Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Featured Image

Customize Ubuntu 20.04 Desktop Environment

In Operating Systems, System Administration & Devops by Željko JaguštLeave a Comment

If you are a first-time Ubuntu user, the default Gnome 3 user interface may be just perfect for you. And that is just fine. But if you like the featured image of this article, then please read the rest of this guide and learn how you can customize your Ubuntu Desktop. And make it a bit more simple and a bit more old-school 🙂

Customize Ubuntu - Prerequisites

The only prerequisite here is Ubuntu Desktop 20.04, and you need to have it installed. If you have it, you can continue and customize Ubuntu by reading the rest of this article. In case you don't have it, please be free to read our article on how to install Ubuntu Desktop:

Customize Ubuntu - Getting Started

So, if you have the Ubuntu Desktop installed on your computer, then, by all means, start it up. Once you log in, a default Gnome 3 user interface will be displayed:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Gnome 3 Default UI
Ubuntu Customization - Gnome 3 default UI
If you've followed our Ubuntu Desktop installation guide, you should also have a minimal set of applications installed. You can check this by clicking on Show Applications button in the lower-left corner of the screen:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Minimal Install Applications
Ubuntu Customization - Minimal install applications
We can start with a few steps required before the customization itself. Specifically, we will set software sources (repositories) and install one application that will help us with the customization - Gnome Tweak Tool.

Software Repositories

Installing software on major Linux distributions is usually done from so-called software repositories. And usually, software as a term is not used; packages are a more common expression. A software repository is a location on the internet that holds those packages. And you can download and install them with a specific application. To configure access to repositories on our Ubuntu, please start Software & Updates from the application view screen:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Software & Updates
Ubuntu Customization - Software & Updates
The first tab displayed will be Ubuntu Software. Right under Downloadable from the internet heading, you will notice four check-boxes. Make sure all four are checked:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Main software repositories
Ubuntu Customization - Main software repositories
While still in Software & Updates, click on Other Software tab and enable Canonical Partners repository:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Enable Partner repo
Ubuntu Customization - Canonical Partners repository

Optional - Google Chrome repository

If you don't use the Google Chrome browser, you can skip this section. If you do, let me tell you why this step is required. Ubuntu does not offer a Google Chrome browser by default. In Ubuntu official repositories (enabled in the previous step), you will find a browser called Chromium. Google also develops Chromium, and the main difference is it is open-source, while Chrome is not. Also, Chrome has an automatic update feature and can track browser data, while Chromium lacks those features.
To start with this, we will continue where we left off in the previous step. While still in Software & Updates, click on Add... button in the lower-left corner:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Add new repo
Ubuntu Customization - Add a new repository
A new dialog box will open where you will have to enter the correct web address of the Google Chrome repository. Please enter the following line:
deb [arch=amd64] http://dl.google.com/linux/chrome/deb/ stable main
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Add Google Chrome repo
Ubuntu Customization - Google Chrome repository address
Once you have entered the correct address, click on the +Add Source button. You will notice the repository is automatically enabled. I want you to disable it temporarily:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Disable Google Chrome repo
Ubuntu Customization - Disable Google Chrome repository
We need a repository signing key before we can use the repository and eventually install the Google Chrome browser. We need a signing key to verify the authenticity of the package/software we want to install. In layman's terms, we need to convince our operating system (package manager) that the package we want to install is that package and not something else under the same name.
So, first, we need to download the signing key. To do so, please start the Firefox web browser by clicking on the icon in the top left corner:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Start Firefox
Ubuntu Customization - Start Firefox browser
Once the Firefox opens, please insert the following URL to the address bar:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Google Chrome GPG key
Ubuntu Customization - Google repository signing key
Press Enter on your keyboard, and a save file dialog box will pop up. Just save the file to a default location (Downloads directory):
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Download Google Chrome GPG key
Ubuntu Customization - Save file
You can close the Firefox browser and go back to Software & Updates. From there, click on the Authentication tab and then on the Import Key File... button in the lower-left corner:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Import Google Chrome GPG key
Ubuntu Customization - Import Key File
This action will open the Import Key dialog box. Once opened, double-click on the Downloads directory:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Downloads directory
Ubuntu Customization - Downloads directory
From here, click on the signing key you just downloaded and confirm the selection by clicking on the OK button in the upper-right corner:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Select Google Chrome GPG key
Ubuntu Customization - Select signing key
With the key successfully imported, click on the Other Software tab:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Other software
Ubuntu Customization - Other Software
Now we can enable the Google Chrome repository, so please click on the activation checkbox to mark it active. Once you do, you can close Software & Updates by clicking on the Close button in the lower-right corner:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Enable Google Chrome repo
Ubuntu Customization - Activate Google Chrome repository
Upon closing Software & Updates, and due to activation of new repositories, a software catalog will require an update. A dialog to refresh the software catalog will pop up right after you close Software & Updates, so please click on the Reload button to do so:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Repo reload
Ubuntu Customization - Reload software catalog
Catalog reload may take some time, during which you can relax a bit and celebrate. The getting started part of this Ubuntu customization guide is almost done.

