Three Alternatives To Unity For Ubuntu 11.04

A couple of days back, Ubuntu 11.04 was released. As expected it had the new Unity user interface. Unity has divided the Ubuntu users into two groups – those who like it and those who hate it.

In all fairness, Unity is a good concept but it does not look like it is ready for prime time. But this is Linux and open-source software that we are talking about here – there are alternatives. In this post, we will list three alternatives you can try if you do not like Unity.

1. Classic GNOME Desktop

Although Unity is the default user interface in Ubuntu 11.04, the classic GNOME desktop is still available. It comes pre-installed with Ubuntu 11.04 – but it is only used as a fall-back in case the hardware does not support 3D acceleration. If you are one of those who does not like the design principle of Unity and want to stick with the old and trusted interface of old, this is what you must use.

To use the Classic GNOME Desktop, make sure that your system is not set to log you in automatically. To do that open Login Screen and make sure that “Login as <name> automatically” is not selected.

After that log off and in the login screen, you will find Ubuntu Classic in a drop down menu. Select that and login. You will get the familiar GNOME desktop now.

2. Unity 2D

If you like the design of Unity but cannot use Unity, you might want to take a look at Unity 2D. You might be unable to use Unity because either your hardware is old (and does not support 3D acceleration) or your hardware has problems with Compiz (many ATI graphics cards has problems with Compiz).

Unity 2D has basically the same features and look as Unity. The main difference is that Unity 2D has been developed using Qt while Unity runs as a Compiz plugin. Even when the hardware supports Unity, I find that Unity 2D is much faster.

Unlike the Classic GNOME Desktop, Unity 2D is not installed by default in Ubuntu 11.04. But it is available in the Ubuntu repository. So, to install it open the Terminal and execute the commands below:

$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install unity-2d

Once you have installed it, log off and in the login you should see Unity 2D listed like in the case of Classic GNOME desktop above. Installing Unity 2D does not affect Unity at all and you can have both installed in the same system.

3. Another Desktop Environment

If you absolutely do not like Unity at all, both the design and the implementation, switching to another desktop environment is another thing that you have to consider. Yes, you can still use Classic GNOME desktop but by the next release, that too will not be available.

Switching to another desktop environment does not mean that your favorite Gtk applications will not work. As long as you still have GNOME installed in your system, they will run even if you are using another DE.

There are two major desktop environments that you might want to consider – KDE SC and Xfce.

While many might argue that KDE is no longer as good as it was when they made the transition to KDE SC 4.x, it cannot be denied that the latest version – KDE SC 4.6 – is a huge improvement. Long time users of GNOME might feel a bit lost in KDE SC though.

Note: KDE SC requires more system resources than GNOME.

You can install KDE SC in Ubuntu 11.04 with the following commands:

$ sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop

Xfce is a desktop environment that has been becoming very popular recently. It is a very light desktop environment and should run excellently on even old systems. Xfce is a little closer to GNOME than KDE SC.

You can install Xfce in Ubuntu 11.04 with the following command:

$ sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop

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Ricky Laishram

Ricky Laishram is a Linux and FOSS enthusiast. He is passionate about open source technologies and likes to keep abreast with the latest developments in KDE and Ubuntu. He also loves listening to music and is a huge Tegan snd Sara fan. You can follow him on twitter @ricky_lais.

  • Miguel

    I belong to the group who dislike Unity. It’s wrong on so many fronts that I don’t see it getting any better for years to come. So I could have just reverted back to GNOME (2 of course, 3 is just as bad as Unity) but I decided to give KDE an honest try. After about 3 days of use I really really like it. In fact I think it’s even better than GNOME 2. It was definitely worth giving it a try. Who know I might as well keep it in the end.

    • Podsgrove

      I too belong to the group of Unity/Gnome3 dislikers. I live in the hope that some clever bunch of developers will make a new Ubuntu fork called ‘Gnomebuntu’ or something similar, that keeps everything the way we like it. In the meantime I have been trying out Lubuntu and so far, I likewhat I see.

  • Tried and liked the simplicity of XFCE. Since a change is coming for 11.10, I’m probably gonna stay with this.

  • I did a MOBO upgrade and got a 64 bit system. I run windows XP on one sata drive and Ubuntu 64 on another stata drive. To many problems finding updates in 64 bit so uninstalled the 64 bit and went to 32 bit and found I instantly hated UNITY because nothing is where it used to be. Funny that the 64 bit version uses old graphical interface and the 32 bit runs Unity. The entire setup appears to have been built by someone who loves Gooey using either a touch screen or a tablet and they designed it like “they” wanted it to be. In the real world if you sold this to a company and then told them you have to forget everything you learned before about your desktop and embrace the new one most companies would just go to another vendor instead. Long time ago windows learned their lesson and gave the option of Classic look or new look per person that logs in.

    • olig1905


  • Great tutorial, thanks.

  • Wroger Wroger

    Just a thought…

    To me a computer is just a device with a range of tools that enables me to turn my ideas into tangible results.

    So why does it seem to be terribly important all of a sudden to throw the desk top into high gear with 3D acceleration and all this cosmetic bullshit, instead of improving the functionality of the OS?

    I tried the Unity 11.10 interface and just fucking HATED it…. especially LOCKING the user bar on the left hand side of the screen…. when 90% of people are right handed… “Like DUH!”

    This change from moving the window resizing buttons from the top right side of the window to the top left side of the window in 11.04 – was a stupid move… it was the metaphorical high tide of bullshit and 11.10 was the storm surge that washed it inland over everyone.

    While Xfce could do with SOME user interface improvements to facilitate customisation – as it stands it’s MORE function related, than distraction focused – and that suits me to the ground.

    It’s not enough of an issue, just a desire – but I am getting on with my work instead of being entertained with bells and whistles – which is the actual point.

    “To me a computer is just a device with a range of tools that enables me to turn my ideas into tangible results.”

    The less bullshit there is, the more work that gets done.

    While Windoze 3.11 was REALLY basic, doing all your work was about all that you could do with it.

    I want reliability, stability and speed – not bullshit locked down interfaces with things in the naturally intuitive WRONG places.