Technology Tales

Adventures & experiences in contemporary technology

Adding GNOME 3 to Linux Mint 11

3rd June 2011

On the surface of it, this probably sounds a very strange thing to do: choose Linux Mint because they plan to stick with their current desktop interface for the foreseeable future and then stick a brand new one on there. However, that’s what last weekend’s dalliance with Fedora 15 caused. Not only did I find that I could find my way around GNOME Shell but I actually got to like it so much that I missed it on returning to using my Linux Mint machine again.

The result was that I started to look on the web to see if there was anyone else like me who had got the same brainwave. In fact, it was Mint’s being based on Ubuntu that allowed me to get GNOME 3 on there. The task could be summarised as involving three main stages: getting GNOME 3 installed, adding extensions and adding the Cantarell font that is used by default. After these steps, I gained a well-running GNOME 3 desktop running on Linux Mint and it looks set to stay that way unless something untoward has yet to emerge.

Installing GNOME 3

The first step is to add the PPA repository for GNOME 3 using the following command:

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

The, it was a case of issuing my usual update/upgrade command:

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

When that had done its thing and downloaded and installed quite a few upgrades along the way, it was time to add GNOME Shell using this command:

sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

When that was done, I rebooted my system to be greeted by a login screen very reminiscent of what I had seen in Fedora. While compiling this piece, I noticed that GNOME Session could need to be added before GNOME Shell but I do not recall doing so myself. Maybe dependency resolution kept any problems at bay, but there weren’t any issues that I could remember beyond things not being configured as fully as I would have liked without further work. For the sake of safety, it might be a good idea to run the following before adding GNOME Shell to your PC.

sudo apt-get install gnome-session && sudo apt-get dist-upgrade

Configuration and Customisation

Once I had logged in, the desktop that I saw wasn’t at all unlike the Fedora one and everything seemed stable too. However, there was still work to do before I was truly at home with it. One thing that was needed was the ever useful GNOME Tweak Tool. This came in very handy for changing the theme that was on display to the standard Adwaita one that caught my eye while I was using Fedora 15. Adding buttons to application title bars for minimising and maximising their windows was another job that the tool allowed me to do. The command to get this goodness added in the first place is this:

sudo apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool

The next thing that I wanted to do was add some extensions so I added a repository from which to do this using the command below. Downloading them via Git and compiling them just wasn’t working for me so I needed another approach.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ricotz/testing

With that is place, I issued the following commands to gain the Dock, the Alternative Status Menu and the Windows Navigator. The second of these would have added a shutdown option in the me-menu but it seems to have got deactivated after a system update. Holding down the ALT key to change the Suspend entry to Power off… will have to do me for now. Having the dock is the most important and that, thankfully, is staying the course and works exactly as it does for Fedora.

sudo apt-get install gnome-shell-extensions-dock
sudo apt-get install gnome-shell-extensions-alternative-status-menu
sudo apt-get install gnome-shell-extensions-windows-navigator

Adding Cantarell

The default font used by GNOME 3 in various parts of its interface is Cantarell and it was defaulting to that standard sans-serif font on my system because this wasn’t in place. That font didn’t look too well so I set to tracking the freely available Cantarell down on the web.  When that search brought me to Font Squirrel, I downloaded the zip file containing the required TTF files. The next step was to install them and, towards that end, I added Fontmatrix using this command:

sudo apt-get install fontmatrix

That gave me a tool with a nice user interface but I made a mistake when using it. This was because I (wrongly) thought that it would copy files from the folder that I told the import function to use. Extracting the TTF files to /tmp meant that would have had to happen, but Fontmatrix just registered them instead. A reboot confirmed that they hadn’t been copied or moved at all and I had rendered the user interface next to unusable through my own folly; the default action on Ubuntu and Linux Mint is that files are deleted from /tmp on shutdown. The font selection capabilities of the GNOME Tweak Tool came in very handy for helping me to convert useless boxes into letters that I could read.

