Zorin OS Theme on any Distribution

Introduction

Zorin OS provides one of the cleanest and most attractive GNOME experience that I’ve personally used. Unfortunately, due to the release being based on the Ubuntu 18.04 LTS release, I am not able to run it on my Dell XPS 15 9570 laptop. It’s not that it won’t run, more a case of not running as well as the newer releases of Ubuntu. This left me with a problem.

I had to find a way to recreate this beautiful desktop on an Ubuntu 19.04 base. Ubuntu 19.04 itself runs well enough but they include a number of their own GNOME customizations. I could perform a bare-bones install using the net installer and then install the vanilla GNOME desktop packages and use that as a starting point. But then I had a better idea.

It just so happens that Pop_OS! runs exceptionally well on my laptop. It is based on Ubuntu 19.04 and their power settings and the pre-installed Nvidia driver work flawlessly. It also includes a mostly stock GNOME desktop, ready to be customized. Pop itself comes with a very nice theme. It is clean and understated, includes a dark variant and other refinements that make for a pleasant experience. They do follow the GNOME paradigm of no visible launcher, no icon tray or window controls (minimize and maximize). You can enable these things with the Tweaks tool and some extensions which leads me to the point of this exercise.

Before I continue, let me say that if running an LTS-based distro is not an issue for you, save yourself the time and effort and just use Zorin. It really is lovely and entirely worth using. If I could use it, I would. Also, these instructions do not provide an exact match as Zorin provides modified versions of the stock extensions I am using here. The intent is to provide a very similar experience. Lastly, the process I follow can by adapted to fit any theme in case the Zorin OS look isn’t your preference.

Installing Pop_OS!

Choose the right download

There are two releases of Pop, the LTS release based on Ubuntu 18.04 and the non-LTS release based on Ubuntu 19.04. Additionally, there are two versions of each release, one supporting AMD/Intel graphics and one for Nvidia. In my case, I want the Nvidia option because my laptop has hybrid Nvidia GTX 1050Ti and Intel graphics.

Pop_OS Website

Install the OS

System76 provides an extensive guide for installing Pop so it a bit pointless for me to explain it here. Follow their instructions and you should be all set. If you have any issue feel free to post to the comments of this article using the link below or by visiting the Big Daddy Linux Discourse forum directly at https://discourse.bigdaddylinux.com/.

Customizing the Desktop

Now that you have a clean install of Pop_OS! we can get started customizing the desktop to look and function like Zorin. As a starting point and eventual comparison, here is what Zorin OS looks like by default.

And here is what the default Pop_OS! desktop looks like.

Zorin is using a number of customized extensions as well as a custom theme and icons to alter the layout and functionality of the default GNOME desktop. Pop includes a few extensions as well but stays much closer to the stock GNOME experience.

Install system updates

Before you get started, make sure to install any system updates that are available. You can do this via the Pop Shop software center by choosing the Installed button at the top and choosing Update All.

Alternatively, you can do this from the command line with:

sudo apt update && sudo upgrade -y

Install Prerequisites

Next, let’s install some packages we’ll need to enable and configure the extensions. Open a terminal and enter the following command. Note that some of these may already be installed but apt will simply skip those.

sudo apt install gettext libgettextpo-dev gnome-shell-extensions gnome-tweak-tool gnome-menus gir1.2-gmenu-3.0

Install GNOME Extensions

Now let’s move on to installing the extensions. Go to https://extensions.gnome.org/ and start by installing the browser extension.

After clicking, choose Continue and then Add. Once that is done, refresh the page and the message box should not appear. To check that everything is working properly you can click the Installed extensions menu item which should list the extensions currently installed.

Note that there are already a number of extensions installed by default. These are fine as-is so now let’s install the other extensions we need. Click the Extensions menu option. The first extension listed happens to be one we need, User Themes. Click the link to load the extension page. Once there, click the toggle button to install and enable the extension.

Return to the Extensions page, search for and install each of the following:

  • Tray Icons
  • Dash to Panel
  • Arc Menu

You can see that It’s starting to take shape. There’s a bottom panel with a menu and, although you can’t see them, tray icons will show up if an application creates one.

Zorin OS Themes and Icons

Now let’s get install the Zorin themes and icons.
git clone https://github.com/ZorinOS/zorin-desktop-themes.git

git clone https://github.com/ZorinOS/zorin-icon-themes.git

sudo cp -r zorin-desktop-themes/Z* /usr/share/themes

sudo cp -r zorin-icon-themes/Z* /usr/share/icons

GNOME Tweaks

Open Tweaks and click the Appearance tab. Choose the Zorin theme you would like to use and then the corresponding Icons and Shell themes (i..e. ZorinBlue-Light).

Let’s enable the window buttons. Go to the Windows Titlebars section and under Titlebar Buttons enable Maximize and Minimize. You can also set the button placement to left if you prefer.

Now switch to the Extensions tab.

