Hardware

I have seen the future, and it is GNOME 3

Jack Wallen has peered into the future and beheld the desktop of the future. Dare you sneak a peak as well? Read on and find out.

Today, I finally managed to get GNOME Shell installed so I could get a preview of what is to come on the Linux desktop (at least through the eyes of GNOME). This new GNOME will arrive sometime this year (2010) and will, I promise you, change the way you use your desktop. Finally someone has looked at the current desktop metaphor and said, "It's over!" Think about it, the current paradigm has been in play since, when, Windows 95? Earlier you say? CDE? Let's stick with Windows 95, because that really solidified the whole "taskbar, start button, icons, notification try" metaphor in the eyes of the public.

Well, public, that is about to change - drastically.

GNOME 3 is different. Very different. Gone is the start button, to be replaced by the Activities button. No more are you fumbling around in menus to find what you need. What you will have is a very streamlined, sleek, and sexy desktop that is sure to make your computing life easier. Oh of course there will be those that say, "If it isn't broke..." Well, I am one of those who will first claim that it is, in fact, "broke."

The current desktop that most everyone uses is klunky, kludgy, and ugly. It's a task bar, and menus, and icons, and blah blah blah...there's no "Apple factor." What do I mean by "Apple factor?" Simple - there is very little energy given to aesthetics. And believe me, in the current incarnation of the modern, capitalist society - it is all about form over function. You have to look good before you can be good.

It's crazy I know...but it's truth.

And you know what? Soon the Linux desktop will take that current formula

form/function

and totally rewrite it into a new equation similar to

form = function.

How do I know this? I have peeked into the future of the computer desktop and that future is GNOME 3. It wasn't an easy peek, believe me. I had to jump through a few hoops (mostly because of an update to the gnome-shell package that required a dependency that couldn't be met). But once I managed to get it up and running, the thought of going back to the old GNOME just didn't settle well with me.

Figure A

Figure A

I realize I'm being a bit circuitous at the moment...build up is really hard without a soundtrack behind you. So I guess I'll just pull the big reveal now. Figure A shows the GNOME Shell in action. I will tell you up front that all special effects (Compiz) are turned off. So all effects are inherent in the new shell. That is really an impressive feat when you see this in action (the picture really can't do it justice).

The gist of the desktop is you have Activities. Activities are what you do. Be it browsing, email, documents, multimedia...and these show up in the Activity "list" as either Applications, Places & Devices, or Recent Items. When you click on the Activities button all windows "thumbnail" (aka Compiz Scale) to make room for the listing and without having to minimize your windows.

You can also create new desktops. In fact a new record for desktops was set thanks to GNOME Shell. 1681 desktops were able to be created and opened with this new version. That's impressive. Of course if anyone has a need for that many desktops, they are in serious need of an intervention.

Bold predictions

I am going to make a fairly bold prediction here (would you expect anything less?). You will find (at least) aspects of this desktop working their way into both Windows and OS X in the future. That is how good GNOME 3 is going to be. If you don't believe me, try it yourself. On an Ubuntu machine, add the following to your /etc/apt/sources.list file:

deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/ricotz/testing/ubuntu UBUNTU_RELEASE main
deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/ricotz/testing/ubuntu UBUNTU_RELEASE main

Where UBUNTU_RELEASE is the version you use (lucid, karmic, etc). Now issue the command apt-get install gnome-shell and HOPE it installs without a hitch. If it does, issue the command gnome-shell --replace & and be prepared to pick your socks off the floor, as they will be knocked off.

Final thoughts

I'm serious...this is the future of the desktop. There is no way around it. The GNOME team have absolutely nailed it. Somehow they managed to borrow Dr. Walter Bishop and steal a superior desktop from an alternate universe, reverse engineer it, and make it happen in our world. Who knows, it might be dangerous. Or, it might just be the future of the 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.

70 comments
rajaiskandarshah
rajaiskandarshah

after 6 months, i am so used to the ubuntu netbook style. i used to create lots of shortcut icons on my windows xp desktop. the unr panes are nice and more organised - hopefully gnome3 will bring this aspect to the desktop edition

trentreviso
trentreviso

This Gnome 3 interface makes no sense. Instead of the elegant, organised, cascading menus of Gnome, we get a screen cluttered with menus which show all the time, and a jumble of unrelated icons in the center of the screen. Let us hope that the various distros let us retain Gnome 2.x as an option. Otherwise, I may be forced to buy a Mac!

lastchip
lastchip

First let me say, I haven't yet tried it, but going from the screen shot, my first reaction was; What a mess. Having said that, I think about the difficulty Microsoft has had, getting people to move from XP to Windows 7. Why? People don't like change; it's as simple as that. Now, having been a regular Linux user now for over three years, (and messing with it on and off for over 10, meaning production machines and server) I can tell you it's been an uphill struggle getting people to convert and I have to admit, despite my best efforts, my success rate has been nothing to shout about. OK, it's fair to say, those that have listened to me are well and truly converted, but they are in the minority. If I'm struggling to convert with something like Linux Mint (very Windows like), what chance would I stand with this? It's probably OK for the converted, but what about everyone else? For a desktop to be successful and release Microsoft's stranglehold, it really has to be totally intuitive, with very little learning required. Can that be said about Gnome3? To repeat, I haven't tried it, so perhaps my first impressions are way out of order, but sometimes radical can be a disaster, even though it may be leading edge. History is littered with failures that were ahead of their time.

