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.

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