updating Whonix from jessie to stretch / Migration to Gnome-Shell / port to GNOME-ish applications


There has been some interest to upgrade Whonix from jessie to stretch for testing purposes. This has to be done for a future Whonix release anyhow.

It’s been reported that no desktop environment starts. I am not surprised, because during the upgrade several packages are removed. Including kde-workspace.

I am still in process, not there yet to suggest how to fix this.


Whonix VirtualBox desktop: It’s not that. I was able to sudo service kdm stop and sudo service kdm start before I restarted. After restart sudo service kdm status says that it failed. Checking /var/log/X11/Xorg.0.log.


Whonix VirtualBox desktop: The following and reboot…

sudo apt-get purge virtualbox-guest*

…made the desktop reappear. So I guess there must be something wrong with virtualbox-guest-x11.


Really? That’s surprising. I did that (purge virtualbox-guest*) before upgrading because it was a blocker to doing a standalone kernel upgrade. But I still couldn’t get X running. I think I even tried installing xfce because I saw kde getting knocked around.

Speaking of distributions, will there be any DE-related changes? Personally, I’m happy with the KDE tools we’ve got (and I did not enjoy Whonix 12’s foray into Gnome). Do we need to be better aligned with Qubes choices? (XFCE/GTK)?

Oh… I upgraded from within KDE… That doesn’t make sense… should’ve dropped to tty. I’ll try again.


Reinstalled using sudo apt-get install virtualbox-guest-x11 and now - as strange as that is - desktop environment is still functional.

related: Migration to Gnome-Shell / port to GNOME-ish applications

Since changing from #KDE to #GNOME is not so simple, since many packages have to be changed (kde vs gnome, jessie vs stretch), I think it’s best to delay this change and implement it when porting #Whonix to #debian_stretch.

It is planned anyhow. [as per above] But, yes.

(Qubes is XFCE now, but Qubes long term plan still is GNOME. So Whonix generally will be ported to gnomeish applications. And Non-Qubes-Whonix probably also ported to gnome shell.)

Did you purge or only remove? If it’s still not working for you, please share your /var/log/X11/Xorg.0.log (redact desktop resolutions). Maybe only sharing (EE) entries is enough.


Getting gnome initially working was simple. Run the following command and reboot.


sudo apt-get install --no-install-recommends gnome-shell gdm3 gnome-control-center

(Used gdm3 as login manager.)

I’d appreciate if others joined me in these efforts.


I should have included --no-install-recommends.

sudo apt-get install --no-install-recommends gnome-shell gdm3 gnome-control-center

I find gnome-shell confusing at first. There is no more minimize window button? No no real taskbar, always have to click activities to switch active application?


It’s kinda slow. Not using the fastest notebook to try, but I cannot even for example apt-get purge one package in konsole and open a new tab without perhaps 20 seconds lag. Does stretch gnome-shell eat more resources than jessie kde?


I don’t like the gnome shell systray at all. For one it’s kinda two systrays. The always visible items on the right top and the faded out by default systray on the left bottom. So sdwdate-gui is hardly noticed (one can see that bottom left tray just for a second or so before it automatically fades out).

Wondering if Non-Qubes-Whonix should be ported to XFCE / lightdm as desktop environment with gnomeish applications instead?

Perhaps it’s to early to give up on gnome shell yet and see if there are settings to always make the systray (and move it up to the upper right)?


It’s working now after re-installing guest additions like you said.

I wanted to question the accuracy of this statement from https://phabricator.whonix.org/T467:

Gnome-Shell is the Gnome variant that does not require any GPU acceleration support - essential for VM performance constraints.

I’m confused. Originally gnome-shell was the fancy, accelerated interface and gnome-fallback-session was the basic version. (https://askubuntu.com/questions/171391/whats-the-difference-between-gnome-gnome-shell-and-gnome-session-fallback)

Then starting with Gnome 3.7 (stretch is 3.20), from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GNOME_Shell):

GNOME 3.8 removed the fallback mode and replaced it with GNOME Shell extensions that offer a more traditional look and feel.

