Clearlooks Compact Gnome Theme

I have been using Ubuntu for quite a while now, but one thing I really dislike is that all the themes are huge space wasters compared to Windows XP. This finally got me angry enough to create a customized version of the Clearlooks theme that tries to be very compact but still maintain its beautiful look. I like the result quite a lot, I have been using this theme for more than two weeks now and it works great. It is especially nice for intense applications like Eclipse.

UPDATE: Human Compact Theme for Ubuntu 8.10 (Intrepid Ibex) is available!


Move your mouse over the image to see how the dialog looks like with clearlooks-compact. The buttons and spacing are smaller, which results in much more visible space for the actual content.


More Screenshots

Here are some more screenshots that I have taken with Clearlooks Compact enabled. Especially the Eclipse shot is great, there the theme really shines. It is even more compact than the Windows XP look.

Gnome Calculator Gnome File Selector Eclipse with Compact Theme Tracker Search Tool

If you are curious, I have used Tahoma, size 9 for the application font, and the MiscFixed for the sourcecode.

Download & Installation

Installation is extremely simple, in Ubuntu 7.10 (Gutsy Gibbon) you can do it this way:

  1. Click System > Preferences > Appearance.
  2. Drag & drop the link ClearlooksCompact-1.5.tar.bz2 into the Appearence window.

Beware that this is just definition of the Clearlooks control spacings. That means you have to have the clearlooks engine installed (which you most likely have, it is the default theme of Ubuntu). To change back, click on the currently active Theme, choose “Customize”, and select other controls instead of “Clearlooks Compact”.


I will regularly update this page when I update the theme with a new screenshot and the development history:

April 9th, 2009
Version 1.5: a bit smaller checkbox + selection box, less blurry and smaller progress bar.
April 5th, 2009
Version 1.4: added LGPL, index.theme, version number.
April 11th, 2008
Version 1.3: Small panel menu
November 11th, 2007
Version 1.2: Major update: Smaller handlers sizes, smaller scrollbars, no scrollbar spacing, less overall padding, and some more.
November 7th, 2007
Version 1.1: Now even more compact by reducing the default icon size to 16×16 pixels.
November 4th, 2007
Version 1.0: First release of Clearlooks Compact.


  1. ts says:

    Love ur work there, man!
    Me too, hate the clearlooks themes, and ubuntu default theme too. Wasting to much space (like u said).

    ps: u still can make it more compact. There still a plenty space between ‘Name’ and ‘save to folder’ section. And ‘browse for other folders’ and ‘directory view’.


  2. Hi ts, glad that you like the theme. Making it more compact is difficult because I have already decreased most of the spacings to zero, as far as I know more cannot be done without hacking the clearlooks code or modifying the application itself.

  3. Its possible to make them thinner, but I don’t really like the look of it. But you can easily do this yourself: edit ~/.themes/Clearlooks Compact/gtk-2.0/gtkrc, go to line 19, and change the line

    to 12 or something like that.

  4. radio says:

    wow, nice work. same here, never liked the huge interface elements. now if someone tells me how you can get rid of the button images (e.g. save, cancel) i’m a happy man.

  5. radio, edit the file ~/.gtkrc-2.0 and add this line:

    Then you at least have smaller icons which should get you smaller buttons.

  6. Pingback: Clearlooks Compact
  7. Xavier says:


    Great man! Please keep up your good work. I really would like to see a screenshot of Windows next to one with Ubuntu and see no difference in space-waste!

    Do you think this will be possible at some point? Perhaps there are hacks that go beyond the capabilities of clearlooks?

  8. John says:

    I really like your font, can you please, please, tell what you are using ?
    This is the only thing refraining from doing the permanent switch to Linux….

  9. Anonymous says:

    It works perfect for Ubuntu. Now I also have Suse Linux on another machine with KDE. Still I am running Eclipse which is GTK. Is there a way to apply the new Clearlooks anyway so all GTK applications look properly? How?

  10. Przemek says:

    Nice work, indeed.

