Goodbye GNOME 2, Hello GNOME 2?


Many Linux users who have been GNOME fans for years find themselves in a sudden quandary. GNOME 3.0 has completely abandoned the desktop experience we've come to love during the years. That's not to say change is bad, it's just that many folks (even Linus Torvalds) don't really want to change.

As an Ubuntu user for several years, I'm accustomed to how well Canonical makes Linux on the desktop "just work". Unfortunately, Ubuntu's alternative to the GNOME 3 switch is Unity. I want to like Unity. I've forced myself to use it to see if it might grow on me after a while. It hasn't. And, to make matters worse, version 11.10 won't have a classic GNOME option, which means I either need to bite the bullet and get used to Unity or go with an alternative.

Thankfully, XFCE has all the features I love about GNOME. No, XFCE isn't exactly like GNOME, but it feels more like GNOME 2 than GNOME 3 does! If you are like me and desperately want to have the old GNOME interface you know and love, I recommend checking out Xubuntu (the version of Ubuntu that uses XFCE). With minimal tweaking, it can look and feel like GNOME 2. Plus, XFCE has the ability to start GNOME (or KDE) services on login, which means GNOME-native apps usually "just work".

The time may come when we're forced to adopt a new desktop model. For the time being, however, alternatives like XFCE or even LDXE offer familiar and highly functional desktop experiences. If you fear GNOME 3 and Unity, try XFCE. Download Xubuntu and check it out:


Shawn is Associate Editor here at Linux Journal, and has been around Linux since the beginning. He has a passion for open source, and he loves to teach. He also drinks too much coffee, which often shows in his writing.


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This article is terribly out

Anonymous's picture

This article is terribly out of date. This should have been written months ago.

I have been using Zorin OS

Mauri's picture

I have been using Zorin OS for couple of months and I am very happy with it.

Definitely need to check out

Anonymous's picture

Definitely need to check out Linux Mint's MGSE and Cinnamon.

Agreed, Cinnamon should have

Yosh's picture

Agreed, Cinnamon should have been Gnome 3 and Gnome 3, likewise, should have been Gnome 4 in a few years. They kind of jumped the gun on this one...

Xubuntu LTS

Mark_Spence's picture

Xubuntu is a pretty good deal for me and my clients [and my family]. I used to install Linux Mint XFCE for that purpose, but it's kinda messy [browser is tied to the internal components, so you can't remove old firefox without also removing other components. Besides, I don't like compiz being installed by deault. Xubuntu gives me leaner base system].

I obviously use only LTS versions which I find extremely stable. I consider others to be testing versions for the masses.

Use Ubuntu 10 or Mint 11

MoChaMan's picture

At the risk of sounding like a luddite , wouldn't it be simpler to just download an old ISO or pop an old CD into the drive and reinstall an old GNOME2 distribution ? I will not be upgrading from Mint 11 to 12 . I installed it somewhere and have decided that Mint 12 is just not going to do it for me . I actually installed Mint 10 on my laptop because Mint 11 tends to crash out too often . Mint 10 was rock solid so here I am , posting from an 'outdated' distribution . Fedora 14 is on another partition since F15 went GNOME3 . XFCE has a ways to go yet . Sadly, GNOME3 and Unity make Windows a viable alternative again ( gasp! ).

Ugh, Posting Before Coffee is Bad

claudiom's picture

I should have realized before posting that the comments would strip out anything in what looks like html brackets. -___- That should read "(insert-package-manager) install xfce4". Silly internets.

Not only that, but if you

Anonymous's picture

Not only that, but if you upgrade to any kind of newer hardware (buy a new laptop, for instance; those things get beat up after a while), then your old Linux distro probably isn't going to work too well on it because it doesn't have drivers for all the newer hardware on it. That's the place where Linux is constantly improving (for real), hardware support is always improving and the kernel is always getting better. Too bad the UI situation is getting worse and worse.

Not The Best Solution

claudiom's picture

While your solution of staying with an older, "outdated" release may look like a great solution, eventually those versions get end-of-lifed unless the release is a long-term-support release like Ubuntu has. Even then, you don't get the current releases of software in those repositories for things like Firefox, Chrome, etc., so you may be missing out on features.

Xfce, as of 4.8, is actually quite a capable desktop environment. It's what actually got me to stick around with Xfce and actually use it for more than 10 minutes. Thankfully, Fedora, Ubuntu, and many others have Xfce spins available, but an " install xfce4" will resolve that issue for those that don't have Xfce spins. However, if you _must_ have a GNOME 2 desktop environment, I recommend checking out MATE which is a fork of the GNOME 2 desktop. Most current distributions should have this in their repositories.

MATE Homepage: (In Spanish)
Phoronix on MATE:

There is also another project from the Linux Mint creator to do something similar with GNOME 3. He's called it Cinnamon. More on that below...

