Hack Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic koala) GDM Login Screen

if you hated the new login screen and wanted to change it follow these steps

1. Logout of your current session and return to the GDM
2. Switch to the tty command line prompt using Ctrl-Alt-F1
3. Login using your normal login/password
4. at the command line prompt type: export DISPLAY=:0.0
5. then type: sudo -u gdm gnome-control-center
6. Switch back to the gdm screen using Ctrl+ALT+F7
7. The gnome-control-center should be loaded. Use it to configure your GDM.
8. Click on the Appearances icon, in appearances you can change your GDM’s font, theme and background image.
9. Close the gnome-control-center and login normally.

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50 Comments on “Hack Ubuntu 9.10 (Karmic koala) GDM Login Screen”

  1. mattias Says:

    Doesn’t work I just get “can’t open display”. Any ideas?

  2. Mike B Says:

    I absolutely hate the new gdm. The hack described here does let you change the appearance – but I don’t care so much about the appearance as about all the features that were removed. For example, there’s no way to stop it from displaying the list of users. Some would consider this a major security issue.

    A lot of people are complaining about this, both on the Ubuntu and the Gnome forums. Someone mentioned downgrading to an older version of gdm; I might try this, if I find the time. If anybody is reading this, and knows of an easy way to do this without screwing up the package dependencies, please share.

  3. Andreas Says:

    I somehow screwed something up. Unfortunately now the gnome-control-center screen comes up with every login. Anyone has an idea how to stop this ?

  4. Andreas Says:

    I somehow screwed up and have now the gnome-control-center coming up every time I start my machine. Specifically the appearance screen comes up every time. Any idea how to stop/disable this ?

  5. Andreas Says:

    Interesting question – I applied the above steps plus the steps in another blog about not getting the user names displayed at Login. The only difference was that I didn’t login, but directly restarted the machine.
    Is there a place where it is defined which applications to start before Login ?

  6. Tim Says:

    This a pointless set of instructions! All you need to do to run to the gnome control centre is press ALT+F2 and then type gnome-control-center. All this messing about achieves nothing.

    Neither approach will actually help you change the login splash screen. The only way to do that is by manually changing the config files in a text editor, there are loads instructions on how to do that, it is pretty easy (Certainly no worse than trying this!).

    Unfortunately Ubuntu seem to be trying to dumb everything down to the point where the system becomes unusable. It is a real shame because the main reason I dumped Windows for Linux back in 2004 was because I did not like the way Microsoft dumbed everything down. Now, alas, it would seem many distributions of Linux are going the same way. This is not a good move, for me the freedom to hack is probably Linux’s strongest selling point.

    • Vlad Says:

      You cannot change the Login GDM by pressing ALT+F2. What you said only changes the theme for the user once he’s logged in. The article is about changing the appearance of the login screen. Your method doesn’t not change the login screen.

      If you don’t like how Ubuntu has become dumbed down, why don’t you try out another desktop environment? KDE has a lot more settings available than Gnome. Linux doesn’t necessarily mean using Gnome.

      • Actually, Vlad, I didn’t think that this was going to work, but it does. If you change the background following the instructions here will give you a different “theme” in your login screen.

      • Vlad Says:

        @Lisha: Which instructions? The ones provided in the original post or the ones given by Tim?

        I don’t denounce the original post’s instructions. They work perfectly. What I was saying was that running Gnome Control Center once logged in does not change the login screen in any way unless run as root. Tim didn’t specify running it as root so I just said that his method can’t work.

    • hatta Says:

      this actually is not helping me at all. i was fooling around with the assistive technology and now my login screen doesn’t look as good as it should be. now i don’t know how to make my login screen look the way it did immediatley after installation. what’s happening?

  7. Andreas Says:

    Tim – can you please give us some links to where to find those instructions on how to change the login screen by changing the config files ?

  8. *head desk* Well, the Login Screen configuration app does nothing for me. It allows me to login automatically as a specific user or to list people. There’s nothing there at all to install other themes. And the Unlock button does NOTHING. It let’s me log in for the sudo access and then… sits there.

    I’ve spent an obscene amount of time reading documentation like
    http://library.gnome.org/admin/gdm/stable/configuration.html.en and the utterly useless documentation at the head of /etc/gdm/custom.conf and I still can’t do anything that I actually WANTED to do to the login screen.

    I have login screen .schema and .xml files that I downloaded from art.gnome.org. It shouldn’t be this bloody difficult to figure out how to install them!!

    • Vlad Says:

      The new GDM doesn’t allow theming like the old version did. I think the themes provided at art.gnome.org are for the previous version. Which version of Ubuntu do you have? I don’t have the /etc/gdm/custom.conf file in 9.10.

  9. [...] by allowing you to change some options which would normally be changed with GConf entries and other methods. (The links lead to tutorials on another [...]

