Gnome look and feel for Netbooks

Gnome look and feel for Netbooks

I’m using the standard Ubuntu Desktop Edition on my HP Mini netbook.

Because netbooks don’t have a high resolution (In my case 1024×600) we’ll want the interface to occupy as little space as possible.


To start off we’ll want to reduce the font-size without affecting the readability:

Font Rendering

Go to System → Preferences → Appearance → Fonts
I’m pleased to notice that since Jaunty the standard for font rendering is subpixel smoothing which is good for LCD displays. However we’ll adjust this a bit more for our needs:

Click on Details…:

Under Smoothing select Subpixel if not set already.

Under Hinting select Medium or Full, this will make text better readable even on small sizes which brings us to the next step:

Font size

Close the Font Rendering Details window and from the Font tab in the Appearance Preferences window set all fonts to 6. With our rendering options this is still good readable.


One panel is enough, so decide for either the top or the bottom panel, right-click the one you want to delete and select Delete This Panel.

Don’t worry, everything that was on the deleted panel can be added to the other panel by right-clicking it and selecting Add to Panel….

Next we’ll shrink the panel size as much as possible but first:

There is currently (Gnome 2.26.1) a bug with the Menu Bar preventing the Ubuntu icon (Or the icon of whatever distro you’re using, or the Gnome icon) from adjusting its size to the font-size. Here you have two choices: Either use the Main Menu instead of the Menu Bar or disable icons in the Menu Bar by going to System → Preferences → Appearance → Interface and deselecting Show icons in menus. Also, here I’ve chosen to select Icons only from the Toolbar button labels dropdown. This saves some more precious vertical space. The buttons are mostly self explanatory anyway and if you don’t know what one does, just leave the cursor on top of it for a sec, to display a tooltip.

Now we can proceed to decrease the panel size: Right-click the panel and select Properties: Set Size to the lowest number possible.


Our interface now uses much less vertical space and most windows fit comfortably on the screen but there are some exceptions forcing us to take some further actions:

Install Simple Compizconfig settings manager if you haven’t done so already. Either look for it in System → Administration → Synaptic Package Manager or enter in a terminal sudo apt-get install simple-ccsm

After installation go to System → Preferences → CompizConfig Settings Manager, from the category Window Management click on Move Window and unmark the Constrain Y option.

This will allow us to move windows that are too big freely so that we can see the parts that would otherwise be hidden from us below the desktop area. To move a window use the Movement Key defined in System → Preferences → Windows.

Firefox & Thunderbird

I’m using Firefox and Thunderbird and the toolbars take up some space but it’s easy to customize them: View → Toolbars → Customize: Ignore the newly opened window and just grab the statusbar further up so that it fits next to the menu. This saves quiet some pixels for the actual web content. In Thunderbird I’ve done the same for the bar with the buttons send, reply, forward, etc.

Window List

At some point I enabled grouping of windows in the Window List Preferences but later decided to remove the Window List entirely and switch between windows using Scale: Initiate Window Picker which I was already used to from the Mac:

Go to System → Preferences → Appearance → Visual Effects → Custom → Edges, select the edge you’d like to use and choose Scale: Initiate Window Picker. I have the panel at the top, so most buttons are located top left, so I chose the top left edge to minimize cursor movement.

Now I had lots of free space on my panel and I decided to fill it with quick launchers for the applications I use frequently: Right-click on an app in the Main Menu and select Add this launcher to panel.


I use multiple workspaces and it’s so easy and comfortable to switch between them using the shortcut ctrl alt ‘arrow key’ that I didn’t even bother to include the Workspace Switcher to the panel.

Note that to have a workspace on top of the other may be handy for you if you’re working on a big window and don’t want to be moving it around all the time. You can instead just switch workspaces to view different parts of the window.

Nice Dark Theme

My HP Mini is black so a dark theme suits it better, and it’s also more relaxing to the eye. Dust is a very nice theme but I decided to customize it a bit:

In the Appearance Preferences window select the Dust theme and click Customize…, from the Controls tab select DarkRoom and in the Colors tab assign the following colors:

  • Windows Background: #323232
  • Windows Text: #D9D4CC
  • Input boxes Background: #1A1A1A
  • Input boxes Text: #595959
  • Selected items Background: #996B5C
  • Selected items Text: #FFFFFF
  • Tooltips Background: #EBEAB8
  • Tooltips Text: #323232

I’m quiet happy with these colors though I’m sure it can be perfectioned.


In Thunderbird I’ve customized the colors as follows: Edit → Preferences → Advanced: click Config Editor…: In the Filter field type color and edit the following attributes:

  • browser.active_color: #cc7777
  • browser.anchor_color: #bb6666
  • browser.display.background_color: #1A1A1A
  • browser.display.foreground_color: #4C4C4C
  • browser.display.use_focus_colors: true
  • editor.active_link_color: #cc7777
  • editor.link_color: #bb6666
  • editor.use_custom_colors: true

and others as needed.


The Oblivion theme for gedit which you can find in Font & Colors tab of the gedit preferences window, fits perfectly to our dark theme.


Open the Profile Preferences window: From the Background tab I’ve chosen to enable transparency, and at the Colors tab I’ve set the Text color to #D6CDB0 and the Background color to #313131.

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