Xfce theming - a few suggestions

Most things agreed here are ready for implementation.

Patches are welcome.

There’s an integrated sanity test: implementation isn’t easy (unfortunately) so the implementer only implements what it liked by oneself anyhow.

Other earlier accepted wishlist items:

@Patrick @Algernon Great, I’ve got several suggestions then (one of which was this theming issue), and in good time I’ll bring them up in their own threads. :slight_smile:

Still very much liking this Arc theme. I can see a lot of users tolerating and adopting Whonix more, simply because it feels closer to Windows in its sleekness.

I also love how with XFCE desktop you can close a maximized window with the mouse by instantly shoving it into the top RH corner screen pixel without having to carefully watch where you put the cursor, even with this Arc theme (Arc looks like Linux Mint now in XFCE). You can’t do that in Linux Mint despite the same button appearance, and also GNOME you can’t do this, which is a UI pet peeve I have with GNOME.

On Windows, you can. Windows users are used to little conveniences like this. I have been used to it my whole life.

So with the right theming, XFCE may be the most Windows-like Linux Desktop we can choose. I’m glad we’ve already defaulted to Whisker Menu, and I have a few other UI tweaks (just settings changes) which make it slightly further more Windows-like.

(I still think GNOME for an amnesic Linux host OS for Whonix - like Tails does - might be best to differentiate it from Whonix VM for the user to not confuse them, and would work well if it’s considered not the most favorable desktop and thus fit being the one not in use as one’s daily Whonix UI.)

Strange bug with Arc theme (in my VirtualBox Whonix).

The following behavior happens:

  1. Press VirtualBox host key and then alt-tab to allow your host OS to switch windows away from your workstation VM for a second.

  2. Come back to Workstation VM. Observe that the current active window became minimized and/or shrunk to a weird bottom part of the screen.

Only happened since installing this theme. Anyone else can reproduce?

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We can differentiate with wallpapers and themes. This point is a weak argument for adopting a resource heavy DE.

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Ah, of course. I vote to do that then.

I now think that XFCE with a modern-looking theme like Arc is good enough to measure up against Tails, given the resource-light advantages of XFCE (which will be even more important in a live system due to being only in RAM). Also would save time in development and troubleshooting across host and guest Whonix systems that we develop.

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Another negative observation about Arc-icons (in my W14):

It hijacks the default icon for a lot of apps.

Opera, Firefox, Recoll, Mousepad, GIMP, VLC, Thunderbird, Firefox ESR, the list goes on.

This is good as the official icon for these famous apps is not only usually superior to the silly one Arc-icons replaces them with, but they lose their recognizability.

I’ll continue doing more theme exploring, I’ve got more to report later.

As always with Linux, we have to roll our sleeves up a bit if we want to customize it how we like it. But at least we can.

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as written in https://forums.whonix.org/t/tails-whonix-its-doable-heres-how-can-we-offer-it-as-a-variant-like-qubes-whonix/7148/38

The case for porting Whonix to GNOME should be made in a separate thread
too. It would have to compare RAM and performance in VMs too. Not sure
how realistic that is. We only got Whonix ported XFCE since the code for
the port was contributed while at the same time KDE was eating too much
RAM and too slow.

This is because:

  • off-topic here, distracts from actual XFCE theme work
  • we don’t want to start a big linux desktop choice debate in this thread
  • hypothetically, speculative: people sitting on the sidelines waiting for demand so they start porting Whonix to gnome may not be following this thread in detail and never know

Here’s a custom hack to the Arc theme that, to me, makes the desktop icons look a lot nicer and appealing. However, it may not be one-size-fits-all. I have a feeling that screen resolution and VirtualBox VM scale factor settings may affect visibility of things like how the shadow blur radius turns out.

Anyway, you edit with root privileges the file /usr/share/themes/Arc/gtk-2.0/gtkrc and add:

style "xfdesktop-icon-view" {
XfdesktopIconView::label-alpha = 0
XfdesktopIconView::selected-label-alpha = 100
XfdesktopIconView::shadow-x-offset = 1
XfdesktopIconView::shadow-y-offset = 0
XfdesktopIconView::selected-shadow-x-offset = 0
XfdesktopIconView::selected-shadow-y-offset = 0
XfdesktopIconView::shadow-color = "#000000"
XfdesktopIconView::selected-shadow-color = "#000000"
XfdesktopIconView::shadow-blur-radius = 1

fg[NORMAL] = @selected_fg_color
fg[ACTIVE] = @selected_fg_color

widget_class "*XfdesktopIconView*" style "xfdesktop-icon-view"

Then set changes by changing to another theme in Appearances settings then back to Arc.

Again, apologies, I am not ready to offer screenshots just yet. But you can compare yourself. This makes it crisper on my screen but still some shadow there for versatility in regards to background image choice.

So for modifications like this that we would come to a consensus about, do we just patch it and ship it in the OVA?

Later, I’ll see if I can also make non-active windows taskbar item text brighter using a similar hack.

More to come, still investigating.

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Generally in this thread as said in

Patches welcome meaning, please someone send git branches / github pull requests. Once merged, it will be part of the next ova.

[Package upgrades may come even earlier than that. (But due to the nature of this being in /etc/skel these steps are unfortunately required to take effect for upgraded systems.]

See https://github.com/Whonix/whonix-xfce-desktop-config

Specifically about /usr/share/themes/Arc/gtk-2.0/gtkrc:
That file is owned by another package arc-theme.

dpkg -S /usr/share/themes/Arc/gtk-2.0/gtkrc

arc-theme: /usr/share/themes/Arc/gtk-2.0/gtkrc

Taking over files by other packages should be last resort only.

Taking systemd as an example:
If /lib/systemd/system/systemd-random-seed.service modifications were desired.