(more info here: https://blogs.gnome.org/mclasen/2012/12/05/gnome-3-7-what-is-happening-now/)

I assume we want the no-frills version. Does apt-get gnome-shell also install the extensions we need or do we need to install gnome-shell-extensions?


I gotta take a detour for a moment. apt in stretch is not liking my onion mirrors.

Direct connection to .onion domains is blocked by default. If you meant to use Tor remember to use tor+http instead of http.

:slight_smile: Looks like another job for anon-ws-disable-stacked-tor.


sudo apt-get install --no-install-recommends gnome-shell gnome-shell-extensions gdm3 gnome-control-center gnome-tweak-tool

gnome-shell (with extensions installed) feels substantially heavier than kde4 - laggy but usable? Some tweaking might help (like gnome-tweak-tool > appearance > enable animations=off)

gnome-tweak-tool > windows > titlebar buttons

gnome-tweak-tool > extensions > window list

With Top Bar, requires 3 panels to do the job of 1. You can keep the tray always visible by expanding the arrow.

Sounds good to me. Reading the Github Issue, it sounds like Qubes will be in this spot for a while. I understand the motivation to go gnome, but still…

konsole > gnome-terminal
system-settings > control-center
dolphin > nautilus
kate > gedit
okular > evince
kgpg > passwords

We could always just make the UI look like GTK! :smiley:

Still confused. Sounds like gnome-shell-extensions are more about look and feel and not performance-related. Anybody know how to get non-accelerated, zippy gnome?

Looking at https://github.com/diocles/apt-transport-tor, very few changes may be required since it uses socksAuth. The proxy settings can be customized but with socksAuth enabled, it’s fine to let it go through default 9050. The only thing required is that apt-transport-tor not launch tor. Can’t tell if it does automatically or not. It doesn’t appear to. Getting error:
Cannot initiate the connection to localhost:9050 ( - connect (1: Operation not permitted)
Does socat have it locked up somehow?


Gnome is unusable and slow. And we will use VBox in Windows, there is now everything slows down.

I think need to use XFCE.


To fix access to onion apt-repositories the following solution works. (apt-transport-tor fortunately not required.)


Acquire::BlockDotOnion "false";

I am wondering in which package to ship such as config file. anon-ws-disable-stacked-tor is not perfect, since this needs to be applied on gateway and workstation.

(Probably uwt got into the way. For your curiosity perhaps try apt-get.anondist-orig. :slight_smile: )

Can you shed light on gnome shell vs performance? //cc @HulaHoop

WW: impossible to update (after Whonix 13 upgrade to stretch)

Dammit! https://phabricator.whonix.org/T73 strikes again!

xfce+lightdm, gnome+gdm test whonix-13-stretch-workstations ready to go!

Went with install gnome-core to get the full experience. Looks like there are 2 types of sessions: gnome-classic and gnome-wayland. Classic has the traditional desktop feel and less of the special effects than Wayland. There’s also X11 default & gnome - not obvious what those are. I could live with gnome-classic - it’s not as snappy as xfce but I think that’s partly by design.


Yes. I am no longer sure that is going to happen in Qubes anytime soon. I am not sure I understand the motivation. So probably not reason to rush porting to GNOMEish applications rather than KDEish applications in Whonix too soon.

konsole > gnome-terminal

Yes. :slight_smile:

system-settings > control-center

No. :slight_smile: (Such stuff such as changing keyboard configuration or kde font sizes is awfully complicated. But never mind, if we move away from KDE, that will be solved by gnome or xfce system setttings.)

dolphin > nautilus
kate > gedit


okular > evince

Need to compare again.

kgpg > passwords


Do you have more such examples?

We could always just make the UI look like GTK!

I think the reason for Qubes wanting to change to GNOME and GNOMEish applications originally was usability, not looks. So I am trying to discuss usability with Qubes.

