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Monday, 27 October 2008 19:13

Linux incognito part three: Windows Vista

Here's how to skin Linux to give a Windows Vista appearance. You can help provide a familiar look and feel to your Windows-trained friends and family as you coax them towards Linux. Or you can enjoy the satisfaction of having something looking like Vista actually run with stability.
This month’s theme is “I didn’t know you could do that in Linux,” and over the last week we’ve been talking about how to trick out Linux to look like some other well-known operating systems.

We began with MacOS and then Windows XP. We’ll conclude today with Windows Vista.

I joked (well, half-joked) above that you might want to do this to show off a Windows Vista-looking system that actually performs reliably. There are more pragmatic reasons. One is to present users with an environment that is more familiar to them than the default environment provided by a typical Linux distro.

It could be you wish to introduce people to Linux, and there’s no denying that for many folk their first, and possibly only, experience with computing will be through Microsoft Windows.

Or, it may be - as it was for the author of LXP which we discussed last time - you are designing a dedicated computing device, be it a kiosk or other specialised bit of kit - and want the strength and stability of Linux underneath but with a familiar user environment to avoid scaring the rank and file users away.

Or, perhaps you like the new Windows Vista style and just simply wish to replicate it for the general fun of it. Whatever the reason, Linux allows you to do whatever you can conceive. And here’s how to paint a Windows Vista veneer over it.


Actually, the first option is already done for you. A Linux distro has been produced that provides this very Vista-like interface out of the box.

This distro is known as Vixta and is available for download from SourceForge.

The project has now evolved beyond its original intentions of being a Vista-lookalike version of Linux and is working hard to produce the most graphically stunning operating system available.

Impressively the Fedora-based distro includes full hardware support for the ASUS Eee Linux PC. This diminutive system single-handedly spawned the modern netbook market and craze. And, what’s more, its low-end hardware specs would be scoffed at by Windows Vista, yet Vixta gives it both power and beauty that Microsoft cannot.

Hardware support is also included for the AcerOne netbook and, of course, more typical desktops and laptops.

Vixta works by customising the KDE desktop manager. You’ll notice in the screenshot below, and by installing it, that it does look and feel like Windows. A single button brings up programs, settings and search facilities.

You’ll also find a Vista-like taskbar provided too. Of course, the Vista start button image is missing being copyright, but apart from this all you could easily fool many people that it truly is Windows Vista.

Now, this is one thing and it works fine. However, you may not want to change your flavour of Linux just for this purpose. So, over the page let’s check out three ways to customise your existing system without requiring a reinstall or fresh setup.


The desire to paint a Vista facade over Linux is not unique. There are many blogs and tech sites listing the ways others have tackled this problem.

Unfortunately, some assembly is required. One hack site lists the items that worked for them, specifically a GTK theme, an icon set, a cursor, and some other items.

You can see a screenshot of their work below. It’s not a perfect match; the sidebar is there, a familiar Vista theme is present, but the familiar Linux top menu bar also exists as well as, oddly enough, a MacOS-like dock.

Still, it does show the magnificent power of Linux to be dressed up in many, many highly personalised ways which can suit anybody’s manner of working or preferences for a user interface.

Meanwhile, UbuntuGeek tackle it also, focusing specifically on Ubuntu and explaining how to give it the makeover. They provide clear step by step instructions as they lead you through obtaining an appropriate font, an Aero-like GNOME theme and an icon set.

You are then walked through modifying GNOME’s panels as well as implement a Start button and locate wallpaper.

For those who have a different view on Ubuntu, the Xubuntu Blog lead you through this same objective for Xubuntu which uses the lesser-known, but still very popular, Xfce desktop manager.

The end result is very impressive, including Vista’s flipped Windows-Tab method of switching through running apps. Be aware, the steps listed aren’t necessarily for the inexperienced because there are some config file modifications required within a text editor. But then, if you’re using Xubuntu you most likely aren’t a novice anyway.

So that’s that! You can see Linux is remarkably versatile and offers no end of flexibility to adjust your operating environment. You might have any of a number of reasons to dress up Linux like MacOS, Windows XP, Windows Vista or something entirely different.

The reason I’ve put forth here is to aid others in transitioning to Linux and I believe that’s a worthy objective in its own right.

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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