Bo Tym
Bo Tym

I as well don't wish to start a flame war, but i find renaming the "start" button to "activites" a bit of a joke. I just used a piece of masking tape to rename mine "bottom left corner button" (which is hard to fit in to that small a space, but I did it and was "impressed" with my self) Next I will re-lable my mouse the "Point'n'Clicker" and the monitor to "Facial Illuminator" and claim it is revolutionary. Of course I kid, but to me there could have been additional screenies showing exactly how that activities menu can be organized (which I seriously hope is a possiblility and if not, I'm done before I start). As it is, I can't see my self finding a particular application or file any faster using that menu system. I WILL concede that with a high level of customization I foresee people falling in love with this OS ( I bet I could too) and I feel the potential for something great is there, but as far as first impressions go, I feel like even if I were a vetran GNOME3 user and I was attempting to troubleshoot an other persons machine, it would be quite easy to lose myself due to the high level of customization each user would implement.

Ocie3
Ocie3

Interesting, but incomprehensible. For example: "Now issue the command ..." How do you do that? I know how to use the Windows Command Prompt and have never seen the one for Linux or any other 'NIX. (Before Windows, there was ??-DOS, remember? Okay, maybe you weren't there.) The reason that so few people and organizations adopt Linux or its cousins is that no one wants to answer any of their questions, except, perhaps, in exchange for a lot of money. (Then again, if you want answers that you can actually understand, maybe you should continue using Windows or the Apple Macintosh.) For example: Can Ubuntu be installed from the "distro" CD that is sold by Amazon? I can't wait five or twelve or whatever weeks for some geek to get his/her act together and send a "free" one but I also don't want to buy something that would be, on the face of it, useless.

darren.stewart
darren.stewart

I use various Linux distributions, and within them the apps. Many apps are stable, and have been through an evolving process. But in general I find the Linux desktop to be and feel very clunky, even at the best of times. The UI is tiresome with a horrible mishmash of button/radio buttons, overlarge menu and app surrounds, bad looking and mangled fonts, and rather old looking icon sets. Most applications do not look in any way elegant, and the windows bars and tool bars are often over sized, hashed up in style and take up large chunks of space seemingly for the sake of it. The customisation and look and feel are often just as clunky. I hope Gnome 3 is in fact something new and better, because right now, the current crop is functional and clunky, and thats about it.

Stovies
Stovies

There we go again. "Try it for yourself" you say and then you give me a job of programming, to supposedly accomplish this. I do not want Microsoft Windows and I do not want Apple OS I want to run UBUNTU 9.10 or MINT 8 with a good desktop. For starters, everybody in LINUX tells me what I have to write for programs but nobody has ever told me where to apply the program sentences etc. My Windows XP Professional and Home will soon be unsupported and I am not going to buy expensive Apple just to do the things I have done with Windows XP. So far, I have never been able to use UBUNTU, MINT or any other version of Linux more than about three or four days, without having to reinstall the program because something stops working. I think it is about eight or nine years since I started building up my hopes of dispensing with Microsoft and now I am 71 years old and some of the people I was talking to about free working operating systems have passed away without seeing it. I must say, although I have been praised for my patience in solving engineering situations I have lost a lot of faith in seeing Linux a truly ?better replacement operating system? than Windows has been. Soon I feel I will be buying Windows 7, which I used as a Beta and as a Release Candidate version and found it (more) workable and reliable than UBUNTU etc have been. Has any version reached the place of ditching programmers (drug induced or otherwise)? The drug in this case can be anything you like to name, but I am thinking on the drug of keeping UBUNTU in the hands of programmers and out of the hands of normal users. Is UBUNTU 10 going to be it? If so, convince them to install Gnome 3 and everybody will be happy!

jo86
jo86

Well, I totally disagree with you. I think Gnome shell is awful as crap. The way Gnome is right now is perfect for me. Not aesthetic? you're kidding, right? Use Emerald and Compiz and you can have a desktop far more aesthetic than anything Microsoft or Apple can offer. But I won't discuss on this, since, as we say in my country, "para gustos, colores". But I absolutely disagree when you say "it is all about form over function". Again: you're kidding, right? Aesthetic is useless if compared to function, yet it is a really nice "plus". But current Gnome can give you both. Why the hell would I like to shrink my desktop to enter a document or running a program? I can have a simple panel with a launcher and just click it. That simple. It doesn't even have to be always visible, it can appear if my mouse points near it. I think Gnome shell is horrible, it is the future of nothing. My desktop is not "klunky, kludgy, and ugly" at all. It is really nice and absolutely functional. When it comes to productivity and confort with my computer, Gnome is the best thing that has happened to me. I hope that, if Gnome shell is the default new Gnome, it keeps the option to customize to the way I like it, as it is right now. Else, my love for Gnome is over, and I would prefer to use another desktop environment rather than this. After all, that is the big deal of free software, the freedom to choose what you want in your computer, isn't it? Thanks for reading my opinion. Have a nice day :)

lars_honeytoast
lars_honeytoast

When did changing names (Libraries to Activities) become revolutionary? Also, why does computing have to be easier? What is difficult or grueling about the computing world? Unless one is using Windows ME or earlier, I don't see anything hard about computing in Windows or any other recent OS for that matter.

