Dean Sas

Tappity tap tap

First Impressions of Gnome-shell

GNOME Shell is the proposed interface for Gnome 3, it replaces the window manager, the panels at the top and bottom of the screen and everything that sits on them. It’s in the repositories for Karmic, install gnome-shell and then run gnome-shell –replace to give it a try. You should note that it’s still under heavy development and isn’t finished, or completely designed yet.

I’ve not used it much at all and it does feel quite weird so far but it makes a refreshing change and definitely looks nicer. As it’s still very much a work in progress I’m sure it’s only going to get better. That said there are some downsides.

One of the main changes to my mind is that it does not have a window list on a panel. You switch applications by visiting the Activity “overlay” and then clicking on the window you wish to switch to. This doesn’t really affect me much in practise, I usually use alt+tab to switch windows anyway, where it does affect me is for applications that change the window title, e.g. messenger or gmail, I now have to cycle through alt+tab to check for people replying to me etc.

Rather than a window list the panel now lists the name of the currently focused application. It seems a bit useless, most applications have the application name as part of the window list and I’m not likely to forget the name of an application I’ve started.

As I’ve said gnome-shell replaces the current panels and everything on them (well except the notification area). This includes application launchers, it’s now quite a bit slower to open a terminal every time I need one. Hopefully this just needs some performance work to fix though. Previously I swung my mouse to the top of the screen and one mouse click. I now need to hit the windows key to bring the Activities Overlay up, wait a second and then type “term” and hit enter. It’s given me the impetus to make the apps I manually start via launchers on 90% of logins to auto-start.

The clock has regressed, it now no longer displays the date, or has it accessible at all and doesn’t have a calendar. I’m not sure how much of that is down to design or just a lack of time. It’s worth noting the storm in a teacupt when there was a proposal to change the Ubuntu configuration to not include the date.

There is also a sidebar which is turned off by default, apparently this is still very young and indeed it looks it. You can enable it by clicking on your name in the top right corner and checking Sidebar. By default it shows another, different, clock, some application launchers and recent documents. The application launchers as in the activity overlay seem to be hard-coded to open office and evolution, two apps I never use. I assume eventually they will be replaced with the most frequently used apps or be made configurable.

I’m quite conservative with my desktop usually, I like the default Ubuntu configuration and know it well. That said I’m enjoying using gnome-shell and intend to use it for a while at least. I’m looking forward to it evolving, including new concepts and growing more popular. The negatives I’ve noticed I think are mostly down to lack of time. I’m not sure if it’s going to be “ready” for the targeted date of next March and am not sure that it should be - there’s plenty more to prototype.

Added screen shots:


  • ethana2:
    Does it ship a global menu bar standard? Gotta have my global menu bar.
  • Dean Sas:
    There isn't a global menu bar no.
  • Ron:
    Please tell me that Ubuntu won't come with this by default and that those of us who like GNOME 2.28 can still use it. I may have to switch to XFCE, KDE or some other GUI if this is the future of GNOME, which I'd hate to do since I LOVE GNOME 2.28.

    This 3x version looks way too much like a Windows/Mac mixup or something. ISH!
  • Forbes Guthrie:
    I guess having the name of the currently focused window in the new panel, would allow them to get rid of the Title Bar on every window. If you use the Activities button to switch windows, then you don't need the Title Bar. They'd just need to move the Min, Max and Close buttons onto the Menu Bar.
    Do you think this would work?
  • Carlos Costa:
    Hey, many thanks by this post :-D

