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Sick of Unity in Ubuntu 11.10? Give Xubuntu a try

By: 2 November 2011 24 Comments

A few weeks ago, we took a look at Ubuntu 11.10 and observed that its default desktop, Unity, was much improved in this popular Linux distribution.

Regardless, it seems that some people still dislike the Unity. Well, dislike is a bit mild — some readers wrote in stating that absolutely hate it and that sentiment has gained some traction here and there on the Internet. It seems that Canonical — the organization responsible for Ubuntu Linux — aren’t ones to shy away from controversy.

Ah, but here’s the thing — getting rid of Unity and replacing it with something more familiar is a snap. One reader, guyguy (find his comment on this article) suggested installing Xubuntu — the implementation of the XFCE desktop (pictured above) for Ubuntu. One can install XFCE and get something fast, light and familiar quite easily:

1. Open your Ubuntu Software Center, search for “Xubuntu-desktop” and install it.

2. Log out and then log back in, choosing the Xubuntu session before keying in that password.

3. Profit!

Yes, it’s just that easy. Bear in mind that this little tip is in no way floated out there to bash Unity. Frankly, I still like Unity just fine and admire Canonical’s attempts refinements made to the desktop. Still, it does appear there are more than a few people out there irritated by Canonical’s decision to delete the Gnome 2 fallback that was in 11.04 and focus entirely on Unity.

One of the great things about Linux, of course, is that one can easily choose a new desktop. I like XFCE because it’s highly customizable, fast as blazes and still maximizes the desktop on my little netbook (yeah, we’ve got one computer still running Microsoft Windows XP and another running Windows 7 around here — sue me). If you want your desktop to look like Windows XP with a bit more speed and a couple of extra bells and whistles thrown in, XFCE might just be the thing to get you over those Unity blues.

Of course, that’s a personal choice and one can still opt for Gnome (search for “Gnome Shell” in the Ubuntu Software Center and make sure to grab the “fallback session” if you want Gnome 2).

And, hey, if you get in the mood to give Unity another shot, simply select a Unity session when you login. Yes, one can switch back and forth between desktops easily enough and that’s a good thing.

If Unity is the only major gripe you have with Ubuntu 11.10 (a.k.a. Oneiric Ocelot), just install a new desktop. Simple!

About: Ethan C. Nobles:
Benton resident. Rogue journalist. Recovering attorney. Email =


  • IndianArt said:

    Here is a very good suggestion for those who dislike Unity & for Ubuntu users who liked the ‘good old’ Ubuntu: Install Cairo / AWN Dock

    Ubuntu 11.10 + Cairo / AWN Dock = Awesome!

    This way you have the eye candy of Unity & Cairo Dock. I find Cairo Dock has some functionality & accessibility that has yet to come to Unity.

     I run it on Unity & am very pleased.

    I have installed Compiz Config Settings Manager & Selected “Autohide” in the ‘Hide Launcher’ option.

    So when the computer boots you only see the Cairo Dock. But Unity is always there when you need it (Mouse over Left border of the screen).

    In fact, some “Themes” in Cairo are like the screen shots I saw when I Googled images of Gnome 3. (Clock on the top & Center).

  • haradeep said:

    We are still waiting for Linux Mint 12. That is going to be better than xubuntu and lubuntu. Trying Unity is waste of time.

  • Greg said:

    Done, installed, love it. Thank you. r/ Greg

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Greg — glad you like it. Slick desktop, huh?

  • John said:

    You can just change the dropdown box at login to ubuntu(clasic)

  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    John — Well, you could in 11.04, but not in 11.10 (unless my distro is uncommon and weird somehow).

  • Hairpin Lupinski said:

    Well, that was easy. No super annoying sidebar, and an easily configurable desktop. Kind of like finally being able to take a rock out of my shoe after a fifteen mile hike.

  • greg said:

    @Ethan, yes, slick. Having trouble figuring out how to adjust the PANEL/NOTIFICATION area at the top… I now have TWO (2) Wireless indicators and some other small features I cannot figure out how to reduce to ONE. Your screen shot shows yours on the left, mine are on the right.

    Anyway, I got off the windows OS a couple years ago and use strictly Ubuntu… I do not try too play with it too much, or tweak it too much, cause when I do, I get errors.

    I have some software update errors saying certain packages are messed up, but cannot seem to fix, but they are not important, long as I can email, surf, and watch video… read the news… I am fine.


  • Ethan C. Nobles (author) said:

    Hairpin — Yep, it’s pretty simple to do. I’m still fooling around with Unity, but tend to gravitate toward Xubuntu — it’s just too familiar and easy to use.

    Greg — Weird. All I did was install Xubuntu and everything fell in place. Geez. Technology…

  • IndianArt said:

    Another solution from Jo-Erlend Schinstad: “However, if you just want a window switcher at the bottom of the screen, then you can easily get that with Unity. We have several panels to choose from, like xfce4-panel, which you can install by following this link: When it is installed, you can run it by pressing alt+f2 and typing xfce4-panel. If you want to keep using it, then you’ll want to add that command to your startup applications. If you want to see a screenshot, here you go:
    . As you can see, it’s perfectly possible and easy to have both.”

  • Sandy Daze said:

    4 November 2011

    Thank you very much for this tip. Have installed XFCE with good result. At least in 11.04 there was the option for “classic Ubuntu” instead of the new Unity interface. Call me a stick in the mud, but I prefer the “classic” interface and was woefully disappointed when 11.10 did not provide a similar option. Now, am good to go.

