How to get the Windows 7 look in Linux

29th Dec 2009 | 13:00

How to get the Windows 7 look in Linux

Offer Windows switchers a familiar look and feel

Colour scheme and window decoration

Linux fanboys will probably have had one thought when they saw this article's title: 'Why would you go to the trouble of making Linux look like Windows when Linux already looks pretty good?'

Well, there are a few good reasons. Firstly, you may want to install Linux for someone who's only familiar with Windows, and you'd like to make their working environment as friendly as possible.

Secondly, it could help smooth the process of integrating Linux into an office environment. Thirdly, there's a lot to be said for Microsoft's design aesthetic; it's functional and easy to use.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, there's a certain amount of geek heritage in making one operating system look like another. Look at the number of desktops that can be emulated from KDE, for example.

Getting the Windows look is only another step in the same direction. We're going to try and ape the current generation of Windows – the newly released Windows 7 – and merge some of its features into the Linux desktop, and we've decided to use KDE to do it.


This is because KDE is more Windows like than Gnome and the other Linux desktop environments. Its file manager behaves more like the Windows equivalent and its applications behave more like their Windows counterparts.

However, many of our suggestions will work for Gnome too, and you can always run KDE applications within the Gnome desktop if you want the best of both.

1. Colour scheme

KDE has the most comprehensive theming engine of any Linux desktop. If you can see it, you can almost certainly change it. We're going to start our theme experiment with the Windows colour scheme. This is easy to emulate and, as it's a non-destructive process, it can quickly be switched back with just a couple of mouse clicks.

The Colour Scheme configuration panel can be found by clicking on the System Settings application from the Launch menu and then clicking on the Appearance icon in the top right. This is the main page for changing the look of your desktop, and the colour palette can be adjusted by selecting the 'Colours' option.


This will open another window that lists a selection of installed colour schemes, with the current one selected at the top of the list. Despite the KDE 4 theme being mostly blue, there's still a big difference between KDE and the palette used by Microsoft.

Click on the Colours tab on the right to see a list of the current colour configuration. It's a big list, including elements such as 'active window background', 'inactive title bar', 'hover decoration' and 'neutral text', but you can apply your changes as you go to see the results, and a small preview at the bottom of the window gives an indication of how things will look.

The most significant change is the window background colour. Click on the colour box to the right of this label to open the colour selector, and enter an HTML value of B7D0E6. This is the closest match to the Windows blue we could find, and if you click on the 'OK' and 'Apply' buttons, you should see your desktop leap in the direction of Windows 7.

The other major colour changes include a button background value of CFDCE9, a selection background value of 96E2FB, an inactive title value of BCD4EB, an inactive titlebar text value of 485359, and switching selection text to white and active titlebar text to black.

The result should be a very Windows-like palette. You need to click on the Scheme tab followed by 'Save Scheme' to save your changes.

2. Window decoration

The next step is to alter the decoration that surrounds the window. Unsurprisingly, this is the job of something called the Window Decorator, and while KDE's is very flexible, it's not the most user-configurable.

The winner of that accolade goes to the Emerald project, which is closely tied to the Compiz framework used by Gnome to do all the graphical frippery we've come to expect from the Linux desktop. Emerald needs to be installed along with Compiz and its dependencies, but this can be accomplished with either the Kubuntu package manager or your package manager of choice.


You then need to launch the applications from the command line by typing compiz-manager followed by emerald-thememanager. The first thing you'll notice is that your window borders will switch to a hideous shade of red. This is a sign that Emerald is working properly.

You should also see the Emerald theme manager now sitting on your desktop, and it's this we're going to use to create our new window decoration. If you visit and download the Who Needs Windows 7 theme, you'll have a good foundation for building a slightly more accurate theme.

To install and use any Emerald theme you download, click on the Themes tab in the main window of the Emerald manager, followed by 'Import'.