    Today I got a karmic's daily build, installed it and after follow up your instructions I'm running gnome-shell right now. My impression: A completely new desktop experience!!!
  • Dean Sas:
    It seems likely that Ubuntu will have it as default eventually (assuming gnome do). I'd guess this is likely to be Karmic +2 or Karmic +3 as Karmic +1 is LTS.
  • Dean Sas:
    Forbes, Possibly it would, there's other problems though. How do you position windows that aren't maximised in that case? What about if a window doesn't have a menu bar? (e.g a preference window) Or an app that already uses the full width of it's menu bar?
  • z:
    the biggest issue preventing me from using it is that it locks out compiz.
  • Mark:
    Please upload it to Debian.
  • Dean Sas: First impressions of gnome-shell | TuxWire : The Linux Blog:
    [...] Dean Sas: First impressions of gnome-shell Share and [...]
  • phil:
    Here it comes, the GNOME people will gripe just as much as KDEers did a little while ago.
  • Dean Sas:
    It does have built in effects which replace most of the standard compiz effects though...
  • Jimbo:
    I have a funny suspicion Gnome 3.0 will be put back until Fall 2010. There just seems like too many regressions at the moment and they are committed to avoid the 'break everything and redo it later on' approach KDE took.
  • Ron:
    Karmic isn't LTS, as Lucid Lynx 10.04LTS is the next LTS release, due out April 2010.

    I'm sure Ubuntu will make the new Gone the default interface, but I LIKE the top and bottom bars and I LIKE the menus, and I don't want something that reminds me of a Vista-Mac-hybrid.
  • Ron:
    We know how well that went over when Microsoft changed up the GUI from the old XP GUI to Vista's Aero. At least Vista let's you set it back to look like Windows 2000/XP GUI. Hopefully Gnome will do that too.
  • Ron:
    I'd rather have Gnome 2x and Compiz than 3x where compiz-like effects are built in. I swear... Gnome 3x is a regression. instead of a progression.
  • Ron:
    It's not just limited to Gnome or KDE users.... its when programmers get a "great idea" that takes away or completely re-does something without any real logic to it. Yes, gone-shell might LOOK more cool than Gnome 2x does, but if those looks distract and take away from the ability of the person to be productive o ntheir PC, then it's not worth it.

    More people are productive on XP than Vista. Another example, compare the menus in Office95, 97, 2002, 2002 and 2003, all pretty similar, now let's look at the lovely Office 2007 "Ribbon" interface..... not nearly as usable and no way to roll it back to the old style. I know that is Windows and MS Office, but my point is the same.....Gnome HAS a great GUI, why F**K with it?????
  • Dean Sas:
    Yes, that's exactly what I said. Karmic +1 = Lucid Lynx

    Not sure how it's a vista/mac hybrid. Mac has a dock thing and vista has a start menu...
  • Dean Sas:
    Tellingly windows 7 doesn't let you roll back to XP mode. I suspect gnome-panel and metacity will be available in Ubuntu for release or two at least.
  • Dean Sas:
    I get that feeling too. I think it'd be a good move to give another 6 months to experiment a little more get some more betas out before hunkering down to do a release
  • Ron:
    So where does the +# stop at? I thought it was after each LTS version.
  • Ron:
    I hope the panel is in there, but yes, sadly so, Windows 7 does not rollback to an XP GUI, which it should. Sometimes "improvements" really aren't.
  • blankthemuffin:
    Maybe instead of criticising it baselessly Ron, you could get involved in the project and make sure these things you mention don't happen. Think where we'd be if we never looked outside the box and innovated beyond the current norm. Gnome Shell is a chance for the free software world to provide a compelling reason for change, if done right of course, and I believe it can be.

    Gnome-Shell is a paradigm shift also, a change in the way people interact with the system, in comparison most of the changes between Windows XP and Vista are purely cosmetic, personally I don't see how they change productivity at all, they just look nicer ( or uglier, depending how you feel about it ).
  • GoblinX Project » GoblinX Newsletter, Issue 219 (09/27/2009):
    [...] OOo4kids: Special Version for Kids Successful women in FOSS and IT Minimal Window Managers: Day 1 First impressions of gnome-shell Intel Moblin 2.1 [...]
  • Ron:
    How can I get involved? Where can I help out at?

