Desktop effects in Ubuntu can be used without Compiz, by enabling compositing in Metacity – the Gnome’s default window manager.
There are more ways to enable compositing in Metacity, but first you need to disable Compiz if you are using it. The fastest way is to go to System->Preferences->Appearance, select the Visual Effects tab, then check the radio button None.
- CLI way to enable compositing effects: open a terminal and type:
gconftool-2 -s '/apps/metacity/general/compositing_manager' --type bool true
- GUI way to enable compositing effects: open the Configuration Editor (gconf-editor), go to apps->metacity->general and enable the checkbox compositing_manager.
Although Metacity is much smoother, the effects are minimal – just some shadows on windows and menus, windows preview for Alt+Tab.