Ask Ubuntu is a question and answer site for Ubuntu users and developers. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

One of the things that has kept me away from gnome until now is the lack of a common, central place for configuration. This was bad in the old days, but after the advent of compiz, mutter and dconf, and the unofficial tweak utils (gnome-tweak, ubuntu-tweak, unsettings, etc.), it's even more confusing.

Especially when things don't work as expected. Some keyboard shortcuts are set in one place, some in others; some are taken over from one vanilla gnome to Unity, others seem to go unnoticed. Maybe they conflict with some other setting, but there is no notification to that effect. Etc.

I've also experienced, when playing around with different flavors of GNOME (Gnome 2, Gnome 3, Unity, Gnome Shell, Cinnamon, etc.), that sometimes changes in one of them will have no effect on the others -- sometimes they will mess them up completely (or cause a revert to the default upon next login).

So, to get to the question: Can someone point me to a survey of how the various GNOMEs relate to each other -- to the various backends/systems, and to the configuration frontends? Which configurations in one (say Gnome Shell) will have effects on others (say Unity)?

share|improve this question

I've definitely ran into these issues when testing with different desktop environments and I can understand your concern. One thing to keep in mind is that KDE likes to mind its own business so when you install KDE without recommends or suggests turned on your KDE environment is entirely on its own.

You also have to be careful for display managers. Unity, LXDE and XFCE use LDM. KDE uses KDM, and Gnome uses GDM. Usually if you keep suggests and recommends turned off you will be fine. Another good way to look at dependencies

apt-cache depends [package-name]

If you want to just look at core dependencies

apt-cache depends [package name] | grep Depends

To get to your question, configuration files are tricky. Unity has been trying to get off of Gnome dependencies for a while and for the most part it has. Unity and Gnome both depend on similar libraries like: Cairo, ATK, GTK, Glib, Compiz and probably others that I couldn't find.

Your best bet is to experiment in a safer environment. You can download an Ubuntu ISO and do some testing in VirtualBox. Or you can backup everything onto an external hard drive and test directly on your machine, and if something bad happens then you have a backup.

I'm sorry I couldn't give you a more direct answer, but I'm sure a more direct answer would be helpful to many people who also want to try out and experiment with different desktops environments.

share|improve this answer
Thanks for your answer. First of all: KDE is not a worry; I used KDE for many years and then moved along to awesome when KDE4 was unleashed... Especially the nepomuk/akonadi combo put me off. But in the area of this question, I like what KDE does. Just one question: how much influence does the Display Manager actually have on the system once I'm logged in? I know it does a little more than just startx, but will Unity really be affected if I start it from GDM? – eyolf Jan 28 '13 at 0:33
Quick followup: My scrollbar went missing under Gnome Shell - I had turned off the overlay scrollbar, but no normal scrollbar took its place, I only had a narrow indicator. Then I found a setting under com/canonical/desktop/interface - a place I had not expected to find Gnome stuff (everything else in that namespace is Unity related, as far as I can tell). Phew... – eyolf Jan 29 '13 at 13:52
Yes once you are logged in the Display Manager has little effect. If you have multiple ones installed it gets tricky using the one you want to use for your log in. As I said you are going to have to play around with the settings, Google is your best friend. I wish I made better answers, but there isn't a straight answer to install Gnome side by side with Unity and having 0 issues. Making sure you turn off recommends and suggests will help A LOT though. – Dillon Gilmore Feb 1 '13 at 6:50

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.