It’s been a very long time coming, but GNOME has finally hit its stride–in a big way. Since the release of GNOME 3, people have declared that this particular Linux desktop is dead. Those naysayers can now put their hatred aside and enjoy the hard work that the developers have put into making GNOME 3.16 the single most polished iteration of this open-source desktop to date… and quite possibly any Linux desktop.

This is a particularly important release, considering some 33,000 changes have been made to the source by more than 1,000 volunteer developers, designers, and testers. Those changes have returned GNOME to the Linux desktop spotlight in a way that it hasn’t seen since the days of 2.x. Before you start wondering if GNOME has brought back the old style and design, stop. GNOME Shell (aka 3) is here to stay. However, what the developers have done is shine up GNOME 3 to a high polish no one can deny.

Let’s take a look at some of the improvements.

Default look

This will be one of the first things you notice when you upgrade GNOME to 3.16. The old global black theme is gone. In its place is a much softer theme with dark grays and dark blue accents (Figure A). Its new charcoal theme makes for a much more pleasant contrast to the stark white icons and text.

Figure A

The new default GNOME theme.

The look extends out to what the GNOME developers call their wheezy grab bars (scroll bars). The wheezy bars auto-hide to give windows a much more minimal look (Figure B).

Figure B

The GNOME wheezy bars.

The new take on the scroll bars doesn’t work with all applications (such as Firefox), but for the applications that do work with the wheezy bars, it’s really impressive.


One very important step forward is in the notification system (called Banners in GNOME). What’s nice about this new system is that it’s been integrated with the Calendar notification. At the top center part of the screen, click on the date to reveal the Banners and the Calendar (Figure C).

Figure C

The new notifications system.

Here you can quickly open or delete a notification with a single click. You can even interact with some of the notifications (such as snoozing an alarm and replying to an instant message). Having the Banners located at the center of the top bar means one very important thing–notifications no longer get in the way of working with or controlling application windows.

That’s what you call a very smart design.

GNOME apps

Finally, one of the single most important improvements is the default apps included with GNOME. I’m talking about: Maps, Weather, Boxes, Files, Image View, etc. Each of these apps has been given major improvements across the board. Some of the improvements include:

  • Maps: You can now check in with Foresquare and integrate your contacts
  • Boxes: Is much more reliable and functional
  • Files: Has a new undo feature (for files moved to the Trash), plus an improved grid and list views

There are also three new “preview apps” (apps that will be coming in future releases):

  • Calendar: Desktop calendaring app with Online Accounts integration
  • Characters: Character map application with “type to search” features and “recently viewed” section
  • Books: E-book viewer that allow you to view comic book archives (.cbr, etc); ePub support is planned

Where can you get it?

The easiest way to get GNOME 3.16 is to be using a distribution like Fedora. Fedora 22 will include GNOME 3.16 as the default desktop. I’ve been running GNOME 3.16 in a pre-release of Fedora 22, for which an upgrade to 3.16 was recently released. If you’re running Ubuntu GNOME, you’ll want to wait for the 15.04 release, at which point a PPA should be made available to upgrade GNOME to 3.16. You can also test drive a GNOME 3.16 USB image here.

Separately, the improvements may not seem all that game changing. But when you add up everything the GNOME team has done, the upcoming release shines… and it shines really bright. From the global theme, the Banners, the apps, and even a slight boost to an already zippy performance, GNOME has arrived back where it was when it was a scant 2.x.

I haven’t been this excited about a desktop release in a very long time. The developers of GNOME have worked diligently to one of the finest Linux desktops that can be enjoyed by users of all types. GNOME 3.16 should easily change the minds of those who’d previously written the GNOME desktop off.

What do you think? Can the massive amount of fixes and changes bring GNOME back into the good graces of the Linux community? More importantly, will you be using GNOME 3.16 when it releases? Let us know in the discussion thread below.