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How to Install Vanilla GNOME Shell on Ubuntu

With Ubuntu 17.10, Canonical ditched their own Unity shell in favor of the GNOME shell. However, it isn’t exactly GNOME but a slightly modified version of it tweaked to look and feel like Unity. It makes sense from Canonical’s point of view, who possibly did not want to alienate the users of their Unity desktop. However, this might not sit well with those who were expecting a full-on GNOME experience. This is Linux we’re talking about though and you can get what you want. It is quite easy to install a vanilla GNOME shell on Ubuntu.

Vanilla GNOME vs Ubuntu GNOME

How To Install Stock GNOME Shell On Ubuntu

The modifications done by Canonical include a fork of the popular Dash to dock extension. It turns the hidden Gnome activities dock into a Unity-like permanent dock for navigating programs. They’ve also added support for Unity app indicators in the Gnome Shell panel, and some other minor adjustments.

If you’ve been a fan of Unity, you would definitely welcome these changes because you may have ended up doing them yourself. Stock GNOME isn’t the perfect desktop that everybody likes. It is though, the choice of many users who may not appreciate the tweaks done by Canonical. These users can very easily restore the stock GNOME desktop environment. Once you have the desktop installed, you can add media controls to the system tray on Ubuntu GNOME as well.

Add Media Controls to System Tray on Ubuntu (GNOME)

gnome desktop

Some of the differences between vanilla GNOME and the Ubuntu GNOME are:

  • No Ubuntu Dock
  • No app indicator support
  • Adwaita GTK and icon theme
  • Cantarell font is used
  • Default Shell theme
  • App windows only show a ‘close’ button
  • Symbolic icons used in App Menu
  • Activities Hot Corner

How to install vanilla GNOME shell on Ubuntu

  1. Launch a Terminal and execute the following command to install the stock GNOME session.
    sudo apt install gnome-session

    This will purge all of the various modifications made by Canonical. It will not do much else though, such as providing the stock experience.

  2. You’ll still see the Ubuntu wallpaper and the Ubuntu GDM theme. This isn’t a problem for most users. However, to get the stock GNOME experience, you’ll need to install certain GNOME packages. You can do this with this command:
    sudo apt install ubuntu-gnome-default-settings
  3. The above command restores the stock GNOME theme, wallpaper, and colors, as you would find on any other GNOME-based Linux distro. You now have a choice between installing the Vanilla GNOME packages or the GNOME desktop packages. Vanilla GNOME packages is a large set of packages that change everything including login animation. Most users will do just fine with the GNOME desktop packages which are smaller and leave out a number of bundled software included in the Vanilla set.
  4. To install Vanilla GNOME packages, use this command:
    sudo apt install vanilla-gnome-default-settings vanilla-gnome-desktop
  5. To install the GNOME desktop packages, execute this one:
    sudo apt install ubuntu-gnome-desktop install gnome desktop

Uninstall GNOME desktop

If you’ve tried the stock GNOME experience and decided you’re not a fan, you can remove it just as easily as you installed it. You can even restore the modifications done by Canonical to get back your Ubuntu GNOME experience. We will use the purge function to get rid of the installed packages. Unlike remove, it not only uninstall the packages but also removes all traces of it such as configuration files, etc. Run the command given below in a terminal to remove the previously installed GNOME desktop packages.

sudo apt purge ubuntu-gnome-desktop ubuntu-gnome-default-settings gnome-session

Now use autoremove to remove any additional packages that may be left, and shouldn’t be there.

sudo apt autoremove

After this, log out of GNOME and click on the gear icon, select Ubuntu, enter your password and you’re in.

Uninstall Vanilla GNOME

The process of uninstalling Vanilla GNOME is the same, but more time consuming since this requires removing more number of packages. The command you have to use is only as different as the command used during installation. Purge the Vanilla GNOME packages with this command:

sudo apt purge vanilla-gnome-default-settings vanilla-gnome-desktop

Run autoremove to get rid of any extra packages such as settings and etc from the Ubuntu desktop.

sudo apt autoremove

Log out of Ubuntu once the process is complete and log back in. Now that you have installed GNOME, check out these tips to speed up GNOME desktop.

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