Design your own desktop with Xfce 4.4 – part 2

By popular demand, I decided to push the limits of Xfce’s customisability even further. This time, I would make it look like Mac OS X 10.5 “Leopard”.

Despite efforts like Mac4Lin, this task proved more difficult than trying to make it look like Windows Vista. Though I haven’t achieved the same degree of perfection as I did when replicating Vista, I still think I came pretty close.

First of all, you will need to download Mac4Lin and extract it somewhere. There’s a lot of material to use in there, but since I have already discussed it in part 1, I won’t elaborate here on how to change your wallpaper, font (to Lucida Grande), GTK theme, icon theme and xfwm4 theme or, for those who use Compiz, Emerald theme. Removing the bottom panel, setting a background image and resizing the top panel have also been discussed. In order to replicate the looks of OS X as close as possible, though, there still is a lot to be done.


One of the most noticeable things about OS X is its dock. Unfortunately, by default Xubuntu does not include such a dock by default. To have this functionality provided for, we will install Avant Window Navigator (AWN). Luckily, excellent instructions for installing AWN on Ubuntu 7.10 are already available, with the only difference being that we use Xubuntu and thus need to look in Applications->System instead of System->Administration.
Do note that, in order to use AWN, you need to have Compiz installed or have enabled Xfce’s own display compositing by checking “Enable display compositing” under the Compositor tab in Applications->Settings->Window Manager Tweaks.

You can run AWN through Applications->Accessories->Avant Window Navigator. In order to have AWN ran every time you log in, you will also want to add AWN in Applications->Settings->Autostarted Applications.

The next step is making AWN replicate the OS X dock, which can be done through Applications->Settings->Awn Manager. If you click “Themes” on the left-hand side, you will get an overview of installed themes. By clicking “Add” you can install the AWN Dock Theme included in the Mac4Lin package you downloaded earlier, which you can then select and apply.

We then click “General” on the left-hand side to configure the looks in the Bar Appearance tab. I disabled round corners, set an angle of 26Β°, a height of 52 pixels and an offset of 14 pixels.

With that set, you can start adding applets to the dock by clicking “Applets” on the left-hand side. There are a whole range of applets to choose from, but for my OS X-like setup I opted for “Launcher/Taskmanager”, “Shiny Switcher” and “Stacks Trasher”.

The next step was adding program launchers to the dock (well, technically, to the “Launcher/Taskmanager”). This can be done easily by opening a Thunar window (Applications->Accessories->Thunar File Manager) and browsing to /usr/share/applications. You can then drag applications to the dock to add them. Right-clicking on a launcher allows you to change its icon.


Also included in the Mac4Lin package is a Firefox theme, to make the Firefox experience similar to that of Safari. To install this, you open up the Add-ons window in Firefox from Tools->Add-ons, then click “Themes” on top. You can then drag the file FireFox Safari Theme - Vfox2.jar from the Firefox Addons folder into the Add-ons window. Another window pops up allowing you to install the theme. After the installation is finished, you will be asked to restart Firefox. After you have restarted, you can select “Use Theme” through the Add-ons window, after which you have to restart it once again.

To install the extensions, you just select the extension file, copy it (Edit->Copy), then paste it in Firefox’s address bar on top (Edit->Paste). Again, an installation window will pop up, and you will be asked to restart Firefox when the installation has finished. Upon the next start, the extension will be installed.

Cursor theme

An interesting option which we didn’t explore in part 1 was the ability to change cursor themes. Conveniently, the Mac4Lin package also contains a folder named GTK Cursor Theme. Similar to how you installed icon themes, you extract the theme archive to /home/yourusername/.icons.

You can then open Mouse Settings (Applications->Settings->Mouse Settings), where the cursor should be located in the Cursor tab. Selecting the theme will warn you that the theme might not be applied until the next time you login.

Final thoughts

During the process of making my desktop look like OS X, I slowly started to appreciate the approach Apple has taken with its operating system. Instead of replicating the steps of the industry leader, they dare to be different. According to some, this has even led the industry leader to follow in Apple’s footsteps!