  10. zuolo Says:

    thank you

  11. biLLy Says:

    bull shit, its no work

  12. Ps Says:

    I am getting the following errors when i type sudo -u gdm gnome-control-center

    **(gnome-control-center:4054):WARNING **:
    error raised: [libslab_get_gconf_value: error getting /desktop/gnome/application/main-menu/lock-down/user_modifiable_apps]

    **(gnome-control-center:4054):WARNING **:
    error raised: [load_xbel_store: couldn't load bookmark file [NULL]]

    **(gnome-control-center:4054):WARNING **:
    get_action_list() – PROBLEM – can’t load gtk-theme-selector.desktop

    **(gnome-control-center:4054):WARNING **:
    get_action_list() – PROBLEM – can’t load gnome-cups-manager.desktop

    • volkan Says:

      +1 same problem here

    • lionlix Says:

      where did you type that ?
      you need to logout and then switch to the terminal then run the command that export the display then you have to run this command , if you skip the export display you will ge this error .
      by the way the appearance setting will be available when you switch back to the login screen by clicking on Alt+Ctrl+F7

      • Dan Chambers Says:

        Hi, I got the same error as Ps above, and I definitely typed the display export command. I switched back to gdm and there was a blank dialog box over the usual login dialog… I guess this is a placemarker for the gnome control center, but there’s nothing in it.

        Now after I logged back in there’s a persistent black input box hovering in the middle of the screen like a little 2001 obelisk!

      • bom#20 Says:

        I also received the same warning/errors as Ps did – and I did logout, switch to terminal and blah blah followed the original instructions. These errors are produced after typing the “sudo -u gdm gnome-control-center” command.

        Any ideas?

  13. Kuurozaki Says:

    Thanks for the tutorial1 :D

  14. Kafuluzed Says:

    Hi there,

    I’d say for now


    I’ve had the same problem as Ps.Only additional things are, heading back to the desktop (Ctrl-Alt-F7), my windows had no title bar(with the minimise maximise and close options,there was no change to the login-screen configuring option. A restart hang after the desktop background was the only thing left on the screen. A 5second press of my power button rebooted the laptop and when I got back, I had infront of me an auto-login screen. Couldn’t type in a username so used autologin. Loading of the desktop I had more errors from nautilus and ICE authority etc. . . and eventually the default 9.10 background with no icons.

    The downtime isn’t worth the effort

    I’m doing a re-install.

  15. water Says:

    Hi all,
    i have this problem when running sudo -u gdm gnome-control-center :

    (gnome-control-center:2464): Unique-DBus-WARNING **: Unable to open a connection to the session bus: Failed to connect to socket /tmp/dbus-HnsPHRKPCs: Connection refused

    (gnome-control-center:2464): Unique-DBus-WARNING **: Unable to connect to the running instance, aborting.

    please help me.

  16. Bull Says:

    Same thing for me.

    (gnome-control-center:2471): Unique-DBus-WARNING **: Unable to open a connection to the session bus: Failed to connect to socket /tmp/dbus-t4O6H2LL3N: Connection refused

    (gnome-control-center:2471): Unique-DBus-WARNING **: Unable to connect to the running instance, aborting.

  17. mdavies Says:

    Is there a way to change the login window so that it looks like the Mac OS 10.5 screen. There was a way to do it in Ubuntu Intrepid Ibex and I want to do it in Karmic Koala

    • Vlad Says:

      No there isn’t. The login screen in Karmic isn’t as customizable as the one in Intrepid. The new one doesn’t allow the same kinds of themes. You can just change the background and the GTK theme.

  18. J_hunter Says:

    well seems like GTK is shit btw
    because it didn’t allow me to change the login theme.

  19. MrBarns Says:

    Hey, great blog…but I don’t understand how to add your site in my rss reader. Can you Help me, please :)

  20. irun arkesel Says:

    just wait….the new update from u all how to change login screen…hhhmmmmmm

    • al Says:

      Hi all, just a question…
      Is it not possible to simply replace the brownish login-background for another picture? I mean it’s an image file, right?

      Anybody know where it’s at?

      I agree it’s not so pretty. Black would be just fine imo.

  21. al Says:

    The easy ways:

    make desktop and login the same with wallpaper_deamon.py
    for example here:

    i didn’t test it, because i didn’t need it…

    Oh yeah!
    default background file located at /usr/share/images/xsplash.

    PS: Sorry, IRUN for posting as a reply the first time…

  22. clicker4721 Says:

    Could one not simply install Jaunty, customize it, and then update the system? Configurations are supposed to remain, correct?

  23. Gamaralf Says:

    According to this article:

    There is an easier way to change GDM’s appearence, simply run the command:

    gksudo -u gdm dbus-launch gnome-appearance-properties

  24. radixal Says:

    thanks for sharing, very interesting information ..

  25. etothex23 Says:

    Why not just login as root and drop an image in the /usr/share/images/xsplash directory with the same name as the one that is currently in there bg_2560x1600.jpg?
    Worked for me

  26. andrew Says:

    first of all loinlix: thanks so much. I had been wanting to change that crap wallpaper and theme for some time, however, how would I go about moving the login box or changing it’s properties (http://art.gnome.org/themes/gdm_greeter these are some visual examples of what I mean, the login box is in no way it’s default) do you know how to change these things? know someone who does?

  27. kimberlite Says:

    Hi all, thanks for the post. I had the same errors like Ps, but thanks to Gamaralf
    gksudo -u gdm dbus-launch gnome-appearance-properties
    fixed the issue.

  28. faking my freakin name Says:

    ok i type this in and it says cannon open gnome display manager in sys terminal what do i do

  29. Dipesh Says:


    Can i use the same thing for Element Os?

  30. viz Says:

    HOW do i configure GDM?

    • viz Says:

      cant stop the appearance box from popping up every time i go to the login….
      any way to stop this?

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