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How to Replace the Unity Desktop on Ubuntu Using apt-get

It seems to be popular these days to vilify Ubuntu as a distro because of the recent change to the Unity desktop.  We are told the change was made for the purpose of re-creating Ubuntu in the form of a gadget-agnostic operating system, equally usable and familiar on a phone, a tablet, and a desktop.  Never mind that each of those digital devices was invented to serve a need that at the time was unfulfilled by the others, or that their screens are radically different in size.  They must look as though they are members of the same family.

UbuntuLogoTo that degree, I'll gladly place myself firmly in the camp of the vilifiers.  I don't like the idea, I have no intention of making use of it, and I am certainly not convinced that it will bring hordes of new users to Linux.  But I am not one of those who claim that because of these changes Ubuntu is no longer a suitable distro for a Linux fan, that it is too commercial, that it does not have the flexibility a Linux distro should have.

Granted, I am certainly not one of the hard-core retired Unixers who think in C++ and regard a GUI as a crime against humanity.  Though I've been Windows-free and using various Linux distros for four years now, I still work more in GUI than CLI, and in my view the fundamental structure of Ubuntu is sound, adaptable, reasonably stable, and easy to shape into a form one likes.  You just have to dig down one layer below the Unity desktop to do it.

Install a Unity Alternative

That, of course, is almost embarrassingly easy, since relief from the oddly-structured constraints that Unity imposes on your work habits is only an apt-get install away.  Do you like an extra-light desktop?  Use 

apt-get install lubuntu-desktop 

Love wobbly windows and a transparent cube with all six faces in use?  

apt-get install kubuntu-desktop.  

Something between those extremes, just clean and powerful?  

apt-get install xubuntu-desktop.  

On your part, all you are required to do is twiddle your thumbs while the necessary packages are downloaded and installed, and when it's done you can log in to a very different experience than Unity offered you.  Furthermore, if what you installed on your computer was the full Ubuntu version, all the software it included is still accessible to you through your new desktop.  For example, in the modest, nearly bare-bones Lubuntu menu, click on Other: you will see a list of available programs and utilities that runs well beyond the height of your monitor. 

For that matter, if you are even more CLI-averse than I am you can get any of those desktops from the Software Center; it's just that the downloading and installing process from the Software Center runs as a deep, dark mystery, showing only a progress bar up in the corner of the screen.  The apt-get process remains fully visible on the terminal – what you see is what you get.

It's really a shame – there is so much more to Ubuntu than the Unity desktop would suggest.  It is, in its basic form, simply a variant of Debian, fitted out with a highly simplified installation scheme and privy to an extensive repository of programs and applications.  I just cannot understand the logic behind placing all those restrictions on the behavior of Ubuntu that the Unity desktop seems to require, when such rich variety is available otherwise.



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  • MadReasonable Said:

    Isn't Ubuntu just Debian + bells&whistles + artificial restrictions? Instead of undoing Ubuntu, why not just use Debian?

  • Rakesh Said:

    Ubuntu isn't just Debian. For instance, my wireless data-card and printer work on Ubuntu. But, they don't work on Debian. Moreover, Ubuntu doens't place any artificail restrictions either, as you claimed. Ubutu is a Free and Open-source software.

  • Donald Campbell Said:

    Perhaps he is referring to the lack of a root login. Some of us think sudo doesn't compute.

  • D Said:

    root login isn't lacking -- it's just disabled. you can enable it by simply setting a password for it: sudo passwd root

  • wtf Said:

    Are you stupid or what? Debian is more Free then Ubuntu will ever be and your problem is in line with that - Ubuntu by default uses non-free firmwares and thats why you get your wireless working (Debian by default uses only Free Software).

  • David Said:

    So free and unable to connect to the internet is a better idea than 99.9% free and able to connect to the internet?

  • sensible guy Said:

    that is just a plain silly, non-sensical answer, Richard. i use debian most of the time, and I hate Unity desktop, but i cannot live without internet, and if i had to use ubuntu just because it supports my wifi card, of course i would. the OS is not an end in itself, it's there to accomplish tasks such as connecting to the internet, programming, playing, etc. and we should use whichever OS suits our needs better. I doubt an OS without internet would be very useful nowadays...

  • Lian Said:

    You're a gigantic douchebag. Just because Debian uses open source doesn't mean its superior to a fully functional Ubuntu distro. People like you make the human existence much worse.

