5 Alternatives To Unity For Ubuntu Users [Linux]

Chris Hoffman 28-12-2011

alternatives to unityWe’ve previously written about Ubuntu’s Unity desktop environment Ubuntu 11.04 Unity - A Big Leap Forward For Linux It's here. The newest version of Ubuntu sports an entirely new user interface: Unity. It also includes a much-improved Software Center, alongside the usual updates for the thousands of free programs Ubuntu offers. Canonical decided... Read More , which we touted as a “big leap forward” for Linux when it was introduced with Ubuntu 11.04. Unity was certainly a big leap in a new direction, but it left a lot of users behind.


Luckily, Linux is all about choice and Ubuntu’s software repositories contain a variety of excellent alternatives to Unity. Each desktop environment you install appears as an option when you click the gear icon on Ubuntu’s login screen. You can install as many as you want and find the one that’s right for you.


GNOME Shell Easily Install Gnome Shell In Ubuntu 11.10 & Newer [Linux] Do you love Ubuntu, but prefer Gnome Shell to Unity? You're not alone, but you're also in luck. Ubuntu 11.10 makes it easy to install Gnome Shell. Not liking where Gnome was heading, the Ubuntu... Read More is definitely the most obvious alternative to Unity, given that Ubuntu has historically shipped a pretty standard GNOME desktop environment. Ubuntu still includes most of GNOME 3; Unity just replaces the GNOME Shell launcher with Ubuntu’s own interface.

alternatives to unity

GNOME 3 feels pretty slick, but disaffected Unity users may be disappointed with what GNOME has become. Far from the traditional GNOME 2 interface, GNOME 3 includes its own full-screen application launcher and feels pretty similar to Unity. Some users will prefer GNOME Shell to Unity, but if you’re yearning for a more traditional interface, look elsewhere.

Click here to install GNOME Shell if you’re using Ubuntu. You can also search for it in the Ubuntu Software Center 5 Great Tips for the Ubuntu Software Center [Linux] Read More or use the following command:

sudo apt-get install gnome-shell


The KDE project alienated much of its own user base when KDE 4 was released, but it’s had a lot of time to add polish and work out the kinks. Currently at version 4.7 Enjoy A Clean, Improved Desktop With KDE 4.7 [Linux] One of Linux's most popular desktop environments, KDE, released their latest series (version 4.7) at the end of July. This version improves on work done in previous releases by adding new features while improving performance... Read More , KDE has traditionally been the second most popular Linux desktop environment and primary alternative to GNOME.

alternatives to ubuntu unity

KDE has its own alternatives to the GNOME applications you’re familiar with, but you can continue to use GNOME applications on KDE. They may look slightly out of place, since KDE uses the QT toolkit instead of GNOME’s GTK toolkit.

Click here to get KDE if you’re already using Ubuntu. You can also look for Kubuntu-Desktop in the Ubuntu Software Center or execute the following command:

sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop

The Kubuntu project provides a Ubuntu installer disc that comes with KDE instead of Unity.


XFCE XFCE: Your Lightweight, Speedy, Fully-Fledged Linux Desktop As far as Linux goes, customization is king. Not only that, but the customization options are so great it might make your head spin. I have previously mentioned the differences between the major desktop environments... Read More  doesn’t try to reinvent the desktop like GNOME 3 and Unity do, but it does provide an environment that long-time GNOME 2 and Ubuntu users will feel at home with. XFCE was once GNOME’s less resource-intensive and more minimal cousin, but GNOME’s shift has made XFCE a distinct environment. XFCE uses the same GTK toolkit that GNOME does, so GNOME applications will fit right in on an XFCE desktop.

alternatives to ubuntu unity

Did you know that Linus Torvalds, Linux’s creator The History Of Linux [INFOGRAPHIC ] If there's one thing which must really piss off Bill Gates to no end, it must be the enduring popularity of Linux and other free software, as it undercuts his "if you want good software,... Read More , now uses XFCE? GNOME 3 pushed him to XFCE, just as KDE 4 pushed him to GNOME 2. Follow in Linus’s footsteps by clicking here, installing the Xubuntu-Desktop package from the Ubuntu Software Center or running the following command:

sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop

Use the Xubuntu installer disc to install Ubuntu with an XFCE desktop instead of Unity.


