Customizing GNOME3

GNOME3 and the GNOME Shell are no doubt, major improvements. They bring in usability and quite a bit of eye candy (in a different way compared to compiz) while at the same time, a few features went missing in 3.0 release – like Emblems, for instance. Nevertheless, GNOME3 is a great release and has been extremely stable so far (Yes, i have been using it since it’s release in April.).

One major complaint that I hear from people is that GNOME3 is not as easy to customize as 2.x. A lot of people seem to think that they are “stuck” with the blue-black theme that comes by default. Ofcourse this is not the case. In this post, I ll explain a few ways in which we can customize GNOME3 and the GNOME Shell.

But before proceeding any further, we have to make a clear distinction which was not necessary before. In GNOME3, with the advent of the shell, there are two sets of themes – one for the shell and the other for the windows (The GTK Theme). To get a smooth and complete makeover, one has to change both the themes. By default, we have the GNOME3 shell theme and the Adwaita Metacity theme for the windows.

1. GNOME Shell Themes
This must be one of the biggest issues I have with he way GNOME3 looks. I cant bear the big, black stripe on the top. It just does not look good. I am sure there are many of you out there who would agree with me on that. But luckily, there are quite a few good options out there that can replace it for us. Also, just to make it easier for us, let’s install the gnome-shell-theme-selector plugin so that we can swtich between themes faster. This plugin adds a Theme button on the top along with windows and application buttons in the Activities mode so that you can change you theme on the fly! So, let’s get started.

Open up a terminal, and type in the following commands to install GNOME Shell Extensions.

git clone

cd gnome-shell-extensions

./ –prefix=/usr –enable-extensions=user-theme

make && sudo make install

Now, let’s install the Themeselector extension. Fire up another terminal and follow me.


tar xvf themeselector-0.9.tar.gz

mv themeselector-0.9/extension.js ~/.local/share/gnome-shell/extensions/

mv themeselector-0.9/metadata.json ~/.local/share/gnome-shell/extensions/

mv themeselector-0.9/* ~/.themes/

Now, restart GNOME-Shell by pressing Alt+F2 and typing ‘r’ (Without quotes followed by enter). Now, in the activities window, you should have a themes tab with 6 themes to choose from!

To add any new themes you may come across later on, simply extract and add the folders to ~/.themes/ directory. Simple right?

2. GTK Themes
Now, to complete the new look for your desktop, grab a suitable GTK theme to match with your Shell theme from or from any other website. To install, simply extract the theme to /usr/share/themes.

Great, Not the last thing is to actually tweak the GNOME settings and make it use the GTK theme we just installed. Let’s see how to do that next.

3. GNOME-Tweak-Tool
The GNOME-Tweak-Tool is an aplication that is used to tweak a few values that changes the way your desktop looks and feels which, otherwise, is hard to change. The UI is clean and intuitive, which is a key aspect of a configuration tool.

To obtain the tweak tool, open another terminal and :

git clone

cd gnome-tweak-tool


NOTE: Compiled binary is available in the git repository. Hence no need to recompile. Works as it is.

That should fire up a window as shown above. On the left, choose interface from the list and on the right, select the GTK theme you just installed using the drop down menu. And that’s it!

You can mess around and change a few other things like the font, font size and quite a few other settings. So be sure to check out all the options…

Here is how I have set up my GNOME3. I am not artistically inclined and I am sure a lot of you out there can do much better. So let me know what you guys end up with.

About N.B.Prashanth

I am an engineering graduate currently pursuing my Masters in Embedded Systems. Computers and programming form a big part of my life. My interests include : Programming, AI, Machine Learning, Automation, Circuit Design and Embedded Systems.

Posted on October 1, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Excellent tutorial for those of us that are not so technical😉 Good work, keep it up!!!

  2. Also, before people complain about the need for compiling from source, the openSUSE build service repos have the extensions and Tweak Tool pre-built for 3.0:) The theme changer only works from within Tweak Tool, rather than being an extra panel, but the functionality is still the same even if the UI differs.

  3. at 3rd commends ”./ –prefix=/usr –enable-extensions=user-theme” here showing a error. that is “”configure: error: invalid variable name: `–prefix'”
    how to fix it?

  4. mv themeselector-0.9/extension.js ~/.local/share/gnome-shell/extensions/
    after entering this commend. outup:
    mv: cannot stat `themeselector-0.9/extension.js’: No such file or directory

    what should i do now?

    • Basically you should move extension.js and metadata.json file from the extracted folder to ~/.local/share/gnome-shell/extensions/ Please check if you have extracted the tarball and that the folder name is themeselector-0.9. You could also use nautilus and copy the files visually rather than use the terminal. Hope this helps.

  1. Pingback: Links 9/10/2011: Kororaa 15 “Squirt”, Android 4.0 Expected Soon | Techrights

  2. Pingback: Customizing GNOME3 « Linux.BlogNotions - Thoughts from Industry Experts

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