Unfortunately, all this innovating does not make creating a lookalike any easier. The most noticeable inaccuracy is in the GTK theme: because of its use of the pixmap engine, button images need to be stretched both horizontally and vertically, so they often look very odd compared to their OS X counterparts. Other themes such as Leopardish also come close, but no cigar.

That said, the result ended up quite nice. When compared to the Vista “clone”, a world of difference can be found. Clearly, an extensive range of customisation options is available to Xfce users, which emphasizes that Xfce really does not lag behind GNOME nor KDE when it comes to customisability.

Those interested in moving application menus to their panel will be interested to know that it is possible, with support for Xfce’s panel. However, this is a very hackish solution and therefore strongly discouraged! As you’ll understand, I take absolutely no responsibility if it happens to end up in a disaster.


66 Responses to “Design your own desktop with Xfce 4.4 – part 2”

  1. 1 Vincent 15 February 2008 at 11:33 pm

    So what do you do when you write a story that gets popular? You write a follow-up and hope people will once again Digg it πŸ˜‰

  2. 2 igungor 16 February 2008 at 12:56 am

    hey vincent, go and look at your site. you don’t want people digg this entry 😦

  3. 3 Chris062689 16 February 2008 at 5:54 am

    Perhaps you could put up an iso image of this running xfce? (Xubuntu?)
    I’ve always wanted a Leopard looking Desktop, but could never follow the directions right. 😦

  4. 4 Dark Star 16 February 2008 at 10:06 am

    Nice work buddy πŸ™‚ Keep it up πŸ˜€

  5. 5 Vincent 16 February 2008 at 11:13 am

    @igungor – thanks for the notification. Unfortunately I posted this entry before I went to bed last night so I haven’t seen the porn picture. It seems to be gone now πŸ™‚

    @Chris062689 – unfortunately, I can’t, because you need copyrighted OS X material to make it look as close as possible. Sorry 😦

    @Dark Star – thanks, it’s always nice to receive comments like those πŸ™‚

    Didn’t make it to the Digg frontpage… Ah well πŸ™‚

  6. 6 Ernst 16 February 2008 at 9:47 pm

    Cool, both the vista and leopard make overs! I’d stick to gnome’s human theme tho! Both Vista’s and Leopards interface remind me to much of the disadvantages they bring.

  7. 7 Andy 16 February 2008 at 11:44 pm

    Interesting, esp. that people would want to get the cheesy OS X look. If i would use Xfce i would try to reduce everything to the max. (Because this isn’t possible in OS X) … Well, i’m using OS X now. But the UI is lousy.

  8. 8 Charles 17 February 2008 at 8:59 am

    The OSX icons are tricky for most layout engines because, in OS X, buttons and icons usually get their reflectivity illusion from blending icons with a selection from a high-resolution sphere image. This is how the appearance can change when the user edits the toolbar to regroup icons.

  9. 9 taromaru 17 February 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Personally, I am pretty tired of all the compiz_stuff out there.
    I know OSS is about choosing, still… I think resources should be reassigned in order to make a better “world” when it comes to free software an computing.

    My .002

  10. 10 Red Icculus 17 February 2008 at 3:32 pm

    This is a great writeup.

    DreamLinux also comes very close as far as looking like a Mac and has a dock as well.

  11. 11 djhfsjbjhd 17 February 2008 at 3:51 pm

    Why do you bunch of hipis always want to try to mimic OS X and Windows ? If you can’t make it original, then why bothering ? Anyway, you will never ever be able to get even close to OS X. Fucking Linux will never take over Windows and OS X. Fucking hipi OS that will never live.

  12. 12 linuxfan 17 February 2008 at 4:04 pm

    because we can.

  13. 13 Hippie 17 February 2008 at 4:31 pm


    1) It’s spelled “Hippie.”
    2) Have you ever considered anger management therapy? πŸ™‚


    Wow, this is great! I have an MPB and a desktop Gentoo system running XFCE. I still have difficulty adjusting to the differing functionality between XFCE’s dock, and Mac OS X’s. Thanks to your article, I’m now checking into AWN.

    Keep up the good work!

  14. 15 Vincent 17 February 2008 at 6:19 pm

    @everybody who liked it – thanks!

    @djhfsjbjhd – you probably won’t ever read this and if you did you’d probably not care, but I feel like writing it down anyway πŸ˜‰

    I’ve received a few of those comments on my previous article too. Those comments demonstrate no understanding of the purpose of this article. The article was written to test the boundaries of Xfce’s customisation, and to help people customising it to their liking. This is not my default setup.

    Also, while it’d be nice for a Linux distribution to be more popular than Windows, I do not expect it. This, too, was not the purpose of the article. This article was written for those who do favour choice and are willing to invest in having choice. It lives πŸ™‚

    @Red Icculus – yup, DreamLinux looks very nice too. I didn’t quite like it in usage but it’s definitely a nice option to have πŸ™‚

  15. 16 Lorenzo E. Danielsson 18 February 2008 at 12:41 am

    Request: next could you make it look and feel like fluxbox or WindowMaker? And could you mimic the memory usage as well? πŸ˜‰

    @djhfsjbjhd: your name indicates that you’ve been using Microsoft’s spell checker.

  16. 17 Teacher 22 February 2008 at 2:25 am

    I must be missing some files because I can run AWN but cannot run the AWN manager to change the themes. Or am I missing a step. Thanks for your help in advance.

    I would sure like this to work on my EeePC (I am a Mac User primarily)


  17. 18 Vincent 22 February 2008 at 11:02 am

    Lorenzo, sorry, I hardly know how those look. It probably is possible, but it definitely won’t be as fast as Fluxbox or WindowMaker. On the other hand, you can’t make those look like Xubuntu πŸ˜‰

    Teacher, what happens when you enter awn-manager and press enter in a terminal window (Applications->Accessories->Terminal)?

  18. 19 Apollo 24 February 2008 at 12:07 am

    I came across this lifehacker article regarding a mac-style global menu in ubuntu:

    Think there’s any chance of getting it working in XFCE? It could probably be a great addition to this article.

  19. 20 Vincent 24 February 2008 at 11:42 am

    Apollo, I already mentioned that in my article:

    Those interested in moving application menus to their panel will be interested to know that it is possible, with support for Xfce’s panel. However, this is a very hackish solution and therefore strongly discouraged! As you’ll understand, I take absolutely no responsibility if it happens to end up in a disaster.

    So yes, it can work in Xfce but I absolutely do not recommend it as it is a very hackish solution. However, if you want to give it a try, you can πŸ˜‰

  20. 21 Christophe 29 February 2008 at 1:51 pm

    This is an even more interesting article than the former one! Especially since I’ve been interested in the Avant Window Navigator since it hit the Debian repositories (now I need to find all those awn applets. They don’t seem to appear in my AWN manager…).

    I’ve reached the end of my curve again and am trying Xfce again after months staying with GNOME. I’m slowly reconfiguring things again to my taste and hope this time I will manage to stick to it.

  21. 22 Vincent 29 February 2008 at 1:59 pm

    Well, Christophe, if you ever need any help, be sure to contact me πŸ˜‰
    (Either throught my About page or via email, I suppose you got my email now that I’ve commented at your blog…)

    Oh, and as for those AWN applets – how did you install AWN? I have avant-window-navigator-bzr installed, and IIRC, that included all those applets.

  22. 23 justin 1 March 2008 at 8:15 pm

    Great theme, thanks.

    How does one modify the xfce ‘start’ menu? edit menu doesn’t list all the apps… what am i missing?

  23. 24 Vincent 1 March 2008 at 8:23 pm

    Unfortunately, Xfce only provides a half-baked implementation of the menu standard, which is the reason that not all applications are listed. An inconvenient workaround is to install a menu editor like Alacarte. Unfortunately, installing Alacarte also installs a lot of other packages, but if you really want to edit your menu without messing with configuration files, that’s the way to do it.

    (Btw, if you’d entered a real email address I could’ve notified you that I’ve posted this reply, now I can only hope you’ll read this…)

  24. 25 justin 2 March 2008 at 6:40 pm

    thanks vincent,

    guess I’ll hope that xfce comes up with a fix for this sometime soon. Other than this, I really like xfce. (though i did install konqueror as thunar doesn’t have the options i prefer, like split window.)

    ps – is there an ‘unknown known’ that techies aren’t allowed to discuss politics? There are so many tech blogs- if they all united on ‘the internets’, they could expose the sham US government. Bush is not working for us, and neither is congress- it’s one big scam while they loot the country- tanking the dollar and sinking future generations into extreme debt. They seem to be following Orwell’s 1984 like a playbook… it’s not just about Big Brother spying, it’s about terrorizing the populace into accepting perpetual war.

    The simple truth is that all of those DC politicians swore an oath to uphold and defend the constitution. They have all failed to do so. What does that mean for us? For future generations if we allow it to continue?

    /rant (;

    thanks again

  25. 26 Vincent 2 March 2008 at 7:19 pm

    Well, to be honest, I’m quite active politically. However, I find that Americans often forget the internet is international – I live in the Netherlands πŸ˜‰
    Still, I don’t think the government would really change course just because a few blogs call for it.

  26. 27 Vincent 2 March 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Well, to be honest, I’m quite active politically. However, I find that Americans often forget the internet is international – I live in the Netherlands πŸ˜‰
    Still, I don’t think the government would really change course just because a few blogs call for it.

  27. 28 Christophe 14 March 2008 at 11:53 pm

    Vincent, thanks for offering your help (and for reading my blog!). I actually tried to switch back to Xfce, but it somehow seems to mess up with GNOME (when I try to use Xfce, both thunar-volume-manager and gnome-volume-manager are turned on, which creates weird issues when I plug in a USB stick or a SD card, but if I stop gnome-volume-manager in Xfce then it messes up with Nautilus when I try to log again in GNOME), so I’m back to GNOME for now.

    As for the Avant Window Navigator, it created weird focus stealing problems when I tried using it with Xfce, so I think I’ll just wait until the program gets a bit more mature.

    I haven’t noticed a package named avant-window-navigator-bzr. I use Debian Unstable proper, with only very few third-party repositories. Maybe I just missed it. I’ll check again later when I do my weekly upgrade.

    Again, thanks for offering your help. If I ever find out how to stop Xfce from messing up with GNOME, I’ll try it again and will be sure to contact you.

    By the way, I live in the Netherlands as well. Small world! πŸ™‚

  28. 29 Vincent 15 March 2008 at 10:17 am

    I haven’t noticed a package named avant-window-navigator-bzr. I use Debian Unstable proper, with only very few third-party repositories. Maybe I just missed it. I’ll check again later when I do my weekly upgrade.

    Ah, I assumed you were using a *buntu, and that you had followed the Visual Install Guide to add the Ubuntu repository.

    You might want to check out the installation instructions for Debian. The arealax packages include avant-window-navigator-trunk, which might work. On the other hand, I could understand reluctance to add third party repositories (as I usually have that), but if you really want it to work, this might help.

    By the way, I live in the Netherlands as well. Small world! πŸ™‚

    Perhaps you found this blog through Planet Ubuntu NL? πŸ™‚

  29. 30 Christophe 20 March 2008 at 10:19 am


    I’ve found out the the awn-applet package is in the pipeline to get into Unstable soon, so I’ll just wait for a bit. Anyway, I’m afraid I’ll have to wait to try Xfce again. I have far too many issues with it (it just screws up with GNOME, for some unknown reason, and I have no idea who’s the culprit, Xfce, GNOME, or myself for doing things without always completely understanding the consequences). The good news is that GNOME 2.22 has hit the Unstable repositories, with the composite-enabled Metacity, so now I have the Avant Window Navigator on my GNOME desktop. When I have some time and stabilised my tweaking, I’ll post a screenshot of it on my blog. It looks already very good. Slightly MacOS X-ish, but not too much. More than good enough for me anyway πŸ™‚ .