Dash to Panel

There are a lot of options that you can set here but the two main ones are:

Position Tab

  • Set the Clock location to ‘Right of system indicators’. I’ve noticed it doesn’t seem to take effect right away so you may have to switch to a different option and then back again.

Behavior Tab

  • Disable Show Applications icon

Arc Menu

Same as with Dash to Panel, there are quite a few options. The main ones are:

General Tab

  • ‘Choose Arc Menus Default View’ set to ‘Categories List’
  • Set the menu hotkey or choose a custom one

Appearance Tab

Customize Menu Button Appearance (optional)

  • Click the Customize Menu Button Appearance gear icon
  • Select the icon you’d like to use from the drop down. If you want the Pop icon browse to /usr/share/icons/Pop/64x64/places/ and choose distributor-logo-pop-os.png.
  • Use the slider to set the size to 32px

Arc Menu and Zorin OS Themes

While Arc Menu does recognize the shell theme that you set in Tweaks there are a few things that it doesn’t get right. For instance, it does not position the menu properly. It is a little too far to the right and there is extra space that obscures the small arrow shape.

Also, each Zorin OS theme has a light and dark variant. The light variants use the same separator, border and highlight colors however the dark ones use distinct colors. Arc Menu doesn’t get the coloration exactly right so in either case so it can be a little odd looking. I am including a table below with the colors for each theme but just be aware that it can take some tweaking to get things just right, particularly if you want things to match to Zorin. There is plenty of room for tweaking to get it to look the way you’d like in either case. I will explain how to change the colors for one light and one dark theme so you understand how to do it.

Light Theme (any)

Customize Arc Menu Appearance

  • Toggle Enable Vertical Separator
  • Click the color block
  • Click the plus icon under Custom at the bottom and enter #EBEBEB in the field.
  • Press enter to set the color and then click the Select button.

Override Arch Menu Theme

  • Toggle the Override Arc Menu Theme slider and click the gear icon
  • Set the Menu Background Color to white. You need to do this as a custom color.
    • Click the plus icon under Custom at the bottom and enter #FFFFFF in the field.
    • Press enter to set the color and then click the Select button.
  • Set the Menu Foreground Color to #333333.
  • Set the Border Color to #EBEBEB. It may already be in your custom colors if you used it as the separator color above. If you want to know what color a custom color is just right click it and choose customize.
  • Set the Border Size to 1px.
  • Highlighted Item Color is also #EBEBEB
  • Corner Radius is 5px
  • Menu Arrow Size is 20px
  • Menu Displacement is 15px
  • Click Apply and the X to close the window.

Your menu should now look like this:

Dark Blue Theme

Customize Arc Menu Appearance

  • Toggle Enable Vertical Separator
  • Click the color block
  • Click the plus icon under Custom at the bottom and enter #293237 in the field.
  • Press enter to set the color and then click the Select button.

Override Arch Menu Theme

  • Toggle the Override Arc Menu Theme slider and click the gear icon
  • Set the Menu Background Color to #191F22
  • Set the Menu Foreground Color to #BDE6FB
  • Set the Border Color to #293237
  • Set the Border Size to 1px
  • Highlighted Item Color is also #293237
  • Corner Radius is 5px
  • Menu Arrow Size is 20px
  • Menu Displacement is 15px
  • Click Apply and the X to close the window.

Your menu should now look like this:

Dark Theme Color Codes

Theme Background Color Foreground Color Border and Highlighted Item Colors
Blue #191F22 #BDE6FB #293237
Green #141A19 #B0F0DF #23302C
Grey #1B1B1B #FFFFFF #323232
Orange #221913 #FEBC8D #38291F
Purple #161218 #D6AEED #29212E
Red #1A0B0A #E35D5D #2E1313

Fonts (optional)

Zorin uses a few fonts that aren’t installed by default. One is named Inter which is available from GitHub and the other is Roboto Mono which is a Google font. For Inter, go to the releases page and download the zip of the current release. Browse the directory where you downloaded it and extract the file. Enter that directory and finally the Inter (OTF) directory. Right click and choose Open in Terminal. Enter the following commands:

mkdir ~/.fonts
cp * ~/.fonts

For Roboto Mono, go to the Google Font page, click Select this Font, click the black bar at the bottom and then choose download. Browse the directory where you downloaded it and extract the file. Enter that directory, right click and choose Open in Terminal. Enter the following command:

cp *.ttf ~/.fonts

Open the Tweaks tool and go to the Fonts section. Use the settings below.

Your desktop should now look very close to the default Zorin OS layout, something like this:

Conclusion

It takes a bit of time and tweaking to get things looking just right, or at least just the way you like them. Hopefully this guide gave you a good understanding of how to make any GNOME desktop look like Zorin OS. I think it demonstrates how customizable and flexible many extensions are and how you can easily adapt this process to match any theme if Zorin isn’t your preferred look.

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