Like Ubuntu’s Unity interface? Great. If not, you can easily change it to look and act like Ubuntu used to. This tutorial shows how.I won’t debate whether Unity is an improvement. This article is simply
a “How To” for those who want to alter it.
We’ll start by customizing Unity. We’ll add and delete icons from the
applications Launcher on the
left-hand side of the screen, then we’ll add icons and folders to the
desktop. I’ll introduce some Unity tweaking tools.
If these changes aren’t enough for you, we’ll move on to how
to add elements of the older Ubuntu interface to Unity. We’ll add a
classic roll-over menu, permanently-visible window scrollbars, the
System Monitor “applet” to the top panel, and the package
managers Synaptic and GDebi. I’ll also show how to disable
menu, the context-sensitive menu in the upper lefthand corner of the
screen that appearsasyou move your mouse cursor over it,
and disappears as you move the mouse away.
If all this doesn’t alter Unity to your liking, we’ll
replace it entirely with alternatives like GNOME Classic, GNOME 3,
Cinnamon, or other GUIs.
need to know beforehand is how to open a terminal to issue line
commands. Either enter
into the Dashboard or the Head-Up Display (HUD), or press the hot key
sequence CTRL + ALT + t.
How to Change the Launcher
Instead of GNOME’s desktop icons and panel applets, in Ubuntu’s
Unity interface, the
Launcher hosts the application icons. You can add any app icon to
this list permanently simply by
starting the application, then when its icon appears in the launcher,
right-click on it and select Add to
Launcher. Remove any icon from the Launcher by right-clicking on
it, then select Unlock From Launcher.
Auto-hide the Launcher by clicking on the System Settings icon in the Launcher, then selecting Personal -> Appearance. Now pick
the Behavior tab, and click on
the button to Auto-hide the Launcher.
How to Add Icons and Folders to the Desktop
In Unity you to use the Launcher to start programs, or Unity’s two
components, the Dashboard and HUD. Type application names or search
phrases into either. The interface also relies on a
global menu (with its disappearing, ever-changing context-sensitive
hot keys (just like interfaces back in the 1980’s).
Don’t like this design? Modify it into a more traditional desktop. For
example, to add icons to the desktop, go to the Dashboard and look at
the “recently used” or “installed”
applications. From there, you can drag and drop the icon for any app
to the desktop. Then you need to ensure the app is executable, and
change its ownership to that of your own user id. Do this by issuing
these two commands through a terminal window:
If your user id were bobby,
the second command would be: sudo
chown bobby ~/Desktop/*.desktop
To create a new Folder on the desktop, right-click the mouse while over
empty desktop space. This brings up a menu,
the first option of which is to Create
on that and you’ll have a new Folder with the cursor positioned
so you can enter its name. You can drag and drop items into the Folder.
If any app icon you add doesn’t work, just issue the above commands
to fix the file permission/ownership issue.
You can tailor Unity lots more, as described in the comprehensive Ubuntu Desktop
Guide. To access the Guide,
just hover the cursor over the top left panel bar when you have an empty desktop. The
default hidden menu appears. Select Help
on this menu and you’ll see the Guide:
Tools for Tweaking Unity
If you’re still not loving Unity, configure it further through
interface-tweaking tools. Start with MyUnity,
a utility that allows you to change aspects of the Launcher, Dash,
panel, desktop, fonts, themes, and more. You can install it from the
Center. Here’s how it looks:
Next, configure Compiz with the CompizConfig Settings Manager. CCSM
helps you change all sorts of desktop effects, image loading,
accessibility options, window management, and more. Install it by these
sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager
The apt-get update command
updates your package index. (You might follow it up with sudo apt-get upgrade
to ensure updated package versions.) Then the apt-get install command installs the
new package. Going forward, I’ll simplify by leaving out the apt-get update command. You
generally want to update the package index before installing any new
application. Here’s how CCSM looks:
Ubuntu Tweak was originally
designed for GNOME, but has been updated for Unity.
It’s the best tool here to alter Unity 2D. You can change
Unity’s desktop appearance, startup options, Launcher and Dash, and
more. Install it by:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install ubuntu-tweak
The first command accesses the Personal Package Archive
or PPA repository containing
the packages for the app. You might also see it as apt-add-repository instead of add-apt-repository — either
does exactly the same thing. The last two lines update
your package index and install the program. Here’s the main Ubuntu
Finally, the Unsettings
tool allows you to change various behaviors for the Launcher, Dash,
panel, fonts, windows, desktop, and themes. To install Unsettings enter:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install unsettings
If you change some options, Unsettings will ask you whether you wish to
apply them as you exit the tool. It may also tell you that some
settings will only be changed after you reboot. Here’s how Unsettings
After you install any of these tweaking programs, you access
them like any other Unity app. Select them from the list of
“installed” or “recently used” applications, or type their names into
Dash or HUD.
Add a Classic Menu
Ok, you’ve tried tweaking Unity but you still aren’t happy with it.
Let’s start adding elements to make Unity resemble the
2 interface of Ubuntu 10.04 LTS.
Canonical may consider roll-over menus old hat, but they’re
quick and easy to use.
They hierarchically organize
choices so you can access them fast through short mouse
motions. Menus are universal. You can be productive immediately with
system that employs them, even if you’ve never used that OS before.
