Customizing Your Gnome Desktop: Gnome Panel

For the final part of our series on customizing your Linux Gnome desktop, we are going to look at the Gnome Panel. The Gnome Panel are the bars that hold your menu and window list. They can be made to hold other components as well. They can also be customized to blend into your desktop and by doing so they can really tie the whole look of the desktop together.

The great think about the panel inside of gnome is there are little applications (called applets) that are designed for the sole purpose of allowing you access to information that you might need on a consistent basis.

Lets get into the thick of it, shall we?

Panel Look

Panel PropertiesBlending the panel into your desktop is where the customization we have spent so much time on is going to really pay off. Getting a color that matches the rest of your desktop is essential to nice looking desktop. There are multiple ways to change the look of your panel. To get started, you need to right mouse click on some unused panel space and select the “Properties” option. This will bring up a nice little properties dialog (imagine that). This Panel properties dialog comes complete with two tabs: A “General” tab for the size, orientation, and other usual features, as well as a “Background” tab that will allow us to modify the color, transparency, or background image for the panel in question.

You can have a panel on each side of your desktop (Orientation), and you can set them to authide, or even to expand the entire length or width of your desktop. If the panel is too small, go ahead and change the size of it. Then goto the “Background” tab.

Now, before you go hog wild on setting some of these background options, I suggest you check out/download these panel background images from Gnome-Look. These are great, pre-made background images that can be used for your panel. If you use one of the darker ones, you might want to look here to change the text color for the panels.

Make sure to make it blend into the rest of your desktop.


One of the major differences between a Gnome desktop and a Windows desktop is choice. You actually have some on your Gnome desktop. This holds true for your “start” menu. On a basic Ubuntu install you have what is known as the “Menu Bar” applet (below) as your default menu for applications and settings.


Gnome Main Menu This bar has 3 seperate options, and can take up some useful panel space, however, it does help separate things out and make the menu system less crowded. But if you like to have just one menu to access everything, there is the “Main Menu” applet (left). This will give you some extra panel space, but at the price of a nice separated out menu. Figure out what works best for you.


Applets are little applications that run “in a panel” (kind of). Think of them as widgets on your panel. Some basic applets are the:

  • Date/Time Applet
  • Volume Control Applet
  • Window List Applet &
  • Trash Applet

These are just a few that are installed in a default Ubuntu installation. Some of them are standard to a default Gnome install as well. This allows you to completely customize the information you see on screen and where you see it. If you like your window list on top and your menu on bottom, you can do that. You can place your date/time information on the left instead of the right. You can go nuts. Gnome and Ubuntu come with a nice set of pre-installed ready to use applets so there is no need to worry about what applets you have and do not have.

This concludes our look at the Gnome panel and also our discussion on customizing your Gnome Desktop. Once I can figure out how to record screencasts and get them onto my website here, I’ll put up some screencasts on the topics discussed in this series. I hope you enjoyed it, if you have questions, please leave a comment or email me.

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