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How to Make Lubuntu Look Like Windows XP

Ron is a retired engineer and manager for IBM and other high tech companies. He specialized in both hardware and software design.

Migrating longtime Windows XP users to a Linux operating system like Lubuntu can generate a lot of fear of the unknown. Making the new OS look as much as possible like the old one may be one way to alleviate fear and help users get up to speed faster.


When Microsoft dropped support of Windows XP, our church made the decision to switch to Lubuntu Linux as the operating system (OS) for our computers.

We chose Lubuntu because its “look and feel” are close enough to Windows XP that our volunteer staff would have a relatively easy adjustment to the new OS. In fact, our goal was that when the changeover was made, our users would hardly notice the difference.

With that objective in mind, I was intrigued when I learned that it is possible to set up Lubuntu so that it looks to a casual user very much like WinXP.

That’s possible because the entire Linux family of operating systems, of which Lubuntu is a member, allows great flexibility in making the user interface look pretty much any way you want. This is done through the use of “themes” that define what users see and how they interact with the system, while preserving all the underlying functionality of the OS.

Video: Introducing Lubuntu

The Need for Step-By-Step Instructions

I decided to try out one of the XP-like themes that can be found on the web. In doing so, I was immediately hit with one of the major problems we Windows refugees often face when trying to get up to speed with any of the various Linux distributions. The instructions provided on how to install an app often assume a familiarity with Linux we don’t have, and are therefore woefully inadequate for someone who’s entire experience has been with Windows.

It took a lot of research and a lot of hours for me to figure out how to do what a Linux vet could probably do in minutes. For that reason, I wanted to provide a step-by-step procedure for installing an XP theme.

Installing Lubuntu

The first step, of course, is to install Lubuntu if you haven't already done so. As a veteran Windows user who wasn’t at all familiar with the Linux environment, I found that the easiest way to get Lubuntu onto my computer was to install it using Wubi—the Windows Ubuntu Installer. For information on how to do that, see this article.

Wubi works well with Lubuntu 12.04, which was the version I used. If you’d like to install the latest version of Lubuntu, you can find download information at

NOTE: Once you've installed Lubuntu, I recommend that before making a change to any parameter you make a record of the original value. That will allow you to easily backtrack if you want to restore the original Lubuntu theme. One easy way to copy the original value is to simply hit the Prnt Scrn (Print Screen) key before making any change. That will place a screen image of the original value in your /home/userID/ folder.

Downloading the Windows XP Theme

To download the XP theme I used, click here.

The following steps are all performed under Lubuntu. Note that “userID” refers to your Lubuntu login ID.

Scroll to Continue

When the download is finished, a file named should have been added to your /home/userID/Downloads folder

  • Click on the File Manager icon.
  • When File Manager opens, use the left-side pane of the window to navigate to your /home/userID/Downloads/ folder.

Installing the XP Theme

The zip file must be extracted to your /home/userID/.themes/ folder.

  • Double click on to open an extraction window.
  • Click on the Extract icon.
  • In the Extract window, click on the pencil icon at the upper left to bring up the Location field. Type /home/userID/.themes/ in the Location field.

    (Note that it’s /home/userID/[dot]themes).
  • Now click the Extract button at the lower right to extract the theme into your .themes folder

Inserting the XP Theme

Now you have to insert the new theme as the operative one.

  • Go to “Start button → Preferences → Customize Look And Feel → Widget tab”.
  • You should now see entries for XP Blue, XP Olive, and XP Silver. Click on each one and look at the Preview pane at the right to decide which you like best.
  • Once you’ve decided which version of the XP theme you want to use, click Apply.
  • Click on the Window Border tab and select the XP theme you've chosen. Now click on Apply, and then close the window.

Set the XP Desktop Background Wallpaper

Now, we’ll put the famous XP background (called “Bliss”) in place.

  • Click the Desktop Icon to reduce all open windows to icons on the Task bar and show the desktop.
  • Right click anywhere on the desktop and select Desktop Preferences.
  • Now click in the Wallpaper field. That takes you to the “Please select an image file” window.
  • Next, you must navigate to your /home/userID/.themes/ folder. Look under Places at the left of the window, and click on your user ID.
  • Scroll down until you find your .themes folder. Note: If you don’t immediately see the .themes folder, you may need to press Ctrl-H to show hidden folders.
  • Double-click on the .themes folder to open it.
  • Select xpbg.jpg. Notice that at the right side of the window a preview of the selected background appears.
  • Now, when you click Open your XP desktop background should magically appear!

Setting Up the Task Bar

We’re almost there! All that remains is to apply our XP theme to the task bar at the bottom of the desktop and change the appearance of the Start Button.

  • Right click on an empty space in the bottom panel (the task bar). Select Panel Settings, then the Appearance tab.
  • On the Appearance window, select System theme, then Close.

Now the task bar should show the colors of your XP theme.


Next, let’s change the look of the Start Button. You can choose between two versions.

  • Right click on the Start Button and select “Menu” Settings.
  • You can either type in the path to the .themes folder and enter the file name of the version of the Start Button you chose, or click on Browse to navigate to the .themes folder and select either xpstart.png or xp2start.png.
  • When you close the Menu window, your XP Start Button will appear on the task bar.

Choose an Icon Set

Here’s our final step: selecting the set of icons we want to represent files, folders, etc.

  • Bring up the “Customize Look and Feel” window once again
    (Start → Preferences → Customize Look and Feel).

