I updated to 11.10 today and Unity has absolutely driven me nuts. Is there a way to bring 11.04's Classic Desktop back to 11.10? I tried KDE and I don't find it similar enough to be happy.

I tried installing gnome-session-fallback and selected "classic" at login, but it is missing many things, including the power button, the entire System menu, and the old workspace layout. Essentially, I want:

  • The launcher gone.
  • The top pane with its associated menus back.
  • The taskbar back, with its "foursquare" workspaces layout back.

I have seen some solutions that have you uninstall ~10 unity-related packages -- but does that bring back the old-style desktop environment or does it simply remove Unity?

Bonus points to anyone who can tell me why Unity was conceived. Ugh.

For the sake of remaining updated, I'm not interested in reinstalling 11.04. I would rather switch distros or boot into Win7 than keep my OS out of date, especially since 11.04 isn't LTS. But that's a different topic altogether.

5 Answers 5


Based on ChrisiPK's suggestion to use Xfce, here are the detailed steps I took to rescue Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot from Unity.

For the looks:

  1. Install Xubuntu-Desktop (for Xfce) by using sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop (If you want to undo this later, use this resource to get rid of the xubuntu packages).
  2. Logout and using the settings "gear" icon, select Xfce session.
  3. Upon logging in, you'll notice we're still a little ways away from an "Ubuntu Classic" appearance.
  4. Start by making the lower panel full-width: Right click it and select Panel > Panel Preferences. On the display Tab, set the Size to something around 29, and the length to 100%.
  5. I have the two panels organized as follows:

Panel 1 (top): Applications Menu - Places - Launcher (FireFox) - Separator (Set to Expand) - Notification Area - Clock - Session Menu - Action Buttons


Panel 2 (Bottom): Show Desktop - Window Buttons - Separator (Set to Expand) - Workspace Switcher

To remove the bubbles around desktop icons in Xfce

Edit (or create if it doesn't exist) ~/.gtkrc-2.0 -- Add to the file:

style "xfdesktop-icon-view" {
    XfdesktopIconView::label-alpha = 0

    base[NORMAL] = "#000000"
    base[SELECTED] = "#CFD784"
    base[ACTIVE] = "#FFE7BA"

    fg[NORMAL] = "#ffffff"
    fg[SELECTED] = "#ffffff"
    fg[ACTIVE] = "#ffffff"
widget_class "*XfdesktopIconView*" style "xfdesktop-icon-view"

The colors are hex, so adjust them according to the colors you would like to use (in fact, I personally only included fg[NORMAL] and commented out the rest (by using a # on each line).

For some functionality:

Now, I noticed several things were still missing, like the "Aero Snap" feature for windows, and the ability to arrange windows with Ctrl+Alt+numpad keys, and some other hotkeys were now broken (like Super+D (aka Windows key + D) to show desktop). To bring some of this back, I had to add Compiz back into the mix.

  1. Under the Applications Menu > Settings > Settings Manager, go to Session and Startup. Under Application Autostart, add compiz --replace Log out and back in.
  2. Install CompizConfig Settings Manager (CCSM): sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager.
  3. Under Settings > CompizConfig Settings Manager, go to Key Bindings. Set Show Desktop to use Super+D to bring the show Desktop hotkey back.

For particular programs


You'll notice NetBeans looks ugly in Xfce (compared to Unity/Ubuntu). To fix that, add --laf com.sun.java.swing.plaf.gtk.GTKLookAndFeel to any and all launchers for NetBeans. For some reason, NetBeans on Unity loads the GTK Look and Feel, whereas under Xfce it loads a "Metal" Look and feel. Solution found here.

Last Words

I'm still hoping there is a more elegant way, and am still leaving this question open. Furthermore, my solution still has its oddities, and I am sure I am missing some features/functions -- I will try to add those as I come across them. Most notable at this point, is that the workspace preview icons are scaled incorrectly once you introduce Compiz to Xfce.

