Gnome 3: An Alternative to Unity in Ubuntu 11.10

My wife has got a Sony Vaio netbook, which we bought a year ago. The whole point was to get a lightweight laptop for Internet access, e-mail and documents, so no development VMs or gaming station. The operating system chosen was Ubuntu, at that time it shipped with Gnome.

Ubuntu 11.10 Gnome 3

However, due to some (relatively) recent updates to Ubuntu (as of version 11.04) it ships with Unity, and as of 11.10, they stopped shipping Gnome. I think Unity is good if you’re running an 8-core station with a good graphics card, but from what I heard, Unity was designed for tablets and netbooks, and it looks like somebody forgot that tablets and netbooks don’t have the horsepower of desktop workstations.

After months struggling with Unity on my wife’s netbook, it only became worse. It started freezing several times a week (that’s a lot for Linux) and it took minutes (that’s a lot for Linux) to boot up. I thought of wiping the whole thing and starting clean with Ubuntu 10.11, but then I decided to give it another chance, by installing Gnome 3.

sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

Which actually saved me from the headaches of having to reinstall a bunch of software, backup a bunch of documents, photos and videos. Gnome 3, together with some old software cleanup, gave our netbook a new life. After a reboot I was able to log into a Gnome session (as seen from the screenshot above) and everything was literally flying! Hope this lasts for at least a year, hat tip to

I can’t say I’m really loving Gnome 3, and Unity was okay from the user interface and experience point of view, but when your system becomes slow because of a desktop manager, you’ll have to switch or upgrade, no matter how funky the UI is :)

Have you had trouble with performance and Unity in Ubuntu Linux? What was your solution? I read a few forums where many people were looking to switch to other Linux distributions, what’s your take on that?

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About the author

Konstantin Kovshenin

WordPress Core Contributor, ex-Automattician, public speaker and consultant, enjoying life in Moscow. I blog about tech, WordPress and DevOps.


  • Unity is too sloooooooow even on my 6-core Cpu, 8gb RAM and 1gb video memory desktop! I turned unity off with help of compiz configurator, and installed cairo-dock. Now it works just fine :)

    • Wow, that’s news hehe! Compiz configurator can help you tune Unity (disable effects, dock and so on), but I don’t think it actually turns it off since there seems to be no “fallback” for Gnome or others starting from 11.10. Anyway, glad it worked out for you and thanks for commenting :)

    • Yes, i think you are right. In compiz config there’s a checkbox with name Unity. I think it disables effects and dock. But worked for me :)

  • We bought a netbook last week, decided to try on Ubuntu 11.04. Bad idea. Glitchy, bulky and too shiny. I did install gnome-shell as well to get the classic look, then looked at the whole thing once more – running and enjoying 10.04 now :)

    • Too shiny, eh? There was somebody in the comments of the post I linked to who said Unity is for six-year olds who like bells and whistles, may be they have a point. Good to know 10.04 is working for you, I might do the downgrade in a few months as well, or just switch to Debian. Thanks for stopping by Gennady!

  • When Ubuntu launched Unity, I thought it would bring some nice changes to UI in Linux Desktops. It works well on tablets or so I heard, but on desktops and laptops it is total disaster.

    • I think UI changes are difficult to adapt to in any case, even when WordPress launched the redesigned dashboard in 3.2, lots of people went crazy, however as we can see today, we needed that redesign and it turned out quite good. I can’t wait to hear what people will say about the new metro look of Windows 8 :)

  • I’ve been using Ubuntu for years, and really gave Unity an honest try, and then switched over to Gnome 3. I had several problems with both, including (i) performance problems on a quad-core with 8 GB of RAM, (ii) lots of stability problems, and (iii) a general feeling that both releases were pushed out before they were fully baked. In the end the stability problems were what made me give up on both of those environments. I would get freezing, and worse I would intermittently find my environment corrupted and totally unusable, requiring reinstallation or reloading, even when I hadn’t installed or tweaked anything. I then tried Xfce for several months, which happened to be the environment that Linus switched to when he was unhappy with both Unity and Gnome 3, and was pretty happy. And yes, I tried a few other distros on the side as well.

    I then heard about Cinnamon (, a fork of Gnome Shell, and I think I finally found an environment I can stick with for the long term. There are several good articles about it on Webupd8 ( I’ve found Cinnamon to be fast, easily configurable, and stable.

    Oddly, I’ve found Cinnamon, which is undergoing very active development to be far more stable than either Unity, or even Gnome 3, of which it is a fork. Of course, Gnome 3 may have stabilized in between the time I gave it a try and the development of Cinnamon.

  • Right in time Kov!

    My mom has Chromebook and I my brother was just about to install Ubuntu on it. What a coincidence that I ran into this on G+.


  • Yes and no, however I wanted to get Skype and other stuff in and there’s nothing available for Chromebook. It was also getting awfully slow too. Now that we got Ubuntu everything is blazing fast. Still in dual-boot just to see how things turn out and so far so good. 1:0 for Ubuntu in this case ;-)

    Great thing about Chromebook is solid HD, you gotta love that!


    • Good point. I heard a lot of good things about Chrome OS but haven’t tried it myself yet, probably waiting for the right Chromebook to arrive. Skype, however, is one of the applications I’m not ready to give up yet, so we’ll probably have to wait until a web app is released. Anyhow, thanks again for your input!

  • I switched from Ubuntu to Arch Linux and then to CrunchBang Linux I never turned back. CrunchBang is extremely fast, but doesn’t offer Gnome. If this is required, then I’d recommend Arch.