  • editing /lib/systemd/system/systemd-random-seed.service is the worst (changes get lost on systemd package gets upgraded) (there is a solution using config-package-dev displace and we use it in Whonix source code but best avoided if possible somehow)
  • shipping /etc/systemd/system/systemd-random-seed.service would be better but still not great (this is for local administrator, not linux distribution)
  • /lib/systemd/system/systemd-random-seed.service.d folder and a file such as /lib/systemd/system/systemd-random-seed.service.d/30_something.conf is an ideal solution for linux distributions such as Whonix since it does not takeover files by other packages and does not take away something from the local system administrator or user

I will add this to the wiki.


Possible solution and their preference:

  • Can /usr/share/themes/Arc/gtk-2.0/ be used as a drop-in folder? (ideal)
  • In this case is /etc/gtk-2.0/ a drop-in folder? (ok)
  • /etc/skel/.gtkrc works? (not great but ok)
  • take over /usr/share/themes/Arc/gtk-2.0/gtkrc using config-package-dev displace (worst)
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But why? It takes only literally 10 seconds and would make things so much easier. Otherwise I am afraid it will be difficult to help you as I have no idea of what you are complaining about (such as “icon hijacking”?).

My anonymity profile and needs. I have not yet been able to set up a dummy Whonix VM which doesn’t have a personal signature all over it and thus is unsuitable for sharing in these forums.

I’m sure I’ll get there, it’ll come soon. Am still testing, screenshots will come.

@Patrick thank you for sharing that info on processes. A lot for me to absorb but I’m grateful. I see that I’m taking up your time as a novice learning, and you’re teaching me things. Thanks.

About packages owning files we customize (and how that’s not good idea): In this particular case, could we just ship our own set of theme files to copy to the system without installing the package from debian repo? Is that what you mean by using it as a ‘drop-in folder’?

If I do sudo apt-file list arc-theme, I see many unnecessary non-XFCE files that we could do away with if we manually pre-shipped only the files we need for Whonix-XFCE. (I can sense that the next step is for me to actually try this on a template W15, and report back…am I correct? :blush:)

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That’s the next widely established development goal: don’t duplicate code / data whenever possible. Even more important goal than not “stealing” packages owned by third party packages.

Is that what you mean by using it as a ‘drop-in folder’?


With drop-in I mean .d style folders. some info here:
Configuration Files - Kicksecure

Examples include /etc/grub.d

That we have to live with (unless too much disk space gets wasted) (in this case I guess it is ok).

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I don’t want to take the wind out of anyone’s sails, but, I do not agree with:

It’s good. It’s nice enough. I don’t think we should try to compete with anyone on looks. It isn’t ugly. What’s ugly about it? it’s great as far as I’m concerned. Even some excessive features here and there but not worth messing with.

This is where I’d vote yes. Whisker-Menu is a great improvement, but already implemented. Volume control - yes.

I tried transparency before, I really don’t see it’s very useful. The white on black is good. The terminal is one of the only places where we don’t have a strain on the eyes coming from too much white / bright colors. Please keep it that way.

Icons beauty - couldn’t care less. If it takes the time from a developer working on anything else then I’d say give it a miss. The current icons are good! If it has 1% chance to cause bugs (which additional feature doesn’t?) or a 0.1% chance to add any security vulnerabilities then not worth it.

Whonix XFCE looks good as it is!

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I agree that terminal transparency isnt’t something for everybody. But the white on black default setting seems quite old and off-putting IMHO. Maybe just something more elegant while still functional, like black on white background?

I agree that these things should not divert precious and already scarce developer time from important things. But this is definitely not the case here (no developer involved, just me suggesting things).

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Sorry but that would be the worse possible option IMO, again due to

When I get an editor that looks like that, I spend the first 5-10 minutes or as much as required to figure out how to change the background to black or at least to the darkest color possible.

To jazz up the terminal, use more text colors, but selectively - user@host in different color etc. That can both improve readability and look more lively. In addition, the main text can be very light grey while the background very dark grey instead of the high contrast B/W. That will look less monochromatic and still comfortable enough. Also, allow mouse wheel control of font size.

I strongly disagree. The current theme looks extremely off-putting, unattractive, and not nice to work in at all. Furthermore, this matter is important for the safety of the entire Whonix project and community. If our UI turns off people from adopting or continuing to use Whonix, we have a smaller anonymity set as a result, as well as less chances of people contributing to further make Whonix better.

Lastly, if it’s at all possible, the consensus on this should be taken from as wide a polling or data set as possible. So none of us here in this thread should be taken as the vocal majority, let alone the silent majority, which is way larger again (and more important). But is a forum poll is the best we can do within limited resources?


This risks bikeshedding.

If someone wants a poll - which might at this point would be the only way to stop this:
please write a forum post with a fair comparison of the two choices using old (maybe yet to be created) and these new screenshots with a poll. I’d then move it to the Whonix news forum and also spread in social media.

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I like the default theme of XFCE like it is.
Also, other themes are often not supported very well, they might have bugs and they increase also the download size and make it more difficult to overlook the whole whonix project, when they also change functions they even might introduce security vulnerabilites.

The only thing i would change is the background image in whonix gateway.
For the background image of Whonix Gateway i would suggest to use a completely red background with the words “Warning, this is the gateway of whonix!” as a warning so that users don’t use it for daily work and surfing and think they are anonymized by Tor when surfing with the whonix Gateway VM on the internet instead of whonix workstation.

I am yet to see a single person who cares about their security / anonymity who was put off by whonix’s UI or stopped to use it because it didn’t have enough goodies.

Sorry, but those are far fetched fairy tales.

Poll: experience shows that the vast majority of whonix users are not actively participating in this forum. Just check past polls and tell us if you think the number of participants says anything about overall Whonix users.

I agree.