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I'm a bit confused about whether or not Gnome-shell is a new distribution or just a desktop environment? Will shell be available to install and use instead of Unity?

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About gnome-shell

gnome-shell is just a shell and not a new distribution or desktop environment.

The Desktop Environment is Gnome and gnome-shell the shell comes with version3 of Gnome Desktop Environment

Please don't confuse gnome-shell or unity with Window Manager too. Both of them are not window manager. For gnome-shell the WM is Mutter and for unity WM is Compiz.

Availability in Natty

With respect to availability of gnome-shell in Ubuntu, it won't be in 11.04. It is present in a PPA. There were some valid technical reasons for keeping it in a PPA. This bug discusses the issue Quoting from it

Due to the state of the GNOME3 stack in natty, we won't be able to 
upgrade gnome-shell to 2.91.x. In addition, due to libraries that 
have already changed, (Bug #685225 and Bug #677382), gnome-shell 
is currently broken. We also have the xulrunner-2.0 transition to 
consider. Due to all this, we believe it best to remove gnome-shell 
from natty.

Also I found a mail titled Status update on GNOME3 and natty sent by Sebastian Bacher dated Jan 20th 2011. It contains a lot of status updates. Go through it.

Instructions for trying GNOME3 (and GNOME Shell) are at this question:

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For unity 2d the WM is Metacity, to complete your list –  robin0800 Mar 9 '11 at 10:43
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Yeah true. Thanks Compiz is 3D compositing manager. Previously Compiz only worked with 3D hardware but as of now it can use AIGLX. –  Manish Sinha Mar 9 '11 at 10:49
    
Just an update. I heard Unity 2D would be migrated to Compiz (with no effects) –  Manish Sinha Jun 29 '11 at 7:46
    
How is working gnome-shell with 11.04 at this point? Is it reliable? –  Juan Sebastian Totero Jul 1 '11 at 15:21
    
The PPA has gnome-shell, but there is guarantee still. I heard most of the issues have now been fixed, but as usual no guarantee –  Manish Sinha Jul 1 '11 at 19:57
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