Simple usable desktop


I'm looking for a good simple basic old-fashioned practical productivity-focussed theme.


I do truly appreciate having an OS, including a desktop and apps, that is all free.
I hope this question doesn't come across badly, I'm just frustrated.


I've just upgraded from Ubuntu 16.04 to 18.04 directly using the desktop software updater.

All went smoothly except my desktop was messed up.

So I went to -- System > Preferences > Look and Feel > Appearance -- and found that I couldn't have my custom theme 'Ambient MATE with Atlanta borders' because Atlanta is no longer available. And Ambient seems to have changed.

My problem / request for help

After many attempts at choosing themes and customizing them, I still cannot create a comfortably usable desktop. From all of the failed attempts, I've put together a list of requirements. Can I have this?

  • Running application buttons (the buttons you click to show that particular window) that have white text on a dark background,
    not light grey text with a dark border on a light grey background (who would 'design' that?).
  • Toolbar icons (eg the one that lets me control speaker volume) with good contrast,
    not dark grey on black.
  • Applications, Places, Settings with a gap between,
    not all squashed together ApplicationsPlacesSettings (yes, some themes do this too).
  • Nice, old-fashioned, comfortably large window border controls: underscore, big square, big X;
    not any of the other art-house options such as three blobs with no icons.
  • A scrollbar on things that are scrollable
    (choices in some themes have me totally baffled)
  • Good size window borders so that I can grab them with the mouse to resize a window.
    Actually it's not the size of the border that's the issue, it's the grab range --- 3 pixels from off to on to off again is too small and is extremely frustrating.

I have tried clicking the 'Get more themes online' link. The page shows two options: GTK 2.x themes and GTK 3.x themes. Great, so which? Why doesn't the link button know which set to send me to?

And, regardless of that, I'd rather just pick an installed theme and go.

I feel like I've just moved into a new 'furnished' office and, before I can get on with any of the huge pile of work I have, I'm being forced to choose new curtains and make my own chair! :slight_smile:

Corollary questions

I understand that some aspects of a desktop come from the desktop manager and some from the windows manager, etc, etc. But is it not possible to have one simple app that has all the options in it? So the user can just click and set the options required. Instead of having to choose a theme and then try, in vain, to customize it without enough options to change what needs to be changed. I'm sure things used to be more customizable a few years ago.

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You do realize that Ubuntu MATE being a flavor of Ubuntu comes with 3 years of supported life.

The release announcements for Ubuntu 18.04 state

Maintenance updates will be provided for 5 years for Ubuntu Desktop, Ubuntu Server, Ubuntu Cloud, and Ubuntu Base. All the remaining flavours will be supported for 3 years.

Ubuntu MATE announced the end of 18.04's support cycle on this site too, ie. see Ubuntu MATE 18.04 LTS reaches end of life


Welcome to Ubuntu MATE community!

Correct, seems to be available in previous versions like Ubuntu MATE 16.04 LTS.
But really we can get it installed back on Ubuntu MATE 18.04 LTS by using procedure below:

cd /tmp
wget -c
dpkg -x metacity-common_3.18.7-0ubuntu0.3_all.deb metacity-themes
mkdir ~/.themes
cp -ar /tmp/metacity-themes/usr/share/themes/Atlanta ~/.themes/

and then select its borders from mate-appearance-properties to get something like

Please note that many Gtk-2.0 based themes will not work normally on current 18.04 LTS system. For example Human-Clearlooks theme needs severe adaptation.

If you want to play with themes more then I would suggest to check themes which are already packaged in Ubuntu repositories.
Create fresh Ubuntu MATE 18.04 virtual machine in VirtualBox, save its first state snapshot and then install all possible themes for gtk-2, gtk-3 and metacity-1 by using commands below:

sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install apt-file gconf2
sudo apt-file update

sudo apt-get install $(apt-file search /usr/share/themes/ | grep -E "gtk-2|gtk-3|metacity-1" | awk -F: '{print $1}' | sort -u | grep -vE "ukui|gnome-themes|kylin|matchbox")

And then you will have wide room for testing using mate-appearance-properties.
Create list of your favorite themes and then install them on your daily driver system using small list of deb-packages.

Then about support cycle.
Personally I run about 10 devices with Ubuntu MATE 18.04 LTS because I need to have python2-based applications like Zenmap and Fslint, and to have Qt4-based applications in place. So I do not think that we all must to upgrade our systems to the latest supported Ubuntu MATE 20.04 LTS. I'll continue to use 18.04 LTS until release of 22.04 LTS to keep my user experience gap-less.


Well that came out of left field! How did I miss that? :slight_smile: Thank you for the heads up, Chris.

Many thanks @Norbert_X for your comprehensive reply.

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