Gnome shell is the new flashy desktop environment developed by Gnome. It was released on 6th April 2011. Despite its recent release, Gnome-shell has been under development for several years. This has paid off in stability and maturity of the shell. Gnome-shell might be a radical change, however some of these new features brings a new experience to the user. Since this is the first release of Gnome-shell there is however plenty of room for improvement which can be expected in the future releases of Gnome-shell.
Here is a screenshot of the default gnome-shell desktop environment. Compared to Gnome 2, this desktop if seen for the first time would definitely be shocking to a regular user. However, after using it for some time you will realize that it is a nice improvement to Gnome 2.
As can be seen in the screenshot above, gnome-shell screams simplicity. It is designed to be unobstructive and visible only when you need it. Only basic elements like the activities, time, system icons like Bluetooth, power and volume icons are visible. Other elements like the notification area is hidden. This is to prevent any distractions to the work flow. The gnome-shell makes you feel like at that moment the entire system is just you and whatever application you are running.
If you need to interact with the shell, you can either hover the mouse over the Activities button or just press the keyboard shortcut “Super”. This would bring up the overview mode as can be seen in the screenshot below. In the overview mode, you can manage and launch applications and manage workspaces.
As mentioned before, Gnome-shell brings with it a host of new features. Let go through them in detail to use the new interface to its full potential.
Basic feature of Gnome-shell
Note: All the basic features are also shown in the video screen-cast shown below.
Gnome-shell automatically adds or deletes workspaces as they are required. This way, the user is not required to manually maintain the workspaces and can concentrate more on the task in hand. This feature is very useful and fluid. You do not have to worry at any point how many workspaces you might have as gnome manages this for you.
Previously in Gnome 2, you had to manually search for an application. And if you had a huge list of applications installed this can become frustrating. However, with Gnome-shell the applications can be quickly launched by simply typing the first few letters of the name of that application you are looking for.
In the overview mode, the dock can be seen. The dock lists the open applications and also your favorite and frequently used applications. You can pin any application you use frequently to the dock.
Notifications in gnome-shell are designed to be unobstructive. When a new notification is shown, you do not need to respond to that immediately. You can continue with your work and attend to the notification later since it can be seen later in the notification area. This feature is not shown in the video screen-cast. However you can get more information about this feature in the gnome 3 website. (www.gnome3.org)
Time and Calendar Applet
The time and calendar applet has been rewritten and looks much better now. It also organizes all the appointments and presents them clearly. At the moment, appointments can be added only using Evolution. You can however configure Evolution to import your appointments from Google calendar or any other services to extend the functionality of the applet.
In gnome-shell you can use window tiling to manage windows and ease you work flow. You can use this window tiling feature to also maximize windows by simply dragging the application title bar to the top panel. This is one of reasons why the maximize button has been removed.
No maximize and minimize buttons
This can be seen either as a feature or as an annoying thing. However, one of the driving design factor of gnome-shell is simplicity. Since an application can be maximized by window tiling it was decided to remove the maximize button. In order to encourage the users to use the dynamic workspaces the minimize button has also been removed. This has resulted in only a simple close button being present.
Gnome-shell comes with screen recording software by default. You can record videos of your desktop in the Webm format by pressing Ctrl + Shift + Alt + R shortcut. Press the shortcut again to stop recording. The videos are saved automatically in your home folder. When you are recording a video, you can see a notification on the bottom right corner as shown in the screenshot.
Gnome-shell Tweak Tool
All the feature mentioned above require you to redefine the way you use your desktop. If however you find it difficult you can customize it to suit your needs. And the gnome-shell tweak tool helps you do this. It also provides you way to customize your gnome-shell's themes, fonts and other appearance settings.
Using the tweak tool, you can modify the time applet to show the date and the week number. You can also change which icon theme, gtk theme you want to use. The tweak tool can in a way be seen to be similar to the appearance properties which was present in Gnome 2.
You can also use the tweak tool to add more functionality to gnome-shell by using gnome-shell extensions. These are all elaborated in detail in the video screen-cast.
You can get more information about the tweak tool at https://live.gnome.org/GnomeTweakTool.
The gnome-shell was designed to enhance the work productivity. The dynamic workspaces, calendar applet, dock are meant for that purpose.
You can see more on how to use gnome-shell efficiently in the video screen-cast below.
Drawbacks of Gnome-shell
This is the very first release of gnome-shell and hence it does have issues which will be ironed out in the future releases. However, it would nice to know them before trying out gnome-shell.
Gnome-shell is built using the clutter drawing toolkit and depends on composited rendering to function properly. If you don't have compatible graphics hardware or drivers, you won't get to run the new shell. I sometimes did encounter some bizarre visual effects while using gnome-shell due to the graphic drivers for the past few weeks. However this is something that the gnome developers cannot do anything about since it depends on the development of drivers for the graphic cards present today.
The gnome-shell interface is fluid, very responsive and clean. However it is still missing some much needed functionality like applets for weather, CPU frequency and others which were present in Gnome 2. However these applets will appear again as gnome-shell extensions which are under heavy development at the moment.
By default, the menu does not show the shutdown option. Rather, you have to hold the Alt key to show the power off option. This is strange and can be annoying.
Big fat title bar
Gnome-shell was also designed keeping in mind the touch interfaces. And this has resulted in over sizing of certain components. For instance, the application title bar is very thick in default. You can however overcome this for the moment by tweaking the gsetting.
You cannot no longer press the delete button on your keyboard to delete a file. Rather you have to press Shift + Delete to permanently delete a file or right click a file and choose the delete option.
- Alt+Tab – Switch between applications
- Alt + ` - Switch between different instances of an applications
- Alt + F2 – Show the command dialog
- Alt + F1 – Show the overview mode
- Super – Show the overview mode
- Ctrl + Shift + Alt + R - Screen-cast recording (Webm format)
- Ctrl + Alt + Up/Down – Switch Workspaces
- Ctrl + Alt + Tab – Show the accessibility switcher
The first release of gnome-shell 3.0 was on 6th April 2011. The next update gnome-shell 3.2 is intended to be released in September 2011. Based on the feedback received, the developers have already started working on the next update of gnome-shell. Looking at some of the ideas and mockups for gnome-shell 3.2, I am eagerly looking forward to this update.
Some of the popular ideas for gnome-shell 3.2 are,
- Quick File Previews
- New log-in screen
- Gnome contacts
- Jumplists for applications shown in the dock
You can get more information about the status of these ideas at https://live.gnome.org/ThreePointOne/Features/Backup
Also, gnome-shell extensions are yet to be officially recognized. This would definitely happen in the near future. This would bring the missing user customization and functionality required.
Overall, gnome-shell is an exciting update from the gnome developers. Sure it means that you have to move from the traditional Gnome 2 interface. But the gnome-shell is definitely a step forward to a modern desktop. It looks modern, simple and is really fluid. It does have some drawbacks as mentioned above, but most of them will be solved given more time.
The gnome-shell extensions has a huge potential to solve most of the problems faced by the users currently. There are already gnome-shell extensions available for providing weather, show shutdown option, add more gnome-shell themes and many more.
Gnome-shell is definitely worth trying out. Try it out and let us know what you think about it.