for the outline and fill when resizing a window. 

15
How To Change The Theme Within Ubuntu

Choosing A Theme Within Ubuntu
Choosing A Theme Within Ubuntu.

You can change the default theme in Ubuntu by clicking on the theme icon under appearance on the overview screen of the Tweak tool.

A single list appears showing the available themes.

You can select a theme simply by clicking on it.

16
How To Choose An Icon Set Within Ubuntu

Choosing An Icon Set Within Ubuntu
Choosing An Icon Set Within Ubuntu.

As well as changing the theme within Ubuntu you can also change the icon set.

Click on the icons tab or choose the icons icon from the overview tab.

Again there is simply just a list of themes.

Clicking on a set makes it active.

17
How To Change Default Cursors In Ubuntu

Changing Cursors Within Ubuntu
Changing Cursors Within Ubuntu.

To change the cursors within Ubuntu click the cursors tab or click on the cursors icon on the overview screen.

As with the icons and themes, a list of available cursors will appear.

Click on the set that you wish to use.

18
How To Change The Font Text Within Unity

Changing Ubuntu's Fonts Within Unity
Changing Ubuntu's Fonts Within Unity.

You can change the fonts for windows and panels within Unity by clicking on the fonts tab or by choosing the fonts icon on the overview screen.

There are two sections:

  • General
  • Appearance

 The general section lets you set the default fonts and sizes for:

  • Default font
  • Document font
  • Monospace font
  • Windowspace font

The appearance section lets you set the options for antialiasing, hinting and the text scaling factor.

19
How To Customize The Window Controls Within Ubuntu

Customise The Window Controls Within Ubuntu
Customise The Window Controls Within Ubuntu.

To customize the window controls click the window controls tab or click the window controls icon on the overview screen.

The screen is split into two sections:

  • Layout
  • Preferences

The layout section lets you determine where the controls are shown (maximize, minimize etc). The options are left and right. You can also choose to add the show menu button.

The preferences section simply lets you restore the defaults.

20
How To Add Desktop Icons Within Ubuntu

Adjusting Desktop Icons Within Unity
Adjusting Desktop Icons Within Unity.

To add and remove the desktop icons within Ubuntu click the desktop icons icon within the Unity Tweak tool.

The items you can display are as follows:

  • Home folder
  • Network folder
  • Rubbish bin
  • Devices

You can select an icon simply by clicking it. 

21
Customize Unity Security Settings Within Ubuntu

Adjust Unity Security Settings
Adjust Unity Security Settings.

To customize the security settings click on the security tab or choose the security icon on the overview screen.

You can disable or enable the following items by checking or unchecking their boxes:

  • desktop lock
  • printing
  • user logout
  • user switching

22
Customize The Scrollbars In Ubuntu

Customise Scrolling In Ubuntu
Customise Scrolling In Ubuntu.

You can customize the way Ubuntu scrolling works by clicking on the scrolling tab or by clicking the scrolling icon on the overview screen.

The screen is split into two sections:

  • Scrollbars
  • Touch scrolling

The scrollbars have two options:

  • overlay
  • legacy

If you choose overlay you can choose the default behavior for the overlay from one of the following:

  • Default
  • Overlay with mouse
  • No overlay

The touch scrolling section lets you choose the edge or two finger scrolling.