  • teknopaul Said:

    Interesting attitude for Lian. Of course using open source software is "superior" to using non-free software. Thats what Linux is about. I think because Linux is so much better than the alterantives these days people forget that most people were involved with it from the start because it was FOSS, because of the social/political implications of that, not becuse it was the first to have wifi. The many people that made Linux have a fairly valid claim to having made human existance better. Check your wifi router mate, bet its running Linux. And even a junior hack0r can see the obvious fix to a non-free wifi issue. PLUG A CABLE IN, doh! :)

  • david t Said:

    Long time linux user over here and frankly unity works perfectly and newbies are very good at using it. I don't see the problem

  • Kite Said:

    I contest both claims. Unity is not perfect; it crashes frequently, and is entirely inefficient for use with a mouse (though Unity's keyboard support is better than most Linux desktops). Furthermore, I have found few newbies who have responded well to Unity; the few who have responded positively to it have been of the extremely nontechnical variety, who do little other than checking webmail and Facebook--the sort whose needs are equally filled by a Chromebook or tablet. In my experience, all those technical enough even to install Firefox or Chrome on their Windows machine have unanimously decided against Unity.

  • 3r0s Said:

    I didnt like Unity at the beginning. In the company I work for i had the choice of Windows or Linux (Red Hat or Ubuntu). I chose Ubuntu because i was already using it at home since 2009. Unity is a must on our work pc, so i learnt it, and now i can say i totally changed my mind. Unity is really more productive than classic GUI. Unity is very Mac OS X like. Unity and Gnome 3 have the same purpose, but i find Unity a little more cross device than Gnome 3. So from being Unity hater i become Unity lover.

  • Unity Rocks Said:

    I can relate to 3r0s a lot. It was a shock to me when Unity was first introduced, I didn't like it and was seriously thinking about switching to a different Distro. However, I thought I should give it a fair shot before I dumping Ubuntu. Within in a few weeks I started loving it. It was so intuitive and very user friendly. Of course there were crashes here and there, but now I am on 13.10 and it is definitely more stable. I love Gnome 3 as well, may be on a Linux Mint box, definitely not on Ubuntu. The best thing about unity is the HUD application menu search. I don't have to remeber my way around the menus anymore and could simply press and Alt key and start typing to find any menu item especially in applications like Gimp which has a lot of menu items (for a good reason).

  • thewickedjon Said:

    Unity is the reason I stopped using ubuntu

  • Gregory Magnus Said:

    Same here. I just wanted the regular desktiop like 10.1 The Unity was a pain and my sysem crashed 2x with it. I dumped Ubuntu for Mint but Mint drivers were lacking and it crashed too. I'll try Ubuntu again if I can use the old desktops as the article says. Meanwhile I use Puppy Slacko which really is a great little distro with immense capabilities not even considering it's only 150MB.

  • Andrew Auernheimer Said:

    Ubuntu is for f4gs, j3ws and niqqers

  • G Morton Said:

    I added all the extras for unity. I have Ubuntu doing all that Win 7 did for me but I need Microsoft Word for some things. All runs as good or better on Ubuntu except Netflix but at least I got it running. Use the myunity thing to shrink the sidebar to very small size. I also like being able to set both the laptop and large display to their best resolution and use both which Win 7 can't do. Linux Mint looked good but crashed unmercifully when I ran it off a stick. Gnome looks okay as do the desktops mentioned in the article. Don't know if it's worth changing.

  • Walter Said:

    If you need Word for some things, Libreoffice or openoffice work very well. Both will handle anything that MS Office throws at it, from my experience. I'm not keen on Gnome 3, so I use Mate. I find I'm more productive with Mate, once I have it set to my liking.

  • rave Said:

    Look for WPS office it has better compatibility with MS office.

  • Greg C Said:

    And all the whining about Unity by "veterans" just makes me think their not really veterans if they can't swap out a window manager in 30 seconds.

  • master bob Said:

    if you are noob linux mint is the right choice....

  • Scott Garbus Said:

    Really, why change the desktop on Ubuntu? Just go with Linux Mint- multiple desktops usually means loads of redundant apps clogging up your menus.

  • Abhishek Said:

    I don't know how did you call it a "tutorial". Extremely poor article. Did not expect it on

  • the physicist Said:

    I use computers for writing and running high performance computations all through the day (and night), and I am far far from switching away from Unity. I see a lot of sense in other desktop environments and I test other DEs whenever a new famous distro comes out. Each time I test a new version of a different DE, I see that it's not capable of doing half of the things I do with Unity. I absolutely love Unity's design, specially the keyboard navigation between windows.

  • Bernat Said:

    I stopped using Ubuntu because Gnome3 didn't work very well on it while it works perfectly on Debian, but also because I find it has become a lot buggier than it used to be, bugs don't get ever resolved or last too much. Things don't seem to be changing anytime soon with Canonical allocating more resources for in-house development than polishing upstream software. So it's diverging too much from Debian without offering much else. I've upgraded some Ubuntu machines from family and friends to Debian and everything is cleaner and more stable.

