Using Ubuntu 14.04? Here’s How To Use The Latest Gnome Release

Danny Stieben 22-05-2014

Right now, there are two types of users of Ubuntu 14.04 LTS “Trusty Tahr”. The first type uses Ubuntu 14.04 because it’s an LTS release, and they want to enjoy the stability benefits that come with that Why Windows XP Users Should Switch To Ubuntu 14.04 LTS "Trusty Tahr" If you're still trying to dump Windows XP but haven't found an alternative yet, Ubuntu 14.04 is a great choice. Read More . The other type use Ubuntu 14.04 because it’s the latest Ubuntu release – and don’t care about the LTS thing, or stability.


If you fall into the second category, you may be interested in upgrading to the latest version of Gnome. Here’s how.

Why You Would Want To Upgrade

When Ubuntu 14.04 shipped Ubuntu Users: Here's How To Upgrade To 14.04, "Trusty Tahr" Using Ubuntu? Here's how to get the latest version. Read More , Canonical decided to stick with Gnome 3.10.  This older version of Gnome was considered  more stable than Gnome 3.12, the latest release. This isn’t necessarily a bad thin if your top priority is stability, but some users might want the new features and improvements of Gnome 3.12.

Thankfully, upgrading has been made easy for Ubuntu users thanks to a simple PPA (personal package archive What Is An Ubuntu PPA & Why Would I Want To Use One? [Technology Explained] Read More ).

We wrote an extensive article about why you should consider upgrading to Gnome 3.12 if you’re a Gnome user 7 Reasons You Should Upgrade To GNOME 3.12 On Linux Labeled by some as "unintuitive" and "a usability nightmare," GNOME Shell used to be crap. Not anymore. Read More . In that article we talk about some nifty improvements — my favorite one of the bunch is the improved HiDPI (high dots-per-inch, aka ultra high-resolution screens like on the MacBook Pro Retina) support. While those improvements will only appear in select locations as the rest of the HiDPI support is handled through Unity, it’s still a good idea to get those toolkit and theme tweaks.

How To Upgrade

Upgrading to Gnome 3.12 is a rather simple affair. First, you’ll need to make sure that you have all available updates installed. You can do this by opening up the Software Updater utility, or by running the command sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade in the terminal.


Next, you’ll want to run the following command in the terminal: sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3-staging && sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade. This command will add the Gnome 3 Staging PPA (which contains all of our Gnome 3.12 packages), and then rerun the previous command to check for updates and apply any that are available (which there should be now). Let the command do its work, and after a reboot you should be running Gnome 3.12 as the backbone!

Miscellaneous Notes

If you’d like to run a true Gnome environment rather than Unity with Gnome as the backbone, you can switch the session at the login screen (before you hit enter after typing in your password) from Unity to Gnome Session. Be warned that (for better or worse, depending on your preferences) this means you’ll now be running Gnome Shell.

In case Gnome Shell isn’t already installed on your computer, you can install it with the command sudo apt-get install gnome-shell.

If you want to get the most out of your Gnome 3.12 experience, you can install some additional Gnome applications that are usually included with Gnome, but not with Ubuntu. These include the Gnome “Epiphany” web browser, the Polari IRC client, and the Gnome Maps application. You can install them using these three tools with the following command: sudo apt-get install epiphany-browser gnome-maps polari -y.


How To Roll Back

Of course, there’s a slight risk that you’ll experience some bugs while using Gnome 3.12. While the Gnome developers have released the software as a stable release, there may be some issues that other software (such as Unity) not meant to work with 3.12. So far the only complaints from other users include screen flickering and a few broken Gnome extensions.

If you’ve had enough of Gnome 3.12, whether it be because you just don’t like it or if you have the rare scenario of a serious problem with it, you can also roll back the updates very easily. Open up a terminal and type in the following command: sudo apt-get install ppa-purge && sudo ppa-purge ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3-staging. This command will install a “purge” tool, which will then be used to remove the Gnome 3 Staging PPA and any updates that were applied because of it.


As you can see, it’s very easy to upgrade to the latest version of Gnome 3. If you’re interested in the new features and don’t mind taking a slight risk, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t try it out – you can always roll back in case things go wrong for whatever reason. However, if you’re concerned about stability, I wouldn’t recommend that you try this, simply because Gnome 3.12 includes code that has been far less tested than code found in Gnome 3.10. Canonical also won’t be updating Ubuntu 14.04 to any version after Gnome 3.10 for the lifespan of the distribution release anyways.

