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GNOME 3 And GNOME Shell Basics

Fedora 16 And GNOME Shell: Tested And Reviewed
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The Core Concept

Because GNOME 3 (and its accompanying shell) is such a drastic departure from traditional desktop GUIs, there is one basic theme you should repeat to yourself before going hands-on. Coming to terms with this key concept may help to frame much of the frustration being voiced by other folks evaluating GNOME.

First and foremost, GNOME 3 is designed to reduce clutter and add focus. To do so, GNOME Shell emphasizes full-screen tasks. The two biggest elements of traditional operating environments affected by this new approach are the desktop and task list.

Desktop?

The first familiar landmark to fall by the wayside in GNOME 3 is the functional desktop. GNOME Shell eschews the traditional desktop metaphor to which we've grown accustomed for more than 20 years. What was once called the desktop is now simply a windowing area.

If you've ever helped a hopeless technophobe with his or her PC, then you've probably seen a seriously cluttered desktop. Every single application shortcut and download often litters an average PC user's work space.

In GNOME 3, downloads go to the Downloads folder, and all applications are accessed through the new Activities overview (covered later). To the GNOME Project, removing files from the desktop is simply cutting the fat. The way GNOME sees it, old-school desktops eventually become a catch-all for anything and everything installed, downloaded, and saved.

Task List?

The second familiar convention to disappear is on-screen task management. There is no pervasive taskbar, dock, or window list available in GNOME 3. The rationale is that the traditional task list is a distraction from the task at hand. The way the Activities overview handles task management off-screen helps encourage doing one thing at a time.

Different Window Dynamics

Like Ubuntu's Unity interface and Mac OS X Lion, GNOME 3 also attempts to emphasize full-screen apps. But GNOME 3 goes even further. As you've probably noticed from the screen shots, the minimize and maximize buttons are dropped from window title bars entirely. The goal is two-fold. First, the foreground application should be able to use all of the available screen real estate. Second, don't bother the user with window management. Instead, simply switch directly to the next task. That's achieved through the Windows section of the Activities overview, which we'll explain later.

The GNOME project also had to rethink how windows fit into the new paradigm. GNOME 3 implements a window snap feature that's identical to the way Windows 7 and Unity operate. Dragging a window by its title bar to the top of the screen causes the window to maximize. Dragging the title bar of a maximized window downward restores that window. Vertical snap is also possible. Dragging a window to the left or right side of the display fills that half of the screen.

GNOME Shell - Vertical Window SnapGNOME Shell - Vertical Window Snap

Window snap is a great addition to Windows 7, Unity, and KDE. But without minimize and maximize/restore buttons, it's an absolute necessity in GNOME 3. Window snap is the way to maximize and restore windows here. Luckily, windows can still be resized in the traditional manner; hovering the cursor over a window border changes the cursor arrow into resize brackets.

Shiny And New

Mutter

GNOME Shell uses a new window manager known as Mutter. This is based on the Clutter toolkit, which first appeared in Moblin (then MeeGo, now known as Tizen). In fact, the name Mutter is a mixture of the words Metacity (the GNOME 2 window manager) and Clutter.

The video below, which showcases some of GNOME Shell's graphical effects, may look familiar to anyone who already knows MeeGo.

GNOME Shell Tour

While not nearly as polished as Compiz, Mutter accomplishes the few effects currently available in an admirable manner.

Adwaita

In addition to the visual effects, 2D screen elements also receive a bit of polish in GNOME 3. The default GTK+ theme is called Adwaita. Its primary color palette consists of black, white, gray, silver, and blue. The new upper-panel and most of the Activities overview consists of black with whitish-gray text, icons, and accents. Title bars and buttons employ silver tones, while the window borders, scroll bars, and much of the window contents are in shades of gray. Window and application text remains black, creating a visual boundary between the white text on black backgrounds inherent to the OS controls.

There are now also heavy surround shadows applied to window borders.

Heavy Surround ShadowsHeavy Surround Shadows

Although pronounced drop or surround shadows are pretty much a cheap trick, they still deliver a faux-3D layered look effectively.

Icons

The default GNOME icon set is updated, too, sporting a glossy sheen. They now scale up to 256x256 pixels.

Most of the new icons are a major improvement, especially Calculator, Terminal, and Gedit. However, the simple brown folder icons in the updated Nautilus file manager are pretty weak-looking.

Fedora 16 Default Folder IconsFedora 16 Default Folder Icons

As a set, the icons look good. But the default applications available in Fedora 16 make them appear a little monochromatic. In a clean copy of Fedora 16, the Applications side of the Activities overview is a wash of dull grays, weak blues, drab browns, with black and white, and a few splashes of red thrown in.

Fedora 16 Default Application IconsFedora 16 Default Application Icons

Once more applications are installed, the monotony is broken up, and the icon set begins to shine.

Now that we've introduced some of the GNOME 3 basics, we'll walk you through GNOME Shell piece by piece, starting with an empty desktop.

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Top Comments
  • 11 Hide
    amdfangirl , March 20, 2012 8:19 AM
    One of these days, developers of GUIs will realise going "forward" doesn't equate to an increase of ease of use and functionality.

