Moving window controls in Ubuntu 10.04

When it comes to computers, I like my operating system to look pretty.  I have always loved Mac OS for its clean lines, sensible visual layout, its strong adherence to usability standards and conformity, and in the latest versions its sheer functional beauty.  Windows 7 brings a level of maturity to the Microsoft’s offering, but it’s taken until the latest versions of Ubuntu for me to take them seriously from a GUI perspective.  Until now it’s always seemed… half hearted.  Like an old Windowblinds skin that was knocked up in an afternoon and never really caught on.  Ubuntu 10.04 is a bit of a game-changer in this respect – it looks really good, even by today’s standards.  Maybe not quite the polish and shine of its competitors, not yet anyway, but it at least beats Windows XP and equals Vista in my opinion.

What does grate against me slightly is the decision to put the window controls in the top left corner.  That’s the way Macs do it, and they’ve always done it that way, and that’s fine, but Linux doesn’t.  Linux has always been top right, like Windows.  Moving them in this version seems unnecessary, gimmicky.  So I had a look around to try to find a way to put them back where I think they belong.  Thankfully, a post on HubPages pointed me in the right direction.  You can follow the instructions over there, or alternatively stick with me and I’ll show you myself.

First of all I want to make it clear that this is not a setting in the Appearance settings, so don’t go looking there.  However, don’t think this is a complicated command line hack either – it’s a sort of half way house between an ‘official’ feature and a hidden trick.  Just thought I’d get that clear for any Ubuntu newbies reading this.  Don’t worry, it’s not scary at all, and you can undo it just as easily.

Right, first step is to load the Configuration Editor.  This probably won’t appear in your menu, so the easiest way to get to it is the following:

  • Press ALT – F2 to bring up the ‘Run application’ window.
  • Type in ‘gconf-editor’ and hit return.

This looks a little bit like the registry editor in Windows, though I’m not sure if it actually does a similar thing or not (perhaps a Linux master can enlighten us?).  Anyway, we need to find a particular entry in the tree on the left hand side, and then edit one of the ‘keys’ in the main panel on the right:

  • Go to ‘Apps > Metacity > General’.
  • Edit the key labelled ‘button_layout’ by double-clicking the value.
  • Press return to save the new value.

If you’ve got your window controls on the left hand side at the moment, chances are this currently says ‘close,minimize,maximize:menu’.  Those refer to the order and placement of the window controls.  The colon describes which side of the window each bit should be aligned to.  By default in 10.04 the close, minimise and maximise buttons are on the left, and the menu is on the right.  I’ve set mine to ‘:minimize,maximize,close’, which gets rid of the menu button (because I don’t use it) and puts the other controls on the right hand side.  Note that I’ve still included the colon to specify the alignment.

You can play around with that if you like, put those controls wherever you like.  You can keep all three together, or put the close button one side and the other two the other side (e.g. ‘close:minimize,maximize’).  Whatever.  The nice thing about it is that when you press return the changes are saved and you can see the result immediately, without need to restart or refresh anything or wait while it thinks about it.  How nice.  Go on, have a play, and know that it’s all completely safe to do so!

One thought on “Moving window controls in Ubuntu 10.04

  1. Mark Shuttleworth said “Moving everything to the left opens up the space on the right nicely,and I would like to experiment in 10.10 with some innovative options there.”

    I’m not sure what he was thinking, because I haven’t seen anything new in 10.10.

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