Install GNOME-Shell on Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala"

January 2010

Remember, these are development builds and preview snapshots, and are still in the early stages. While it appears to be functional (so far) your mileage may vary.

Installing GNOME-Shell

With the release of Ubuntu 9.10, a GNOME-Shell preview is included in the repositories. This makes it very easy to install (and remove) as needed. The downside is that it is just a snapshot so you are not running the latest-greatest builds. For this reason I've included instructions on installing the package as well as compiling the latest builds.

I should also note that GNOME Shell requires reasonable 3D support. This means that it will likely *not* work within a virtual machine. In particular, problems have been reported trying to run GNOME Shell with 3D support in VirtualBox.

Package Installation

If you'd prefer to install the package and just take a sneak-peek at the snapshot, simply run the command below in your terminal:

sudo aptitude install gnome-shell
Install GNOME-Shell on Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala"

Manual Compilation

Manually compiling GNOME Shell will allow you to use the latest and greatest builds, but it can also require more work. The notes below are based on a successful build I did in late 2009, but your mileage may vary. If you run into problems please note the following:

  • Installing GNOME Shell does not affect your current installation, so if the build breaks you should still have a clean environment.
  • You can find more details as well as known issues here: GnomeShell

There is one package that you'll need to compile GNOME Shell called jhbuild. This package, however, has been removed from the Ubuntu 9.10 repositories for being outdated. I did find that I could use the package from the 9.04 repository and haven’t noticed any problems in doing so. To install jhbuild from the 9.04 repository use the instructions below:

  1. Visit
  2. Select a mirror close to you
  3. Download / Install the .deb package.

I don’t believe there are any additional dependencies needed for this package.

After that package is installed you’ll want to download a GNOME Shell Build Setup script which makes this entire process much, much simpler.

cd ~ wget

This script will handle finding and installing dependencies as well as compiling the builds, etc. To launch this script, run the command:

You'll need to ensure that any suggested packages are installed before continuing. You may need to re-run this script multiple times until it has no more warnings.

Lastly, you can begin the build process. This process took about twenty minutes on my C2D 2.0Ghz Dell laptop. My build was completely automated, but considering this is building newer and newer builds, your mileage may vary. To begin the build process on your machine, run the command:

jhbuild build

Ready To Launch

Congratulations! You've now got GNOME-Shell installed and ready to launch. I've outlined the steps below. Please take note of the method, depending on how you installed.

Also, please note that before you launch GNOME-Shell you must DISABLE Compiz. If you have Compiz running, navigate to System > Preferences > Appearances and disable it under the Desktop Effects tab.

Install GNOME-Shell on Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala"

Package Installation Launch

gnome-shell --replace

Install GNOME-Shell on Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala"

Manual Compilation

It will as follows:

~/gnome-shell/source/gnome-shell/src/gnome-shell --replace

Launching Applications

You'll quickly notice that there have been some major changes in GNOME Shell compared to your current Desktop. For one, your top-panel is quite a bit different, and you no longer have a second bottom-panel. You may also notice that the clock has been centered and that "Applications", "Places" and "System" have all been replaced with "Activities". The big changes begin once you start interacting with the "Activities" menu. Simply move your mouse into the top-left corner and you'll immediately see some *big* changes!

Install GNOME-Shell on Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala"

This new interface allows you to view all of your running applications, organized between multiple workspaces. You can add and remove workspaces with the click of a button, and move applications between workspaces by simply dragging from one to the other.

To launch additional applications there are a few options. One of these options is to use the Find field in the top-left and search for an application by name.

Install GNOME-Shell on Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala"

Below that you should see a list of Favorite applications, or you can click More in the top-right of the Applications box and navigate through an expanding menu. To close that menu either click elsewhere on the screen, or select the X in the top-right corner.

Install GNOME-Shell on Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala"

One thing you may notice is that the Applications menu covers up the workspaces on the left side of the screen. They are still there, and applications placed within them have not been affected, but it is now difficult to interact with them. I hope this is something that is improved in the final release.

If you look closely you should notice that one of the workspaces is surrounded with a thin white border. This is the current workspace, which is the workspace that newly launched applications will start.

If you want or need an application to start in a different workspace other than the currently selected, you can drag-and-drop the application from the Menu into the workspace of your choice. As you can imagine, this is difficult to do with some workspaces considering the left-most workspaces are covered by the Applications menu.


Opening Recent Documents or Places works much the same way as Applications. You can drag-and-drop an item into a workspace of your choice, or simply let it launch in the current selected workspace. Below is an example of rearranging your applications between workspaces.

Install GNOME-Shell on Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala"


Install GNOME-Shell on Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala"

Also, if you need to create additional workspaces you can simply click on the Plus in the bottom-right of the Shell interface. Deleting workspaces is done by clicking the Minus in the center of a given workspace.

You may notice that you are unable to delete a workspace until all running applications within it are closed.

Install GNOME-Shell on Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala"


There are a few additional options available from a drop-down menu activated by clicking your username in the top-right corner of the screen. You may want to activate the Sidebar from that menu, which will give you access to certain options from within each workspace.

You can also use this drop-down menu to Logout, Lock Screen or Shutdown.

I have included screenshots of the Sidebar in its various formats below:

Install GNOME-Shell on Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala"

...or a slim form.

Install GNOME-Shell on Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala"

The slim form also allows the Recent Documents to expand.

Install GNOME-Shell on Ubuntu 9.10 "Karmic Koala"


GNOME Shell is still definitely in the earlier stages of development. This means it is bound to have some quirks, a few of which we have discovered already in this quick overview. I'm sure as you dig in deeper you'll find a few more.

Some additional quirks that I've found in using the preview snapshot is the current lack of any customizable options. I have not been able to find any interface allowing me to change the theme, clear recent documents or add / remove Places from the menu.

I would also like the ability to rearrange workspaces as a whole, similar to the way Spaces works on Mac OS X. If you're not familiar, this is the ability to change the order of entire workspaces as opposed to simply moving applications between static workspaces.

Lastly, if you're a GNOME Do user you'll be in for a surprise as the default key-binding to launch the Shell is the same Super Key (Windows Key). This key, of course, is used as the default key-combination to launch GNOME Do, so this is clobbered as well. I tried rebinding GNOME Do to ctrl-space, but it felt really foreign.

I do hope that many of these issues are addressed in the final release, but only time will tell.


In conclusion I feel that GNOME Shell looks to be a trade off between a complete rewrite (similar to the KDE 4.0 release) and keeping things familiar. Any major changes are always hard to accept, yet at the same time if we don't innovate and evolve we become outdated and irrelevant. I can see the difficulty in trying to please both camps, and I think the current snapshots can be appealing as a "happy medium".

I'd like to thank the developers for a lot of hard work, and I'm happy to see these development snapshots available for public feedback. It is public development like this that makes the Open Source community so appealing and innovative.

I'd like to invite the rest of you to install GNOME Shell and give it a try. Offer feedback and share your ideas. The more feedback they can receive, the better the end product!

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