Ade Malsasa Akbar contact
Senior author, Open Source enthusiast.
Thursday, November 5, 2015 at 22:34

Our latest desktop customization guide was Cinnamon. Now, we're moving into XFCE. This guide can be applied to customize Xubuntu, Manjaro XFCE, openSUSE XFCE Spin, or any Linux distro using XFCE as the desktop. We cover how to install desktop theme, add new panel, add applet, and we start them from concepts. Enjoy.


  1. XFCE has 3 kinds of theme: GTK Theme, XFWM4 Theme, and icon theme.
  2. Installing a kind of theme needs enabling the theme. 
  3. XFCE customization is centralized in XFCE System Settings.
  4. XFWM4 (XFCE Window Manager 4) is XFCE Window Manager. 

Window Anatomy

  1. Red Box: window decoration (sometimes called window border), controlled by window theme. 
  2. Green Boxes: GTK components. It means toolkit components such as tab, button, scrollbar, etc. They are controlled by GTK Theme. 
  3. Blue Boxes: icon components. Controlled by icon theme. 
Basically, we custom XFCE desktop by changing these three themes.

Change Wallpaper

To change wallpaper, right-click on desktop > Desktop Settings > select a wallpaper.

Add Applet

To add an applet into panel, right-click panel > Panel > Add New Items > drag an applet into panel. 

New Panel

To add a new panel, open System Settings > Panel > press plus button (1) > a panel created > press plus button (below the first plus) > add an applet to newly created panel (e.g. Window Buttons) > new panel finished. You may need to custom the panel size and width too. Do it on the same window, from Display and Appearance tab.

Install XFCE GTK Theme

To install a GTK theme, create ~/.local/share/themes folder. Copy your GTK theme folder there. Ensure the path to be like this ~/.local/share/themes/<your_theme>/gtk-2.0/gtkrc. Finally you must enable the GTK theme by System Settings > Appearance > Style > choose your installed GTK theme. If you install theme named Diehard, you will choose Diehard here. We're using Diehard 4 GTK for this time.

You don't need Terminal to do it. Of course, if you download theme as a .tar.gz archive you must extract the content first somewhere. You just need the GTK theme folder.

Install XFCE Window Decoration Theme

To install window decoration theme (XFWM4 theme), make sure ~/.local/share/themes is exist. Copy your XFWM theme there. Ensure the complete path will be like this ~/.local/share/themes/<your_theme>/xfwm4. Finally you must enable the theme from System Settings > Window Manager > Style > choose your theme. All window borders will automatically changed into your theme. In this example, we're using Xaphire XFWM4 Theme.

Install Icon Theme

To install icon theme, create ~/.icons. Then copy your theme folder there. Finally, you must activate the icon too from System Settings > Appearance > Icons > select the newly installed icon. In this example, we're using Yosemite OS X icons.

Translucent Window Decoration

Remember Vista Aero? You can have it on XFCE. To have translucent window borders, open System Settings > Window Manager Tweaks > Compositor > Opacity of window decorations > slide the slider to make them translucent. See picture above.