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How to access Gnome Classic mode on Linux

Gnome Classic is a version of the Gnome project’s Gnome 3 (Gnome Shell) desktop environment but made to look like the old Gnome 2.x. It has some of the same Gnome Shell features as most users come to expect like a modern GTK3+ user interface and a similar window manager, but scaled back, and less cumbersome on older hardware.

The Gnome Classic mode doesn’t come pre-setup with Gnome Shell, so many Linux users are unaware of its existence. Still, if you miss the old Gnome 2 days, but aren’t a fan of desktops like Mate, it’s worth using.

Enable Gnome Classic

Like mentioned earlier, Gnome Classic often doesn’t come pre-installed on Linux distributions that ship with the Gnome desktop environment. The reason that it isn’t there differs depending on the OS you are using. With that said, it’s not a problem getting it working, and it won’t interfere with the traditional Gnome Shell session on your system.

To get your hands on Gnome Classic, you’ll need to open up a terminal and follow the command-line instructions that match the Linux distribution that is installed on your computer. Keep in mind that Gnome Classic is part of the Gnome Shell, so you must have a Gnome desktop already set up for this tutorial to work correctly.

Note: not sure how to install Gnome Shell on your Linux PC? Refer to your Linux distribution’s Wiki. It should outline how to install and set up various desktop environments, including Gnome.

Ubuntu instructions

Ubuntu Linux has the Classic mode for Gnome Shell in its official software sources. To get the session, go to the terminal window and enter the Apt package command in it.

Note: Ubuntu comes with Canonical’s custom Gnome, so you must also install the Vanilla Gnome packages.

sudo apt install gnome-flashback vanilla-gnome-desktop*

Debian Linux instructions

Debian Linux has the Gnome Classic session available on all releases. Though, keep in mind that if you’re not using Debian Testing, you’ll be getting an older version of the session and not the latest release of Gnome available currently.

To install  Gnome Classic on Debian, go to the terminal window you’ve opened and enter the following Apt-get command in.

Note: want a newer version of Gnome Classic for Debian? Consider upgrading to Testing, or enabling Backports.

sudo apt-get install gnome-flashback

Arch Linux instructions

Arch Linux is often called a “bleeding-edge” Linux distribution. This nickname means that Arch always has the absolute latest software as soon as it is available. Gnome Classic is no different, and if you’re an Arch user, you’ll be able to quickly install version 3.30 of the session with a quick Pacman command.

sudo pacman -S gnome-flashback

Fedora instructions

Fedora Linux doesn’t have the “Flashback” package in their official software sources. Instead, the package is “gnome-classic-session.”  Don’t worry! It’s the same mode; the only difference is the name!

To get the latest Gnome Classic session package on Fedora, launch your terminal window and enter the command below. Keep in mind that you must also have Gnome Shell already set up on your Fedora Linux PC for the session to appear in the login menu.

sudo dnf install gnome-classic-session -y

OpenSUSE instructions

Sadly, the developers of OpenSUSE do not have a package with the label of Gnome Flashback, or even the Gnome Classic session package like Fedora does. If you’re a Suse user in need of this mode, look around in the official OpenSUSE documentation. There may be a way to enable it or install it.

If there isn’t a way, try your hand at downloading the Fedora RPM of Gnome Classic. It’s not guaranteed to work, but Fedora and OpenSUSE have identical packaging formats, so it is entirely possible that it will install if done right.

Generic Linux instructions

Gnome is an open source foundation, and Gnome Shell is an open source project. Being open source means that their code is online and downloadable to just about anyone, user and developer alike, which is good news for those on lesser-known Linux distributions looking to use the Gnome Classic session on their computers.

Getting your hands on the source code for the Gnome Classic isn’t hard. Head over to the official development page. There you’ll find instructions on how to download the code. It also has a detailed guide on how to compile the code.

Access Gnome Classic

To access the Gnome Classic session on your Linux PC, click the “Log out” button to exit your current Gnome Shell session. Logging out will return you to the Gnome Desktop Manager.

At the Gnome Desktop Manager screen, look for the gear icon and click on it with the mouse. Then, select “Gnome Classic,” and log in with your username to access the new Classic session on your computer.

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