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Ubuntu 16.04 with Gnome Flashback and Nemo

27 Jun 2016 - by 'Maurits van der Schee'

I love Ubuntu, especially 16.04 for it's new software versions. The best official 'derivative' of Ubuntu is IMHO "Xubuntu". It is even better than the original. Why? Because it is light-weight and has that nice old-school "Gnome 2" look. It did not change much and that is a good thing. I like stuff that does not change, especially when it works fast and good. The constant (needless) changes in the user interface (as Microsoft is doing to Windows) are driving me crazy. Apple seems to be more subtle in it's user interface improvements. Ubuntu and Gnome have also made some dramatic changes in the past years, completely unnecessary in my opinion. XFCE has improved, but more subtle, like OSX.

Gnome flashback

Today we are exploring "Gnome flashback" and the "Nemo" file manager as an alternative to Xubuntu. With the following commands the required packages are installed:

sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get upgrade
sudo apt-get install nemo gnome-session-flashback

Now run the following commands to make the window buttons normal, let Nemo handle the desktop and set Nemo as the default file manager:

gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.wm.preferences button-layout 'menu:minimize,maximize,close'
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.background show-desktop-icons false
xdg-mime default nemo.desktop inode/directory application/x-gnome-saved-search

Logout (no need to shutdown or restart) and on the login screen click the Ubuntu logo behind your username and choose "GNOME Flashback (Metacity)". You will see a very traditional, but also modern and very much "Ubuntu"-like desktop. Unfortunately the default Nemo package is somewhat broken (causing the desktop to be black after reboot). This can be fixed with a patched version:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:webupd8team/nemo
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install nemo nemo-fileroller

There were a few shortcuts I had to Google and these are:

win-alt right-click panel to modify panels
win-s to open the application menu

Other that this everything worked very much as expected.


XFCE with Thunar is silver gray (with blue), while Gnome flashback with Nemo is dark brown (with orange). I feel Ubuntu flashback has much more user friendly settings than XFCE and Nemo has more features than Thunar. Thunar seems to be faster than Nemo, but Nemo is by no means slow. It is a pity that the built-in Nemo package is broken and that you need the PPA to install it. Thunar on the other hand has a serious stability issue that can only be resolved by patching it, so on this account they both lose.

I can't really decide what I like better. I am running Nemo on my laptop and Thunar on my desktop for a while now and time will tell. I'll update this post if I have any new insights or updates.

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