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Making GNOME Look Like OS X

Panther by the Tail

April 6, 2006

The GNOME desktop environment offers a wide variety of choices when it comes to cosmetics; you can make it look like practically anything. In its default condition, GNOME is highly usable, but perhaps a little bland. If you've always admired the Apple OS X desktop theme and layout but aren't ready to drop a load of cash on an Apple machine (or if you want to stick with free software), this article will show you how to make GNOME look and feel more like OS X, with some limitations.

The first step toward OS X-ness is to change the icon, window border, and application control themes. There are several individual theme packages that meet these needs, and a few that try to do it all in one. I spent a few hours looking through the collections on art.gnome.org, gnome-look.org, and freshmeat.net's theme section and came up with what I thought was the best combination. You may feel differently; at any point during this guide, you can decide to deviate from the recommended packages and install different ones to suit your tastes- nothing bad will happen to your computer if you don't follow the directions exactly.

First, download the Mac OS X Aqua GTK+ engine files -- you'll need the GTK+ theme and icon theme. The desktop wallpaper is optional. The download links are below the installation instructions.

Once the icon and GTK+ themes are downloaded, open up your GNOME Theme Preferences window, which you can find in the Preferences section of the Desktop menu. Click on the Install Theme button, then in the dialogue that follows, navigate to the location of the GTK+ theme file you just saved to your hard drive. Repeat the process for the icon theme. Once both files are installed, a "Mac OS-X" entry will appear in your theme list. Select it and then click the Close button.

This is a somewhat older OS X theme (see Figure 1). If you would prefer a more Panther-like look, download this theme in addition to the files mentioned above, and install it as you installed them. You'll get two error message windows that warn about missing icons. Close both warning windows, then click on Theme Details. Select the Icons tab, then click on Mac OS-X, then click Close.

Lastly, let's move those application control buttons over to the left, like on the Mac. Start the Gconf Editor, either by running gconf-editor from a terminal window or by selecting Configuration Editor from the System Tools section of the Applications menu. Click the triangle next to apps to expand its tree, then do the same for the metacity entry below it (you'll have to scroll down a ways), then click on general. In the right-hand pane you'll see a list of settings; click on the button_layout entry, then on the value field next to it. The default setting is:

menu:minimize,maximize,close

To switch the window controls to the left, move the menu to the end, like this:

minimize,maximize,close:menu

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