Previewing the New Unity

Canonical announced a while ago — maybe measurable in multiple dozens of months — that they were rewriting their flagship Unity desktop shell so it can converge the mobile phone and tablet experience with the desktop and laptop experience.  The new Unity is dubbed Unity 8, for which I apologize because the name was my suggestion and now sounds a little dated after both Apple’s Mac OS and Microsoft’s Windows are up to version 10 now.  Unity 8 has been shipping on phones and tablets for at least a year now but it isn’t quite ready for the more demanding desktop consumer yet.

This is where you come in.  Our current goal is to make the Unity 8 desktop available in the Ubuntu 16.10 release coming up this October as an alternative login session on the ISO (installation image).  Before we get even that far we want to get more widespread testing and feedback from daring and confident Ubuntu users, users like you.

Installing and testing is easy, and if you really don’t like it you can just remove it and carry on, no harm done.  I recommend using the command line to install the shell, because I haven’t yet figured out how to use Ubuntu Software to find and install the appropriate packages — I’m really not a GUI guy at heart.

Installing Unity 8

I’m going to assume you’re either running Ubuntu 16.04 LTS or the pre-release Yakkety Yak version of Ubuntu.  Those are the only Ubuntu versions that support Unity 8 on desktop at the moment.  The procedure is the same for both.

First, you need to open a command-line terminal.  From Unity, pressing the control-alt-T combination should do the trick, but advanced users may have their own favourite technique.  From the terminal, just type the following commands.

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ci-train-ppa-service/stable-phone-overlay
sudo apt update
sudo apt install unity8-desktop-session

If you don’t have the command add-apt-repository, it’s in the package software-properties-common which you may need to install first.

That’s it.  Log out, then from the LightDM prompt click on the circle-of-friends logo beside your name and select the entry that says “Unity 8”, enter your password, and you’re good to go.  Unity 8 on the desktop, baby, yeah! screenshot20160704_110655089

Oh, a word of caution.  The proprietary binary blob video drivers from AMD, nVidia, and some VMs still do not support the Mir display server used by Unity 8, so you’re probably going to suffer a bit of disappointment.  Try using the open source video drivers for your card instead.

Reporting problems

Yeah, we know there are problems, that’s why Unity 8 is not the default on your desktop yet.  We know the window management is still a work in progress, that most of your favourite desktop programs aren’t available out of the box, and that there are still session management issues.

If you do run into a problem, errors get logged to various files in $HOME/.cache/upstart.

You can contact developers in the #ubuntu-unity irc channel on Freenode and file bugs in Launchpad (don’t forget to check to see if the bug has already been reported first).

Removing Unity 8

If you really don’t like Unity, or for some reason it’s messed up your system, the following commands will remove it and restore things to the way they were previously.

sudo apt-get remove unity8-desktop-session
sudo add-apt-repository --remove ppa:ci-train-ppa-service/stable-phone-overlay



14 thoughts on “Previewing the New Unity

  1. Hi Breg,
    are this instruction still up to date? I’m tempted to try however I would like to ask some clarification first:
    1. do I need to run system upgrade after adding the repo? (apt detect some 100+ upgradable packages)
    2. how messy can become my system if I remove the ppa and perform a normal software update ( I was reading so many nasty things about downgrading…)
    thanks in advance

    • The instructions are still valid for 16.04 LTS. For 16.10, it’s just a matter of logging in to the Unity 8 session that gets installed with the system.

      Removing the overlay PPA and upgrading *may* cause instability. It’s not a well-tested scenario.

  2. Hi guys.. For me it almost run. The desktop starts, but I can not start any app. They flash a second and then they shutdown :(… any recommendation?

  3. Each time I try to install the terminal app it says download failed (after reaching 100%) :/ Do you know how can I workaround it? And where to report a similar bug?

    • The Terminal App is only available in the Ubuntu Store as an ARM click, so it’s not going to run on your x86 desktop. The Ubuntu Store shouldn’t even show it to you as an available package, that’s a frustrating bug in the store.
      We’re actually working on a more general solution that will get you a terminal that will work with snaps and debs too.

  4. Awesome! Finally, after a year of this desktop, it works (a little, kind of)!
    What’s really strange is that Unity 7 on 16.04 will not run with the nouveau drivers and absolutely needs nvidia-364, but Unity 8 almost works! In the past this system worked with the open-source drivers and a range of different vendor drivers, but Unity 8 wouldn’t.
    Thanks a lot for the technical update and instructions 🙂

      • I know it ships with Desktop as well, but I was talking about the default choice. Only apt-get and apt wrappers are preinstalled, whereas aptitude is preinstalled on Server.

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