Optional - System Update

With new repositories active, you can now check are there any new updates for your system. To do so, please click on the Show Applications button in the lower-left corner of the screen and then click on Software Updates:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Software updates
Ubuntu Customization - Software updates
There may or may not be any updates to your system. If there are, you will see the Software Updater dialog box just like on the picture below, informing you of any available updates. Just click on Install Now button, and updates will install:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Install software updates
Ubuntu Customization - Install updates
Once the updates are installed, a notification will pop up. Click on the OK button to confirm and close the update dialog box:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Complete software installation
Ubuntu Customization - Complete updates

Gnome Tweaks Installation

This will be the final step in this getting started section, and here we will install a tool that will allow us to do most of the customizations - Gnome Tweaks. To install it, please click on the Show Applications button in the lower-left corner of your screen. Once opened, please click on the Ubuntu Software icon:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Ubuntu software
Ubuntu Customization - Ubuntu Software
Once the Ubuntu Software app opens, please click on the search icon in the upper-left corner. You will notice a search bar appears. Click on it and type GNOME Tweaks. Search will start automatically as you type. Once the GNOME Tweaks app is found, please click on it to open:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - GNOME tweaks
Ubuntu Customization - Search Apps
On the following screen, please click on the green Install button to start the installation of GNOME Tweaks:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Install GNOME tweaks
Ubuntu Customization - Install GNOME Tweaks
GNOME Tweaks by itself has only a few customization options. To extend those options, we will install the GNOME Shell Extensions package. To do so, you can close the Ubuntu Software app first. Then once again, click on the Show Applications button in the lower-left corner of your screen. Once opened, type Terminal in the search bar located at the top. The terminal application icon will be displayed, so please click on it to open the app:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Start terminal
Ubuntu Customization - Terminal
With the terminal open, please enter the following line to install the extensions (confirm with Enter):
sudo apt install gnome-shell-extensions gnome-shell-extensions-hide-activities
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Install GNOME shell extensions
Ubuntu Customization - Terminal
You will be asked to enter your password, so please do. You can close the terminal application once extensions are installed. And that's it; we're done with the getting started part of this guide. You can take a break now, have a glass of water and go for a stroll. You've earned it!

Customize Ubuntu - Settings

At this point, we can start with the customization of the Ubuntu Desktop user interface. First, we will modify some general settings. To do it, please click on the Show Applications button in the lower-left corner of your screen, and then click on the Settings icon:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Ubuntu Settings
Ubuntu Customization - Settings
With settings open, click on the Background option on the menu on the left. Here you can change your wallpaper. You can choose between the ones offered by Ubuntu, or you can set your picture by clicking on Add Picture... button in the upper-right corner of your screen:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Backgrounds
Ubuntu Customization - Set Wallpaper
With wallpaper set, please click on the Appearance option on the menu on the left. Here, I like to leave Window colors on Standard, reduce the icon size in the dock and position the dock at the bottom of my screen. Of course, you are free to adjust the appearance to your liking:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Appearance
Ubuntu Customization - Appearance
And this is it regarding settings. We will modify everything else with the Gnome Tweaks application and its extensions. You will see how in the sections that follow.

