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At work I have an option of using Windows or Linux. I'm a Java programmer, so I don't necessary need to use windows. And honestly, I'm looking forward to gaining some experience with Linux.

I haven't worked in a Linux environment for almost a decade and, I'm a bit overwhelmed by the Ubuntu desktop.

Not sure if my question will make sense: I was wondering, is there a way to turn the desktop off. I still like to have a windowing system (xterm) and an application launcher - (something like Quicksilver or Lunchy) would be super nice. A GUI login would be nice as well. Everything else off the screen...

This is Linux so I figure what I want to do is possible - just don't know how to get there. Any tutorials, or instructions would be greatly appreciated!

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I'm not sure what you mean by turning the desktop. All Ubuntu and its derivative versions have a graphical login though. – papukaija Jul 19 '13 at 16:13
install Ubuntu server and live on the wild side! Desktops are overrated anyway! – Alvar Jul 19 '13 at 17:49
Btw I'm using awesome On my netbook, it's really fast. – Alvar Jul 19 '13 at 17:51

If you wish to keep your Desktop so "Minimal" in order to focus in productivity or something, keeping graphical items away from your desktop but preserving Desktop functionality thus saving resources which can be efficiently used for productivity, maybe what you need is a Lightweight Desktop Environment. Preferably a hybrid one.

They can be, anyway, too austere for a graphic desktop user, but pretty useful for focusing in productivity without losing the fancy things of Ubuntu.

I suggest you to try i3 Desktop Environment, this will not harm anything in your Ubuntu System but will add a new Desktop Environment which can be chosen from the list of available Desktop Environments at the login screen (a small circle beside your user name). To install type sudo apt-get install i3 in a terminal, hit ENTER, provide your user password and wait for the install to finish, then log out in order to go to the Login screen and choose the proper i3 DE from the list.

IMPORTANT! Please read carefully the i3 User's Guide before attempting to start a session. Once in, you must know what to do. If you are in problems to return to a normal Desktop Environment or the Login Screen remember that you can always hit Ctrl+Alt+1 and go to the first virtual terminal in order to login and type killall5 so your current i3 session will be closed and you'll be returned to the Login Screen.

You can improve your experience by reading enough in order to make certain software or services to auto-start or use docks or search elements like Synapse, graphic user interfaces will work without problems, you can view pictures, play movies, music, etc. and you can even split your monitor so that you can arrange your current programs as you wish. See the next screenshots:

enter image description here

enter image description here

I have heard of some other lightweight desktop environments, such as Enlightment, which is fancier than i3 indeed. But you can get used to i3 too quick because of its simplicity to show your work well arranged in the same screen. Multiple Virtual Desktops are allowed so that you can "jump" from a work area to the other with ease and this won't consume your computer's resources as a full graphic DE does.

Good luck!

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My recommendations are in bold.

Step 1, Download Ubuntu Server:

Step 2, Install Ubuntu Server on your system.

See How do I install Ubuntu Server (step-by-step) for details.

Step 3, Install A Desktop Manager.

(Aka your login screen.) I recommed KDM, there are lots of good third-party themes for it, such as Caledonia-KDM. Install 1 of the following:

  • sudo apt-get install KDM
    Desktop manager used by KDE
  • sudo apt-get install lightdm
    Desktop manager used by Ubuntu's Unity
  • sudo apt-get install gdm
    Desktop manager used by gnome

Step 4, Install A Desktop Environment.

(aka, what you see after logging in to your desktop manager) I like KDE, but for you I would recommend XFCE, you can delete all panels and add a removed widgets to get a nice simple place to run gui apps and run a terminal emulator, since you are looking for something less overwhelming. Install 1 of the following:

  • sudo apt-get install xfce4
  • sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop
    Ubuntu Xfce environment, with pre-installed programs
  • sudo apt-get install gnome-shell
  • sudo apt-get install gnome
    GNOME with extra apps
  • sudo apt-get install ubuntu-desktop
    Unity with pre-installed apps
  • sudo apt-get install kubuntu-desktop
    Ubuntu version of KDE with pre-installed apps
  • sudo apt-get install kde-plasma-desktop
    Minimal KDE
  • sudo apt-get install kde-full
    Full version of KDE with default KDE apps

Step 5 - Personalization

Login and change settings to meet your needs. (aka delete all but 1 panel, add a widget for launching terminal, add a widget for listing open windows. Now you can login, launch terminal, and from there you can install or run anything you need. Keep in mind it will depend on the desktop environment you've chosen as to whether you can do this. Try right clicking on something you want to remove.


  • It would be much easier to just download Xubuntu, or Kubuntu, though less fun :P.
  • Don't logout between installing a desktop manager, and a desktop environment, if by some chance you do, make sure to select (fallback session) when trying to login.

Screen shots

KDM with an altered version of Caledonia-KDM Theme:

KDM with an altered version of Caledonia-KDM Theme

XFCE with panels/widgets add/removed to make a simple place to work/play:

XFCE with panels/widgets add/removed to make a simple place to work/play

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Please edit your answer if you have the time, so it can be more readable. – edwin Jul 19 '13 at 20:55
KDM is apparently, deprecated. KDE now recommends SDDM. – Bharadwaj Raju Mar 16 at 12:12

I guess there are many ways to achieve this. This is how I would do it:

1. replace your wallpaper with a terminal

A couple of methods listed here.

2. install gnome2 and remove the upper and lower panels

sudo apt-get install gnome-panel

On your next login choose Ubuntu classic as your session.

Now you can remove the panels.

3. install a simple launcher

I like to use Synapse, a faster alternative to the dash that hooks into the same backend (Zeitgeist). I hear that it's not actively maintained any more, but I still use it, as I find it stable as a rock and super fast.

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If, as you mention, you have stayed away from Ubuntu for many years, I suggest you download it and give it a try, you'll find the user environment is pretty clean and comfortable. It does sound like you haven't seen it in a while, because most of what you describe (as I understand it) is already there.

The default Ubuntu desktop is very spartan, there's only the indicator bar at the top and the dash on the left side. You can have the dash auto-hide, then it only appears when you invoke it explicitly.

The only things that would show on the desktop are any files you place in ~/Desktop so as long as you keep that directory clean you should have an uncluttered desktop.

Also, Ubuntu uses a graphical login screen by default, so you're covered there.

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Thanks to all of you for providing such insightful answers. Here is what I ended up doing:

Thanks for all the links you provided...I really didn't know where to start!

I think as time goes by, I may try out awesome & i3. Although the idea of auto-tiling is interesting & useful...I'm not used to it.

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