To say that the decision to move to Unity in Ubuntu 11.04 was controversial would be the understatement of the year.  Unity is a relatively new UI first seen in the Ubuntu Netbook remix, yet it was still quite buggy even up until the release of 11.04.  Around the same time, the folks at Gnome had been putting the finishing touches to their major overhaul of the Gnome desktop, yet Gnome 3, despite its flashy new look and interesting features was snubbed by some of the biggest names in the linux desktop business.  If I’m not mistaken, there is still only two distributions (Suse and Fedora) that ship with Gnome 3 and Linus Torvalds himself has branded it an “unholy mess”.

Fortunately, thanks to a lot of clever folks at the Gnome 3 team it is possible to install Gnome 3 in Ubuntu 11.04, but it isn’t for the faint of heart.  There’s a warning on the website suggesting that it can break your desktop, so being the cautious man I am I decided to try it in Parallels instead.

First of all, you need an up-to-date Ubuntu 11.04 installation.  You then need to add the following to your software sources list:

Then reload your sources when prompted.  When you’ve done that, you’ll need to open a terminal window and type:

sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

Depending on your internet connection it’ll take a little while to download and install everything. When it is done you may notice that some of your fonts in Unity look a little weird.  Don’t worry about that, just restart Ubuntu.  When it returns to the login screen, you’ll need to change the session to “GNOME”.

That’s all there is to it.  However, just to be safe, make sure you try it in a virtual machine or a non-production environment as it can seriously mess things up and there is no turning back, beyond a reinstall anyway.