Making Gnome Shell feel like Unity

I like the way the Ubuntu Unity desktop works. However, a while ago I switched over to Gnome Shell to see what it was like, and it seemed good so I stuck around. But I’ve added a few extensions to it so it feels a bit more like the parts of the Unity experience that I liked. In light of the news from Canonical that they’ll be shipping the Gnome desktop in the next LTS in 2018, and in light of much hand-wringing from people who like Unity as much as I do about how they don’t want to lose the desktop they prefer, I thought I’d write down what I did, so others can try it too.

Gnome shell, customised to look like the Unity desktop

As you can see, that looks like Unity. It feels like Unity too.

The main bit of customisation here is extensions. From the Gnome shell extensions web app, install Better Volume Indicator, Dash to Dock, No Topleft Hot Corner, and TopIcons Plus. That gives you the Launcher on the left, indicators in the top right, and a volume indicator that you can roll the mouse wheel on. Choose a theme; I use the stock Gnome theme, “Adwaita”, but I turned it to “dark mode” (in “Tweak Tool”, turn on “Global Dark Theme”), and set icons to “Ubuntu-mono-dark” in the same place.

Most of the stuff you’re familiar with in Unity actually carries through to Gnome Shell pretty much unchanged — they’re actually very similar, especially with the excellent Dash to Dock extension! One neat trick is that the window spread and the search have been combined; if you hit the Super key (the “Windows” key), it opens up the window spread and lets you search, so the normal way of launching an app by name (hit Super, type the name, hit Enter) is completely unchanged. Similarly, you can launch apps from the Launcher on the left with Super+1 or Super+2 and so on, just like Unity.

There are a whole bunch of other extensions to customise bits of how Gnome Shell works; if there are some that make it more like a Unity feature you like and I haven’t listed, I’d be happy to hear about them. Meanwhile, I’ve still got the feel I like, on the desktop I’ll be using. Hooray for that.

More in the discussion (powered by webmentions)