Another step was to change the font line near the top of the GNOME Shell stylesheet (never thought that CSS usage would end up in places like this…) so that Cantarell wasn’t being sought and text in sans-serif font replaced grey and white boxes. The stylesheet needs to be edited as superuser, so the following command is what’s needed for this and, while I used sudo, gksu is just as useful here if it isn’t what I should have been using.

sudo gedit /usr/share/gnome-shell/theme/gnome-shell.css

Once I had extricated my system from that mess, a more conventional approach was taken and the command sequence below was what I followed, with extensive use of sudo to get done what I wanted. A new directory was created and the TTF files copied in there.

cd /usr/share/fonts/truetype
sudo mkdir ttf-cantarell
cd ttf-cantarell
sudo mv /tmp/*.ttf .

To refresh the font cache, I resorted to the command described in a tutorial in the Ubuntu Wiki:

sudo fc-cache -f -v

Once that was done, it was then time to restore the reference to Cantarell in the GNOME Shell stylesheet and reinstate its usage in application windows using the GNOME Tweak Tool. Since then, I have suffered no mishap or system issue with GNOME 3. Everything seems to be working quietly and I am happy to see that replacement of Unity with the GNOME Shell will become an easier task in Ubuntu 11.10, the first alpha release of which is out at the time of my writing these words. Could it lure me back from my modified instance of Linux Mint yet? While I cannot say that I am sure of those but it certainly cannot be ruled out at this stage.


  • Brian says:

    I run both Fedora and Mint. I added KDE to both installs .While Mint’s default install is perfectly functional, it’s also ugly and adding widgets with screenlets looks and feels shabby compared to the Plasma interface. I do find Gnome2’s bluetooth setup vastly superior to KDE’s and Brasero always works when K3B spits out errors.
    With Fedora, I found the default Gnome3 interface perfect after adding Nvidia drivers, however bluetooth setup is terrible and gaming is impossible. Playing games, setting up bluetooth – or just about any system parameter was vastly better in KDE, not to mention Dolphin kicks Nautilus’ ass straight out of the park. Just my 2 cents :)

  • knidsrok says:

    Hmmm. I tried to follow your footsteps, and have run into a problem where gnome shell won’t display a desktop. The top bar is there, and I can open up windows and apps, but instead of my wallpaper and any desktop icons, there’s just black. Any idea what’s going on?

    • John says:

      If you want icons on your desktop, then open up Gnome Tweak Tool and go to the File Manager tab to turn on Nautilus handling of the desktop. As for the black backdrop, just go to System Settings (it’s on the “me-menu” on the panel if you need to know where to look). Clicking on the Background icon will give you a dialogue where you can pick your desktop background image and even add your own from a directory on the system. Hope this helps.

  • Chris Chester says:

    I couldn’t get this section to work.

    “cd /usr/share/fonts/truetype
    sudo mkdir ttf-cantarell
    cd ttf-cantarell
    sudo mv /tmp/*.ttf .”

  • Edwin Pers says:

    I changed over to 3 without many issues, except now I have some issues:

    1) Many (all) programs are still running a theme that is very reminiscent of a windows 7 accessibility/classic theme. All buttons are boxy and plain. I have tried the solution where you remove the accessibility themes and install the regular ones, to no effect.
    2) The system settings program is… bare. Many of the menus previously available are no longer there.

    All said, I still like gnome3 very much, very nicely done.

  • Jon Penny says:

    Hi. Thanks for this tutorial/info. After I Install the Gnome Teak Tool I don’t get the Adwaita theme. In the interface section under the Gtk+ Theme the only option I get is Raleigh. Any ideas why this is? Do I have install other themes? Thanks.

    • John says:

      Have you looked under the Windows section to see what themes are available there (first dropdown menu)? Adwaita didn’t appear first for me either but continuing to do updates was enough for it to instate itself and make itself available for use if I remember correctly.

