Ubuntu Unity Versus Ubuntu GNOME

The differences between the Unity vs GNOME desktop environments

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Until Ubuntu 11.04, GNOME was the default desktop environment for the Ubuntu Linux distribution. While Ubuntu now ships with the Unity desktop, there's also an updated version of the old environment available. We compared Ubuntu Unity vs GNOME to decipher the differences between the two environments.

Overall Findings

Unity
  • Maintained by Ubuntu's developers.

  • Easy-to-navigate interface.

  • Extensive search filters.

GNOME
  • Maintained by a community of volunteers.

  • Less cluttered desktop.

  • Limited search features.

One of the major differences between GNOME and Unity is who is behind each project: Unity is the main focus of Ubuntu's developers, while Ubuntu GNOME is more of a community project. The GNOME version is worth a try since the desktop performs slightly better and is less cluttered. The launcher takes up quite a bit of room, and although you can reduce the size or even hide the launcher, it isn't the same as having an empty desktop space to start. On the other hand, Unity provides better integration for photos, music, video, and online activity. The filters within the individual lenses are also particularly useful.

Unity desktop running in Ubuntu Linux

Navigation: Unity Is Quicker

Unity
  • One-click access to most frequently used programs.

  • Recommends apps you might want to install.

  • Automatically categories apps to improve searches.

GNOME
  • Easier to browse all apps at once.

  • No search filters.

  • Apps aren't categorized.

  • Helpful keyboard shortcuts.

The main benefit of Unity over GNOME is the Ubuntu launcher on the left side of the screen, which allows you to access your most commonly used applications with a single mouse click. To do the same thing with GNOME requires pressing the super key and then selecting an icon.

If you want to load an application within Unity that isn't in the launcher, you can either bring up the Ubuntu Unity dash and use the search bar, or select the applications tab within the dash to show all applications on your system. With GNOME, you must open up the activities window by pressing the super key and select the bottom icon to show all applications. Alternatively, you can use the GNOME keyboard shortcut super key + A.

As soon as you get to the applications view in GNOME, you'll see icons for all of the applications installed on your system. Within Unity, the apps screen is split into recently used applications, installed applications, and applications you might want to install. To browse all apps, you have to select an extra link to expand the view.

If you have hundreds of applications installed and you just want to see the games, you must use the search feature in GNOME. Unity provides a filter with categories such as games, office, audio, and others. Unity also allows you to filter by local applications and applications in the Ubuntu Software Center.

Integration: Unity Is More Convenient

Unity
  • View different types of media files without opening separate apps.

  • Media player's YouTube search feature doesn't work.

GNOME
  • Better for creating playlists and managing music files.

  • Media player's YouTube search feature doesn't work.

Without a doubt, the desktop integration provided by Unity is better than the desktop integration provided by GNOME. The different lenses provided by Unity allow you to play songs, watch videos, view your photo collections, and interact online without opening separate applications. Unity even lets you filter your music tracks by genre or decade; however, unlike GNOME, there's no built-in tool for creating a playlist.

The video player provided with GNOME is the same one used in Unity, and they both suffer from a similar flaw. One of the search options within the video player searches YouTube, but when you try to search for YouTube videos, you get a message stating that YouTube isn't compatible.

Apps and Performance: It's a Tie

Unity
  • Comes with Mozilla Thunderbird.

  • Extensible with apps from the Ubuntu Software Center.

GNOME
  • Comes with the Evolution email client.

  • Extensible with apps from the Ubuntu Software Center.

Boot times between the Unity and GNOME versions of Ubuntu are very nearly the same. The applications installed on the Unity and GNOME versions of Ubuntu are also the same except for the email client. The Unity version of Ubuntu uses Mozilla Thunderbird, whereas GNOME comes with the Evolution mail client. Evolution offers a better integration for appointments and tasks, and the mail viewer is similar to Microsoft Outlook. Of course, you can always install Evolution on Unity or Thunderbird on GNOME. Both the Unity and GNOME versions of Ubuntu use the Software Center.

Final Verdict

GNOME and Unity are pretty evenly matched, but you don't have to pick between the two. If you have already installed the Ubuntu and you want to try GNOME, open up the Software Center and search for the GNOME desktop environment. After the desktop has been installed, you can choose between either environment when logging in.