Ubuntu 12.10 – Installing GNOME Shell

These instructions are for installing the GNOME Shell in Ubuntu 12.10 running the Unity Desktop.

Installation instructions may be the same or similar for other versions of Ubuntu or for other Linux distros, but no guarantee is made.

If you are changing desktops because you are totally lost / confused by Unity, I suggest reading this tutorial and giving Unity a chance. The mentioned tutorial is for Ubuntu 12.04, but should be the same or very similar for 12.10. Eventually, I will have an updated tutorial for 12.10.

Of course, if you really hate Unity, then GNOME Shell is an alternative desktop.

Some images may be clicked for full sized versions.

What is it?

GNOME Shell is just the basic GNOME 3 desktop environment. It includes GNOME Session Fallback as part of the installation.

GNOME Shell is not the same as the classic or traditional desktop most users are familiar with. It is a desktop that requires 3D hardware capability (if it is not available, then the system loads the GNOME Fallback Session). GNOME states that most 3D graphics cards manufactured after 2007 (or so) should be suitable.

Who is it for?

GNOME Shell is for those users who want a GNOME 3 desktop without installing extra packages and programs.

GNOME Shell includes GNOME Session Fallback as part of the installation, if you are not interested in the GNOME 3 desktop and want a more traditional/classic desktop environment I recommend installing GNOME Session Fallback because it will save you some disk space.

If you want a true GNOME 2 (traditional/classic) desktop experience, then you need to install MATE.

MATE is a fork (a development branch that has split from the main branch) of the original GNOME 2 project to preserve it.

GNOME 2 is no longer supported or developed – it has been superseded by GNOME 3.

MATE is the new GNOME 2.

Note: even if you install GNOME Shell only intending to use the GNOME Session Fallback, the extra files installed will not affect your systems performance except for the amount of disk space used.

In general, I think it is good practice to minimize the number of unneeded files on your system

What it looks like

The straight-out-of-the-box look of the desktop is:

While it might look similar to the traditional/classic desktop, it is not. Clicking on the Action item (or tapping the Windows or Super key) will bring up a Unity style pane with some decorations on the side:

GNOME Shell will install 84.5MB of files and data to your hard disk.

From the Command Line

If you are comfortable with Linux and know how to use the command line and apt-get then the command is:

sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

Detailed instructions for accessing a command line can be found here.

Note: during installation, you are likely to get a message box asking which display manager you use. It is safe to use either one.

gdm is installed with gnome-shell.

lightdm is the display manager shipped with Ubuntu.

Basically, the difference between the two is that your login screen will look different.

Afterward, you need to restart your system.

From the Ubuntu Software Center

Launching the Ubuntu Software Center

1) Tap the Windows (Super) key to bring up the Dash panel:

Note: tapping the Windows keys means pressing it as though you intend to type it. It does not mean holding down the key (holding down the key does something else).

Ubuntu calls this the Super key

2) Type Ubuntu Software Center into the search field:

Note: as you type, search results will be displayed in the Dash Panel below.

You can stop typing when Ubuntu Software Center is the leftmost item in the panel.

3) Press the Enter key. This will select and launch the Ubuntu Software Center

Note: pressing the Enter key automatically selects the top, leftmost item in the Dash Panel. This is why it is not necessary to type everything.

Note: if, for some reason, you switch focus or change focus from the search field, then pressing Enter will not work and you will need to select the icon using your mouse (or navigate using your keyboard). This is definitely an issue Ubuntu needs to address with the Dash.

4) Type gnome shell into the Ubuntu Software Center search field. This will bring up related entries.

5) Click on the entry GNOME Shell – this will highlight it in orange:

6) Click on Install:

If you receive the following error message:

See this article for a possible solution.

Note: I haven’t encountered this error with Ubuntu 12.10, but I believe it is still possible.

7) Enter your password and click Authenticate:

8) After installation is finished, click on the System icon in the upper right corner of the desktop and select Shut Down… from the drop down menu:

Note: it may be enough to just log out and log back in using the new desktop, but it doesn’t hurt to restart either.

9) Click on Restart:

Selecting the Desktop

After the system has restarted, it is necessary to select the new desktop from the login screen.

It is only necessary to select the desktop the first time after installation. Ubuntu will remember your your selection for future logins.

You can even install multiple desktops and switch between them.

10) Click the icon in the top right of the Login box:

11) Select GNOME (you also have the option of selecting GNOME Classic which is just the Session Fallback version):

12) Click on OK:

13) Login as normal:

Notice the icon in the upper right hand corner has changed to a different icon. Some, not all, desktop environments will display an icon there.

This provides a quick way to know which desktop environment you are logging into.