refourmerz
refourmerz

issued the command 'gnome-shell -replace &" which returns this information but no new gnome shell re4merz@re4merz-laptop-mac2:~$ gnome-shell ?replace & [1] 2502 re4merz@re4merz-laptop-mac2:~$ Usage: gnome-shell [options] Am I doing something wrong. The download and install seemed to go without a hitch. Using koala. mdl

C. Timmerman
C. Timmerman

"Start" sounds better to me than "Activities", but the only thing i'd like to know is whether they gave the file picker some balls/features compared to every other OS. I can ignore features i don't need better on my own, thank you.

Dogcatcher
Dogcatcher

Why would I want to give up so much desktop real estate to lists of things that can be compacted into a menu entry, or to a collection of a hundred or so program icons in an alphabetical list? Maybe it's a matter of personal style, but to my eyes the new Gnome desktop is more cluttered than improved. Is there a conspiracy afoot to dumb-down Linux to the level of potential users who cannot recite the alphabet or organize concepts, but rely on pictures? You know, the ones who need the picture of the fish sandwich on the cash register at fast food joints.

cbstryker
cbstryker

"Apple Factor"? If you're trying to say 'more aesthetically pleasing' then sure. The world needs less "Apple Factor". We need less business models that TELL people what they want, charge through the roof for it and then sue any company that poses a threat on ridiculous reasons.

zeke123
zeke123

This looks no different from the dozens of desktops Ive tried over the years and hell, just go to Lifehacker and you will see waht some geeks do on their own ...on Windows to boot!! >- it is all about form over function. You have to look good > before you can be good. The taste of vomit is creepy up.... If I wanted this kind of drivel, Id got to an Apple blog. Or Gizmodo. (same diff) You know what the BEST desktop is? Its the one that suits ME the best. Not you. Not joe blow. Me. Im the only one who matters in the whole equation. No one tells me that I should like this or that. We are blessed in the free software world to have a multitude of choice in everything and most good DE's offer a lot of flexibility so there is no reason to stay with something because some UI queen tells me I should like buttons here, text there and fonts to be 2pt big. I left Windows and Mac because I want choice so I can find something that suits MY needs and MY use. Not yours. Not Joe's. Mine. "Look at Apple. They understand flow and motif and lines and barf-barf-barf....." Been there, done that. Repeat often enough and you will believe as well. But groundbreaking? Please.... Sell that BS to the captive audiences that use MS.

malikp
malikp

I can't see much of a different to KDE plasma desktop to Netbook.

jfuller05
jfuller05

so why is that innovative? I like menu's, having things organized, and I don't like my desktop cluttered. Maybe I should see it in motion? edit for additional content.

edh1215
edh1215

So, what's the big deal here? "Start" is now "Activities"....ooohh. It looks like Windows 7 with a little bit of OS X mixed in. Innovative...

domicius
domicius

that someone talking about desktop in general and Linux desktop in specific hasn't seen nor heard about KDE4 so long... Check it out. Not that I think you should like it more than GNOME3 but saying things like "Finally someone has looked at the current desktop metaphor and said ?It?s over!?" - makes you look silly. I'm sorry for being blunt.

zefficace
zefficace

One example is that I have a Windows firefox for a little windows app that needs it (with crossover). In the "wonderful" activities, I get 3 firefox icons and telling which is the Linux version is all but impossible. And this "activities" thing means you have to know the name of what your looking for to use the search box. For me, that's fine, but Linux Noobs would be almost completely lost. How would they find anything for administering their box? Those items don't show up without the search box. And why the hell have an "applications" section if you're just gonna bunch everything together. Unless the Icons are incredibly meaningful, there's no point. Also, finding my way around a distro is easier if I "see" the possibilities in the menu and explore. With this thing, it won't be possible. I'm not saying this "gnome-shell" thing can never be great, but it seems to me it needs to be cooked a little longer. In any case, the computer "messiah" which you seem to have announced, decline to make an appearance to me. Glad you like though! :)

SKDTech
SKDTech

added the repositories, ran the commands as written but get nothing....

Slayer_
Slayer_

The iMac experience left such a foul taste in my mouth, anything even resembling the interface makes me re-taste my supper in the back of my mouth. So where is the new experience, it looks the same as all the gnomes before it. I think I'd rather see an interface closer to that of a phone.

santeewelding
santeewelding

I enlarged the graphic to confirm I see a toad. Do I have to kiss that thing?

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