Next, select the downloaded file. This should then appear in the Themes list, and it can be activated by clicking on it. Within Emerald, theme editing updates the desktop in real-time, which makes it perfect for experimentation. We'd suggest opening a screenshot of Windows 7 and switching to the Edit Themes view.

From there, we found that setting all the blend colours to B7D0E6 gave a closer result than the default Windows theme, as did increasing opacity to 0.95.

However, as with Windows 7, window opacity is a matter of taste. Darkening one of the blend colours also emulates the Windows radiant. If you switch to the Titlebar page, we changed the vertical and horizontal offset to 13 in an attempt to copy the new style of button layout.

We also increased the size of the font used in the titlebar and reduced the titlebar height to 35. The button images aren't perfect, but they're fairly representative of those used by Windows 7.

Windows 7 functionality and desktop panel

3. Adding functionality

There's obviously a lot more to Windows 7 than the refined visuals, but some of the new functions are closely tied to its desktop appearance, and you can modify KDE to take on similar characteristics.

One thing you notice in Windows 7 is its lack of menus. Those that do appear tend to be beneath the toolbar icons and are a mixture of icons and dropdown text. You can emulate this in KDE by pressing [Ctrl]+[M] to remove the menu bar, but this will stop you getting to the functions you need.


The solution is to drag those functions into the toolbar using the 'Configure Toolbars' function in the right-click menu of any KDE toolbar. This lists most of the options within the menu, and you can drag them onto a current toolbar or create a new one to copy the menu's functionality.

Another aspect of Windows 7 that combines the visual with the functional is its use of desktop widgets. These have become an integral part of the desktop personalisation process, and KDE 4 has made the same leap to making them part of the standard desktop.

KDE's widgets are called Plasmoids. Even the desktop window that holds your files is a special kind of Plasmoid, and this can be forced to use the entire desktop with the Rescale widget by dragging it to fill the whole screen when Plasmoids are unlocked. Alternatively, get rid of it completely by clicking on the '-' symbol in the Plasmoid list.

4. Desktop widgets

A default installation will include tools for updating news, as well as the usual array of widgets for things such as weather and system performance. There are dozens more you can install by searching for plasmoid in your distribution's package manager.

If you're not too keen on KDE's offerings, you can install Google's Gadget equivalents, as these come as both GTK+ versions for Gnome and Qt versions for KDE users, too.


Another new feature in Windows 7 that KDE can emulate is its ability to snap windows into various divisions of the desktop. But for this to work, you need to be using KDE's window manager rather than the Emerald window manager that we're using for the Windows-like borders.

If you do stick with KDE's manager, the window snapping options can be found by right-clicking on the window border, selecting 'Configure Window Behaviour' and clicking on the 'Moving' button in the list.

You need to enable the Centre snap zone and give this a value of around 25 pixels in order to approximate the handy new snapping functionality of Windows 7.

5. Desktop panel

The final part of the KDE 4 desktop that can be manipulated to behave more like Windows 7 is the desktop panel sitting at the bottom of the screen. The default 4.3 look for this is called Air, which is light-grey and low-contrast (in fact, it feels somewhat similar to Mac OS X).

The default Windows 7 theme is similar to the glassy Aero look of Vista. You can change the KDE theme for the panel by right-clicking on the desktop and selecting 'Desktop Settings'. The appearance of the panel is changed by choosing a theme from the dropdown Desktop Theme menu, and we've found 'Oxygen' to be the closest match.


You can also pin applications to the panel in the same way that you can with Windows 7. From the Launch menu, right-click on the application you want quick access to and select 'Add to Panel'. Its icon will then appear.

You can rearrange the panel by clicking on the cashew icon on its right end. If the cashew symbol isn't there, click on the same symbol in the top right corner of your screen and click on 'Unlock'.

You'll then be able to drag, resize and arrange icons and sections of the panel just as you would a sentence in a word processor.


First published in PC Plus Issue 288

Liked this? Then check out Get a Linux desktop to make Windows and OS X users weep with envy

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