Work-around for a locked-up Gnome 3 screen saver in Ubuntu 11.10

Gnome 3 has a screen saver (or more accurately a screen blanker — there are no pretty pictures) which is turned on by default and which password-protects (locks) your desktop by default when it activates. Unfortunately it’s been known to be buggy since it was released as part of Gnome 2, often refusing to unlock your screen and forcing you to reboot your system.

Users of the Gnome 3 desktop shell are reporting that for some video card and monitor combinations the Gnome 3 screen saver, after getting a key press / mouse movement that should prompt you for your password to unlock the screen:

  • Won’t unlock the screen at all.
  • Will display a mouse pointer but no password prompt.
  • Will display your original screen and all open documents (without prompting for a password) but will not allow you to click on anything, basically appearing as a locked-up desktop.

My setup reliably produces situation #3.

To unlock a locked-up desktop:

  • Ctrl-Alt-F1 will give you a text-based terminal login.
  • Log in with your user name and password.
  • Type: “killall gnome-screensaver”
  • Ctrl-Alt-F7 to get back to the (now unlocked) Gnome 3 desktop.

To replace the Gnome 3 screen saver with something less buggy:

  • Activities > Applications > Other > Synaptic Package Manager
  • Quick filter: xscreensaver
  • Right click ‘xscreensaver’ and select ‘Mark for Installation’
  • Click ‘Apply’ to install
  • Activities > Applications > System Tools  > System Settings > Screen
  • Set “Turn off after” to ‘Never’ and “Lock” to ‘OFF’. This disables gnome-screensaver.
  • Activities > Applications > All > Screensaver
  • Follow the prompts to activate xscreensaver

If you try to uninstall gnome-screensaver Synaptic Package Manager will also want to uninstall gnome and gnome-core, which is a bad idea if you want to run Gnome. Gnome will always start gnome-screensaver even if you have it disabled, and xscreensaver won’t run if gnome-screensaver is running. So you basically need to kill gnome-screensaver after Gnome has started and then start xscreensaver. You can do this by adding a startup program:

  • Activities > Applications > Other > Startup Programs > Add
  • Name: “Screen Saver”
  • Command: “sleep 30; killall gnome-screensaver; sleep 5; xscreensaver”
  • Comment: “Kill gnome-screensaver, start xscreensaver”
  • Click “Add”

Hope you find this useful.

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11 thoughts on “Work-around for a locked-up Gnome 3 screen saver in Ubuntu 11.10

    • Bob:

      This is what I see when I type “sudo apt-get remove gnome-screensaver”

      > sudo apt-get remove gnome-screensaver
      [sudo] password for earl:
      Reading package lists… Done
      Building dependency tree
      Reading state information… Done
      The following packages will be REMOVED:
      gnome gnome-core gnome-screensaver
      0 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 3 to remove and 3 not upgraded.
      After this operation, 483 kB disk space will be freed.
      Do you want to continue [Y/n]? n

      As you can see, if I followed your advice I would end up removing gnome and gnome-core as well as gnome-screensaver.

      Bad idea if you want to run Gnome.

  1. After further experimentation, including clean installs of Gnome 3 using both Ubuntu 11.10 and OpenSUSE 11.4 on three different desktop machines, I have yet to have a machine running the Gnome desktop for more than 24 hours without locking up, regardless of whether gnome-screensaver is running or not. (Although Gnome 3 definitely seems more stable without gnome-screensaver running.)

    I have switched to KDE in the meantime, just because I need a stable Desktop. OpenSUSE 12.1 is being released in about 2 weeks with support for Gnome 3.2, so when that comes out I’ll install that and see if there’s any improvement in stability. If not, I’ll either be running KDE or LXDE on my desktop.

  2. Thanks ECR3 works a treat, incidentally I have observed that Firefox 7 running on 11.10 is far less processor intensive than 11.04 and 10.04, has anyone else found this.
    All we need now is for the software centre to end up on the scrapheap, did they borrow it from Seattle?

  3. If you are using LinuxMint and running Cinnamon, after you killall gnome-screensaver and get back to the desktop by doing CTRL-ALT-F7, you need to restart cinnamon by doing:
    cinnamon –replace &

  4. How about someone on the Gnome team fixing this ridiculous issue? It has only been around for 3 or 4 years now.

  5. Gnome 3 screensaver on a multihead (DVI + VGA ATI card) just locked my work out. Only the VGA screen faded, not the DVI screen. No password dialog appeared. Got out of it by killing the X session. Just as well the applications did a backup – recover.
    In system settings, no way to turn screen power saving entirely off, or to not use Gnome screensaver. If it unlocking worked properly it would be ok.

  6. Mine, gnome screeensaver, was locked with black screen and only mouse, and the screensaver would respawn if I killed it -from top. There was a crash reporter process running and after I killed that, the screensaver did not respawn. System was running full CPU during that time too.

    I give the gnome team credit, but it must be like herding cats.

    Be real, be sober.

  7. Keep gnome-screensaver from running by removing executable bit from the application.

    sudo chmod -x /usr/bin/gnome-screensaver

  8. If you are using LinuxMint and running Cinnamon, after you killall gnome-screensaver and get back to the desktop by doing CTRL-ALT-F7, you need to restart cinnamon by doing:
    cinnamon –replace

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