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Is it possible to install ubuntu12.04 normally and then disable the desktop environments somehow, so that startx doesn't bring up unity or gdm or anything like that? I'm aware of ubuntu alternative and ubuntu minimal, but I'm asking if I can get startx to bring up just a window manager or whatever I tell it to in .xinitrc after having installed ubuntu with unity.

If possible I would like to leave unity or something installed so that I can bring it up if I want/need to, but not have it/gdm come up by default

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That's what the Minimal CD is for. – Uri Herrera Jul 10 '13 at 22:30
I'd personally opt for server over minimal. See… – Oli Jul 10 '13 at 22:33
Also see this answer for some explanation on how I use NoDM:… – Oli Jul 11 '13 at 7:59
up vote 1 down vote accepted

Ubuntu wiki has instructions for creating a custom X session. And then I found a couple of how tos for creating custom Desktop Environments, One on Ubuntu Forums and one on Make Tech Easier.

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You could use this to remove unity:

sudo apt-get remove unity unity-2d unity-2d-panel unity-2d-spread unity-asset-pool unity-services unity-lens-files unity-lens-music unity-lens-applications gir1.2-unity-5.0 unity-common indicator-sound indicator-power indicator-appmenu libindicator7 indicator-application indicator-datetime indicator-messages libnux-2.0-0 nux-tools libunity-misc4 unity-2d-common
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