Linux

GNOME 3: A new perspective

Jack Wallen takes another look at the GNOME 3 desktop and is surprised at what he finds. A desktop that is the target of much derision might deserve another chance.

GNOME 3: A desktop that brings a certain level of ire to the hearts and minds of many a Linux user. When this desktop first arrived, my opinion was fairly high. Why? It was new, fresh, and seemed like it could easily take the desktop world by storm. But then the developers stopped listening to the users and things seemed to fall apart.

It's been a while, since last I condemned the GNOME 3 desktop to obscurity, so I thought I needed to revisit the topic and give the one-time king of the open source desktop another chance. Believe it or not, I was quite pleasantly surprised at what I found.

I've made it abundantly clear, I'm a fan of Ubuntu Unity. It's a refreshing change that actually can help make desktop computing far more efficient. Unity and GNOME 3 hold a number of similarities, but just enough differences to set them very much apart.

I installed GNOME 3 on two very different machines. Both machines were running Ubuntu 12.10. The first machine was a low-end desktop that would bog down after a given period (using Unity). The laptop, on the other hand, had plenty of power to run either.

Initial impressions

Take into consideration, I had been using Unity for quite some time -- so I was incredibly comfortable with the design and the change. I had also previously used GNOME 3, which means the environment wasn't a complete unknown.

Installation was quite simple:

sudo apt-get install ubuntu-gnome-desktop ubuntu-gnome-default-settings

I made sure to retain the LightDM login manager (as I preferred that to GDM). That was it. I was ready to revisit the land of GNOME, flavored 3.6.

If you are a user of Unity -- there's very little to report. Here's what GNOME 3 has:

  • Activities View: Click the "Super" key (Windows key) to reveal the launcher, your current windows, pager, system tray (Figure A)
  • Desktop-wide search: Open up the activities view and type a search string to reveal applications and files.
  • Integrated messaging: Connect to your Facebook and Google accounts (I have yet to find the means to integrate Twitter)
  • Powerful extension system: Extend the experience of GNOME 3 with easy to install extensions.

Figure A

What GNOME 3 does not have (in reference to Ubuntu Unity):

  • Head Up Display
  • Always-visible launcher
  • Web-integrated search

Now, if you look at the above list, you might see somewhat of a theme. Minus the always-visible launcher, the two things GNOME 3 does NOT have are the two things many Unity users gripe about the most. There has been a big stink about the web-integrated search for some time, and the HUD (which I happen to really like) gives many people more of a headACHE than a headUP.

As far as performance is concerned, I have to say that GNOME 3 wins hands down. I have a feeling this is due to Unity still relying on Compiz; whereas, GNOME 3 uses Mutter. The performance gains with Mutter are noticeable. Not only are the effects cleaner, the transitions are smoother.

After using GNOME 3 as my primary desktop for a week, I just can't figure out why everyone is so up in arms about this desktop. I understand the majority of users do not like change. But change is inevitable. And with the enormously popular mobile platforms, users have started growing accustomed to various interface metaphors.

My fear is that this push backwards to GNOME 2 will be yet another factor keeping Linux on the desktop. Let me explain. When I first started using Linux (back in '96) I was put off by how out of date the interface looked. It wasn't until I discovered AfterStep that I realized I could have the power of Linux, yet have a sexy desktop interface. It was important to me then and it's important to consumers now. If Linux is going to achieve any success with the modern desktop user, it has to advance. Both Unity and GNOME 3 are doing just that. Both are solid interfaces that help to focus the user (in a modern-looking manner) on the work -- not the interface.

After this week-long experiment, I came up shrugging. I simply can't figure out why the ire is focused so strongly on GNOME 3. GNOME, KDE, and Unity are doing everything they can to modernize the Linux desktop -- and I applaud them for their efforts. All three desktops have done a great job of making Linux not only more user-friendly, but surpassing the innovation and look of any other desktop.

I also am fully aware that there are many people out there who simply do not want to let go of the familiar and the simple. I don't blame them for that -- and I think Linux is the perfect place for them. For anyone that shrugs off change, Linux will always offer the ability to maintain what you know and what works best for you.

But for the future, and future generations of Linux users, GNOME 3 (Unity and KDE) is the desktop. I would entreat each and every Linux-friendly reader out there to install the latest GNOME 3 and give it a try. It's come a long way from the beginnings of the third major iteration -- you might be surprised at how much you can get done (and enjoy working with) this desktop.

About

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

33 comments
Tiroler
Tiroler

For me, Gnome 3 @ the Fedora 16 level was a real piece of terror.  Trying it now on Fedora 18 (yes, 19 is realeased and 18 is 'stable' (but the last updated causes boot crashes if USB devices are plugged in) and have only one MAJOR complaint.  It has a SERIOUS memory leak.  What the heck?  I have to reboot linux every couple days because gnome-shell really starts dogging the machine... WHAT GIVES?  Any relief?

I believe this is 3.6.  I will have to check the repos for finer grained detail.


BruceLandrum
BruceLandrum

But I still miss my applets, especially the system monitor applet and the drawers. If the developers would give that back, I would continue to use 3. Meanwhile, I'll use Mate. Another issue is configuration. Most of the config I want to do has to be done manually in the files. Multiple windows are possible. As well as the window frame buttons. You just have to know what file to edit...

weshop
weshop

The ability to use a variety of desktops is one of the great, fun, things about Linux . I switch to a different one dependent upon my mood. A few weeks on TWM, a few on Openbox, a few on E17, a few on Gnome 3, and right now a few on KDE (have a few others also but no need to get too lengthy. I get the work I need to do, done regardless of the desktop. Linux is about choice, choose what you want and go for it.

nevynh
nevynh

I'm disappointed by Gnome Shell because it just feels like it's missing the mark. I would prefer if they focused on the core functionality - the javascript engine - and allowed projects to define their own desktops i.e. from your display manager, you should be able to make options. That would mean that other projects could sit on top - Unity could be made in Gnome Shell without relying on Compiz. You could also offer a traditional desktop with menus and the type or, heaven forbid, a Mac OSX type arrangement. It would give people options while consolidating development towards a solid base and stability....

captnbli
captnbli

I like the way Gnome 3 works, in general. If it could just retain my desktops between restarts (often necessary after updates, and at other times), it would be a clear number 1.

sher1
sher1

I use Gnome Shell everyday and am much more productive in it that I was in Gnome 2. I also love the flexibility of the extensions, allowing me to add what I want and where.

wolsonjr
wolsonjr

KDE, Gnome, Unity - all to much real estate and slow

Baltazard2012
Baltazard2012

Well not new perspective but "The perspective", I've used gnome 2, kde, lxde, xfce, gnome 3 and unity; well gnome 2 was great but a bit old fashion when gnome 3 came out, sure gnome 3 (back then) was in his infancy, but now he came along way much better; I've never liked KDE (sorry) a truly beautiful DE but not for me, unity is a gimmick of “gnome 3” and “mac os x” I just hate the global menu and overlay scroll garbage not to mention the launcher to the left and the HUD that seem to be designed in a train toilet in rush hour. Gnome 3 is just perfect, very simple and sleek, then it is up to you as a user to make “YOURS”; gnome 3.6 you add “Faience theme and icons”, docky and some gnome-shell-extensions, then you will never look at unity or windows again. I'll have to say a “Big thank to Tiheum the Faience and Feanza creator” he made Linux a beautiful enjoyable working desktop environment. That's my point of view, but never-mind if it's Gnome or KDE or LXDE or XFCE or Unity or any other Linux desktop environment, just use whatever DE you feel comfortable with, because all of them are Truly awesome and gorgeous, and the best think IS they are all FREE.

wscifi
wscifi

Just my opinion. I like fixed desktops/workspaces myself. I have specific windows on each, a themed approach almost. I change between the various desktops with assigned hot keys. I know what is where. Gnome 3's method of creating and removing workspaces wasn't conducive to the my needs. Workspaces would get out of order from where I expected them, and I was unable to assign hot keys to specific ones. That may have changed since I last played with it. But on a good note. I think Gnome 3 would work great with a touch interface. Being able to swipe in and out workspaces as needed definitely has appeal, and seems to be more of the way Gnome 3 was designed. Thanks

Scott.Geiger
Scott.Geiger

@tastyminerals: you suggested using "simple, unobstructed and fast interfaces", can you list some that you have used? I think the choice of DE comes down to a few more factors than your experience with linux or age. On a server platform I typically don't even bother with a GUI interface, command line all the way - faster and easier to work with (at least it is for me). On a desktop it depends on what kind of hardware you have and what the purpose is. I have used other lower overhead DE on desktop systems that had very limited resources (i.e. no way Gnome was going to run on it, and for the purpose I was using it for it was overkill).

aardvark92
aardvark92

I won't say I'm happy with GNOME 3, but I'm not unhappy with it either. It's different, which means that it's taking longer to configure to my liking, but I expect eventually I'll get everything organized the way I want...and then GNOME 4 will come out and I'll be back to square 1.