  • Nandor Simanyi Said:

    Debian is Ubuntu without the straightjacket. That said, Gentoo with XFCE4 rule!

  • pedro Said:

    because ubuntu is easyer to use than debian and because is more easy to install other applications that won't run on debian... i tried debian but i preffer ubuntu by it's easy way to use... besides wich one to use depends on the user

  • Cornel Said:

    Don't be a geek. Use Synaptic. :-) Synaptic is the best Geeky-GUI for apt-get & co. If you still want the full log, for some reason, you get it while also benefiting the wanders of using a mouse to do stuff, this is the Software Manager for you

  • Bernat Said:

    To avoid confusion, when I said upgrading Ubuntu to Debian I meant removing Ubuntu and installing Debian. Ubuntu is not Debian.

  • Bernat Said:

    Rakesh, the reason Ubuntu works OOTB is because it includes non-free and non-opensource software while Debian does not. In Debian you have to enable the non-free repository and explicitly request those packages. So Debian is free by default, Ubuntu is not.

  • Rakesh Said:

    That's a good and convincing explanation of why Debian doesn't support the hardware. But, that's not true. Had tried out every bit of what was mentioned in support forums and articles and finally got Debian to try to connect to the internet. But, for some reason, it would never connect. The connection always fails. Same with the printer. While Debian thinks that the document is printed, the printer doen't even seem to be warming up, let-alone printing. And for your claim that Ubuntu is not free, there is an Ubuntu derivative called GNewSense, that's entirely Ubuntu, except for the non-free part removed. Richard Stallman the founder of FSF uses this distro. Please provide us one convincing thing that you can do on Debian and not do as easily on Ubuntu. If you bring out points like Ubuntu is not stable, I use Ubuntu 12.04 LTS and I typically run it for 50 days, before a reboot. Which is pretty good for a Laptop (Note that Ubuntu Desktop edition is not for Servers).

  • Dave Said:

    So I installed Ubuntu Desktop 13.04 64 bit earlier today. After the installation completed, I logged in.... plodded through Unity and opened a terminal session. On the command line I entered... sudo apt-get -y install kubuntu-desktop I entered the password when prompted and let it install all the packages it needed. After a bit it finished and I rebooted the workstation. After the reboot completed I logged in and was back in Unity..... No KDE UI. What gives?

  • David T Said:

    Dave after install kde you should choose KDE in the login screen before entering your password

  • Dave Said:

    So I found different instructions on how to remove Unity.... it states: "From the terminal: sudo apt-get remove unity* and then sudo apt-get autoremove so nothing stays, then proceed to Install KDE sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop." Following those instructions has left the system hung during the boot. Going to wipe it and reload. Does not look very promising.

  • Dave Said:

    WTF Emery? If you want to write an opinion piece, write it in the Opinion piece section. This is supposed to be the Tutorial section.

  • Wal W Said:

    Bill Gates will sleep even more soundly tonight after reading this ...

  • Jason S Said:

    Like most people, I was a one time Unity hater and turned into a Unity lover. That being said, I am beginning to relapse as I use Unity more. I swore by Unity as it fit my needs so well. What troubles me about Unity is the insane lack of mouse usability. If you are a keyboard centric user, Unity is nice, but it's downright obnoxious in regard to utilizing a mouse in an efficient fashion. The more lenses and the more "functionality" that the dash gets, the more I am beginning to lose interest, as I just don't believe that you should have to cram so much nonsense into a launcher. We're already seeing how (personal comments aside) how the dash lags to bring in Amazon results, as an example. That said, Gnome 3.8 has been looking incredibly refined lately. I know some people don't prefer it, and that's fine (we're Linux users - we have endless choices out there), but I have been downright impressed with the speed and functionality that Gnome 3.8 has brought to the table. The other thing I like about non-Unity DE's is the simple fact that if for whatever reason I decide that the Ubuntu platform is not something I want to be involved with, I can use Gnome, KDE, etc etc on another distro. Sure, technically, Unity is open source and should be available on other distros, but we all see how well that worked out, largely thanks to nobody in the world being interested in the Canonical agreement. Anyway, just my 2c. Everybody's mileage varies.

  • Istimsak Abdulbasir Said:

    Interesting article. Thanks for posting. In addition to explaining the procedure of installing another ubuntuDE, you should explain how to remove the unitt desktop DE.

  • Istimsak Abdulbasir Said:

    I meant to say the Unity DE.