    There is a small problem with context menu: when the right mouse button is pressed and kept, we can see the first position of the menu highlighted. Normally, I used click-and-release approach, so many times the first menu position is selected unconsciously.

    This effect doesn’t appear in Ubuntu’s default Human theme. For me it looks like 1-pixel-to-much-of-optimization. :)

  11. Marcin says:

    Excellent work, thanks.
    The only thing I now like more on Eclipse in Windows is the package tree (basically tree control). The compact clearlook with small Tahoma fonts is still much less compact comparing to Windows.
    Is there sth that may be done about it or as you mention couple of post above that the spacing in more places is 0 so some kind of hack is needed.

    Anyway, great thanks.

  12. Happy User says:


    First of all, this theme is awesome – not only does it look great, but it has given me back space in the UI that I didn’t even know existed 😀

    I was wondering if you have any plans to make a Clearlooks Compact GDM Theme and Clearlooks Compact Splashscreen? I think that would provide a very complete package and make things more consistent.


  13. Anon says:


    I love your theme (it saves so much space :D), but I have a few problems that I hope you can help with.

    1) I am using Ubuntu 7.10, and sometimes, when I click the Applications, Places or System menus, they have these scroll arrows at the top and bottom (i.e. the whole menu isn’t visible, you have to scroll up and down). However, when I click those menus a second or third time, they appear normally (i.e. the whole menu is visible, with no scroll arrows). Any idea what is causing this?

    2) Normally, when something gets mounted in /media, it appears in the Places menu. However, whenever I mount more than one thing, a new menu item appears called “Removable Media”, and then all of the things which are mounted under /media appear there instead. How can I change this back to default theme behaviour, where everything appears in the Places menu, with no sub-menus?

    3) Sometimes when I am opening up things in gEdit from the command line, I get warning messages concerning “GtkOptionMenu::indicator_spacing” and “GtkOptionMenu::indicator_size”. Unfortunately, I don’t have the exact message in front of me, but do you have any idea what it might be?


  14. Eshwar says:

    Martin Ankerl,
    Perfect work for a 15″ monitor at 1024×768. This was the one last thing I was searching for Eclipse and now here I am, saying goodbye to Windows (yuck!) once and for all.

    Keep up the good work!

  15. Emil says:

    Hi! This looks like a great theme, hopefully I will have … reason to install it shortly for a specific use.

    Just a very brief note: the mouse-over image in the Comparison does work in Internet Explorer (6.0), in Windows XP SP2. At least it works just fine for me here at work, and a very good comparison it is too!



  16. Oliver says:

    Thanks for the theme – great work! I’m using it on Xubuntu on eeePc, and GTK apps are now much better to use. Many dialogs now fit on the screen which didn’t before.
    I think it would be nice if this theme was available in Ubuntu repositories. It is certainly a good way to make the desktop work on small screen.

  17. Steve says:

    Could you “port” Clearlooks Compact to fit the human colours (aka brown). Blue is too cold for me, I like the warm Ubuntu tones. But the original Clearlooks takes way too much space away.

  18. Hi steve, I am working on a Human Compact theme based on the ubuntu 8.04 theme. I will write a blog posting about this in the next few days.
    If you want you can mail me at martin dot ankerl at then I can send you what I currently have.

  19. kholis says:

    i got failed use this themes on application which need admin auth (aka sudo) such as synaptic, gparted etc.

    same as steve. i wait for ubuntu human compact themes 😛


  20. CracKPod says:

    I really like your theme but I’ve got one problem though.
    When I use the theme under my normal user account everythings works finde and looks great 😀 but when I need to execute a application with root-rights (sudo) the Theme is messed up. Is the only way to fix that starting the gnome-theme-manager as sudo and to change the theme there or is there another way?


  21. michal says:

    You made my day, man!
    This is EXACTLY what i was looking for since I spend all day long in front of Eclipse in high-res.

    many thanks

  22. test says:

    The idea is nice, but sometimes your theme goes too far and makes icons too small (using a GUI should not be aiming practice) and looking very crowded and ugly. We need a better compromise!