    I don't program, so all I can offer is input, which I would suggest having a way to have the classic Gnome look to it, with the top and bottom panels, menus, etc; however, it seems that isn't the direction Gnome is going into the future.
  • gg555:
    I completely agree that Gnome-Shell is a regression. It's a couple gee-whiz/eye-candy features that are basically already available with Compiz and Gnome-Do, but with Gnome-Shell a couple of these features will be locked in, whether you like them or not. You lose all the configurability and choice. You lose options you had before, like menus in the panels, like not having annoying animations if you don't want them. Since Windows 98, I have always been turning off animations in desktops. They very rarely add any functionality.

    I don't buy this stuff about paradigm shifts (see comments below). What's the shift? What's the improvement? Just saying "paradigm shift" without an explanation or justification doesn't mean much.

    Perhaps the reason Gnome is the most popular Linux desktop is because it has been conservative and avoided jumping on every "innovation" that comes along. Perhaps the configurable panel with applets and drop down menus has stuck around for so long because it works. I think Gnome is feeling the pressure to be cool and new and in the process throwing out something that is functional and actually offers more options.
  • Horace:
    I don't think people should gripe so much, the thing is still in infancy, and already looks pretty nice. I'm sure that by the time it's released, one would be able to switch off the desktop effects and personalize the panels.
    That old 'if it works, don't change it' idea stifles innovation. It's a fact, people will always gripe about change.
    Case in point: when facebook made changes to the facebook layout (which were immense improvements) many complained, wanting to go back to the old, old facebook just because they didn't want to learn the new easier way of doing things on the new layout.
    It's better to try something radical and have to scale back than to sit back comfortably while your competitors innovate.
  • Hameltho:
    FYI, the applications in the side bar are configurable with gconf in /desktop/gnome/shell/favorite_apps.
  • Kory Prince:
    From what I can tell, Gnome-Shell is basically a window manager...
    I imagine people could still use metacity or compiz if they so choose.
  • Dean Sas:
    Thanks Hameltho
  • Dean Sas:
    Its window manager + gnome-panel replacement. If you switch window manager, you lose the panel and "activities overlay". Of course you can still use metacity/compiz/other WM + gnome-panel.
  • Daddy46:
    This is doubtful at the very least. ,
  • Dean Sas:
    The +n simply refers to the current version of Ubuntu +n. So the current version is 9.04,. +1 will be 9.10
  • john:
    Dean, i would agree
    i am quite used to seeing my apps running below in the taskbar,and using alt+tab every time is painful.probably they can give the side bar this functionality.
    I think its more suited for netbooks where people usually do youtube or just listen to music.
    Interface is nice and tidy,but slow and for somebody working with lot of apps,its not great,they would prefer the older 2.28 looks.
    is it going more the apple way in providing less customization,lets see how it comes out.
  • Eric:
    I've been playing with gnome-shell in karmic (fully upgraded to RC this morning, so I know it's current) and I gotta say, I dislike a lot of things about the current implementation. The application menu takes a bit longer to load when you click on something, it doesn't feel as intuitive which means new users of gnome3 are gonna be confused and complain like crazy, especially windows users that already don't get gnome2. I DO understand the difference between familiarity and intuitiveness, and I'm saying that I don't believe it to be as intuitive as gnome2's layout. Switching applications is more of a pain, having to click 2 things, instead of one, or alt-tab all the way through every single app. Also, it breaks the ability to instantly see which apps are requesting attention, which is a HUGE deal. Honestly, gnome-shell would have to improve a HUGE deal (actually, it would have to almost completely different) before I would consider using it at work, where my time really matters. Also, as of right now, it breaks ALL customizability that gnome has. Panel applets are gone (I have to have panel applets...or at least something as instantly viewable, and desktop widgets suck comared to panel applets) . I know I am barking up the wrong tree, but I don't know where else to bark. Maybe one of you that will see this is a gnome-dev. Email me if you want to discuss my findings or tell me where I can be productive with my critisisms/findings...cause I DO want to help. lienerDOTmeatATgmailDOTcom
  • Dean Sas:
    Apps wanting to notify should generally also do so via the notification area or by popping up a notify-OSD alert as well as by setting that hint.

