In 2005, Linus Torvalds said, “I don’t use GNOME, because in striving to be simple, it has long since reached the point where it simply doesn’t do what I need it to do.” GNOME’s developers have continued removing options.

Ubuntu uses many of GNOME’s settings dialogs, so it’s losing these options along the way. For example, disabling Caps Lock used to take a few clicks — on Ubuntu 14.04, it now requires terminal commands.

GNOME Tweak Tool

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GNOME Tweak Tool is available for every Linux distribution with GNOME 3 and GNOME Shell, including Ubuntu. It also works with Ubuntu’s Unity desktop environment because so many components are shared with GNOME. It’s available in Ubuntu’s Software Center as “Tweak Tool.” On other Linux distributions, it may be called something like “GNOME Tweak Tool” or even “Advanced Settings.”

GNOME Tweak Tool is packed with useful settings, many of which used to be exposed in GNOME. You can change the individual window borders, GTK+ (widget), icons, and cursor theme. You can choose fonts for every interface element. You can manage startup applications now that GNOME and Ubuntu no longer offer easy access to the Startup Applications tool.

The Typing section offers some critical options for customizing how your keyboard works. You can choose to disable the Caps Lock key or have it act as another key. You can re-enable Ctrl+Alt+Backspace to kill the X server. You can swap the positions of your Alt, Win, and Ctrl keys if you prefer another layout. You can change what happens when you double-click, middle-click, and right-click on a window’s title bar.

The tool is packed with other options, but all of them relate to GNOME.

Unity Tweak Tool

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Unity Tweak Tool is designed only for Ubuntu, which uses the Unity desktop by default. Unity Tweak Tool doesn’t just change Unity desktop settings, though — it also changes other settings. It’s available in the Ubuntu Software Center.

This tool looks right at home alongside Ubuntu’s System Settings. The options in the Unity section allow you to customize Unity itself — you can have the launcher automatically hide to declutter your screen. You can choose to disable those web app integration prompts when browsing the web.

The options in the Appearance section allow you to customize your theme, icons, cursor, and fonts in different ways. In the past, you could do this from the standard GNOME configuration tools — now you can only choose a single theme option and you can’t tweak the individual components without a third-party tool. You can also choose to place the window buttons on the right side of the window’s title bar instead of on the left if you prefer a more traditional, Windows-like title bar.

If you’re a fan of desktop icons, you can choose to display icons for your home folder, network folder, trash, and connected devices on the Unity desktop. The tool is packed with other options, but most of them relate to Ubuntu’s Unity desktop.

Ubuntu Tweak

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Ubuntu Tweak is another popular tool for tweaking Ubuntu. It’s not available in the Ubuntu Software Center on Ubuntu 14.04. Instead, you’ll need to open a Terminal window and run the following commands to add the PPA and install the package:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:tualatrix/ppa

sudo apt-get update

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-tweak

Once you have, you’ll find a variety of options for customizing Ubuntu, including some options not present in other tools. For example, you can customize the look of Ubuntu’s login screen, edit the “Quicklists” that appear when you right-click icons on the Unity desktop’s launcher, and add scripts that appear when you right-click files in the Nautilus file manager. Ubuntu Tweak also integrates a “Janitor” tool that will remove unnecessary files like your cache of downloaded software packages to free up space.

If you ever used Tweak UI with Windows XP, these tools are similar — they provide useful options that aren’t included in the operating system by default. But, while Windows added such options to the Control Panel and moved away from Tweak UI, GNOME’s developers have been removing more and more options.

Image Credit: Ubuntu Party on Flickr

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Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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