    And no, I didn’t find this blog through Planet Ubuntu NL, but just by googling πŸ™‚ .

  30. 31 Vincent 20 March 2008 at 4:51 pm

    Cool πŸ™‚

    It’s a small, small world πŸ˜‰

  31. 32 Is 13 May 2008 at 2:35 pm

    This is great. I learned very much from the two “design your own desktop” tutorials.

    Thank you. Just keep posting such stuff about Xubuntu please. πŸ™‚

  32. 33 Vincent 13 May 2008 at 2:45 pm

    No, thank you, for the comment. Those are what keeps me motivated πŸ™‚

    The next post might be a while though – final exams are coming up…

  33. 34 abe 17 June 2008 at 8:31 pm

    i cannot get the compiz minimize, close, or open animations to work in xubuntu. they worked fine in ubuntu…any ideas on how to get this to work??

  34. 35 Dinflux Ed 7 August 2008 at 5:22 am

    very cool, nice job making it look like leopard. I think this might give me a reason to try out xubuntu

  35. 36 Trabajo Freelance 21 September 2008 at 1:02 pm

    Well, Xubuntu seems very good, mac users won’t be very happy when they see this post lol.

    Does anyone know if adobe will support Linux? (adobe collection)

  36. 37 sgt baker 16 December 2008 at 3:36 am

    thanks a bunch

  37. 38 mikel 29 December 2008 at 11:41 am

    thank you for this tutorial

  38. 39 Jake 14 February 2009 at 6:59 pm

    amazing tutorial, thank you so much! i was able to learn a lot in this tutorial ^__^ though I do have one question… in the “Mac4Lin” file i downloaded, i noticed that there are a lot of icons that look very macish.. but I’ll be honest, i have no idea how to have them show up instead of the standard xubuntu ones, this is probably a noobish question.. but im still kind of a noob so =)

    any help is greatly appreciated, thank you for making this beautiful tutorial


  39. 40 Jake 15 February 2009 at 3:26 am

    hehe i figured it out =) went back and looked at tutorial 1. seriously amazing job, this is the smoothest tut i’ve ever done ^_______^

  40. 41 Vincent 15 February 2009 at 8:02 pm

    Hi Jake, I’m glad it was of help and that you figured it out πŸ™‚

  41. 43 Mitch 17 September 2009 at 9:29 pm

    I have to laugh when you say “According to some, this has even led the industry leader to follow in Apple’s footsteps!”, because they always have, and it’s been proven.

    It was shown in a court of law that M$ stole ALL of the code for the original Windows GUI from the Apple OS source code, and simply hacked it up to make it look a bit different (Funny thing is US courts also proved that MS-DOS was also entirely stolen code from another company’s OS, CM/S i believe). They had a license to the Apple source because they used to produce software for Apple Computers, and back then you needed to know how the OS worked inside and out to make a visually coherent application (Apple also had appearance guidelines you had to follow, and they never really went away, that’s why all of our applications for Mac and Windows look the way they do today).

    Windows started out as a GUI that sat on top of DOS, and it stayed that way with V1, V2, V3, Windows 95, Windows 98 and 98 SE, and finally Windows ME. By that time M$ realized they were producing a piece of garbage, and had already started an R&D project called Windows NT, which led to Windows 2000, then Windows XP (I swear M$ hired Fisher Price to produce the GUI for XP) and the pile of steaming crap we know as Vista. Vista was scratched and the XP codebase was taken and “Prettied Up” to make what we’re being told is the ‘revolutionary!’ Windows 7 Operating System.

    That history lesson does have a couple of points:

    1. M$ cannot write good software. Period.

    2. To compensate for that lack of ability, M$ has become primarily a marketing company, telling us that every new OS release is revolutionary, whcih they never are.

