If you’re new to Ubuntu using 11.10 upwards, you might be scratching your head when you see people mention they’re using Gnome Shell instead of Unity, or even the “Classic Desktop“. Or if you’ve been using Ubuntu but decided to do a fresh install, you’ll find there is not only no “Ubuntu Classic” option at login, but no Gnome at all.
This is because the decision was made to drop Gnome as it moved from the familiar 2.x to Gnome 3, since Ubuntu and Unity are built on it anyway. The logic is that should people need a less resource-hungry environment for slower computers, they can log into Unity 2D instead. But while Unity is gaining fans, and most certainly will gain many more as development continues and we see a flood of plugins and customisation apps, some of us want to play with the new and shiny Gnome Shell, or just to get our old Gnome Classic desktop back.
Now, it’s actually easy to get either or both, but while I’ve seen in forums that installing Gnome Shell will also install the legacy “Classic” desktop, this isn’t true (though it makes sense people might assume that). That’s because while the meta-package gnome is installed, gnome-shell isn’t part of it, but a separate package. Likewise the “Classic” desktop doesn’t come in either gnome or gnome shell, but as exists as the package gnome-session-fallback (which also installs a 2D version).
So, you can pick either, or have both, and it’s as simple as pasting a command or two in the terminal. If planning to have both, you may as well install Gnome Shell first, though it shouldn’t really matter.
To install Gnome Shell: sudo apt-get install gnome-shell
To install Gnome Classic: sudo apt-get install gnome-session-fallback
Once installed, you should be able to just log out and log back in to one of your new desktops, but if not, then do a reboot. Then you can log into Gnome Shell at the login screen by choosing “GNOME“, or the more familiar legacy desktop by choosing “GNOME Classic” (or “GNOME Classic (No Effects)” for less powerful computers or graphics card issues).
If you can’t find where to log into other environments, it’s always a hidden menu you need to access, previously by the word Options at the bottom of the screen, but in 11.10 is a gear icon near the user name; in following versions, that will no doubt change, but just look for something to click on and you’ll find it. Obviously, if you’ve set your login option to be automatic, meaning you never see the login screen but end up straight at the desktop, then you’ll need to change that in order to be able to change between the different window managers.
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