  23. Erwin says:

    Martin – thanks! Just installed it on Ubuntu 8.10 UNR running on an Acer Aspire One. The more compact layout just gives a little extra room. Erwin

  24. Lembas says:

    Nice work, indeed.

    There is a small problem with context menu: when the right mouse button is pressed and kept, we can see the first position of the menu highlighted. Normally, I used click-and-release approach, so many times the first menu position is selected unconsciously.

    How can I change this behavior? Where to edit in gtkrc?

  25. Sindre Pedersen Bjørdal says:

    Nice theme, I love it. Couple of small problems though:

    1. Checkboxes are too big IMO, this is a matter of taste, but when browsing the web using epiphany or some other browser which uses the native widgets, checkboxes size 14 tends to break the smooth compact overall look. I’ve tested using both size 12 and size 10 checkboxes, and size 10 is my favorite.

    2. Progessbars look blurry. Due to the fact that the completed part of the progressbar doesn’t have the black outline that the non-completed parts have, thee progressbar end up looking a bit blurry. I’ve been toying about with gtkrc, but found now way to fix this. Hopefully you’d know how.

    Is there a bugzilla/launchpad or similar for this theme? I’d love to be able to submit proper bug reports.

  26. napster says:

    martin the problem you’ve solved was certainly biting me on linux desktop. nice work!. i really appreciate it. but i think you can take it further.

  27. Hi napster, thanks! I try to keep the original clearlooks look as much as possible, so sometimes I have to be one or two pixels bigger than possible so that it still looks as it should.

  28. ferdinand says:

    this them should become standard distribution – especially for netbooks !!!!
    I am working with OpenERP – impreoves everything a lot
    thank you !!!

  29. LostinSpacetime says:

    Hello.. on the screenshot it looks like the icon size in the sidebar and listview of nautilus is the same. How is that possible? I would like that but when changing the zoom level, the text size is changed as well.

  30. RonIn says:

    Hi Martin I’m amazed by how better my XFCE enviroment looks with your theme… there is maybe the possibility that you make a tutorial or at least some pointers in how to reduce the themes…

    I’m asking because there isn’t any alternative on dark themes with Compact layouts so maybe i’ll have to make some tweaks to make them look as good as your theme… Thanks for the great work…

  31. passenger says:

    Thanks a lot. This huge space wasting in Gnome really bothers me, so I once also had my customized .gtkrc-2.0 but it was 2 years ago and I dont remember what exactly I did :)
    Windows is real space saver so Im interested if there is some way to compact it even more like on Windows, by shrinking the spacing between items in list box (and derived)?

  32. Jak says:

    Excellent work.

    Combined with dropping fonts from 10 to 8 gives a very useable system on 15 inch/1024 screen.

    Thanks for your efforts.

  33. Great theme, but if it’s not too much trouble, could you save me some time by pointing me to the line determining vertical padding on context menu items? I need to add a couple of pixels back so I spend less time accidentally choosing “Search Google for…” when I mean “Copy” in Chromium.

  34. I need to stop being so impulsive when I’m tired. I forgot to mention that this theme plus performance improvements in recent GTK+ Open/Save dialogs are making me reevaluate my decision to run an almost pure KDE desktop. (KDE 3.5 was a joy. KDE 4… not so much.)

  35. Martin says:

    Hey there Martin, another Martin here :)

    I’d just like you to know how much I appreciate your theme. I use it on all my boxes all the time.

    Thank you again!

  36. dede says:

    Yes i totally agree with your work. I came to a point that i felt like im choked, seeing all this waste of space, and seeing what’s left to user!!
    The worst thing i’ve seen was eMule, under default theme i think, and activating all the research option: well the result is that the search result area was smaller than the search option pane fully developped.
    From then i started to look for every wasted square millimeter, and finally i was only seeing that, and there’s a lot!!!!!!!!!!! — freaking —

  37. Darren Shepard says:

    Thanks for this, works really nice on my x220 debian gnome2 system. I noticed one thing that was kind of funny though… Some of my panel icons show as tiny and the others are regular size. Anyone else have this problem?

    Here’s a screenshot:

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