Linux Theme Rant

January 5, 2011 by Noah
This is a rant about Linux themes, or rather, the complete newbies who mistakenly seem to think they know how to make themes, but instead all they make is utter garbage.

But surprisingly, I'm not going to direct my rant toward GTK+ themes. Everybody who's ever used Linux knows that 99% of the crap on isn't worth using. I've very rarely used a GTK+ theme that correctly solves the problem of, "your panel background image tiles across the shutdown dialog so you can't read the text of the dialog," but I digress.

No, this is about XFCE window manager themes. Themes for XFWM4.

XFWM4's themes are quite simple, or at least if you're making a flat pixmap theme they are. All you need to do is have a folder full of XPM files with certain file names, and XFWM4 does the rest. It's easy! So why does everybody screw this up?

The window manager theme I wanted on XFCE most recently was Clearlooks. Yes, the standard Metacity theme that comes with every single GNOME based distribution ever. I wanted it on XFCE, but couldn't find a good version of an XFWM4 theme for it that didn't suck.

I found one that got kind of close. Clearlooks-Xfce-Colors, in fact. It looks good, except he made a mistake putting the theme together: the maximize/restore button behavior is broken. Apparently, he couldn't figure out how XFWM4 handles the "Restore" button on a maximized window. So, for the active focused window, the "Maximize/Restore" button will always use Maximize, and every inactive window will always use Restore instead.

So for the active window, there's NO way of telling whether it's maximized or not, because the button always shows the exact same icon. Same goes for inactive windows.

The official XFWM4 theme how-to explains how this works. You just need file names like "maximize-toggled-active.xpm" or "maximize-toggled-inactive.xpm". That's it. Now your "Restore" button works fine.

Another common problem I've seen. Take for example the Vista Basic theme here. It looks good in the screenshots, yes? That's because the title is centered.

When you uncenter the title, or even just have a narrow window open (my Pidgin buddy list for example), huge problems with the theme become apparent. If you left-align the title, there's a huge margin (in the realm of 60 pixels) on the left of the title. WTF? And on a narrow window like Pidgin's buddy list, the title will be completely devoured by the margins to the point you can't see the title anymore.

Why is this? XFWM4 themes have five different title images. Appropriately named "title-1-active.xpm" through "title-5-active.xpm". These 5 images make up the title. If title-1 is 60 pixels wide, it means your title will have a 60 pixel margin on the left. So, make your title images as thin as you possibly can (4 pixels is great) unless you explicitly have a need to do something fancy with your titles.

I have never once installed a third party XFWM4 theme that has been high enough quality. The usual procedure when I really want a certain style is: find one that's close, find out it fails super hard because the creator is a complete noob and didn't even bother to read the official documentation before making his theme, and then either try to hack it until it works OR just scrap it and create my own from scratch. And then re-release the theme back to for others to use.

So, here are my better copies of various window manager themes for XFWM4:

End of rant. Now, about those GTK+ themes...



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Anonymous posted on January 18, 2011 @ 09:42 UTC

well the gnome/x window is now being replaced by unity/wayland. ubuntu, the larget linux distro, is doing it on their next release in April (they already did for netbooks) and two other distros are following. so gnome shell themes are becoming obsolite.

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