Ubuntu Unity Vs Ubuntu GNOME

Does the Former Ubuntu GNOME Remix Make the Grade?

Ubuntu GNOME vs Unity
Ubuntu GNOME vs Unity

GNOME is one of the oldest desktop environments. Up until Ubuntu 11.04, it was the default desktop environment for Ubuntu but then the Ubuntu developers created a new graphical desktop called Unity.

Unity was a new and modern looking desktop environment whereas GNOME was beginning to look old.

A lot of changes were then made by the GNOME developers and the change between GNOME 2 and GNOME 3 was huge. GNOME 3 is now every bit as modern as Unity.

Whilst Ubuntu ships by default with the Unity desktop there is another version of Ubuntu called Ubuntu GNOME.

This article compares the flagship Ubuntu which utilizes the Unity desktop with Ubuntu GNOME.

The underlying architecture is the same and so most of the good bits about Ubuntu are available in both the Unity and GNOME version. Of course, this also means many of the bugs are the same as well.


The main benefit of Unity over GNOME is the launcher down the left side of the screen. You can access your most commonly used applications with a single mouse click. To do the same thing with GNOME requires pressing the "super" key on the keyboard and then selecting an icon.

Within Unity, if you are loading an application that isn't in the launcher you can either bring up the dash and start typing in the search bar or click on the applications tab within the dash and open up the installed applications link to show all applications on your system.

With GNOME the process is fairly similar. Open up the activities window by pressing the super key and click on the bottom icon to show all of the applications. If you have read my article highlighting  GNOME's keyboard shortcuts you will know that you can get to the same screen with a single keyboard combination of "super" and "a".

There are some subtle differences between Unity and GNOME and which is deemed better will be determined by what you are trying to do at the time.

Clearly, the easiest way to find an application is to start using the search bar but if you just want to browse then GNOME makes that slightly easier from the outset. The reason for this is that as soon as you get to the applications view you start to see icons for all of the applications installed on your system and you can either page down or click on the little dots to move onto the next page of applications.

Within Unity, the screen is split into recently used applications, installed applications and applications you might wish to install. If you just want to browse applications installed on your system you have to click an extra link to expand the view to show those applications. It is therefore slightly easier to browse your installed applications with GNOME than it is with Unity.

Of course, if you have hundreds of applications installed and you just want to see the games? In GNOME you have to use the search box which, while reasonably accurate, does leave the possibility that you won't have every game returned that is installed on your system.

Unity provides a filter while browsing your applications allowing you to filter by category such as games, office, audio etc. Unity also allows you to filter by local applications and applications in the software center. This is incredibly useful as results for applications you might wish to install are returned without having to open the software center.


Without a doubt, the desktop integration provided by Unity is far better than the desktop integration provided by GNOME.

The different lenses provided by Unity allow you to play songs, watch videos, view your photo collection and interact online without opening separate applications.

The GNOME Music player fits in well with the rest of the GNOME desktop environment. 

Within Unity, you can filter the tracks by genre or decade but within GNOME you can create playlists and interact more fully with your audio.

The video player provided with GNOME is the same one used to play videos within Unity. They both suffer from a similar flaw. One of the search options within the video player is to search Youtube but when you try and search for youtube videos a message appears stating that Youtube isn't compatible.


The applications installed on the Unity and GNOME versions of Ubuntu are pretty much the same except for the email client.

The Unity version of Ubuntu has Thunderbird whilst the GNOME version comes with Evolution. Personally, I prefer the Evolution mail client as it has better integration for appointments and tasks and the mail viewer is akin to Microsoft Outlook.

It really comes down to personal choice and it isn't like you can't install Evolution within Ubuntu Unity or indeed Thunderbird within Ubuntu GNOME.

Installing Applications

Both the Unity and GNOME versions of Ubuntu use the Software Center which I guess isn't particularly surprising but is a little bit disappointing as GNOME normally comes with its own package installer which I think has a nicer interface.


Boot times between the Unity and GNOME versions of Ubuntu are again pretty much the same. I would say however that GNOME performs slightly better than Ubuntu when navigating and for general use.


Unity is the main focus for Ubuntu's developers whereas Ubuntu GNOME is more of a community project.

It is definitely worth giving the GNOME version a go as the desktop performs slightly better and is less cluttered.

Why is it 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 the blank canvas in the first place. 

Unity, as mentioned earlier, does provide nicer integration for photos, music, video and online activity and if you may like the software suggestions. The filters within the individual lenses are also particularly useful.

If you have already installed the main Ubuntu then I don't recommend uninstalling and installing Ubuntu GNOME. If 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 select it while logging in.