Install the Gnome Flashback classical desktop on Ubuntu 14.10/Linux Mint 17

By | February 17, 2015

The Gnome Flashback desktop environment is a simple and great way to get back the old style classical desktop if you do not like Unity desktop, like many.

Gnome Flashback is based on GTK 3 and provides a desktop interface visually similar to the old gnome desktop.

Another alternative to gnome flashback is the MATE desktop from linux mint and XFCE desktop, but both of them are based on gtk 2.

Install Gnome Flashback

Install the following package on your Ubuntu system and you are done.

$ sudo apt-get install gnome-session-flashback

Now logout and at the login screen press the settings button on the box that asks for password. There would be 2 options, Gnome Flashback (Metacity) and Gnome Flashback (Compiz).

Metacity is lighter and faster, whereas Compiz gets you the more fancy desktop effects. Here is a screenshot of my gnome flashback desktop.

It uses a wallpaper from elementary OS and also Plank dock with no bottom panel. This tutorial explains every bit of it.

ubuntu gnome flashback

After installing Gnome Flashback desktop you need to do a couple of more things to finetune it.

1. Install Gnome Tweak Tool

The Gnome Tweak Tool allows you to customize things like fonts, themes etc, that are otherwise difficult or impossible with the "unity-control-center" tool of Unity desktop.

$ sudo apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool

Find it in Applications > System Tools > Preferences > Tweak Tool

2. Add applets to panel

By default right clicking on the panels would not have any effect.

Press the Alt+Super (windows) key on your keyboard while you right click on the panels and you would get the relevant options to customize the panel.

You can modify the panel, remove it and also add applets to it. In this example we shall remove the bottom panel and replace it with Plank dock.

Add a datetime applet on the top panel at the middle. Configure it to display the date time and weather conditions.

Also add a workspace switcher applet to the top panel and create as many workspaces as you need.

3. Take window title bar buttons to the right

On Ubuntu the minimise, maximise and close buttons on the window title bar are on the left by default. It needs a small hack to get them to the right.

To take the window buttons to the right use the following command, which I found at askubuntu.

$ gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.wm.preferences button-layout 'menu:minimize,maximize,close'

The same can be done from dconf-editor too.

4. Install Plank dock

The plank dock sits at the bottom and holds launchers for applications and window launchers for running applications. It hides itself when not necessary and shows up again when needed. Its the same dock as used by elementary OS.

Run the following commands

$ sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ricotz/docky -y 
$ sudo apt-get update 
$ sudo apt-get install plank -y

Find it in Applications > Accessories > Plank. To configure it to start automatically with the system, go to System Tools > Preferences > Startup Applications and add the "plank" command to the list.

5. Install Conky system monitor

Conky is a nice way to decorate your desktop with system statistics like cpu and memory usage. It is lightweight and works most of the time without any hassles.

Run the following commands -

$ sudo apt-add-repository -y ppa:teejee2008/ppa
$ sudo apt-get update
$ sudo apt-get install conky-manager

Now launch Applications > Accessories > Conky Manager and select the widget you want to display on your desktop. Conky Manager also allows you to configure it to launch at system startup.

6. Install CompizConfig Settings Manager

If you wish to use Gnome Flashback (Compiz) session then it would be useful to use the compiz settings manager to configure desktop effects. Install it with the following command

$ sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager

Now launch it from System Tools > Preferences > CompizConfig Settings Manager.

It so happened inside Virtualbox that, in the compiz session window decorations went missing. To fix it, launch Compiz settings and enable the "Copy to texture" plugin and then logout and login back. It should be fixed.

However the Compiz session is slower than the Metacity session.

7. Disable overlay scrollbars

On Ubuntu with unity installed, the scrollbars are the overlay scrollbars. In order to revert to the old style plain scrollbar, run the following command

$ gsettings set com.canonical.desktop.interface scrollbar-mode normal

Or run dconf-editor and go to com > canonical > desktop > interface and set the scrollbar-mode value to normal.

8. Fix the missing menu and button icons

By default, the gnome flashback session does not show icons in dropdown menus and buttons. To enable these run the following commands

$ gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface menus-have-icons true

$ gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface buttons-have-icons true

Or do the settings from dconf-editor.

If your system is on low hardware and you need to maximise speed, then it might be a good idea to keep them disabled.

9. Disable unity webapps integration

The following command shall disable unity webapps integration

$ gsettings set com.canonical.unity.webapps integration-allowed false

Thats all. Enjoy the gnome flashback desktop.

10. Disable compositing in metacity to speed up

If your system is low on hardware and you need to speed up things, then use the metacity desktop and disable compositing. Doing so would remove the desktop effects like shadows etc.

Open dconf-editor and go to the following path.

org > gnome > metacity

Find the setting called compositing-manager and uncheck it. It would take effect instantly and windows would lose their shadows. But it would also speed up the desktop user interface.

Find another setting called 'edge-tiling' and uncheck it to speed up window dragging.

11. Install some themes

The default available themes are Ambiance and Adwaita that might not appeal to everyone. The shimmer project has 2 nice themes called bluebird and greybird. Install them

$ sudo apt-get install shimmer-themes

Now open gnome-tweak-tool and in the Appearance tab, select Theme > Window > Bluebird. Its a blue colored window border theme. Bluebird as the window theme goes well with Ambiance as the GTK theme.

About Silver Moon

A Tech Enthusiast, Blogger, Linux Fan and a Software Developer. Writes about Computer hardware, Linux and Open Source software and coding in Python, Php and Javascript. He can be reached at [email protected].


Install the Gnome Flashback classical desktop on Ubuntu 14.10/Linux Mint 17
  1. prot

    commands ready to use:
    gsettings set org.gnome.metacity compositing-manager false
    gsettings set org.gnome.metacity edge-tiling false
    gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface enable-animations false

    and optionally:
    gsettings set org.gnome.metacity reduced-resources true

    1. Sajjad H. Rizvi

      I think that’s exactly why it is there. Gnome team saw the attention and demand for it and thought this should be an option.

  2. Eric Lovejoy

    does a much worse job at doing what it used to do in Gnome2, then what
    mate does now. Flash back mode looks hardly like the gnome2 that it
    claims to flashback to. Its so incredibly infuriating that the gnome
    devs dropped a perfectly stable and well supported DE. Mate Does Gnome
    best. No mate isn’t Gnome2 but, its closer than flashback mode is.

  3. Rey Rivera

    Hmmm… I see that you are a big fan of Elementary OS, just like me. Nice to know that. I enjoy reading your articles, though no one is commenting, most of the time.

    Cheers mate… as the Aussies luv to say!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *