How to install Gnome 3 on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS

How to install Gnome 3 on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS

If you are reading this article, chances are that you have tried the Unity interface on Ubuntu. Although Canonical has done a great job with the development of Unity, some of us still prefer to use Gnome as a default GUI. In addition, the Gnome team has also done an excellent job improving Gnome and released this as Gnome 3. Since Gnome 3 comes with both the classic (similar to Gnome 2) and the new Gnome 3 interface, I decided to focus on installing Gnome 3 in this article.

Installing Gnome 3

Before we continue, it is worth mentioning that there is a gnome package in the defaultUbuntu repository for Gnome, however from what I understood from several articles this version is outdated and does not include all the beauty that is included in the latest Gnome 3 release. So you may want to skip installing the default package from the repository.

The good news is that installing the latest Gnome 3 on Ubuntu 12.04 is extremely easy. Just copy-paste the following lines for the latest release from the Gnome team into a terminal (type Ctrl-Alt T to open a terminal window):

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

Now be sure to reboot your computer and when you are prompted with your login screen you have the following additional options (click on the little Ubuntu icon next to your login name):


I recommend using the first option, Gnome. However if you are interested in going back to a familiar environment, feel free to choose one of the two Gnome Classic options. You can log in and log out to try the different versions.

Gnome 3 Shell Extensions

One of the great new features of Gnome 3 is the possibility to add “shell extensions”. These are small user interface elements which can improve the overall user experience.


To install a shell extension visit the Gnome Extensions website with your browser (the default Firefox works fine for this) and install extensions by switching the “ON/OFF” button to“ON” (you can find these buttons on the individual extension pages, in the left upper corner).

You may also want to consider installing the Gnome Tweak Tool which will give you greater control over your shell extensions and several other Gnome settings. You can install this tool directly from the Ubuntu Software Repository, or by copy-pasting the following lines into a terminal:

sudo apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool

You can now find this tweak tool by searching for “Advanced Settings” in your applications or in System Tools menu.


Recommended Shell Extensions

Experiment and try out some shell extensions. Personally I recommend to at least try out activating/installing the following shell extensions:

Alternatively, if you prefer to install a small collection of popular shell extensions in one go (including most of the listed above) you can copy-paste the following lines in a terminal:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ricotz/testing
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install gnome-shell-extensions-common

And once you have finished installing extensions, visit the Installed Extensions pageon the Gnome Extensions website or the “Shell Extensions” option in the Gnome Tweak Tool. There you will be able to see, enable/disable and customize settings of the individual extensions from the collection.

An important note about using Gnome shell extensions: Unfortunately any installed shell extension will not automatically be updated when newer versions are released. You will need to manually remove and reinstall any shell extension which conflicts with future Gnome 3 or Ubuntu updates. This is something the Gnome team is aware of and (I hope) is working on fixing.

Getting Around In Gnome 3

As mentioned earlier in this article, there are a lot of exciting new features in Gnome 3. I decided to highlight the two features that have the most impact on my daily usage of Gnome.

Multiple Workspaces

One of the first things I noticed when I logged in was that there were only two workspaces in Gnome 3 (use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-Alt Up/Down-arrows to navigate the workspaces). So my first impulse was to browse through a lot of different settings windows in the system settings and try to increase this number (I like working with four or more workspaces). However, I could not find where to change this anywhere. Only after watching this video I understood that this is not needed anymore as the number of active workspaces is dynamic to what you actually using. Watch the video below to understand what I mean.

 Searching For Apps / Switching Windows

Quickly accessing popular apps and opened windows is similar to how Unity does this, however the approach from the Gnome team allows you to have more screen space for the apps and windows you have open. In the video below Jason of the Gnome team explains you what I mean.


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