How To Change The Screensaver on Ubuntu 11.10

Danny Stieben 21-11-2011

change screensaver ubuntuAmong all the great things about the Ubuntu 11.10 release, the selection of screensavers isn’t one of them. In fact, if you look a little more closely, there isn’t any selection at all. Instead, all you get is the “blank screen” screensaver, which does nothing more than, well, give you a blank screen.


Intuitively, there doesn’t seem to be a way to fix it, so you’ll need to use a back door way to get a nicer selection of screensavers. But why does this problem exist in the first place?

It’s All GNOME 3

change screensaver ubuntu
In the latest changes, Ubuntu 11.10 finally switches over from GNOME 2 as its background framework of applications that Unity sits on top of, to GNOME 3 GNOME 3 Beta - Welcome To Your New Linux Desktop Read More . The latest version of GNOME 3, version 3.2, does have a wide range of system configuration options, but is still considered young in many aspects, including this one. One of the things GNOME 3 hasn’t yet expanded on is the selection of screensavers.

Although Ubuntu has the power to change out this part if the developers wanted to, I presume they left it as it is for uniformity. However, that doesn’t mean that you can’t change it yourself.

Switching To Better Screensavers

Doing this isn’t as hard as it may sound. You’ll simply need to switch out some packages and the job will be done. Before you start, make sure that in Software Sources you have all possible sources selected so that Ubuntu will find the needed packages.

It will be faster if you copy and paste the following command into the terminal (

sudo apt-get remove gnome-screensaver && sudo apt-get install xscreensaver xscreensaver-gl-extra xscreensaver-data-extra

), or you can manually remove


and install




, and


via the Ubuntu Software Center.


Once that completes, you can then go ahead and launch XScreenSaver (which simply appears as “Screensaver” when searching for it in the Unity Dash). When you first open the configuration window, you’ll be warned that the GNOME screensaver daemon is still running, and you should stop it. Go ahead and do that, then allow the XScreenSaver daemon to run on the current display.

change screensaver on ubuntu
In the first tab called “Display Modes”, you can set what kind of screensaver you’d like to have. There are plenty of different options, and you can even change from one to the other, automatically, after a certain amount of time. You can even choose which screensavers it should regularly switch.

change screensaver ubuntu
In the “Advanced” tab, you’ll get to do a heck of a lot of advanced stuff. A lot of it doesn’t make much sense to me, so if you’re like me you’ll be best served just leaving those options alone. However, for those that do know what this is talking about, you’re welcome to take a swing at it.


Reverting Back

In case you’d like to go back to the simple blank screen, either because you know it’ll just work or because you have some other reason, this is easy to do as well. I recommend that you run this via the terminal as you need to do more than just install and remove packages, but if you choose to do it differently, that is up to you.

In order to revert to what you had before, run

sudo apt-get remove xscreensaver xscreensaver-gl-extra xscreensaver-data-extra && sudo rm /usr/bin/gnome-screensaver-command && sudo apt-get install gnome-screensaver

. This will uninstall and install the correct packages, as well as remove a file that is no longer needed and would otherwise cause issues.


Once again, the beauty of Linux’s ability to be highly customizable shines brightly. Thankfully, this option to change the screensaver is available and easily accessible by any user. Hopefully in subsequent releases we will see Ubuntu (or the GNOME framework) include more screensaver options by default so that this becomes unnecessary. Until then, I believe this will be perfectly fine.


What other parts of Ubuntu seem to be missing something, like the screensavers mentioned in this article? What would you like to see be added next to the GNOME bundle? Let us know in the comments!

Related topics: GNOME Shell, Screensaver, Ubuntu.

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  1. Jackperez
    January 19, 2012 at 4:58 pm

    I did not like Unity even I understand
    why they did it, so I change it back to the Gnome 2.0. The problem
    that all my widgets on the top menu bar were lost and I do not know
    how to get them back. Perhaps you can find a way to do this.

    Thank you for your answer on Screensaver,

    • John
      May 17, 2012 at 2:36 am

      In Ubuntu 11.10 and 12.04 LTS install 'Gnome Shell' (it's in Ubuntu Software Center), reboot, and at the login screen click the gear icon, and from the pop-up window select 'Gnome Classic (without effects)'.

      To add applets to the Gnome Panels (at the top & bottom of the screen) press the key while you right-click on one of them. You'll see what to do next.

      After you're done adding & setting up your choice of Gnome applets, log out (or reboot), click the gear icon, and select 'Gnome Classic' to enjoy a Gnome 3.x GUI with effects that's functionally very close to Gnome 2.x.

      Currently the Gnome applets in Ubuntu & Edubuntu 12.04 LTS are a bit buggy at times but hopefully this will be fixed in Ubuntu 12.04.1 LTS which is due for release in the third week of July.

      • John
        May 17, 2012 at 2:39 am

        press the Alt key

  2. Stevendege
    December 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm

    I have tried to customize the display themes but there isn't much of a choice unlike previous releases. Is it possible to add more themes and customize the look of desktop?

    • Danny Stieben
      December 21, 2011 at 7:24 am

      Do you mean themes like Radiance and Ambiance? If so, you'll want to look for GTK3 themes online. You'll find them in the usual places like Gnome Look and DeviantArt.

  3. Gabriel
    November 22, 2011 at 4:17 am

    Hi, anyone knows of a nice analog clock that comes up as a screensaver? Or perhaps even how to create screensavers? Was wishing my computer turned into a nice huge clock whenever it goes idle... Any advice will be great! :)

  4. Daniel Anderson
    November 21, 2011 at 9:45 pm

    who needs screensavers I like the lock screen feature Ctrl+Alt+L

    • Danny Stieben
      December 21, 2011 at 7:25 am

      Some people prefer screensavers over simply black lock screens. I personally don't care too much about screensavers anymore.

  5. NJM
    November 21, 2011 at 8:46 pm

    This is perfect example for why Linux will NEVER become a mainstream OS.

    • Kyle Amadio
      November 23, 2011 at 11:56 am

      Do you use an Android phone? or maybe you have a Set top Box or DVD player or NAS  say a NetGear ReadyNAS or most useful stable embedded devices say a Wireless Router. Do you use the internet - Apache on Linux is the Internet, what about any Cloud based services - eg Amazon's etc, DropBox maybe...

      A meaningless comment - no its not Windows nor a Mac - but it is THE mainstream OS that drives the world.