gnome-ubuntu-tileUbuntu 13.04 ships with an older version of the GNOME desktop in its archives. This is great for GNOME-fans wanting stability, less great for those wanting to try the latest release.

Thankfully the GNOME team make it easy to install/upgrade to GNOME 3.8 on Ubuntu 13.04 – and there are plenty of reasons why you might want to do that!

There are caveats aplenty – largely that some of the software is a little unstable – but chances are if you’re competent enough to upgrade your desktop you’re also okay to deal with whatever issues might arise.

How To Upgrade to GNOME 3.8 in Ubuntu 13.04

Add the GNOME 3 PPA

Before you skim-read any further make sure that you’re running Ubuntu 13.04. Y’know, the latest release. Better yet, run Ubuntu GNOME 13.04.

With that out-of-the-way, we’ll first add the GNOME 3 PPA to Ubuntu’s Software Sources. This can be done without using the command line but, for simplicity’s sake, it’s far easier to do so.

Open a new Terminal window and enter the following command carefully.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3

Upgrade or Install GNOME Shell

With the PPA added, you now need to do one of two steps depending on what you have installed.

If you don’t have GNOME Shell installed then run the following command in a new terminal, inputting your password where prompted:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install gnome-shell ubuntu-gnome-desktop

As the various packages are installed the following screen will appear, asking you to choose which display manager – “login screen” – Ubuntu should use:

Decisions, Decisions…

Both of these options will let you choose a session before logging on (so you can log in to Unity if you so wish). ‘lightdm’ is the Ubuntu default, but for a true GNOME experience, such as getting lock-screen notifications, you’ll want to opt for the GNOME Display Manager (known as GDM).

login screen display managers
LightDM and GDM side by side

If you do have GNOME Shell installed, or are using Ubuntu GNOME, run this command:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Optional Staging PPA for Extra Bits

If you feel super cautious you can also add the GNOME 3 Staging PPA. But – and it’s a big but that you must pay attention to – many components within it are unstable.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3-staging
sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Reboot and Login

That’s it – you’re all done. The make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible you’ll want to reboot.

If you’re using the Unity’s default login screen click the Ubuntu logo in the user pod, choose the ‘GNOME’ session, then go ahead and login as normal.

Unity Greeter’s Session Selector

If you chose the GNOME display manager then choose ‘GNOME’ from the session drop-down before logging in.

If all has gone well you’ll now see something similar to this…

GNOME 3.8 Desktop in Ubuntu 13.04

A Few Differences

Some differences to note when using GNOME Shell alongside Unity.

Firstly, you’ll see two ‘online accounts’ entries in System Settings. The left-hand one is Ubuntu’s fork. The right-hand is the GNOME version.

For integration with certain GNOME apps, including Documents, Contacts & Evolution and Calendar you’ll want to add your accounts to the right-hand version. For Shotwell, Empathy & Gwibber support you’ll need to use the left-hand version.

System Settings

Also ‘new’ in System Settings are entries for ‘Notifications’ and ‘Search’. Both are self-explanatory; the former lets you pick which apps can send notifications, while the latter concerns which applications/sources show results in the Activities Overlay.

Uninstalling GNOME 3.8

To uninstall the GNOME Shell desktop we need to do a few things.

First installed PPA Purge from the Ubuntu Software Center

Install PPA Purge

Next open a new terminal window and run the following command:

sudo ppa-purge ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3

Pay attention to any prompts that appear in the terminal during downgrade. If you also added the GNOME 3 Staging PPA (see above) you will also need to run:

sudo ppa-purge ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3-staging

Next remove GNOME Shell by running:

sudo apt-get remove gnome-shell ubuntu-gnome-desktop

Clear up any remaining stray applications not removed by the downgrade and removal, then reboot.

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