So instead of saving Ubuntu from Unity, this is actually going with Xubuntu instead, which means things like Firetray for Thunderbird have stopped working.

  • I also switched to Xubuntu because of my misery with Unity and the need to update (11.04 will lose its support in a few months). This guide let me configure it to be more like the old gnome, so thanks for that! Also, I love how Xubuntu is just way faster at starting up applications or browsing your files...
    – Tovi7
    Commented Mar 8, 2012 at 11:05

I was facing the same problem and switched to Xfce as window manager. Its structure is quite similar to the "old" Ubuntu Classic layout and with a few customizations you can get an almost identical layout.

Xfce also relies on panels to group elements and there are a lot of things you can customize. It might not look like 11.04 classic right away, but I find it to be quite intuitive to use. Just right-click the top panel to add or remove the elements you want until your desktop looks like in the good old days.

  • 1
    I'll give Xfce a go :)
    – Nick
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 22:30
  • +1 for XFCE ! I like it most than the old GNOME2. Commented Oct 22, 2011 at 18:29
  • +1 for XFCE, I love it in 11.10, looks awesome (although I disabled that new app launcher and put the taskbar back where it belongs). Commented Oct 22, 2011 at 23:23

If you don't want to try XFCE, here's one way to get a classic look and feel Gnome:

First, install the package: gnome-classic-fallback:

    sudo apt-get install gnome-session-fallback

Now logout, click the settings icon next to the username on the login menu, and select "Gnome classic."

That gets your taskbar and launch panel back. (Note you have to hold alt and right click the panel to add or move shortcuts and applets.)

Now, unfortunately the trusty theme editor is gone. You could use gconf-editor, but this is an easier tool:

sudo apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool

This allows you to at least pick and switch your themes. However, the choice is very limited, and they're all a bit garish for my taste. You can however, find some more at (for example): http://www.webupd8.org/2011/10/4-beautiful-gnome-32-compatible-gtk.html

In short, try:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:webupd8team/themes
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install elements-gs-theme

Alternatively I believe there are many in the standard repository, but these ones came up first in google... I also like the "human" theme for window management:

sudo apt-get install human-theme

So currently my window theme is human, icon theme is Ubuntu-mono-light, and my GTK+ theme is Elements-GS-and-Classic. I'm reasonably happy, and it's only taken about 3 hours (!!! damnit Ubuntu...)


Much easier is to Xfce 4.8 using the xfce4 meta-package, either from the Ubuntu Software Center, the command line (apt-get install xfce4) or Synaptic Package Manager. Thats https://help.ubuntu.com/community/MetaPackages if you want more info.

It takes a few minutes. You might also want to pull in the 'extras' packages,

  • xfce-goodies containing more artwork and a stack of utilities
  • xfprint4 which is the printer GUI for xcfe

This gives you just the Xfce4 desktop environment plus Thunar file manager and a handful of Xfce utilities, without pulling down the whole Xubuntu software stack and without remiving the rest of your standard Ubuntu software selection.

Choose the Xfce session using the selector invoked by the gear icon in Light DM login screen. You can customise the panels and panel items within Xfce using the GUI invoked by a right-click on the panels. Gnome users will get the hang of this in minutes. RC


In "GNOME Classic" all you have to do is hold Alt while right-clicking an empty area of the panel, choose "Add to Panel..." as you did in previous versions, and add back bits, and remove what you like.

Only thing missing are "drawers", which unfortunately need a total rewrite for Gnome 3.

You can also add or remove panels, and the "taskbar" is just a panel with "Window List" added.

As for "Workspace Switcher", which you add the same way, if you find you've only 2 virtual desktops instead of 4: go to Compiz-Config Settings Manager, then General Options, and in the Desktop Size tab make the "Horizontal Virtual Size" = 4 (or fidget with those settings till you get it right; you can also right-click the switcher and choose Preferences).

I've nearly got Gnome 3 "Classic" as it was, so have fun tailoring it to your needs.

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