    Take good care,

  • bob said:

    Installing xubuntu-desktop in Ubuntu is one way to get away from Unity.

    However, it will perhaps be more efficient to just download and install Xubuntu. It will be faster, use less memory and have lighter applications. Particularly on slower computers or those with less RAM, there’s a definite performance gain in installing Xubuntu.

    Xubuntu’s made a great improvement from a couple of years ago when it was just Ubuntu with a different desktop-but that improvement won’t be as obvious if one just installs xubuntu-desktop on a standard Ubuntu installation.

  • ej said:

    I do not like Unity but I’m not going to bash it. I just installed openbox, awn and kupfer. Lightweight and efficient desktop.
    That’s the beauty of linux – you can change it and configure it however you want.
    I will also add that the overlay scrollbars were annoying to me but a ‘sudo aptitude remove overlay-scrollbar’ did the trick.

    I have used xfce and like it too but my preference is for openbox.

  • likemindead said:

    Love Xubuntu. Have used it for some three years now. I’d recommend a “fresh install” of Xubuntu over just installing the xubuntu-desktop on vanilla Ubuntu. Lose the bloat.

  • William Roddy said:

    When Unity arrived, I tried to like it. Ubuntu had been loyal to us. I wanted to be loyal to it. I’m old-fashioned.

    But Unity is not for me. I had no experience with XFCE, but wanting to stay in the Ubuntu family, I installed XUBUNTU. That is what I am using now and will continue to use.

    Were it not for XUBUNTU, I would have left the Ubuntu family and looked for a new home. You made it possible for me not to need to do that. Thank you.

  • Brandon Johnson said:

    Give Bodhi (bow-dee) Linux a try. I have moved from Ubuntu to that.
    Its like Gnome 2 only better, it uses enlightenment and is slick.

    Highly recommended. if your more on the power user and comfortable with Linux either with CLI or Gui. :)

    I have it running as my main desktop at home now and in a VM on the work machine.


  • Wretched Freebird said:

    Well I tried to like Unity, which installed by default with the prior release of UBUNTU, gosh, I really did. But I honestly prefer the old desktop. You know one gets CONDITIONED to use certain features, to accomplish specific tasks, and unlearning these things can be frustrating, time consuming and irritating. For me, Unity seems to be well suited to Tablet and Droid sorts of environments, but a poor choice for standard desktop employment. My primary gripe is that the upgrading user was not given a CHOICE in the matter, and then, it was made difficult, well not too difficult perhaps, but not very obvious, how to revert back to where you started before you upgraded. And it seems to me to be counter intuitive to have to choose the old desktop BEFORE you sign on, with no indication of how to get the old style back once you’ve actually logged on. NADA no tips, hints, nothing. Strange. And, the options menu that is available BEFORE sign on, was not very obvious either. The last time I pointed this out, I got FLAMED by some of the young Turks, who called me an old foggy and/or stupid for not preferring Unity and/or not knowing automatically how to get my old desktop back. I say let those who prefer Unity do their thing, but let us respect those of us who prefer the old style, and make it convenient, and obvious, how to retain the old style, preferably during the upgrade process.

  • greg said:

    As I said above… I installed Xubuntu Desktop and like it. I decided to go back and play with Unity some more. Added the Cairo Dock and… well, I think I will stick with the Unity for now and use it with the Cairo Dock. I guess I got used to it.

  • lukerazor said:

    I find Lubuntu to be a much slicker experience the Xubuntu. Nice and clean, good config tools, it feels more consistent.

  • smokin1 said:

    I, moved away from microbrain. Was not impressed with tat os, really sucked, dos win3.1 was better, than anything they have put out since. Started with Ubuntu first had problems with old hardware, like microbrian too, sluggish. Downloaded Xubuntu, and all is fine, with my old pc’s. Love, the way Xubuntu performs and I am getting use to configuring linux. Best, decision I ever made. Tried Mint, just could not get it to work for me. Xubuntu rocks my world.

  • Ryan said:


    Gnome 3/Unity was SOOOOOO buggy/glitchy for me… which, in addition to the horrible usability problems inherent in their design, made it unbearable. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THESE INSTRUCTIONS! Why in the world wouldn’t Ubuntu include the XUbuntu option with their default install?

  • DRob said:

    Just changed from Ubuntu 10.04 on my Asus Eeepc netbook to Xubuntu 11.10.
    I am very pleased with the improved interface speed as a result.
    The only thing really missing is an extra pane in the file manager.
    I can highly recomend Xubuntu as a GNome 2 replacement it seems configurable enough to me.

  • sawjer said:

    I am professionally installing computers. For a kiosk application I chose to try ubuntu, trying 10.4 to 11.10 Kubuntu and 11.10 Ubuntu. I am astonished about the path the developers have taken. Linux has been renowned for the abilitys to configure. What I see now in the latest versions is a complete departure from user experience (with windows). On top I do not understand that I cannot anymore easily configure my desktop or even replace it.
    If new means more work for the support and for the user, then such solutions are not for me. Sad for all the well meant effort.

    I agree with other comentators: The operating system should facilitate the running of applications and should not require major tweaking effort and much less make working miserable.
    I cannot recommend neither ubuntu 11.10 nor kubuntu 11.10. I personally will move to other distros for all my computers.

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