  • Wes Mason responded at twitter.com I like the way the Unity desktop works. I run Gnome Shell. Here's how I customised it to work the way I like. kryogenix.org/days/2017/04/0…
  • Wes Mason responded at tag:twitter.... (twitter.com)
  • Craig Maloney responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Neil Levine responded at tag:twitter.... (twitter.com)
  • Matt Walker responded at twitter.com I like the way the Unity desktop works. I run Gnome Shell. Here's how I customised it to work the way I like. kryogenix.org/days/2017/04/0…
  • Scott Sweeny responded at twitter.com the most important question is, how did you get the window controls on the left?! 😉
  • Alan Pope responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Scott Sweeny responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Oliver Grawert (ogra) responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Adrian Bradshaw responded at plus.google.com We agree on Top Icons plus but making it more Unity-like is the inverse of what I need 😉
  • Simos Xenitellis responded at plus.google.com I expect such a thing for 17.10.
  • Christian Hergert responded at tag:twitter.... (twitter.com)
  • Andrew Hayzen responded at tag:twitter.... (twitter.com)
  • Masoud Abkenar (‫امیرمسعود پورموسی‬‎) responded at plus.google.com Now if you press Super+1 it opens a new LibreOffice Writer window? (or switches to one if it's already open?) This is the most important thing I want…
  • Stuart Langridge responded at plus.google.com Yup.
  • Rodney Dawes responded at plus.google.com +Masoud Abkenar Either of those. It is configurable.
  • Rodney Dawes responded at plus.google.com Hrmm, the dock extension breaks my other -Super-[0-9] keybindings though. :-/
  • Simos Xenitellis responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Masoud Abkenar (‫امیرمسعود پورموسی‬‎) responded at plus.google.com Well, then I should give GNOME Shell a try for one more time. There is still the ugly and wasteful UI elements, but I hope I can tolerate them.
  • nxadm responded at twitter.com "Stuart Langridge: Making Gnome Shell feel like Unity" kryogenix.org/days/2017/04/0…
  • Chris Coulson responded at tag:twitter.... (twitter.com)
  • Fabio Rafael da Rosa responded at plus.google.com The only thing missing in gnome shell, for me, is progress bars in dash for things like downloads. I really miss that
  • Daniel P. responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Fabio Rafael da Rosa responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
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  • Ingmar Hensler responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Achim Behrens (k1l) responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
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  • Folmer Fredslund responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Fabio Colella responded at plus.google.com Unfortunately there's no extension for Appmenu :/ so much wasted space on the top :/
  • Rodney Dawes responded at plus.google.com The app menus being in the titlebars in Unity is so much better anyway. The menu situation in GNOME is definitely lacking. Took me a while to figure o…
  • Fabio Colella responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Cody Jackson responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
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  • Simos Katsiaris responded at plus.google.com +Fabio Colella i have that on my arch setup, will post the name of the extension tommorow if i remember to check
  • Tin Tvrtković responded at twitter.com Looking good. However I really like the way window controls slot into the nw corner for maximized windows in Unity. Can GS do this somehow?
  • Charles Profitt responded at plus.google.com +Stuart Langridge I have been running Gnome 3 for about 1.5 years now and I have gotten it to a good place in terms of productivity. I only use the fo…
  • Charles Profitt responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com Not as far as I'm aware; the gnome people don't want menus and title bars to work that way.
  • Tin Tvrtković responded at twitter.com I may have to learn to write Gnome Shell extensions then 😨
  • Luis Alvarado responded at plus.google.com +Stuart Langridge Thank you Stuart, was actually very worried since I actually loved how Unity feels.
  • Stuart Langridge responded at plus.google.com +Luis Alvarado me too, hence recreating that feel by telling gnome and customising it, without hacking it. I'm really pleased that one can do that :)
  • Birmingham.IO responded at twitter.com Stuart Langridge: Making Gnome Shell feel like Unity by @sil buff.ly/2nmDwxJ #PlanetBirmingham
  • Luis Alvarado responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Tin Tvrtković responded at twitter.com A really useful addition to the article would be to document how to get the window buttons on the left.
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com I think it just worked...
  • Tin Tvrtković responded at twitter.com Trying to Google it and failing. I managed to get gnome-tweak-tool to restore minimize and maximize, maybe I'll go dig into the source 🙄
  • Stuart Langridge responded at twitter.com I certainly didn't compile anything anew. Note: I installed the gnome desktop on my existing Ubuntu machine, so it may have a setting set.
  • Tin Tvrtković responded at twitter.com Well, me too. apt install ubuntu-gnome-desktop on my primary machine. Still on the left.
  • Tin Tvrtković responded at twitter.com $ gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.wm.preferences button-layout 'close,maximize,minimize:appmenu' ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Sen Sung responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Sriram Ramkrishna (sri) responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Mitsuya Shibata responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Drew Smith responded at twitter.com I like the way the Unity desktop works. I run Gnome Shell. Here's how I customised it to work the way I like. kryogenix.org/days/2017/04/0…
  • Drew Smith responded at tag:twitter.... (twitter.com)
  • Martin Wimpress responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
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  • Neo responded at twitter.com I like the way the Unity desktop works. I run Gnome Shell. Here's how I customised it to work the way I like. kryogenix.org/days/2017/04/0…
  • Paul Smyth responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Drew Jensen responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Fabio Colella responded at plus.google.com +Simos Katsiaris what I meant was to have the application menu (File, Edit, View, etc..) in the panel, not a menu where to launch the apps :)
  • Fabio Colella responded at plus.google.com Anyway, dash to dock and pixel saver IMHO are the must extensions to recreate a Unity-like GNOME Shell environment :)
  • Alistair Buxton responded at plus.google.com This has several problems compared to real Unity. You can only have the dock and icons on one monitor, and there is no way to reveal the dock if it is…
  • ks7000.net.ve 💾 responded at twitter.com «Making #Gnome Shell feel like #Unity» via Stuart Langridge @SIL kryogenix.org/days/2017/04/0…
  • An unnamed person responded at ubunlog.com
  • Simos Katsiaris responded at plus.google.com +Alistair Buxton that is true, the dev for the multi monitor extension might undress that, for example on windows i have the docks of my setups to the…
  • Manish Anand responded at plus.google.com Thanks for this! I'm sure a lot of people are going to need this.Also, it looks like Unity 7 will be alive in some capacity (in repos) so there may no…
  • Gizmo Chicken responded at plus.google.com Looks good. But I'm still hoping for an extension that adds to GNOME shell an option to use a global menu, preferably along with an option for display…
  • Gizmo Chicken responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Eivind Mork responded at tag:plus.goo... (plus.google.com)
  • Tiago Carrondo responded at twitter.com Dicas para Ubuntu Gnome kryogenix.org/days/2017/04/0… fb.me/3JxLioOGu
  • Mike Babb responded at twitter.com A very handy post on creating a more familiar GNOME setup for Unity users, by @sil: kryogenix.org/days/2017/04/0…