    3. M$ has stolen almost every piece of software they decide to market, and that has been proven in multiple courts all around the world, most recently in the UN (They were forced to remove IE and WMP in EU versions of XP and Vista… And I believe from 7 as well).

    I don’t believe in copypasta when it comes to OS design, which is why I like Linux so much, you can make it look like anything you want. I personally have a crazy hybrid of DebianXFCE/Windows/Mac with Openbox and xcompmgr for compositing window effects, and everything is setup MY WAY, not the way some moron over in Redmond wants it to be. I hope you understand that I am not criticizing this post, or any of the comments, I am simply tired of large corporations having the ability to hide very pertinent factual information from the public, especially when they do it with the help of the government.


  42. 45 Kerry 16 January 2010 at 8:41 pm

    This is fantastic! I’m currently installing Xubuntu on a recently purchased Windoze PC, and really appreciate the effort put into this theme. I’m also a Mac user, so having that familiarity is great.

  43. 46 coldseven 4 June 2010 at 1:42 am

    To the article writer this rocks!! Thanks a lot, I’m late to the game I know but how did you switch the window manager? Currently I just run the window border as fully transparent, sexy as hell with the FF nightshade them. Thanks for the icons and the tips about AWN. You rock.

    @djhfsjbjhd your a douche but I hope you get better.

  44. 48 Happy Englishman 13 September 2010 at 10:48 am

    This is all well and very good, but it has already been done!
    Checkout Dreamlinux 4.

  45. 49 Mauricio Cassio 22 December 2010 at 9:49 am

    Useful article can i have your permision to translate into Russian for our sites visitors? If thats acceptable what link back would you prefer?

  46. 51 Marvie 17 March 2011 at 5:45 pm

    Thanks for that interesting article.
    It seems the only one with XFCE and the Mac look.
    I have not tried this because after some moments testing ubuntu and xubuntu i could give my old Mac a Panther πŸ˜€ but sometimes it should get a more current system. Another is that Panther seems a bit sluggish on a 500 Mhz Mac πŸ˜€
    In the german ubuntu wiki ( i read the first time that the Mac look is possible with xubuntu because it has similarities with Ubuntu and iΒ΄m glad to read – the most tutorials for the Mac look are for Ubuntu only πŸ™‚
    If you permit i will save and give it a try.

    One would be interesting: will xfce with the Mac look run faster then gnome with that?
    Would like to know if that look needs some additional memory in relation to xfce alone πŸ™‚

    • 52 Vincent 18 March 2011 at 1:04 pm

      Hi Marvie, it will probably be faster than Ubuntu since Xubuntu is. However, the OS X theme does require more memory and is slower than Xubuntu’s default theme due to the way it’s created. If you’re interested in the technical details: the theme engine is slow and makes use of images to generate the look of the buttons and the likes, as opposed to computationally determining the look.

      So: faster than Ubuntu with the OS X theme, slower than Xubuntu without the OS X theme.

  1. 1 Xubuntu tambiιn puede lucir como Leopard at :: Te ponemos al dia Trackback on 17 February 2008 at 10:30 am
  2. 2 Linux Boxes Etc. » Blog Archive » Xfce come MacOs Leopard Trackback on 17 February 2008 at 2:14 pm
  3. 3 :: Linuxeando.CL :: » Blog Archive » Transforma la apariencia de Xfce en la de OS X Leopard Trackback on 17 February 2008 at 8:56 pm
  4. 4 Design your own desktop « 0ddn1x: tricks with *nix Trackback on 17 February 2008 at 11:48 pm
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  6. 6 Boycott Novell » Links 18/02/2008: Technical News and Other Points of Progress Trackback on 18 February 2008 at 2:16 pm
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  8. 8 Francisco.ETI.BR » Blog Archive » Transforme um Linux em Mac OSX Leopard !!! Trackback on 26 February 2008 at 10:18 pm
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