Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Moving application title bar buttons on GNOME desktops

6th March 2010

Screenshot-Configuration Editor

A recent look at how Ubuntu 10.04 development is getting on confronted me with an interface situation to which I am not accustomed: title bar buttons at the left. The usual combination of buttons for maximisation, minimisation and closure were there in their usual order but at the left of the window. While this is the where you find them on OS X, I prefer the Windows convention and placed them to the right again.

To achieve that end, I ran gconf-editor from the command line using my usual user account (not sudo; that doesn’t seem to work) and made my way to apps -> metacity -> general. Once there, I sought out the button_layout property and moved the colon in the value from the left to the right. In other words, I started with this:


and changed it to this (note the position of the colon in the actual string):


If you ever find yourself wanting to change things from the Windows convention to the Apple one, just reverse what I did. As an aside, you also can swap the button order too if you like. After all, it’s just a text field that you can edit and the screen immediately refreshes when you hit the Return key after completing the edit.

As a more general observation, if Ubuntu 10.04 does come out using the OS X convention for title bar button placement, I could see others like wanting it changed back and that’s why I am sharing it here. Surprising users in this way, especially after the 9.10 release’s attracting some adverse comments, would not be all that advisable. The issue may be easy to address, but that’s small comfort when you release how easily users are discouraged.

Nevertheless, 10.04 is an LTS release and what I have seen so far looks polished; there may be no splash screen at boot and shutdown time for what I am running (I am sticking with acquiring upgrades every so often instead of periodic re-installation from a new disk image) but that’s a minor matter.

For the sake of not turning over the apple cart, I may have left off VirtualBox Additions and things look steady enough so far. In fact, I am writing these words using Firefox 3.6 on there. Accompanying that is OpenOffice 3.2, but things do not look so different apart from these, a reassuring observation. While there may be an emphasis on purple in the colour scheme at the time of writing, that could change yet. 9.10’s course had plenty of that so I am willing to be patient. After all, there’s more than a month to go, yet before the final cut is available for general use.


  • Jason says:

    Just stumbled upon your article wanting to do the opposite to the buttons in Fedora (running a Mac OS X Leopard theme). One step I had to do that you didn’t. Apparently Fedora 13 does not come with gconf-editor pre-installed, so I had to type yum install gconf-editor in the terminal before doing this. Thanks for the instructions…

    Also, it’s a pity that you don’t like the new Ubuntu Ambiance theme. Personally, I find it much more visually appealing than the ugly brown of previous releases of Ubuntu. I run several Linux OSes including Fedora and Ubuntu, and Ambiance is by far my favorite default theme so far.

    • John says:

      Not sure how you think that I don’t like the Ambiance theme. There hasn’t been much brown on my main PC’s desktop for a while now, long before Ambiance in fact. What I have at the moment is a modified version of Dust and choice is good. Each to their own…

      Good to hear that you found my advice useful, though.

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