Customize Ubuntu - Gnome Tweaks

Finally, we came to the part of the guide where everything comes into place. So hang on just for a bit longer. At this point, we can turn on all the nice Gnome shell extensions we installed in one of the previous steps. Once turned on, we can switch to our Gnome Tweaks tool and perform final adjustments to our user interface. Let's get started.

Gnome Shell Extensions

First, we need to enable the required shell extensions. To do so, please click on the Show Applications button (now in the lower-right corner) and then click on the Extensions icon:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Gnome Shell Extensions
Ubuntu Customization - Gnome Shell Extensions
Once the Extensions window opens, you will notice some of them are already enabled:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Default Extensions
Ubuntu Customization - Default Extensions

At this point, we can enable the rest of the required extensions. Please enable the following extensions:

  • Applications Menu
  • Hide Activities Button
  • Horizontal workspaces
  • Places Status Indicator
  • Workspace Indicator

Once you enable those extensions, you will notice the Activities menu button in the upper-left corner is replaced by two new menu buttons; Applications and Places. You will also see the Workspaces indicator in the upper-right corner of your screen. If you click on either Applications or Places, you will see a classic drop-down menu. Something common to a classic behavior on the majority of operating systems and something most of us are used to:

Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Extensions Enabled
Ubuntu Customization - Extensions enabled

Gnome Tweaks

You can change so much with Gnome Tweaks, but I will go through a couple of settings to keep this guide simple. To start it, now you can click on the Applications menu button in the upper-left corner of your screen. From there, click on Utilities and then on Tweaks:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Gnome Tweaks
Ubuntu Customization - Gnome Tweaks
Once Gnome Tweaks open, please click on Fonts. From there, reduce the size of the Monospace Text font size. This font is used primarily in the Terminal application. Resolution on my notebook is 1920x1200px so size 12 is just perfect. If your display has a smaller resolution, you can try even smaller values for Monospace Text font size:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Fonts
Ubuntu Customization - Fonts settings
With font size reduced, please click on Keyboard & Mouse menu option. Under Mouse Click Emulation, please click on either Fingers or Area option (whatever suits you best). Of course, this is only viable if you have a notebook computer:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Keyboard & Mouse
Ubuntu Customization - Keyboard & Mouse settings
As for everything else, I urge you to go through all Gnome Tweaks options and adjust whatever you may think is relevant. Every choice is explained, and if you don't like something, you can quickly revert.

Ubuntu Dock

Ubuntu is based on Debian Linux, and where Debian uses the default dock for Gnome Shell, Ubuntu enforces its own modified dock. Debian has an additional shell extension called dash-to-dock, and if it is installed, you can adjust the additional dock settings through the Gnome Tweaks application. And as you can see in one of the previous steps, the only option to customize it is to change its location (left, right, or bottom).

You can do the same on Ubuntu, but it's more complicated. To access additional dock settings, you will need Dconf Editor. To install it, please click on the Applications menu button in the upper-left corner of your screen, and from there, click on Utilities and then on Terminal:

Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Start terminal
Ubuntu Customization - Start Terminal
Once the Terminal opens, you can install Dconf Editor by executing the following command:
sudo apt install dconf-editor
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Install Dconf
Ubuntu Customization - Install Dconf Editor
With Dconf installed, you can close the Terminal. To start Dconf Editor, please click on the Applications menu button in the upper-left corner of your screen, and from there, click on System Tools and then on dconf Editor:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Start Dconf
Ubuntu Customization - Start Dconf Editor
In dconf Editor, please click on the following options: org → gnome → shell → extensions → dash-to-dock:
Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Dash to Dock
Ubuntu Customization - Dconf Editor

With dash-to-dock open, please modify the following options:

  • disable extended-hight
  • disable show-running
  • disable show-show-apps-button

As you can notice, your dock now only has applications pinned explicitly to it. Looks a bit like a dock on macOS, right. And this is the last thing we are going to do here. You can enjoy your new desktop now:

Ubuntu 20.04 Customization - Zack's Desktop
Ubuntu Customization - Zack's Desktop
If you want to know more about installing additional applications and pinning some of them to your dock, please read out the Ubuntu recommended applications guide below.

Share if you like. Thank you in advance!

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