    Select the Icon Theme tab.
  • Click on any of the icon themes shown in the left pane. You’ll see how it will look in the right hand pane. Choose the one you want for the final touch of your XP look. I chose Humanity-Dark.

And finally, here it is: your Lubuntu theme that looks just like (close, anyway) Windows XP!


A Final Word

Whether or not we ultimately decide to install the XP theme on all our church's computers, this has been a good project for me. I've learned a little more about how to function in Lubuntu, and my own comfort level has risen. If you are contemplating migrating from Windows XP to Lubuntu or any other flavor of Linux, a small project like this one might be a worthwhile exercise.

For further information, please see:

Why Lubuntu Is A Good Alternative To Replace Windows XP

How To Safely Use Windows XP After Microsoft Ends Support

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2014 Ronald E Franklin


Chris on February 01, 2019:

You can do something simialr with Q4OS .

I had a lot of fun switching between win themes after installing "setup_xpq4_2.4-a2_all.esh".

Amazing how easy it was to jump through all the windows themes from early versions up to win10 which looked pretty good ,if you like that sort of thing.

XPQ4 - Windows look'n feel for your Q4OS desktop

The full version will download a load of proprietary icons but you can just go with the small version if you want.

Nazer on May 04, 2018:

Thank you! Very good and easy.

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on January 04, 2018:

Eric, I think you're right that the degree to which the various flavors of Linux can be customized is a particular strength. As I say in the article, the ability to make a Linux-based desktop look familiar to new users can be a real advantage.

Eric Farmer from Rockford Illinois on January 03, 2018:

One of the great things about Linux is the customisation. There are multiple desktops and distributions to choose from. I am using Ubuntu and the MATE desktop myself.

Dave Tromp from Amsterdam on January 02, 2016:

I see. Well you just have to do with what you got. If it ain't broke ...

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on January 02, 2016:

Thanks for the link, Dave. Our church was given some Dell Latitude D600 laptops, so that was the hardware we needed to work with. They are so ancient that Ubuntu can't even be loaded, and Lubuntu seemed like a good alternative. Don't tell anybody, but we're still running XP on all our machines except one that has Lubuntu. If it ain't broke...

Dave Tromp from Amsterdam on December 25, 2015:

Hi RonElFran, I found your hub following your comment on mine about my new Dell Laptop with Ubuntu pre-installed. Lubuntu is great to install on older computers that are running XP, but a lot of that older hardware is geared towards MS Windows and you need to do some workarounds to get everything working. Many of the known workarounds can be found at the Ubuntu Hardware Support wiki at: I hope that helps!

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on April 10, 2015:

Hi, booknow. I certainly agree with you about Lubuntu being the best option for older hardware. I've seen that Lubuntu can run on laptops with even just 256 MB. Try getting any current version of Windows to do that! Thanks for sharing.

booknow on April 10, 2015:

Lubuntu is the best option for older machines of all the Ubuntu desktops. According to Ubuntu's pages even with 512 mb or less ( ) Ubuntu is better with 1gb or more ram. Small tip: if you press ctrl h it will show all the hidden dot folders like .themes - so no need to type it in the bar.

Another advantage of Lubuntu - or any other Linux distribution - is that a lot of old hardware is still supported and working - with Windows 7 try getting old webcams to work - they will not be supported anymore - forcing you basically to buy new stuff. My dad works on a Ubuntu machine with an old hp scanner - this scanner will not work anymore with the latest Windows version. Besides saving yourself money by not investing in new stuff you are also helping the environment!

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on May 23, 2014:

Jack, I think you're definitely right about Lubuntu being the best option for older machines. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Jack White on May 23, 2014:

This is a great tutorial makes it seem so simple I have been workign with Ubuntu / Lubuntu for a couple of months now and have learned much and wil lsurelly use this to push ppl that are on the fence over to the Linux sidethat being said @ UnnamedHarald if your wifes Laptop is an "older Machine" it would benefit from using Lubuntu instead of Ubuntu being as in my tests I have seen a difference not on paper like most sites suggest mind you but having Ubuntu running unity making pc feel slow and installing on said Ubuntu machine the LXDE desktop environment (the one Lubuntu uses same pc feel snappy and faster so my recommendation is stick with Lubuntu if PC Is old hardware bellow 2.4ghz and under 1gb of ram

That's my opinion feel free to disagree Good look

Ronald E Franklin (author) from Mechanicsburg, PA on May 07, 2014:

Thanks, UnnamedHarald. I think that in many ways the Ubuntu family has some real advantages over Windows. A lot of the basic resources you need to get going are already there, as well as a multitude of apps that can be easily downloaded and almost automatically installed, usually for free. But, as you note, finding and installing drivers can be a hassle. We're still in the process preparing to change over, but I'm actually excited about the prospect.

David Hunt from Cedar Rapids, Iowa on May 07, 2014:

I will be revisiting this hub when I get around to actually installing Ubuntu (in my case) on my wife's ancient XP laptop. Like you I'm not Linux-smart and so it can be frustrating when so much info is geared toward Linux gearheads. I actually played around with Ubuntu last week (so your hub is very timely) and found it was very easy to create a bootable DVD so I could test-drive Ubuntu without wiping her XP. I booted it up with the DVD in the drive and it came up (takes a while because it's loading from a DVD), but it came up with a working browser (finding my wifi without me doing a thing) and office tools etc. The only other thing I wanted was to print to my wireless Canon printer. Alas, I discovered there are no Canon drivers easily available. So, for now, she'll stay with XP. But I'll keep looking. Thanks for this great article.

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