  • actionparsnip Said:

    Unity isn't a desktop environment. It is a shell for the Gnome desktop. Installing meapackages like lubuntu-desktop will duplicate functionality and waste space (eg. lubuntu-desktop will install leafpad when gedit is already installed). Pretty poor advise really, imho. If you want XFCE, install xfce4, if you want LXDE, install the lxde package rather than hauling in all the stuff which already has apps to cover functionality

  • Ari Said:

    Like many others here and every where I used to hate Unity when it first came out, nowadays I use Ubuntu 13.10 64 bits exclusively with Unity and if anything I will sudo apt-get install gnome-session-fallback and use it as no effect but to me Unity is more that wonderful,it is stylish,slicker,fast,modern and lots of people and firends when they look at my home pc (desktop) or my laptop go wowww what is that? I love it.Please make my computer look like yours.That makes me so proud of ubuntu and unity that you have no idea.So from a hater I went to a lover.Please Lord keep me this way.

  • Will Said:

    I started to use linux in 2004. I have used system and SCO and I first tried ubuntu 6?, I loved it. I got to the point of using it abt 95percent of the time. I loved 9.10. I got 8 older persons on linux from windows. When 10.04 came out they called as they could or would not use unity. I put classic on and they were happy. Some stayed with 10 and most quit.Unity to me is not how I work and has killed it for me. It just the fact I am in a rut having done things one since the 70's. I am 86 which makes as old as dirt!

  • Druenny Said:

    Unity is crap. It's cumbersome, has wasted screen space on the left side with in your face side bar. You need to look up to see the clock. It is a setup I would never use in a office environment. No one wants to do a search and look for big icons. If that is the case, opening it via terminal is a heck of a lot faster. Ubuntu in it's self is ok. But it's desktop is a pile.

  • malachy47 Said:

    Kubuntu does it for me. Same repos as Ubuntu, just a very usable interface.

  • ravi Said:

    Why west time removing unity and installing lubuntu package. Just download other Ubuntu flavors. Like kubuntu,lubuntu . This article shows how few numbers of people restricting Linux to few million users rather than keeping other billions users to by Microsoft products. Canonical is trying to take Linux out of 80`s era and taking it to new devices. Some old thinkers are still putting hardle in road maps. Come in real world and see how many people's are using Ubuntu than other destro's I guess Ubuntu is the best option who want to switch from windows

  • Nick Said:

    If you really want to get wild?... Try xUbuntu-desktop with KWin window manager. Lovely! You get some "Lightness" from XFCE and Wobbly windows and effects from KWin (KDE) window manager without the footprint of KDE'd desktop. Stable as well :)

  • Taha Said:

    Hi, I installed Ubuntu 12.04 as second OS on machine ,but i couldn't install any program there and it wasn't provide any multimedia programs .Can someone help me with that problem.

  • Gary Said:

    You'll need to open the Software Center and search for 'Ubuntu restricted extras' and perhaps 'VLC'. If you've not sought out "Additional Drivers' within Settings this may also be necessary.

  • Gordon Said:

    I have to join the Unity haters here. The file manager crashes so frequently I can't get any work done. The whole idea seems to be following in the footsteps of Windows 8, and that hasn't been a smash success, either. I have it on a laptop and loathe it. A phone UI on a phone is a good idea. A tablet UI on a tablet UI is a good idea. A phone UI on a desktop may be a good option for a user who does nothing more with the desktop than they would on their phone, but it is just an impediment to a developer.

  • kg2095 Said:

    Win 7 certainly can use both your laptop screen and an external monitor at their best resolutions.

  • kg2095 Said:

    My above comment was meant as a reply to GMorton.

  • Patron Said:

    Unity sucks. What I might never understand is is a thing isn't effed up, don't f with it. I'm running Meerkat, that very last "good" ubuntu distro. FYI

  • ozzygeek Said:

    comparing ubuntu to debian is like comparing a Stock Nexus AOSP ROM to the latest build of CyanogenMod. yoiu're supposed to like one more than the other because they are different. Another thing, why do Linux users act like they should judge a distro based on their default settings? Linux is made to tamper with andchange from the inside.. so who cares about a user interface or whatever, you can change anything you want. Geeez ...

  • Fran Said:

  • Fred Said:

    OMG im so poed! I installed Lubuntu now I cant get out! It has its own login method and I cant switch desktop environments in it! I CAN NOT GET OUT TO THE MAIN login screen any more now!!!!!!! WTF!~

  • cheapo Said:

    Hi Fred, Just wanted to let you know that I've been using Lubuntu for several months now and I have no idea how to help you. Apart from saying, re-install with full formatting. I'm a PC numpty most of the time, so basic actions are what cut it as far as I'm concerned. ;¬)

  • Bill Gates Said:

    Hey folks, if you are tired to use linux, you could return to Mother Microsoft :)

  • Tony Said:

    The problem is that Unity is not customizable, it suffer of login loop that is a problem with driver of the graphic card, it becomes really funky trying to solve the problems that comes from Unity

  • ubuntu disable unity Said:

    i found best and working solution here..

  • Thaniac Said:


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