TL;DR: Can I remove completely unity and gnome3 but keep compiz?

Long Version:

I really gave a go both to unity and to gnome3. I really did. I just can't bear them. I need something that I can rely on for a long while. I decided to do away with desktop managers; I want to build my own desktop environment with independent parts.

My requirements:

  1. My workflow is very dependent on compiz; I don't care about the effects, but I use a lot of it's key bindings to move/resize/manage windows, as well as workspaces, and I could not find another window manager that has everything I need. So the window manager has to be compiz, unless you know another WM with the same flexibility. Alternatively, I can use xMonad, but I like it less.
  2. I need something that can replace applets, in order to be able to connect to network, control sound, hold pidgin indicator, etc. Some sort of light-weight dock maybe? If it can use my icons and my theme by default, it would be great (instead of trying to replicate the theme).
  3. Desktop management would be nice as I often drag-drop stuff from and on it temporarily. But it's not mandatory(Is there an independent app for that?).

My questions:

  1. How would I go about completely remove unity and gnome and keep compiz? Can I safely just apt-get remove them?
  2. Is there anything I should know? The purpose is to build a rock-solid desktop; it should not end up being even less stable than the defaults (I am thinking in particular of nm-applet, which always worked perfectly for me, contrary to other network managers).


  • I could use fallback session, or install gnome2, XFCE or LMDE or similar, but I really just want to do away with the whole monolithic window manager + shell paradigm. I want flexible, loosely coupled parts.
  • I know about cinnamon and mate, and I really admire the work that Mint is doing (some sanity, finally), but I really would rather have a light-weight dock that only launches stuff (as opposed to taking care of a lot of other things).
  • There is so much confusion now, it's difficult to know what people mean. Do you mean Gnome 3 entirely? No Gnome Terminal, Nautilus, Totem, etc? Or do you only mean the desktop shell? Mar 21, 2012 at 14:45

4 Answers 4


You can create a standalone compiz session with gnome3-gnome-panel+metacity, unity 2d launcher, awn wing-panel(with all applets), docky, synypse, cairo-dock,slingshot or combination of these.Have a look on following screenshots:


Awn-Wingpanel Edgebuntu Desktop

Milky-Moorhen (DE) Milky-Moorhen (DE)

Cairo-dock Cairo-Dock Session

Unity Gnome-shell fusion Unity Gnome-shell fusion

In above screenshots you can replace unity-launcher with docky or awn or cairo-dock.

To setup custom sssion with compiz check out this article:


For Awn-Wingpanel checkout this video:


For Ciaro-dock 2.4 with custom gnome-session follow this article:


You can get additional help from these articles:

[HOWTO] Configure Unity 2D to Simulate Unity 3D

How to enable compiz in gnome-classic mode

Fix gnome-panel in gnome fallback session

Run AWN / Dock in Natty Narwhal(generally for gnome2)

Notes: There are many bugs in 11.10, which makes using custom session a painful experience(such as this bug: #bug 826771).I will update the post with important GDM & compiz fix.

Updates: Bug 826771 has been fixed in nautilus - 1:3.2.1-0ubuntu4.2 (ubuntu 12.04) for gnome-session.But there are other bugs (specially gdm bugs) still present in Ubuntu 12.04.

  • 1
    Very good intro! I can manage with that (but I won't mark anything as an answer before I have tried the methods).
    – Xananax
    Mar 22, 2012 at 13:19
  • 1
    Creating a standalone compiz session is complex & time-consuming process.You need to go through couple of 'trial & errors' before it becomes perfect & stable. Mar 29, 2012 at 15:35

For the first question:

apt-get purge gnome
apt-get autoremove

More info at here: Remove Gnome Shell completely after installing it?

For Unity:

apt-get remove unity unity-2d-places 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-4.0 unity-common indicator-sound indicator-power indicator-appmenu libindicator6 indicator-application evolution-indicator indicator-datetime indicator-messages libnux-1.0-0 nuxtools

More info here: Remove Gnome Shell completely after installing it?

There's a lot of info already if people took the time to do a fast search in here

  • I want to remove gnome and unity but keep a usable desktop using compiz <--- this is the important part.
    – Xananax
    Mar 16, 2012 at 19:07
  • You can use compiz with other desktop managers like KDE, there's no issue there, compiz doesn't belong to Unity or Gnome, so there's no question there, and believe me, i see duplicate questions all the time.
    – LnxSlck
    Mar 17, 2012 at 11:03
  • 1
    Just out of simplicity download the ISO of the preferred-Buntu derivative and just install Compiz instead of downloading Ubuntu and remove what it makes it be Ubuntu. Mar 17, 2012 at 18:34

Install Xubuntu-desktop

sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop

its the best alternative for people who hates unity and Gnome . and one more thing you can run compiz in xubuntu also .

  • It is true, and I like it, but I want to go even more minimal
    – Xananax
    Mar 16, 2012 at 19:07
  • 1
    Tried Lubuntu?
    – James
    Mar 16, 2012 at 22:14
  • 1
    Yup! Lubuntu is the best if you want more light desktop .sudo apt-get install lubuntu-desktop will gives you that . @Rinzwind thanks for editing .
    – Raja G
    Mar 17, 2012 at 3:03

I'm not sure if this qualifies as an answer, but I hope it's OK to put it here, as it may be too big for a comment. I haven't actually tried getting rid of the shell - I use gnome3 "Classic", with AWN and Compiz. I actually like having the Gnome panel at the top with some of its apps and indicators, but then I have dual monitors, so I have room for an extra panel. I have AWN on the bottom, and use it a bit like the Unity panel.

Your idea sounded interesting, so I looked around a little and found this article in the arch wiki that might be interesting to you:


About half-way down is the section "As a Standalone Window Manager" that you might want to look at.

  • "compiz standalone"...This is the duckduckgo keyword that I was missing. A lot of resources show up when you duckduck this. I would mark your answer as correct but I'd rather try the different methods and add an answer myself that will be more useful than a link (no offense) for people looking for the same thing. Unless you want to do this yourself?
    – Xananax
    Mar 16, 2012 at 19:10
  • The article seemed interesting enough to post right away, but I might give it a try, as I have some spare partitions to play with. Also, I've considered trying Arch Linux, so I'd probably try it with Arch rather than Ubuntu. But I will admit that I'm pretty happy with Gnome classic, Awn, and Compiz; I have them working well together, along with the Cardapio menu, which I like a lot (nice search ability, well organized, configurable with pinned items and favorites). And I kind of like the Gnome panel, without menu, and most traditional features. Mar 16, 2012 at 19:23
  • 1
    I like gnome panel too, but in my every day tasks, I notice that I use solely synapse, occasionally clicking a pinned launcher if my hand is not on the keyboard, so I figured I could do away with the bloat of a desktop manager. Regarding the method to achieve this, it might be better to begin with a minimal Ubuntu and work the way up rather than down: help.ubuntu.com/community/CompizStandalone
    – Xananax
    Mar 16, 2012 at 19:53
  • I rarely click on launchers, instead relying on keyboard shortcuts, or for menu items, the Cardapio menu's search (similar to old Alt-F2, where you type a few letters and the items appear in a list). I use the panel mainly for the indicators, and the AWN panel for the task manager and folder access. It has stacks, which I use for quick-refs and quick-access to folders I'm working on at the time, and it has a folder browser that lists favorites from nautilus. AWN has some very nice features that are not immediately obvious. Interesting link to CompizStandalone - I'll check that out. Mar 16, 2012 at 23:34

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