Dr. Fowler
Dr. Fowler

Effficiency is nice but it is secondary to productivity in importance. Efficiency without productivity is analogous to arranging deck chair on the Titanic. If I am stressed or disturbed by a GUI then it detracts from my productivity. Having said that, I find G3 a lot more utile and comfortable than Unity. But I find both KDE and XFCE significantly more utile and comfortable than G3. I have either KDE or XFCE, and G3 on all my desk/lapboxes and use the one that I think fits better with the task spectrum presenting.

gradkiss
gradkiss

I am currently using gnome 3, debian wheezy. No problem...easy to get used to and maneuver around. I am also looking forward to the newest OS around...the upcoming gnome OS.That one might even be suitable for use on cell phones and touch tablets. I also use the latest version of the k desktop (Kubuntu13.04) and am a die hard fan of theirs...seriously. Many people still remember the days of using the gnome 2 desktop and adding all the decorations and dimensional programs; like cairo and compiz. I installed kplasma active desktop on my hpcompaq tower using a keyboard and mouse. Terrible thing getting stuck into one act or one devotion...or at least I found that to be true...with one exception...your mate.(Wife and family) I do not think it is time to handle linux like the politicians handle their affairs as a priority, rather than allow us to handle our own.That's a part of freedom missing in the uS.Humans are suppose to be free and not caged like your pet birds for their owen safety. I am all for gnome...and hope they continue any type desktop.

trajamohan
trajamohan

I had used gnome3 for a while to switch from unity, but I am sure my productivity is lost when working with multiple windows and I also felt desktop realestate is reduced. I am not sure why I felt like that, now I switched completely to Mint with connamon and I feel much confortable both in productivity and desktop space. I like gnome3 very much it's more modern, nice concepts, etc, but they should have made the migration such that the essential desktop feature is not lost. After all desktop are ment for desktop not mobile device, IMHO they should have differnt version(profile) (say extension sets) for desktop and mobile devices

RipVan
RipVan

I could never find where to configure most things in Gnome. KDE may not be that great, but I always found the confgurations for it without much effort. For that reason, I have never had the urge to go back. If a distro loads Gnome anything by default, I try other desktops, and if they aren't easy enough to find, load and switch, I stay away from the whole distro.

d.esposito
d.esposito

I've been using Ubuntu/Gnome since Breezy was introduced. Was one of the hordes who defected to Mint when Unity was introduced. Just loaded 12.10 with Gnome 3 and I'm very pleased with it so far.

**owly**
**owly**

I use Gnome 3 daily, and I hate it!! Simple tasks like shutting the computer down require an unconscionable number of clicks and dialogs. Context sensitive right click menus don't exist in important areas such as the open applications bar at the bottom. The "hot corner" is an abortion, sometimes changing the view instantly, and others stubbornly refusing to react. The absolute worst "feature" is the removal of the desktop as a workspace. I can no longer put folders, links to files, and URLs there for quick reference and to organize projects. Now it is just a useless empty space filled with thumbnails. If it were not for Gnome Shell Extensions, it would be completely unusable. It is the worst Linux desktop yet!

tastyminerals
tastyminerals

I find it really disturbing to still bump into this kind of material. Gnome3, Unity, KDE? I wish the community found its way to grow over those bloated monsters and stop trying to look like idiots picking between each one of them. These DEs are nowhere around when it comes to efficiency and plain speed. I have a feeling that the only target audience of Gnome, Unity and KDE incarnations are old farts or linux noobs. First are forever stuck in their unidirectional linux world, second still have potential to understand all the fallacy behind the concept of effective linux DE, which is being shoved into our brains over and over again. Why use these? Use simple, unobstructed and fast interfaces, that are easy to deploy. Whatever you do -- code, write, watch or listen, there are far better alternatives, that are more stable and resource efficient. Don't get hooked up on Gnome3, Unity, KDE train of delusion.

JonCra
JonCra

I've been using Gnome Shell on Fedora 18 since that version's release candidates became available. I like it. It's fast, reliable, efficient and easy to use. I gave early Gnome Shell versions a pass because I don't like the way the Dock is handled in the default configuration. It's really a stripped down dock, and it only becomes accessibie by exposing the entire Overview. The DashToDock extension removes the Dash from the Overview, turning it into a more or less standard dock. It autohide/intellihides. I can make the icons smaller. I can open apps in new work spaces from it. It's got handy popout lists. I can close apps from it. If I open multiple instances of one app, clicking on its icon in the dock brings each instance, in turn, to the display. I can change work spaces by scrolling a tiny bit on the dock. All in all, it's very good stuff. It's become the control point for my activities. The automatic creation and deletion of work spaces turns out to be very nice. I could never be bothered to fuss with work spaces before. Now, they take care of themselves. In the morning, I open each of the day's app's in it's own work space. One click gets me to from one to another. It's rather nice not needing to declutter my desktop all the time. I can see that some people are conservative about their software choices. Far enough. If it works for you, why change? But, many of the attacks -- and that's what they are -- on Gnome 3 amount to bitter invective accusing Gnome of abandonment and breaking some kind of bond of trust that's imagined to exist between users and developers. Logically, if the Gnome team had let those voices hold sway, they would have essentially disbanded after putting Gnome 2 into maintenance mode. Linux software design has been unoriginal and imitative for far too long. Like or loathe Gnome 3, at least they are deliberately giving design an appropriate place in their efforts and deliberately trying to innovate. That's good for Linux.

