Thursday, May 19, 2011

Run AWN / Dock in Natty Narwhal, instead of Gnome Panel or Unity Launcher/Panel

If you want to use Avant Window Navigator (AWN) or another dock instead of the default panels/launcher in Natty Narwhal, there are multiple approaches to achieve that.

The best way is to add a custom session option, because it would leave the default session options in their original state, so that you could easily use them as well, and it wouldn't get reset by an upgrade of the respective packages.

Update 5/4/2012: For Natty 11.04 as well as Oneiric 11.10 and Precise 12.04, I've now created a script to automatically install AWN, set up the needed custom sessions (with and without Unity 2D Panel, and with Compiz or Metacity as the window manager), set some default settings to fix/prevent some issues, and install Synapse (mentioned below) and Unity 2D Panel if any of these aren't installed already and opted for:


If you don't have AWN installed yet, run these commands in the Terminal, this will add its own PPA to your sources to ensure you always have the most recent version of it:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:awn-testing/ppa
sudo apt-get update
sudo apt-get install avant-window-navigator-trunk

If you already installed AWN through the official repos, remove it before:

sudo apt-get purge avant-window-navigator
sudo apt-get autoremove


Once it is installed, you will find it under "Applications > Accessories" in classic Gnome, or by typing its name into the Unity Dash.


Notice that the 'required components' that were specified in Gconf in previous releases of Ubuntu are now specified by the session settings in "/usr/share/gnome-session/sessions".

Modify the red-marked entries to use another dock than AWN.

Custom Session

1. Create the .desktop file:

gksudo gedit /usr/share/xsessions/dock.desktop

[Desktop Entry]
Comment=This session logs you into GNOME with the dock of your choice
Exec=gnome-session --session=dock

Note: What you put as the value for "Name=" here, will be shown as the name of the new session option.

2. Create the session settings:

gksudo gedit /usr/share/gnome-session/sessions/dock.session

[GNOME Session]

Classic Gnome Session, "Ubuntu Classic"

Modify "/usr/share/gnome-session/sessions/classic-gnome.session":

gksudo gedit /usr/share/gnome-session/sessions/classic-gnome.session

[GNOME Session]
Name=Classic GNOME
IsRunnableHelper=/usr/lib/nux/unity_support_test --compiz

Unity Session, "Ubuntu"

1. Disable the "Ubuntu Unity Plugin" in "CompizConfig Settings Manager".

2a. Add "avant-window-navigator" to "Startup Applications"

2b. or modify "/usr/share/gnome-session/sessions/ubuntu.session":

gksudo gedit /usr/share/gnome-session/sessions/ubuntu.session

[GNOME Session]
FallbackClassicGnomeMessage=It seems that you do not have the hardware required to run Unity. Please choose Ubuntu Classic at the login screen and you will be using the traditional environment.


You should place launchers on your desktop in case you need to restart the one, AWN or another dock:


or you want to run the other, Gnome Panel:


If your dock is also capable to host the Notification Area, like AWN does, then remove those from your Gnome Panel. Otherwise, the respective AWN applet gets killed each time you start Gnome Panel.

I myself find it very handy to have the ability to fire up Gnome Panel occasionally. Mostly for UF support reasons, otherwise not really.

Run Dialog (Alt+F2)

Since the usual Run Dialog's are either provided by Gnome Panel or the Unity Dash, Alt+F2 will stop working when you run only AWN.

AWN's Cairo Menu applet includes a "Launch..." menu item, but those needs to be 'filled' with a replacement for the Run Dialog.


The best replacement in terms of style and integration compared to Gnome Panel's Run Dialog is XFRun4. It's included by the package "xfce4-utils", which is provided by the official repos. To avoid the installation of unnecessary additional packages, if you don't have XFCE installed parallelly, use the "--no-install-recommends" option of 'apt-get':

sudo apt-get install --no-install-recommends xfce4-utils

After the installation, you can either run it through the mentioned "Launch..." menu item in Cairo Menu, or create a keyboard shortcut in CCSM for the command "xfrun4". If you choose the set the key combination to Alt+F2, you will get a conflict dialog, then choose "Disable Run Dialog" (that option is included by the "Gnome Compatibility" plugin).


Another great alternative to Gnome Panel's Run Dialog and Unity's Dash is Synapse. It can not only run commands, but also installed applications, which you would otherwise have to run through the menu of classic Gnome, Cairo Menu of AWN, or the Dash of Unity. And similar to the latter makes it use of the Zeitgeist engine to also give you quick access to any kind of recently accessed stuff.

See this guide about further information and how to install it:


If Gnome Panel is still getting run at login, alongside to your dock or instead of it:

- Remove the content of "~/.config/gnome-session/saved-session":

rm -f ~/.config/gnome-session/saved-session/*

- Remove the now obsolete Gconf keys:

gconftool-2 --unset /desktop/gnome/session/required_components_list
gconftool-2 --recursive-unset /desktop/gnome/session/required_components

- Check if Gnome Panel is listed/enabled in "Startup Applications", and if so, disable it.

If your dock doesn't get run at login:

- Remove "panel" from the line "Required=" in the concerning session settings:


- Add the command for your dock to "Startup Applications":



It's expected that Ubuntu's next release, Oneiric Ocelot 11.10, will be shipped with Gnome 3, and drop classic Gnome.

The current sessions are in fact all based on Gnome (v2 in this case), with the Unity session just running Compiz' Unity plugin, instead of Gnome Panel in classic Gnome.

Since AWN is apparently already compatible to Gnome 3, we can at least do the 'Custom' and the 'Unity' approaches, although some of the specific code will most probably get changed until then.

Gnome 3 and AWN in coexistence:

Related Posts:

Dock , Gnome Panel , Natty Narwhal , Session