Please note: This tip was written specifically for 11.04, which still came with the old Gnome 2 “Classic” desktop as an alternative to Unity. From 11.10 onwards, you will need to install the Gnome 3 Classic desktop, then choose “GNOME Classic” at the login screen. Also note that for any tips asking you to right-click the panel, in Gnome 3 you will need to hold Alt while doing so. And you can ignore the troubleshooting tip at the end, as Gnome 3 does not use Compiz-Fusion.
Ubuntu‘s new default desktop in 11.04, Unity, was originally designed for the previous Netbook Edition release, with an emphasis on quickly accessing common tasks. While many absolutely love Unity, others aren’t as impressed yet, but admit it is a bold move forward, and will likely win them over as development progresses.
However, many feel it is too much like an annoying smartphone interface that should have stayed in a separate netbook edition, and others yet really have tried to give it a go, but have found it much too confusing. Then there are the rest of us that simply miss the panels we customised and made so useful.
But like with almost everything else about Ubuntu, you have a choice: you can either boot into the default Unity desktop, or to the old familiar Gnome desktop.
This is true even of fresh installs, as the “classic” Gnome 2.x desktop is also installed. Actually, if you upgraded from 10.10, you may have noticed that while it tried to boot into Unity afterwards, it failed, and that’s because Unity wasn’t even installed. Whatever your situation, it’s actually very easy to rectify this. And if you’ve already figured out how to get to the Classic Desktop, but are wondering what happened to all the panels and menus, then read ahead for the answer to that too.
Boot into the Ubuntu Classic Desktop:
When you get to the login screen, you will notice at the bottom there is a menu with the word “Ubuntu” in it. Click the arrow for the menu and you will notice it has a bunch of different login options, with the default being Ubuntu with the Unity desktop. Simply choose “Ubuntu Classic” instead, and proceed to login as usual.
Once you get to the desktop, you will either see your old familiar top panel with menus (if you upgraded), or pretty much a blank panel without menus (if you have a fresh install). If it is the latter, don’t worry, as this is easily rectified. The same is true in case you are missing the bottom panel or “taskbar“.
Restore Menus, Indicators, etc to Top Panel:
Simply right-click an empty area of the panel, choose + Add to Panel…, then scroll down and select Menu Bar, then click Add (or you can just double-click it to add it).
You will see the menu bar appear, with the 3 menus: Applications, Places and System. If the menu bar is not at the far-left (or beginning) of the top panel, just right-click it, choose Move, then drag it to where you want, and click there to finish the placement.
You system tray should be still be intact, as should your indicators, but if not, use + Add to Panel… to add a Notification Area (system tray), Indicator Applet (indicators next to the system tray), Clock (time and date), and Shut Down… (power down and restart options). Or you can use Indicator Applet Complete to restore much of that, including the status menu for instant messaging, and the menu for changing users.
Restore Missing Taskbar, Trash, etc:
If you’re missing the bottom panel, just right-click the top panel, choose New Panel, and a blank one should appear there (if it ends up left or right, just drag it to the bottom). Right-click that and choose + Add to Panel…, and this time choose Window List to restore your taskbar buttons. You can then also add Trash to the far-right, and also Show Desktop on the opposite end.
That should be it, and you should now be enjoying the classic Gnome desktop, which will be the default login option from that point forward.
Are you in the Classic Desktop, but suspect parts of Unity are still there making things wacky? It could be that the Unity plugin for Compiz-Fusion is still activated. To disable it, open System > Preferences > CompizConfig Settings Manager; if it isn’t installed, just run sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager in a terminal.
Once open, scroll down to the Desktop section, where you will see Ubuntu Unity Plugin is enabled. Simply click the check box to the left of it, and it will disable it.
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