ektrules
ektrules

Gnome Shell caused me to switch from Fedora to Debian (stable). I liked the design decision of focusing on keyboard input. I've always wanted a desktop environment that had the efficiency of Vim, and Gnome Shell is a step closer to that. However, it was buggy as hell on both my machines; crashing about every day on my notebook, and about every hour on my desktop. This was a little over a year ago, so it may be less buggy now. But, I'll just wait until Debian Wheezy becomes stable to make the switch.

ben_myers
ben_myers

But the Linux crowd still continues to shoot itself in its collective foot with the Gnome, KDE and Unity desktops and all the cutesy program names, especially KDE's K program-naming fetish. Pity, because there is a lot to commend and recommend Linux on the desktop, but nobody thinks about how to sell it... Ben Myers ben_myers@charter.net

Picklesworth
Picklesworth

Just so you know, GNOME Shell looks much nicer if you use the Adwaita theme instead of Ambiance or Radiance (which I think you're using in that screenshot). This is mostly because Ubuntu's icon theme doesn't provide symbolic icons (but does use proper icon names, sometimes), so those status icons in the top bar get weird and disjointed. I'm glad you gave it a second chance! I'm a huge fan of GNOME Shell. I honestly think it's the best desktop environment I've used, on any OS. It's impressively stable these days, and despite some peoples' claims to the contrary, I think I can get _a lot_ of work done with it :)

Scott.Geiger
Scott.Geiger

I have been using Gnome 3 on FC16 for about a year now. There are a couple things that I see as missing and I think what some of the "ire" has been about. The first most annoying thing is the lack of the power off option in the menu. This is addressed with an extension, but it really shouldn't have to be - this just seems nonsensical. Another issue that I believe has annoyed people is that the desktop is not a desktop - it's a "window" or put more bluntly just a pretty picture. You can't do anything with it, and it seems to be just wasted space. You can of course change this behavior with another extension (I have not done so). I will admit I have slowly gotten used to that and it doesn't bother me as much anymore. I do like the hot corner and hot key (windows key). The search is great once you get used to it - for example, I needed to call up the calculator: I hit the windows key, started typing calculator (got to "calc") and had it narrowed down to two options: libre office calc and the calculator. Press the arrow key down to switch to and select calculator and launch it.

beaverusiv
beaverusiv

How do you measure efficiency without productivity? Isn't efficiency the rate of productivity?

beaverusiv
beaverusiv

I agree with you about multiple windows and it's the reason I changed to Cinnamon. I am completely lost when trying to work and handling multiple windows (file manager, 3x browsers, code editor, browser dev tools) at the same time. I don't know if I'm missing something (If I am, please, please send me a link to a tutorial on it), but for now KDE and Cinnamon work for me, rather than against me.

JonCra
JonCra

Three clicks to shutdown, same as Gnome 2. You can enable the desktop with Tweak Tool or manually with gsettings. Instead of grumbling, I recommend learning to use it as it is intended to be used, rather than trying to make it work like old Gnome. If you don't like it then, fair enough. Several Gnome 2 alternatives exist.

JonCra
JonCra

Why are you disturbed? Why do you think choice of software is an indicator of health? I have 16 gigs of memory and terrabytes of diskspace. I don't really care if something like Openbox uses 10 percent less RAM.

radleym
radleym

It's great software, and it's free. Use it or don't use it - it's entirely up to you. Most Open Source users could care less if you are "sold" or not, as long as the software stays around.

d.esposito
d.esposito

It looks even better with Adwaita Cupertino theme. Download it from gnome-look.org

scottishwildcat
scottishwildcat

The power off option on the menu returned in GNOME 3.6, so that should be one less annoyance for you :) (Note that it was always there anyway, you just had to hold the Alt key, which changed 'Suspend' to 'Power Off'.)

Picklesworth
Picklesworth

One click, if you're willing to wait 60 seconds. Just press the power button on your computer and walk away. With the way people go on about how many clicks they need to do things, I get the impression that would be preferable to them. For what it's worth, I think I clicked the left mouse button 8 times in the process of writing this comment, and I definitely do that more often than shutting down my computer. No kittens have died, and my hand is completely intact.

tastyminerals
tastyminerals

You do realize that 16 gigs and terrabytes of space does not mean speed and efficiency. Using gnome these days looks like more a sign of inability to any sort of change. Gnome 3 and Unity have proved that already, what irritates even more, is the amount of reluctance to seek for alternatives that are plenty. Gnome,Unity,KDE obsession is annoying, it is twice annoying because other, more advanced frameworks already exist, just go and grab them. Unfortunately people prefer to be ignorant and grow gigabytes of ram, thus only supporting the ill tendency. This is sad and this is irritating.

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