Are desktop environment updates worthwhile in the middle of distribution releases? If yes, do you prefer a rolling release model over this or not? Let us know in the comments!


Related topics: GNOME Shell, Ubuntu.

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  1. Michael
    May 23, 2014 at 9:26 pm

    I think your advice for a Roll Back could be better accomplished by IMAGING the original drive first, BEFORE the update. That way, when you NEED to go back because you've totally messed up your system by installing/updating an entire DM and then purging it, you can easy fix it. An image of the entire partition could be easily restored in ten minutes!
    On a brighter note, I'm off to update now ... I'm writing this in the ten minutes that I wait for my backup to be created =)

    • Danny S
      May 31, 2014 at 10:25 pm

      Sure, that might be the best way to roll back, but it's a lot more involved. Plus, those were the instructions that came with the PPA, so I would believe that it works well.

      • Anonymous
        July 10, 2015 at 9:44 pm

        You say "you can also roll back the updates very easily." then when it's too late I find that at the bottom o the page you say you haven't actually tried it yourself. Please could you edit this page to make it clear this is hearsay.

        After I followed your update instructions, many of the characters in my apps were corrupt and unreadable (e.g. a Web Page in firefox was just a mess of jumbled glyphs. A re-boot wouldn't solve. When I tried the roll-back you suggest I got 25 unresolved dependencies.

        I was desperate enough to try this Gnome update, I have a hiDPI screen and I just could hardly use many of my applications because I couldn't see the tiny menus and arrows and scroll bars. So I followed your advice after noticing you offered a way back. But now I have a heap of useless silicom.

        • Anonymous
          July 15, 2015 at 1:45 am

          The outcome (5 days of hair-pulling later): With so many unresolved dependencies, and corrupt characters on screen, I decided to take a back-up then reformat the root partition and reinstall Ubuntu, as well as all my apps and devices from scratch. The first time, I got the corrupt characters back - because I had restored all my profile directories into my home directory. So I had to do a re-install again, this time without restoring my profiles.

          (BTW, It turned out the corrupt characters were probably a coincidental Firefox bug.)

          The moral of this tale: Do not trust the assurance on this page that you will easily be able to roll-back the suggested changes. You may not be able to; I couldn't.

  2. Peter Egan
    May 22, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    Please tell me what Ubuntu is. Likewise for Gnome... And please don't just give me a smart-ass answer like the 29 year old resident of his mother's basement who replied to my question about the nature of Ubuntu by stating only "the future".

    • Gordon
      May 22, 2014 at 4:46 pm

      Huh? Ubuntu is a linux distro, Gnome is a desktop environment. Are you asking for the information to be handed to you? Just do a quick Google search, there is a ton of information about these two.

    • jasray
      May 22, 2014 at 7:43 pm

      Ubuntu is one flavor of Linux. Linux is an alternative operating system that requires a small learning curve. Mint is another flavor of Linux based on the Ubuntu core. If you do start reading about Ubuntu and Linux, you may want to try using either Ubuntu or Mint since they are both relatively easy to learn. Note: After reading some articles, you will find that many flavors/versions of Linux can be started/booted from a CD or a USB drive. The ability to have an entire operating system on a 4GB USB flash drive is considered a security plus when traveling. Some people like Linux because it tends to be light on resources. If a computer doesn't run Windows well, it will most likely work much better with Linux installed. A major advantage to Linux (or one I have found) is the time savings. Because of the architecture of Linux, viruses, trojans, malware, etc. are less problamatic, and updates are a breeze. It seems with Windows I spend so much time on simple maintenance that it simply isn't worth it to try and keep up with the numerous security problems and hotfixes. And, yes, Gnome is the picture on the desktop that interacts with all of the programs and files. You may also hear of KDE, MATE, and Cinammon. I like Mint LXDE Cinammon the best.

    • kuark
      September 21, 2014 at 11:25 pm

      If you've been using Android, you can think of these terms as;

      Linux = Basic core Android
      Distros (such as Ubuntu, Mint, Suse, Arch, Fedora, ...) = Manufacturer specific customized Androids
      Desktop Env (such as GNOME, Unity, KDE, LXDE, ...) = Home launchers

      I know these are very rough analogies, but, in high level, it would help you conceptualize what those terms are, if you are not familiar with linux terminology.