Here’s one way to add a classic roll-over menu to Unity:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install classicmenu-indicator
To start using the menu, go to Dash or HUD and enter: classicmenu-indicator. The menu will
appear off the top panel bar, as a drop-down from the
little round Ubuntu symbol in the top center of this screen shot. The
menus look as you remember them from Ubuntu’s older GUI, and will be
accessible every time you boot Ubuntu:
Unity does not allow you to add applets
to its top panel bar like you did with GNOME 2 panels. However, you can
like the Classic Menu Indicator. Many indicators perform functions just
like the GNOME 2 panel’s applets. From the user viewpoint, there is
little difference beyond terminology.
Replace Hidden Scrollbars with Visible Scrollbars
the Senior Center I support everybody
the hidden scrollbars in Unity’s windows. They’re tough to access with
bifocals and less precise coordination. Use the Unsettings tool
mentioned above to change
permanently-visible scrollbars. Or, enter these line commands, then
restart your computer:
echo “export LIBOVERLAY_SCROLLBAR=0” >
Changing screen resolution and the Universal Access tools don’t fix
this problem. Canonical, have some seniors test your product!
Disable the Global Menu
Unity’s global menu allows
many applications to display their menu in Unity’s panel bar, up
in the top left-hand corner of your screen. Like the hidden scrollbars,
the global menu appears
when you move your mouse cursor over it, and it disappears when
you move your mouse away. Global menu
contents change depending on which application is your current focus.
You can disable
the global menu with the Unsettings tool. Alternatively, enter this
command to disable the
global menu, then restart
Disable Firefox’s global menu separately. Start
Firefox, then go to: Tools ->
Add-ons -> Extensions. There you
will see the Global Menu Bar
Integration add-on. Just click to Disable it, then restart Firefox.
If you later decide you want to bring back the global menu, issue this
command, then restart:
Add Synaptic Package Manager or GDebi
Ubuntu Software Center replaced the Synaptic Package Manager in Ubuntu
11.10 due to its friendlier, simpler interface. While the Software
Center is improved from its earliest incarnation, technophiles still
prefer the Synaptic Package Manager because it offers fine-grained
package management and better control.
add Synaptic, just install it from the
Software Center. Or open up a terminal and enter:
Some prefer installing .deb
package files with GDebi.
GDebi is also installable from the Software Center, or add it like this:
Add System Monitor to the Panel
If you liked having the GNOME 2 System Monitor applet visible on your
in previous Ubuntu versions, you can add Unity’s System Load Indicator
to the top panel
bar. It displays CPU, memory, network, swap, disk I/O, and system load
activity on the panel, just like the old system monitor applet. To
install it, either visit the Ubuntu Software Center, or else enter:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install indicator-multiload
Like the Classic Menu Indicator, you need to initialize this program by
going to Dash, entering indicator-multiload,
and starting it up.
An alternative is to access the System Monitor through the roll-over
menu of the Classic
Menu Indicator of the previous tip (Menu Indicator Start Button ->
Tools -> System Monitor). Or, you might like to pin the System
Monitor to the Launcher or add it to your desktop if you don’t install
Classic Menu Indicator.
The Ubuntu Software Center offers other monitors, too. You can install
System Guard, a very comprehensive tool, or the GKrellM monitor, a
single vertical panel that sits atop your desktop to give you
real-time information. Conky
is also installable with Synaptic Package Manager or through line
Install GNOME to Replace Unity
Ok, so you’ve
tried tailoring Unity’s desktop and find that you still
don’t like it. Well, then, it’s time to completely replace Unity
Classic — More
accurately called GNOME Fallback, this is the GNOME fallback interface
from previous Ubuntu releases. It is very similar to — but not exactly
the same — as the GNOME interface shipped as the default in Ubuntu
- GNOME 3 — This is the
GNOME Shell 3.4, as installed from the current Ubuntu repositories.
GNOME 3 is way
different than the GNOME 2 interface that Ubuntu used before Unity. If
you don’t like Unity, you probably won’t like GNOME 3!
- Cinnamon — This is
a GNOME 3 fork developed by the Linux Mint project. Cinnamon gives you
a GNOME 3 interface but with a GNOME
Classic panel at bottom, along with a menu and many other features
I recommend Cinnamon for those who want to replace Unity with a GNOME
To install GNOME Classic:
To install GNOME 3:
To install Cinnamon:
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install cinnamon
After installing any of these new interfaces, you select it from a
drop-down list on the main login panel, just prior to logging in.
If you installed the GNOME 3 shell, you may wish to add the
gnome-shell’s tweaking tool:
sudo apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool
Find many more good tweaking tools for GNOME 3 here.
Ubuntu Tweak was originally
designed for GNOME 2. It helps you change all sorts of GNOME desktop
settings, fonts, themes,
etc., including settings for the Metacity Window Manager, Compiz
Fusion, and Nautilus file manager. See how
to install it above.
Install A Different Ubuntu Family Distro
installing Ubuntu with Unity and then changing it, some simply
install a different Ubuntu distro. This keeps you in the
Ubuntu family but replaces Unity with any of these
If you’re so unhappy with Unity that you’re
giving up on Ubuntu altogether, I recommend Linux Mint. Mint version 13
MATE and Cinnamon GUIs, both
of which are traditional GNOME-like desktops with added features. With
Mint you can install software from Ubuntu’s repositories.
You have many options if you don’t care for Ubuntu’s Unity interface.
You can either modify it, or
replace it. I developed this document because some people I
don’t like Unity. I’ve found that it’s easier to
tailor it for them or install GNOME rather than to try to sell them on
Unity or retrain
Good Resources (with Screen Shots)
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Howard Fosdick (President, FCI) is an independent consultant who
supports databases and operating systems. You might also be interested
in his OS News article The Sins
of Ubuntu. Read more of his articles here.