LXDE is a lightweight desktop environment targeted at machines with less powerful hardware. LXDE’s focus on minimal resource consumption makes it a great choice if you’re looking for a desktop environment that doesn’t try to do too much and just gets out of your way. It’s lighter than Xubuntu’s XFCE desktop, which was previously considered the lightweight version of Ubuntu.

alternatives to ubuntu unity

Check out our post about Lubuntu Lubuntu: A Lightweight Version Of Ubuntu [Linux] Love Ubuntu, but feel skeptical about 11.04's new Unity interface? Try Lubuntu 11.04, an extremely lightweight alternative to the main branch of Ubuntu. You'll find the menu-driven interface familiar and the resources hit remarkably low.... Read More for a more in-depth overview of the LXDE desktop environment or click here to start installing LXDE if you’re sold on it. You can also grab the Lubuntu-Desktop package from the Ubuntu Software Center or use the following command:

sudo apt-get install lubuntu-desktop

Download an Lubuntu disk image if you want to install Ubuntu with LXDE from scratch.


For the Linux user who’s really sick of having their hand held, Xmonad is less a desktop environment and more a toolkit for building your own. Xmonad is a tiling window manager, so it arranges windows for you and doesn’t make you drag them around. That’s about all that Xmonad does for you — Xmonad doesn’t even provide an application launcher or panel by default, but you can add those yourself.

alternatives to unity

Log into Xmonad and all you’ll see is the normal login screen background. From there, you can press Alt-Shift-Enter to open a terminal where you can launch additional applications. Check out the official Xmonad guided tour for an introduction to using Xmonad.

Click here to install Xmonad, grab it from the Ubuntu Software Center or run the following command:

sudo apt-get install xmonad

More Options

Ubuntu also provides GNOME Session Fallback, which appears as GNOME Classic on the login screen after you install it. Don’t let the name fool you — GNOME Session Fallback is just a hack on top of GNOME 3. It’s designed to function similarly to GNOME 2 and has the same basic menu structure, but GNOME 2 fans will notice a lot of features missing. Install it by clicking here or running the following command, if you’re interested:

sudo apt-get install gnome-session-fallback

If you just think Unity needs more configuration options, then Confity Easily Configure Ubuntu's Unity Interface With Confity [Linux] Customize Ubuntu's new Unity desktop, all from an easy-to-use interface. Confity allows you to re-enable the Ubuntu system tray, resize or hide Ubuntu's dock and remove the Fisher-Price color scheme. Unity is brand new, and... Read More or the CompizConfig Settings Manager How To Change The Settings Of Ubuntu Unity With CompizConfig Settings Manager Ubuntu's latest release, version 11.04, brings with it a completely new desktop interface called Unity. Its release has received mixed reviews, though honestly it comes down to taste. There is never a piece of software... Read More might do it for you.

So, do you have any other Unity alternatives to recommend? Or do you love Unity and think everyone should give it another chance? Let us know in the comments.

Related topics: GNOME Shell, Ubuntu.

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  1. Jesse
    May 11, 2015 at 2:40 pm

    Also include i3 for power users

  2. @waningmoon_tr
    February 5, 2012 at 5:01 pm

    There's another one in development at the minute, used and promoted by Linux Mint and that's Mate. It recreates the Gnome 2 look and feel, so you can actually install it alongside Gnome 3 (which for obvious reasons you can't do with standard Gnome 2). I quite like it, although I've grown accustomed to Gnome3 and it's shell extensions.

    • Chris Hoffman
      February 5, 2012 at 8:10 pm

      Mint is definitely doing some interesting things, especially with its new Cinnamon desktop.

  3. Anonymous
    December 29, 2011 at 1:21 am

    I switched to KDE and I have never been happier. It is currently the best desktop one can use on Linux. A lot of features, very customizable and it looks awesome.

    • Chris Hoffman
      December 29, 2011 at 2:24 am

      Yup, KDE and GNOME have always taken opposite approaches (well, GNOME 1 had a huge amount of options, but nevermind that.)

      If you're looking for a desktop environment with a ton of options and configurability, KDE is a really great choice.

      • rakete
        January 4, 2012 at 11:52 am

        ... for KDE people :D
        gnome, xfce and lxde are there and widly used for a reason: KDE is not for everyone. Me personally never liked it.
        In my opinion it is way to clunky and looks to much like Win7 (I know KDE 4 came out before Vista Aero, so maybe Windows 7 is looking like KDE not the other way around, but anyway).

        • Chris Hoffman
          January 5, 2012 at 5:45 am

          Picking a favorite desktop environment is like picking a favorite color.

          You really do have to try them all before you know which one you like best.

        • rakete
          January 5, 2012 at 1:00 pm

          Yes, you are right. I did and my personal Chart is clear:

          1. Unity
          2. Gnome3 Fallback
          3. xfce
          4. lxde
          5. Gnome Shell
          6. Gnome2
          7. KDE3
          8. KDE4

          I have not tried any other desktops so far. I Guess there are many people whoms charts are exactly the opposite, that are KDE people ;)

          I like diversity, It keeps life interesting.