How to Use the Gnome 3 PPA in Ubuntu 11.04

Updated: 5 May 2011

How do you use Gnome Shell on Ubuntu 11.04? The simple answer is you don’t. Yes, there is an experimental PPA but it will break your computer.

Why will it break my computer?

The Ubuntu Desktop Team has been very busy getting Ubuntu 11.04 out the door. The transition to Unity in this release is the biggest change in Ubuntu I can remember. The Desktop Team is not really very large and most of the members have other responsibilities and interests. There were many bugs that needed looking after.

At the beginning of the 11.04 Natty release cycle the Ubuntu developers (those that do the work to get a new and improved Ubuntu to you every 6 months) decided to hold off on the transition to Gnome 3. With Unity alone, this release cycle was going to be very busy and transitioning to Gnome 3 is not as simple as just pushing some updated packages. As Gnome 3 had already missed 2 releases and was scheduled to the 3.0 release just a few weeks before Ubuntu 11.04 had to be released, I can understand that decision.

A few Gnome 3 packages were allowed in if they were judged not to be too disruptive (we have a new Help viewer and new Desktop Help and there are other examples). An example of how things could break is that mousetweaks 3 was shipped in 11.04 but it does not work right with Gnome Control Center 2.32 so I believe mousetweaks will have to be downgraded.

How will it break my computer?

  • You will not be able to log in to Unity 2D until the required gnome-session support is enabled in Unity 2D.
  • For me, gnome-power-manager is broken, meaning I don’t get notifications of my battery status. I have had my computer spontaneously turn off because it had been accidentally unplugged for 2 hours, causing me to lose work.
  • The new GDM login screen looks nice but it has various issues on Ubuntu.
  • GDM 3 will mess up your $PATH and possibly your locale settings. This means you can’t run games normally.
  • The System Log Viewer won’t actually display system logs.
  • Your theme will be broken; in other words, your Ubuntu will look uglier.
  • You will not be able to use the new overlay scrollbars.
  • By default, you will not have icons on your desktop. You can change this, but the file manager won’t work right. You can still run nautilus .  from the command line (and yes, the period is important) to work around this bug which will be fixed in the next version of nautilus.
  • If you’re one of the few who don’t use Ubuntu’s default black screen as your “screensaver”, be aware that Gnome 3 does not really support other screensavers.

Please tell me how to break my computer

If you want to break your computer, simply install the gnome3-team PPA. If you can’t figure out how to do that, this PPA is not for you.

Apt-pinning is a good way to use some software from a repository without using other software. The Ubuntu wiki uses the example of the Mozilla daily repo where you may want bleeding edge versions of Firefox but not Thunderbird. Even with apt-pinning or blacklisting, there are some bugs and interface problems which are unavoidable if you use this PPA.

To enable an improved Gnome 3 experience, the Desktop Team provides a version of network-manager that does not launch the normal nm-applet you will need if you want to use wifi on Unity easily without logging in to Gnome Shell first. To blacklist the PPA version, create a new file:

sudo nano /etc/apt/preferences.d/network-manager-gnome

and put this in it:
Package: network-manager-gnome
Pin: release o=LP-PPA-gnome3-team-gnome3
Pin-Priority: -10

Now you should be able to do a full upgrade. Install gnome-shell, gnome-fallback-session, and gnome-tweak-tool. You’ll need gnome-tweak-tool to set your icon theme back to something normal. Personally, I recommend setting your GTK+ theme to  Adwaita and your  icon-theme to ubuntu-mono-light (on the Interface tab).  To show icons on your desktop, switch to the File Manager tab and switch on Have file manager draw the desktop. Reboot.

I want my computer unbroken

I can’t really provide support for those who install this PPA. It may have lasting effects which are not easily fixed.

Nevertheless, this is a simple description of how you do it. From a command line:

sudo apt-get install ppa-purge
sudo ppa-purge ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3

It will ask you for confirmation. Choose Yes. You may need to reinstall ubuntu-desktop afterwards. I talked to one individual today who had trouble with the login screen.

In Conclusion

Now that Ubuntu 11.04 has been released, developers will be hard at work to get Gnome 3 ready for 11.10. Some of that work may trickle down into the PPA but it is generally a bad idea to attempt to replace a large portion of the Desktop with a beta PPA so you will probably just have to wait for 11.10.

Some view this as a big conspiracy that Ubuntu is trying to kill Gnome or Gnome Shell. This is not true but some people will always assume the worst about individuals who make different decisions than they would have. Ubuntu 11.10 will ship with an even better Unity and Unity 2D powered by Gnome 3. Gnome Shell and Gnome Fallback (currently named gnome-session-fallback in the Debian/Ubuntu repositories, but is basically just a newer version of Gnome Panel) will be an easy install from the default repositories and fully supported. I expect there will be an unofficial Live Gnome Shell Ubuntu CD then also but I don’t think the Ubuntu developers see much interest in making that an official flavor for a variety of reasons.

I will try to update my blog if I receive any additional tips.

I am a Ubuntu volunteer who has submitted some patches to Ubuntu & the Gnome 3 experience in Ubuntu. I also am part of the Ubuntu Documentation Team.

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6 comments on “How to Use the Gnome 3 PPA in Ubuntu 11.04
  1. utodeb says:

    Could i use gnome-shell if i compile it from source by using jhbuild ?


    • jeremy says:

      I believe you’ll have the same issues. The Ubuntu packages are built from source with only a few Ubuntu patches but if you build from vanilla upstream, you wouldn’t get those probably useful patches.

      I’ve built Unity from source and built some of Gnome 3 but I’ve not built the full Gnome Shell..

  2. Adam says:

    Thanks for the thorough overview of the impact to switching!

  3. Dervin Davis says:

    i installed gnome 3 but it doesn’t have adawaita, how can i get it?

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