Open Source

10 things I've grown to love about GNOME 3

Jack Wallen to GNOME 3: You had me at 'pager.' See how the new desktop captured his reluctant heart.

While on vacation, I took my laptop that has the best battery life. It was running Fedora 15, and we all know Fedora 15 is complete with GNOME 3. I have been very much up and down with the whole GNOME 3/Unity issue. At times, I've really loved the idea and execution -- and at times, I have loathed it. So spending a week with no other desktop than GNOME 3 was going to be an interesting experiment. I have to say, I was really surprised at the result.

Yes, I have some issues Fedora. But those are mostly a lack of specific packages I have grown used to on Ubuntu. So I wanted to look at this from a desktop-only perspective. In particular... GNOME 3. It took me only a week, but I grew quite fond of the new desktop metaphor from the GNOME development team. So much so, that I can now see how that desktop could, with a few tweaks, be far superior than anything we have. Here are some things about this new desktop I really loved.

1: Minimalism

I have always been a minimalist. No icons, no widgets, no nothing. I want a clean desktop, and GNOME 3 offers about as clean a desktop as you can get without running E16. The only object on the desktop is the panel -- until you reveal the launcher. But just because GNOME 3 takes a minimalist approach doesn't mean it's not easy to use. In fact, once you get used to it, it's one of the easiest to use desktops you will come across.

2: Pager

Most times, the pager is seen as a widget or panel object that adds clutter and can be accidentally clicked, sending you away from your work. Now I am a big fan of the Linux pager -- I frequently use workspaces, so when a desktop monkeys around with this feature I always get nervous. What GNOME 3 has done makes perfect sense. When you reveal the launcher, you reveal the single, default extra workspace. (There is always at least one extra workspace in GNOME 3.) To add a new workspace, simply reveal the launcher (upper-left hotspot) and then drag a window into the Pager panel that resides on the right side of the screen. Just make sure you don't drag it to an existing workspace.

3: Favorites

Both GNOME 3 and Ubuntu Unity deal with favorites in the same way -- on the Dash (or Launcher, in Unity parlance). The big difference is that Unity's Dash is ever-present and in the way. Favorites are launchers you want more immediate access to and always live on the Dash. To add an application as a favorite, all you have to do is find the application launcher, right-click the icon, and select Add To Favorites. Now that icon will live in the Launcher as a favorite. A favorite can be removed by right-clicking the launcher and selecting Remove From Favorites. This is clean. I like clean.

4: Menus/Alerts/Calendar

If you like clean, you will love the way GNOME 3 presents menus, alerts, and the calendar. Each of these is built in, with a uniform look and presentation. They are all unobtrusive and easy to read/use. And because GNOME 3 takes a minimalist approach to these features, they rarely get in the way of your work. That is outstanding design in play.

5: Window manipulation

I've never been a big fan of window tiling -- until GNOME 3. To maximize a window, drag it to the top. To tile windows side by side, drag them to the left or right of the screen. This works flawlessly and allows lightning-fast manipulation of window sizing. Once done with a maximized window, either double-click the taskbar or just drag the window down. The only feature I miss is window shading. And I never thought I'd be able to work without window shading, but GNOME 3 has changed that.

6: Keyboard shortcuts

Many desktops try to make keyboard shortcuts that make life easier for the end user. No more moving back and forth between mouse and keyboard. But GNOME 3 has given serious consideration to the keyboard shortcut issue. There are quite a few shortcuts, but one pair of shortcuts, in particular, I have really grown to like. If you hit Alt-Tab, you cycle between open applications (regardless of workspace). That's fairly standard. But if you hit Alt-` (that's Alt plus the key above the Tab button), you can switch between open windows of the same application. Say you have multiple Firefox windows open. If you hit Alt-` you will see previews of each window.

7: Compositing

The compositing of GNOME 3 is elegant and far from overstated. Instead of going the Compiz route, GNOME 3 opts for subtle use of transparency and a few simple, clean effects that highlight how a compositor can actually improve the efficiency of a desktop. Transitioning between windows or in and out of the Dash is about as graceful a transition as can be had on a computer desktop. Best of all, the compositor on GNOME 3 does not, in any way, take a hit on the performance of the machine. GNOME 3 compositing is so much in the background, you will hardly notice it doing its thing.

8: Window zooming

This is a feature some will appreciate and some will not. When you have multiple windows open and you reveal the Dash, the windows are all in thumbnail mode. You can do a neat trick by using a vertical scroll (drag a finger up and down on a laptop trackpad). When you do this, the thumbnail window will zoom in so you can actually see what's happening with that thumbnail image.