      • Jon Penny says:

        Hi John, thanks for the reply. I have looked in the Windows section and the ones there seem to be the theme options when in the normal Linux Mint. I will run the updates and see if the Theme appears. Thanks for the help!

        • Simon King says:


          If you want to install the standard themes, do the following in the terminal

          gksudo apt-get install gnome-themes-standard


          • John says:

            Thanks for the advice. Adwaita disappeared on me after a recent update and this put it back for me.

  • Ming says:

    Hello, thank you for the tutorial. I installed GNOME 3 on Linux Mint 11, but now I can’t find the “Startup Applications” utility. Do you know how can I have access to it again? My keyboard input method (ibus) is not being loaded on startup :( For this, I’d like to avoid manual file configuration if possible. That’s why I’m looking for the useful “Startup Applications” utility. It is (was?) very useful. Thank you!

    • John says:

      The first thing to do is check that it’s installed. Try issuing the following at the command line on the run box (brought up by ALT+F2):


      If that’s successful, then run the following the same way or Main Menu from the applications overlay screen:


      Once in there, look in the Other category and re-enable the Startup Applications entry. Then, it should be available to you as before.

      Of course, installing gnome-session-properties is what you need to do if it isn’t already there. Hope this helps.

      • Ming says:

        Thank you! It worked great!
        Now, I would like to ask you another question: The “Alternative Status Menu Extension” was great… while it lasted! :( After some system updates, now the extension is not working anymore and I can’t activate it from the GNOME Tweak Tool because it the switch is in OFF and it is disabled (in gray color, unlike Window Navigator Extension which is enabled and OK). Reinstalling the extension is not working either. Any ideas? Thank you.

  • Paul says:

    When using

    “sudo apt-get install gnome-shell-extensions-dock
    sudo apt-get install gnome-shell-extensions-alternative-status-menu
    sudo apt-get install gnome-shell-extensions-windows-navigator”

    I get error message

    “E: Unable to locate package gnome-shell-extensions-dock……”

    Help anyone please. Thanks in advance. Great tutorial by the way.

    • John says:

      You need the PPA enabled as per the post. On a separate note, the Dock recently stopped working for me so I have moved to using Docky instead. That may be an option for you too, especially it copes with having applications open in different workspaces as well, just like the Dock extension in fact but with a more dynamism about the interface and a different placement on the screen.

  • moi says:

    I followed the steps until (and including) gnome-session install, and the system won’t boot normally now. If I go to ‘safe mode’ first, than run startx, everything runs fine. Help! :)

    • John says:

      Are you getting any error messages? What are they? Once I know this, I may be able to make suggestions because I have not had this happen on me.

      • hsngrms says:

        falied to load session “classic-gnome”

        I’m getting this err msg. :(
        Plz help! :)

        • John says:

          Have you tried Classic GNOME (without effects)? This works for me and I get back the usual Linux Mint desktop too.

          • RosenRed says:

            From the dropdown menu chose GNOME (all in capitals). You try to load Gnome (the old one) and it’s failing.

          • John says:

            When I choose the GNOME menu entry which has “without effects” in its title, it takes me to something exactly like the the standard Linux Mint interface. Is that waht you’re after?

  • John says:

    You also might want to look at a more recent post on here regarding this subject that adds some new information on getting GNOME 3 working on Linux Mint.

  • Marcus says:

    I installed Gnome 3, and to get it working I had to choose GNOME from the login screen. If I selected gnome (all lowercase), it would give me an error and go back to the login screen. Worked well for a couple shutdown/startup sequences, but then all of a sudden GNOME was available at login, and no matter what I selected, I would get an error and couldn’t log in. I had to do a fresh install to get it working again. I think I’ll just wait until Mint 12 and see how Clem handles it.

    • John says:

      While it’s a pity to hear that your experience hasn’t been all that smooth, there was an intriguing announcement about GNOME 3 for Mint. I agree that it’ll be very interesting to see what happens. For now, the mix of UGR and Mint 11 is working out very well for me.

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