November 1, 2011

Easily Install Gnome Shell In Ubuntu 11.10

Do you love Ubuntu, but prefer Gnome Shell to Unity? You’re not alone, but you’re also in luck. Ubuntu 11.10 makes it easy to install Gnome Shell. Not liking where Gnome was heading, the Ubuntu team decided to build Gnome into a desktop of their own devising – Unity. This makes use of, and would not be possible without, the efforts of the Gnome team. Simply put, Unity is a different interface, or shell, for Gnome.It’s by no means the only one, however. The default shell for Gnome is called, fittingly enough, Gnome Shell. Meant to replace the old, beloved Gnome 2 desktop, Gnome Shell is a step forward for Gnome in many ways. Gnome Shell, like Unity, is not lacking for detractors. Many people would prefer to return to the classic Gnome desktop altogether, and are switching to systems like Linux Mint in order to do so. This is only temporary. All major Linux distributions will almost certainly be using either Gnome Shell or Unity for their Gnome offerings at some point in the near future. That’s why it’s essential to get used to one desktop or the other.
Want to try out Gnome Shell in Ubuntu? If you’re running 11.10, it’s easy.

Install Gnome Shell On Ubuntu 11.10

The simplest way to install Gnome Shell in Ubuntu? Just click here. Alternatively, you can find Gnome Shell in the Ubuntu Software Center:

Finally, if you’re a command line person, type this:

sudo apt-get install gnome-shell
That command will use apt-get to install Gnome Shell and its dependencies. The download isn’t huge, because most of Gnome is built into Unity. Once it’s installed, nothing will happen. You’ll need to log into your new desktop environment to see what you just did.

Loading Gnome Shell

Want to try out Gnome Shell? Log out of Unity to get to your login screen. When there, before logging in, click the gear icon beside the entry field:

Pick “Gnome” as your desktop, then type your password as usual. You’re now using Gnome Shell! Read more about Gnome Shell to see what this system can do.
Everything might look ugly at first. Unity’s default theme Ambiance does not integrate well with Gnome Shell. Be sure to check out the top 5 Gnome Shell Themes for something better, or simply switch themes to Adwaita for the default Gnome Shell experience.

There are obvious differences between Gnome Shell and Unity, of course. Virtual Desktops are created only as windows are added to them, and the “menu” brings up open programs before letting you open new ones.
Which shell is better, I think, is a matter of preference. Try both out to really get a feel for what fits better into your workflow. Trying out new desktop environments is a big part of what makes Linux fun; it’s like exploring an entirely new system. Enjoy exploring, and do so with an open mind.
You will notice two other entries in your login screen options: “Gnome Classic” and “Gnome Classic (no effects)“. Both of these desktops resemble the old Gnome 2 desktop, but are also different in many ways. Feel free to try these out if you miss the old Gnome 2 desktop, but know they are harder to customize than you may perhaps be used to.


Open source is about choice. That’s why I like seeing easy access to Gnome Shell included in Ubuntu. I’ve come to love using Unity as my default desktop, but for those disappointed with the direction of Unity this is a simple way to access an alternative.
What do you prefer – Gnome Shell or Unity? Let us know in the comments below, along with any Gnome Shell hacks you might know of.