9: Built-in screencast recording

Many Linux users will love this feature. If you hit the keyboard combination Ctrl-Alt-Shift-R your desktop actions will be recorded. To stop the recording, hit the same combination. There is no additional software needed for installation -- it just works out of the box.

10: Application system tray

This feature hasn't gotten much attention, but I find to be quite handy. Certain applications (such as Empathy and Dropbox) can be minimized to the system tray -- only you won't find them in the GNOME 3 panel anywhere. Instead, you'll find them in a small notification area at the bottom-right corner of your screen. When those applications are running, simply hover your mouse over that area and the application icons will be revealed. Click on a particular icon to open up the application. What I like about this is that it keeps the Panel from getting cluttered but still allows quick access to the applications.

Your thoughts?

GNOME 3 is quickly becoming one of my favorite desktops. Is it perfect? No... but it's as close as any other desktop that isn't stuck in the 90s. I believe any level of user can enjoy the latest take on the desktop from the GNOME developers. What about you? Have you given GNOME 3 enough of a try to let it all sink in and become familiar? If so, what's your take? Has GNOME 3 finally grown on you?


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website


Most elegant desk top UI I have ever used.


Being a patient reader I rarely skip an article like this after reading a small portion of it. Minimalism?! excuse me? In Gnome 2 I could click on my small icons on the toolbar on the screen and I had the application running. Now have to click - travel to other side of the screen - click blah blah blah. What exactly minimalism is, is what you seriously need to ask yourself.


Hands down, this is best desktop experience I have ever had. :) I started with Unity on ubuntu 11.04, crashed it within 5 mins after installation, moved to Gnome3, and never planning to look anywhr else. I have some issues though, 1. 2. 3. I cant find hibernate. These are but minor issues, for which the solution is just around the corner. Though, I hope the unity/gnome battle ends and ubuntu users get a *CHOICE* of desktop when upgrading. One of the issues that GNOME future versions may work on is similarity to other OSes. I dont know if everyone finds this important. But I want my parents to be able to use my machine just as well as thr old (read windows) desktop. :) Everything invisible (hidden) from plain view may make it difficult for new-comers to adapt to it. Thr shud be clear way for them to proceed, even if they are new to the OS. Wanted to know ur opinion Jack for long time. KUDOS, it matches mine.


I don't know if it can be easily configured, I am not an expert, but I would like to use the keyboard when I am in the pager. I mean, I press Alt-F1 and want to move with TAB or ALT-TAB or whatever through the windows and press Enter to jump the window I want or favorites. Instead, I must use the mouse, and it is annoying. I think it should allow you to do everything with the keyboard or use the mouse if you want to. Is it something missing for the moment or it will be that way? Or I am wrong and it is possible to change it? Regards, Manu


Can't stand the Gnome 3.. or Unity approach. I can see where either might work for a touchscreen or portable, but it just doesn't make sense on a desktop, for me. I'm Old School, I guess, and coming from windows, I like my quick launch-style bar, my application launcher and dropdown menus for navigating the file system without having to open a file explorer. I also appreciate a cluttered system tray with a ton of things in it, no hovering on anything to see what you want. I customize my desktops, anyway (I never see the desktop itself, so no icons there) but typically have a system tray and a toolbar showing (to the right, I don't understand why anything would be on the LEFT.) But hey, that's the thing with Linux... don't like something, change it!


A year or so back, Mandriva packaged a gnome-shell preview. It was rough, but worked well enough to reveal where the team was going with gnome 3. I loved it. I told anyone who would listen that this is really a revolution in how one approaches a computer. It was like I was seeing a computer for the first time, in some ways. I think gnome 3 will really shine on touchscreen systems. I'd buy the first tablet to run gnome 3 in a heartbeat, regardless of what OS it's sporting. I also have to admit that using gnome 3 is quite a bit of fun. Enjoying the use of your computer is important, not essential to getting a given job done, but definitely a bonus if you look forward to using the desktop.


As I require many documents open to do my work efficiently, I built myself a multi-screen PC when the other one all but died. Eyefinity cards weren't available, so I have twin nvidia cards with xinerama. Guess who can't use Gnome3? Of course, I realise that multi-card setups are not the majority, but still, they went really quickly on this without thinking that multi-card video setups wouldn't work. By the way, I have 4 screens, and twinview doesn't help as the name implies. Gnome3 just left me behind, because the change was made before a proper replacement was made for xinerama. Of course, wayland may change this, but for the time being, Gnome3 is out, fallback mode feels defective, and there is no real solution in existence. So although I would like gnome3 on my desktop, I can't run it. Odly enough, my laptop runs it fine with nothing more than a meager Intel video chip, but then, it has only one screen. I really hope they know something I don't about the future of compositing with multi-card setup, because if all desktops did like gnome, I'd switch back to Windows full time. edit:typo