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DIY: Replace Ubuntu Unity with a different desktop

If you're not a fan of the new Ubuntu Unity interface, learn how simple it is to replace the desktop with Classic GNOME, XFCE, or KDE.

The question "How can I replace Ubuntu Unity with another desktop?" has been filling up my inbox. Why? Because users who have tried Unity don't like what Ubuntu has decided will be the default desktop going forward. When Unity first became available, I thought it would be a logical evolution to the desktop, but it turns out I was wrong. Unity might fare well on a tablet, but it does not on a desktop.

To that end, users who want to stick with Ubuntu (I'm one of those users) are wondering how to install a different desktop on their system. I will discuss three possible replacement options: Classic GNOME, XFCE, and KDE.

Classic GNOME

With Classic GNOME, no installation is necessary. You log out and then, after selecting the user to log in with, select Ubuntu Classic from the desktop drop-down. Now, enter your user password and log in. You should be greeted with the familiar GNOME goodness.

XFCE

XFCE should please the majority of users, especially ones who prefer a lean, fast, and highly flexible desktop. To install XFCE on Ubuntu, follow these steps:

  1. Open a terminal window.
  2. Issue the command sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop.
  3. Type your sudo password and hit Enter.
  4. Accept any dependencies and allow the installation to complete.
  5. Log out and log in, choosing your new XFCE desktop.

KDE

KDE is not nearly as lightweight as XFCE, but it is powerful and offers a number of features other desktops do not. Here's how to install KDE on Ubuntu:

  1. Open a terminal window.
  2. Issue the command sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop.
  3. Type your sudo password and hit Enter.
  4. Accept any dependencies and allow the installation to complete.
  5. Log out and log in, choosing your new KDE desktop.

Choices

There are a lot of desktops available, and no one is forced to use Ubuntu Unity. So choose your desktop wisely, and then if you don't like what you've chosen, try another option! Linux will always be about choice.

If you decide to stick it out with Unity at least a little longer, read these tips:

Ask Jack: If you have a DIY question, email it to me, and I'll do my best to answer it. (Read guidelines about submitting DIY questions.)

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

6 comments
qs.perhct
qs.perhct

Ubuntu was getting better and better, then fell off the cliff with Unity. I'm searching for an alternative. It's looking like it's time to buy a Mac.

tjapko2
tjapko2

Classic on natty works fine but I cannot get it to work on oneiric: classic is installed but the system doesn't give me the possibility to choose. I am forced to use Unity on my netbook as one program doesn't work properly with classic (don't ask me why) It remains a struggle so I will avoid it as long as possible on my desktop.

jpj10000
jpj10000

Hi all, being relatively new to the Linux world I have found myself dabbling with Ubuntu 10.04 and the new Unity. After installing Unity for the umteenth time and having endless start up issues and decided to install Mint 11. It loaded first time with no problems. Easy to use, nice interface and best of all I can now Kick M/S Windows into touch. I am very disappointed with Unity not being able to work on my machine. Who needs Unity when you can have MINT. Thanx all

jkameleon
jkameleon

KDE is by far the fanciest desktop out there, but alas, it's very ustable. Does it work any better on SUSE?

stormbringerPA
stormbringerPA

I like Ubuntu, it runs well on my 8 year old laptop, but I missed the Classic GNOME.

DesertJim
DesertJim

I love Linux especially Ubuntu in all its guises. One great thing is is its ability to run perfectly well on old hardware and out perform other systems, I have an 8 year old system I use as a test box, BUT to experience the sheer joy and pleasure of a system that is really cutting edge, why not get some newer hardware? Even if it is a two year old ex windows laptop, or the lap top fire sale our local store is having as Windoze users need more and more grunt and last years model just does not cope. It really is fun, rather than just satisfaction of keeping old stuff going e.g. Graphics and video in higher quality, less elapsed time in playing with images, more memory to run virtual machines to run experiment with different distros, etc etc.

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