But I don't want to mess with

chrisj's picture

I've tried xfce and lxde, but both left me with one problem. I've been using GNU/Linux as my home desktop since the late 90s. One thing I enjoyed not having to do with Gnome and KDE was mess with the x configuration.

The problem is, the only way I have found to get dual monitors to work (other than mirrored) is to go back in an mess with the X configuration.

Except menu customization

cwsnyder's picture

LXDE and Xfce for now share a menu GUI; it is not very easy to use and results are not always as expected. It is actually easier to manually edit the config files, and that isn't documented well on the Ubuntu sites. My main desktop (6 years old, flat screen monitor 7 years old) doesn't work with either Kwin or Compiz (and didn't work well with Metacity for composition), but works for Windows 7's video effects, so I dropped back 10 yards and punted to Xfce and/or Debian 6 about the time of Ubuntu Natty.

I like LXDE's looks, but customization seems to be even more CLI dependent than Xfce.

Why not use PCLinuxOS or Slackware?

Patrick G Horneker's picture

As of this moment, the GNOME 3 with the 64-bit version of PCLinuxOS is still not working properly.

Users of the 32-bit PCLinuxOS still have GNOME 2 available for installation.

Also, the latest version of Slackware comes with XFCE as one if the window managers (in addition to KDE, FVWM and WindowMaker) that comes with the distribution.

GNOME is NOT included with Slackware by default.


Gabriel's picture

What about mate ? I've installed it after the "upgrade" to oneiric and it's still a bit buggy but it has all that gnome 2 used to have, after all is a fork


I kind of hate Xubuntu - too

deckoff's picture

I kind of hate Xubuntu - too buggy for my taste. A lot of things I take for granted with Ubuntu, keyboard layout change, for example, have to be added manually. This is basic for me.
Anyway, I love Unity, and I am really sad I cant use it on my laptop( too old tho handle) I use U2D. I am a freak, maybe ;)

Shawn, You are one hundred

Jose Diaz's picture

You are one hundred percent on that, I gave Xubuntu a tried and I am in love with it. I had used Unity and I like it, but my hardware is very old so Xubuntu is a perfect fit for my laptop and I can still enjoyed ubuntu as my favorite distro.

Why not just using gnome3 in

Anonymous's picture

Why not just using gnome3 in fallback mode? In the gnome-control-center go in system info and check "force fallback". And you have the old two panel + metacity layout you are familiar.

I can talk from my personal

deckoff's picture

I can talk from my personal experience only.
On my laptop KDE4 runs pretty well, even though I have to turn some desktops effects or choose different effect rendition from OpenGL(cant remember the name) Still I get good looking desktop on a 7 years old business(read good battery, light to carry, underpowered even for its time hardware).
Unity 2D works OK(although some learning curve is needed)
Gnome 3 fallback mode is SO UGLY my eyes hurt. Some of you say "it doesnt cut the mustard" - Xfce does not cut the mustard for me, looks OK, works OK, but I just dont like that much. G3 fallback is UGLY!!!

Seriously, are we talking

Anonymous's picture

Seriously, are we talking about the same thing?
I hope ubuntu haven't called fallback something that ported confusion.
Anyway, ugly? And xfce is not ugly? Are you kidding me?
They are very similar and you can always change the default theme.

Imho mate should improve gnome 2 fallback instead of forking an old dead gtk2 desktop that depends on old libraries.

For users like the author and

Dean Wallace's picture

For users like the author and myself, gnome fallback mode just doesn't cut the mustard and is just a half baked frankenstein which should be renamed gnome-failback
Xfce all the way, I love it

Have you ever tried it?

Anonymous's picture

Have you ever tried it?

Yes, I have

tracyanne (not logged in)'s picture

It should be called GNOME 3 Failback.

It's not a solution the the problems GNOME3 Shell causes on my Multi Monitor system.

Thankfully I can wait until MATE matures, my upgrade will be from Linux Mint 9 to LM 11, if MATE isn't mature enough for Linux Mint 13. In which case I will wait until LM14 or 15 before I upgrade again.

In the gnome-control-center

daisyJRT's picture

In the gnome-control-center go in system info and check "force fallback". And you have the old handmade jewelry two panel + insurance metacity layout you are insurance familiar.


cainmark's picture

I hate Unity and dislike gnome 3 because of 2 reasons. Increased difficulty in customization & the apparent removal of panels and panel apps I use. I use 4 panels around my screen for my tasks productivity and Gnome 2 made that easy. Unity & Gnome 3 makes that darn near impossible. If it is possible it sure isn't easy to do. The removal of that choice lead me to xfce.


Mark Moore's picture

+1 for Lubuntu. When 12.04LTS comes out in April, all of my Ubuntu will go Lubuntu. XFCE is still a bit annoying...


Kevin Miller's picture

Do not forget about Lubuntu as well. LXDE is a great lightweight desktop.


Anonymous's picture

Why not try it on a "yum update xfce4\*"