    I believe applets or something similar are planned to be added at some point, though if gnome 2.30 is to include gnome-shell I think they may be pushing it.

    You can read more about contributing at
  • Boyce:
    If you want to get rid of the title bar on windows you could try the maximus package in conjunction with shell - it works well for me.
  • Heaven:
    I agree that gnome-shell is regression, too. But the paradigm for application used to gnome-shell is very good. I don't return compiz/metacity+panels.
  • SteveOll:
    Having tried gnome-shell with Ubuntu 9.10, all I can say is that in principle its a good idea, but surely the more important thing would to be improve what we have already by reducing the bloat of gnome2.x?

    Or maybe they could take gnome-do and tweak it to have the intended functionality of the gnome-shell. That way we could still have a familiar GUI with the option of the shell until they agree on something that doesn't FUBAR gnome2.x.

    I cannot imagine Ubuntu 10.04 (slated for LTS version) would ship with something that is still very experimental.

    If all else goes wrong, you could try Debian as they won't be switching, hell their 'official' KDE version is still 3.5 (or something like that).
  • Dean Sas:
    10.04 will not ship with gnome shell. Gnome 3.0 and hence gnome-shell is not due for release until 09/2010
  • James Duncan:
    Really? Not even in universe?
  • Dean Sas:
    I meant as the default. I imagine it'll still be in the repositories
  • Sam:
    Dudes, Gnome3 is a massive joke, it breaks Compiz because it's ridiculiously stupid. If Compiz ever developed their own DE you'll all flee to it in masses and avoid this garbage, because that's what it is Garbage pure and simple. There's no paradigm shift except for the dumb! Good luck, probably most will switch to KDE so they can maintain the fun CUBE and other effects that Compiz is known for

  • Gordon:
    Fair enough but people also tend to set in their ways. Just because you are familiar with something doesn't make it perfect anymore that something new is perfect because it is new. There are many aspects of gnome-shell I like such as the search bar which allows me to execute programs without haveing to navigate menus with a mouse. Ever since gui's became available they have been very reliant on mouses and I find that navigating tends to slow you down. I certainly don't configure new linux installs from the menus but with something like gnome shell or gnome do I might. I installed gnome do on my wife's laptop to help her transition to linux and it worked great. If linux wants to gain more share in the desktop world it is going to have to be relavent a wide audience. I think that gnome shell can accomplish that.
  • Gordon:
    You know Ron if you like your OS the way it is why are you updating at all. Just stick with the release you like. Only that would leave you open to security risks and not being able to utilize the latest innovations in software. As I said above I like the concept of gnome-shell. Innovation is growth and change and all the people I know that don't do either are irrelevant. Also calling Gnome 3 Gone isn't clever at all.
  • Steve:
    To change the applications in the sidebar just click and hold the pointer over the icon you want to remove, you get a bubble to click on for removal.
    Drag whatever application you want from the menu to replace.
  • MadForUbuntu:
    I've been in Compiz for years, and in Gnome Metacity before that. I'm not pessimistic about this new endeavor by the Gnome devs. I see Gnome-Shell as a step forward in usability and thinking out of the box. I'm looking forward to improvements though. It's too early to bash it because it is still not mature/complete. It's like sourgraping over a green mango saying it's not sweet when it hasn't taken time to ripen yet.

    I'm using Gnome-Shell now for work managing remote systems. And I find it really responsive. I can't say the same with Compiz on my current system.
  • Ozymandias:
    Oops, sorry... I messed up there :)

    The reasoning behind having the currently focused application in the top-left is they plan on making it a context sensitive menu like the Mac has. (They state this about 1/4 of the way down this page: