What Ubuntu Unity Fans Can Do to Keep Your Favorite Interface

Bertel King 10-05-2017

Ubuntu’s Unity interface is going away What Switching Back to GNOME Means for Ubuntu Canonical has announced the end of the Unity desktop. From Ubuntu 18.04, the GNOME desktop will be restored. What does this mean for Ubuntu, and its relationship with Linux users? Read More . Canonical has cancelled development alongside all work on Ubuntu phones and tablets Is This the End for Ubuntu Touch? The Ubuntu Touch project is officially over, but that doesn't mean your Ubuntu phone is dead just yet. Here's what the cancellation means for you and what you should do next. Read More . The Mir display server, too, won’t see much investment going forward.


What’s a Unity lover to do? Fortunately, the interface isn’t gone forever just because its creator has decided to move on. Unity may live on, and if not, there are other ways to create a similar look and feel.

What Is Unity?

Unity is the user interface that Canonical created for the Ubuntu Linux operating system in 2010 Unity Explained: A Look at Ubuntu's Default Desktop Environment If you're switching to Linux from Windows, you might choose Ubuntu. But despite it's versatility, Ubuntu comes with an unusual desktop environment, Unity. Don't be discouraged: it's simple to use! Read More . Since 2011, it has been a distinct part of the Ubuntu experience.

Unity’s most prominent features include a dock along the left side of the screen, a global menu in a panel across the top, and a Dash that lets you launch applications and perform searches from a single location. Other details include pop-up notification bubbles, progress bars that appear over app icons, and plenty of keyboard shortcuts Save Time with 20 Linux Keyboard Shortcuts GNOME, KDE, & Unity You know about Windows keyboard shortcuts, but having just migrated, you're wondering "what about Linux?" Well, try these 20 awesome shortcuts for three of the most popular Linux desktop environments: GNOME, KDE, and Unity. Read More .

Unity is not a full desktop environment like GNOME or KDE. Canonical intended for the interface to let users access the apps they already love, though this started to change as work progressed on Unity 8 and Mir How to Install Unity 8 and Mir on Linux Ubuntu Right Now In time, Unity 8 is expected to unify the Ubuntu experience across phones, tablets, and desktops, using the Mir display server. You can try both of them out today with Ubuntu 16.10 Yakkety Yak. Read More . Unity 7 was ultimately the final version to see release.

Despite being an open source project, few other distributions showed interest in Unity. While it’s possible to use Unity on Arch Linux or openSUSE, relatively few people do. The majority of people concerned about what happens to Unity now are Ubuntu users who have grown accustomed to the interface over the better part of a decade. That’s understandable. And since this is Linux, it may not be time to say goodbye just yet.


Will Someone Else Keep Unity Alive?

Unit Linux is one emerging Linux distribution born following Canonical’s announcement. The project will utilize Unity 7 to create a new user experience with similar elements. The desktop will be based on GNOME and use the Wayland display server How To Try Wayland, A New Display Server For Linux Linux distributions will soon get a new display server called Wayland. Let's take a look at Wayland, and see how you can try it out right now. Read More instead of Mir, but it will have a Unit dashboard and Unit notifications similar to those of Unity’s.

keep unity alive unitlinux

Yunit is a community-driven project to continue Unity 8 development. Contributors still want to see the interface make it to desktops in a stable form. This will be no easy task. While it was possible to try out Unity 8 in recent versions of Ubuntu, the experience was far from ready for prime time. Yunit won’t just need to maintain the code, the team will need to drastically improve it.

UBports, known for porting Ubuntu Touch to non-supported devices, is also continuing Unity 8 development. This group will continue to focus on phones and tablets, not desktops. Its job is arguably easier than Yunit’s, since Ubuntu Touch has been usable on phones for quite some time, even if the experience has been far from perfect Should You Get an Ubuntu Touch Phone or Tablet? But is the Ubuntu Touch platform a truly successful mobile iteration of Linux's most well-known distribution? Can it compete with Android and iOS? We're going to take a look. Read More .


Making Other Desktop Environments Look Like Unity

Within the next year, Ubuntu will go back to using GNOME as its default desktop environment. A nice thing about GNOME is that it’s very easy to theme. Former Canonical employee and long-time Ubuntu user Stuart Langridge has shared the steps he’s taken to make GNOME feel like Unity. You can complete the experience by using the United GNOME theme, which provides an updated take on the Unity look and feel.

keep unity alive united gnome

Unlike GNOME, you don’t have to install anything extra to make the KDE Plasma desktop feel like Unity. All you need to do is move a few panels and change a few alternate settings.

Soon you may not have to tweak KDE Plasma yourself. The Enjade project is working to replicate the Unity environment using KDE Plasma, so you can get the ideal experience without managing widgets yourself.


Xfce, meanwhile, isn’t as visually complex as GNOME or KDE, but you can still get a barebones Unity-like experience by moving a panel to the left and adding app icons. It’s possible to tweak most free and open source desktop environments in this way, though most will only offer a passing resemblance to Unity at best.

Replicating Unity Features

There’s more to Unity than having a dock on the left side of the screen. Two big features were the Dash and the HUD 8 Things That Keep You Coming Back to Ubuntu There is so much going on in the Linux world, from new features in GNOME Shell to the release of Plasma 5, and the amazing Elementary OS, so why do you stick with Ubuntu? Read More .

The Dash is a search-based application launcher that can also issue commands. You can find similar functionality in GNOME’s Activities overview GNOME Explained: A Look at One of Linux's Most Popular Desktops You're interested in Linux, and you've come across "GNOME", an acronym for GNU Network Object Model Environment. GNOME is one of the most popular open source interfaces, but what does that mean? Read More . Out of the box, Ubuntu will continue to let you search for apps, documents, music, photos, and videos by pressing the Super (Windows) key and typing. You can also enter terminal commands and solve basic math problems.

KDE Plasma comes with an alternative launcher that is also search-based. You can make the switch by right-clicking the launcher widget in your panel.


Alternatively, you can use KRunner. Press Alt + F2 to reveal the search bar, and then start typing to enter commands, launch apps, and so much more. With the right plugins, you can replicate all of the functionality from Unity’s HUD.

Or You Could Just Use Unity

Unity won’t be the default desktop environment a year from now, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be able to use it. Unity 7 will continue to be available via your preferred Linux app store Linux App Stores Compared: Which One Is Right for You? Windows users are being guided to an app store. macOS has had one for a while. Linux, meanwhile, has had an app store-style experience for years. But which one is right for you? Read More . There’s plenty of abandoned open source software that continues to be usable, and the same may be true of Unity — at least for the next few years.

Some people have never liked Unity. Others have depended on it for years. They know the interface inside and out, and it’s painful to have to move to something new. If you count yourself among the latter group, what are your plans?

Do you hope someone will keep Unity alive? Are you preparing to make another desktop environment look and feel like Unity instead? Are you just going to continue using Unity? Whatever you choose, you’re not alone.

Related topics: Linux Desktop Environment, Ubuntu.

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  1. Pedro Dias
    August 31, 2018 at 11:46 am

    I consider Unity the best display manager that I ever used in Linux, that was one of the main reasons to start using Linux as my everyday operative system, using windows only in virtual box's. I plan to use it as long as possible.
    Very sad decision from Canonical.

  2. Mark Clancey
    October 7, 2017 at 7:04 pm

    I've been using computers since before Microsoft and Apple. Unity is the best user interface – ever. Why would I want to update beyond Ubuntu 17.04 when the update is going to take the interface backward? No thanks. I'll stay with Unity as long as Canonical supports its 2017 iteration.

    The rationale for going back to Windows-like usability escapes me. Big mistake on Mark Shuttleworth's part. By the way, Shuttleworth et al should take note that the Chromium OS project (Chromebook, CloudReady, Flint) adopted an almost identical user-interface to Unity. When “the shelf” containing application icon-shortcuts is hidden it acts exactly like Unity (reveals on mouse-over; auto-hides on mouse-out). An improvement over Unity is that it can be placed left, right or bottom. It is the future, not the past.

    Rolling out GNOME as an “update” to Unity is fake development.

  3. Jean Chicoine
    May 15, 2017 at 6:57 am

    Ubuntu 16.04 (been on Ubuntu since 2008), Unity desktop. Wouldn't have any other one.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      May 31, 2017 at 3:30 pm

      What do you plan to do to keep using Unity?

    • Joe
      September 8, 2017 at 4:19 am

      Same here I have used Unity since it was released. And now I can finally move the bar to the bottom of the screen and now they decide to end it. They finally got it right, why quit now?

  4. William Vasquez
    May 11, 2017 at 5:34 pm

    I enjoy resurrecting old PCs with Linux. I put everything from Linux Lite; Mint; Lubuntu; Xubuntu; etc. on old 32bit computers. But when it came time to put a Linux distro on a new 64bit computer, my go to distro was always Ubuntu. Why? Well when all these afore mentioned distros say, 'based on Ubuntu', why wouldn't I want the main OS that I want to use everyday, be the one that so many distros think is the de facto OS to base their version on. Yes, it is not perfect, but those other distros have their problems as well. They always say, 'don't try any new OS right away. Wait until it is well established and all the bugs are ironed out'. Well, we try to do that, but just when an OS gets old enough to be very stable and reliable, they "improve" it by making a whole different version. Microsoft did this with Windows XP and Windows 7. That is why so many people still use those Operating Systems today, and why I will continue to use Unity 7 Ubuntu for as long as I can.

    • Bertel King, Jr.
      May 31, 2017 at 3:48 pm

      Best of luck with you and Unity! If you do find yourself switching to GNOME someday, it's a much better experience now than it was in the early days of GNOME 3. The desktop environment is well established at this point.