I am currently writing a draft to comment on https://github.com/QubesOS/qubes-issues/issues/1781. Will post it in my next post here. If you have any edit suggestions, please let me know.


https://github.com/QubesOS/qubes-issues/issues/1781 draft:

Do we still want to go for this ticket?

Did I rightly interpret this ticket to change Whonix VM

  • konsole -> gnome-terminal
  • dolphin -> nautilus

etc. @mfc?

We also have to check these new default applications for privacy issues. So it would be good to have a final list.

I can understand why @bnvk made the argument that KDE settings complexity provides worse usability than GNOME and therefore suggested to port Qubes to gnome. (#1806)
However, has the argument been made, that GNOMEish applications generally have better usability than KDEish applications?

The argument was made, that all templates should use the same default applications to simplify.

(With the exception for Whonix VMs, where some exceptions such as Icedove and Tor Browser are justified for stronger, for privacy reasons.)

  • konsole is better than gnome-terminal (where one needs a keyboard combination for something as simple as opening another tab).
  • kgpg has actual encryption/decryption/signature/verification functionality over gnome-keyring, so we’d like to at least keep some KDEish application for Whonix.
  • I prefer dolphin over nautilus because it is simpler by using drag and drop to add a new favorite folder to the left bar.


I don’t see much point in standardizing applications across the distros - if you do that what’s the point in having different offerings at all?

As for Debian vs Fedora, indeed. The improved usability choice would be if by default Fedora would be exposed nowhere to the user, i.e. have dom0 Debian based (#1919) and also use Debian for sys-net / sys-firewall. Then one would not have to learn two base distributions, debian based vs fedora based.


vlc > totem

Those are all the standard distribution examples I have an opinion about.

gwenview <> eog

In general, gnome apps do not expose many customizations. This makes them friendlier and more usable for people who don’t customize their applications and want sensible defaults. For people who like to tweak / customize, gnome is less usable because you are required to research how to change settings or install add-ons to get additional functionality. Really comes down to who the target user is. It’s always safer to cater to novice users since advanced users can figure things out themselves. Also, less options mean less chance to shoot yourself in terms of privacy / security.

Worth considering also is consistency with popular application software, much of which is gtk-based:

mozilla stuff?
libreoffice > calligra
gimp > krita
gnucash > kmymoney

(most IDEs use their own frameworks)

Despite my personal preference, gnomish apps are probably the way forward. In terms of window managers, it seems like gnome uses (not sure the right word - something like image stabilization) to provide a smoother feel. But this doesn’t work well in non-accelerated vm’s. Perhaps it can be disabled. xfce is performant but is more complicated to use (like kde).


Sorry I’m late to the party…

I think need to use XFCE.

XFCE is based on GNOME libraries too. Its supposedly light resource use comes at expense of terrible usability where simple things like creating desktop icons are a pain.

on gnome-shell I concur with Patrick. Not to demean anyone’s work but it looks like it was designed by mentally challenged primates.


The lightdm login manager is a deprecated desktop login manager that was written by Ubuntu and is now on life support with a planned transition to either gdm3 for gnome or sddm for kde.

Yes. I am no longer sure that is going to happen in Qubes anytime soon. I am not sure I understand the motivation. So probably not reason to rush porting to GNOMEish applications rather than KDEish applications in Whonix too soon.

The motivation was to get us in sync with subgraphos to use them as a base. This idea is no good for many reasons we’ve seen before.

Still confused. Sounds like gnome-shell-extensions are more about look and feel and not performance-related. Anybody know how to get non-accelerated, zippy gnome?

@entr0py you’re right they could very well have dumped the fallback mode since the source I linked to was written.

KDE is also switching to llvmpipe which renders with more CPU use in absence of 3D acceleration - but they will disable many resource intensive effects if it detects this use case. The switch was done because the underlying QtQuick libs are already making use of llvmpipe anyway.


Gedit can’t save files in Virtual Box because there very old bug in lib. Also all programs that use this lib have same problem.

So need to use Leafpad as text editor or Libre Office.