    Unity, Metro, GNOME 3, Etc.

    Alas, I must suffer each day for the Wacom preferences panel in GNOME settings. Ties me to GNOME 3 (or a derivative). How silly.
Other Comments
  • 0 Hide
    gz3ro , March 20, 2012 6:04 AM
    I think the akmod graphics drivers (also found in the rpmfusion repository) would be better than simply the proprietary drivers because they also work after kernel updates.
  • 5 Hide
    Verrin , March 20, 2012 6:26 AM
    I'm really disappointed with the direction Linux has taken in its user interfaces. I was a big fan of Ubuntu until they switched to Unity, and since then I've been jumping from distro-to-distro trying to find a desktop environment that feels comfortable, isn't terribly difficult to wrap my head around, and that is still powerful. I was using GNOME3 for a while with Linux Mint, but even with the heavy extensions, there are certain functions that I can't quite replicate from the GNOME2 heyday. I wasn't able to get into KDE or XFCE either. They feel aged and aren't quite as sleek as other modern desktop environments, even if you try to fix that by adding customs skins.

    In the end, I'm downgrading to a much older distro of Ubuntu, and supplementing it with Windows 7. I'll be keeping an eye in the coming years to see how these rusty GUI releases turn out-- hopefully for the better. But for now, linux has lost a lot of its useability and it's flare. I'll miss the days when upgrading to a newer distro actually felt like an upgrade, but maybe after all these mistakes, developers will learn and make Linux exciting again. I'll be waiting to see.
  • 5 Hide
    Anonymous , March 20, 2012 6:36 AM
    Good grief. What I wouldn't have done years ago for a job that would ask me to write a review on something that would obsolete itself in six months.

    Nobody, IMHO, who actually uses a computer for anything of value wastes their time with Fedora. You can't upgrade it, so your own personal enhancements and bug fixes are lost. Features you like are abandoned for broken replacements. Fedora is a nightmare and has been since it began. I began the adventure years ago with Red Hat 5 and finally gave up and moved to more useful distros after Fedora 8. Fedora is now for the masochistic.

    On the other hand, if you like superficiality, as in wallpaper and clock positions, and enjoy the animated struggle that comes with installing something new all the time and reporting bugs then Fedora is a good thing.
  • 2 Hide
    yumri , March 20, 2012 7:40 AM
    one thing which i would have liked to see on the comparesion would be open time of a Libre Word Processing file, close time of that file, open time of a database file, close time of it, open time of Firefox, close time of Firefox, open time of a typical website like this one, close time of it, install time of the OS, how fast does it run a batch file or equivalent in the OS, and etc. like that things which we actually do a lot besides gaming.
  • -2 Hide
    yumri , March 20, 2012 7:46 AM
    It also seemed like they had a basis towards the GUI way of doing things and thought all users had forsaken CLI scripting for their installs and updates. as if you are getting Fedora you most likely know it was command line based in the start and really is still easier to do everything from command line then from any other route well Ubuntu is made with the GUI interface in mind so things are easier to do with that then with command line mainly because they hid the terminal screen in the newer versions of it.
    With that Fedora is also made for workstations and Ubuntu made for end user support 2 differnet applications so why only show benchmarks of end user things and not anything on network support, domain support, VM thin client viability, accessing files from the network, etc. like that things which Fedora is good at not just things which Ubuntu is I think this article was basised and another should be made with more benchmarks to not be as basised towards one or the other.
  • 11 Hide
    amdfangirl , March 20, 2012 8:19 AM
    One of these days, developers of GUIs will realise going "forward" doesn't equate to an increase of ease of use and functionality.

    Unity, Metro, GNOME 3, Etc.

    Alas, I must suffer each day for the Wacom preferences panel in GNOME settings. Ties me to GNOME 3 (or a derivative). How silly.
  • -1 Hide
    palladin9479 , March 20, 2012 8:23 AM
    Now I'm waiting for them to do a Solaris 10 or 11 review. Their both available on x86 so they don't even need to purchase new hardware. Come on it's a "real mans" OS.
  • -7 Hide
    Anonymous , March 20, 2012 8:57 AM
    You've completely missed extensions.gnome.org and gnome-tweak-tool, and as a result your review is not an accurate reflection of gnome-shell. Gnome-tweak-tool gives things like "Have file manager handle the desktop" and "Trash icon visible on desktop", plus shell, window, and gtk theme selection, font configuration, and gnome-shell extension management. Extensions.gnome.org provides, well, gnome-shell extensions. Things like "Static Workspaces", which gives you a fixed number of workspaces. Or "Alternative Status Menu", which puts power, reboot, suspend, and hibernate on your status menu. Or "Applications Menu", which provides a Gnome2-like list of windows on the current workspace.

    Now, I admit that neither of these configuration options are immediately visible to a new user. Despite that, your review is bad, and you should feel bad.
  • 0 Hide
    zhihao50 , March 20, 2012 9:13 AM
    graph for POV-Ray is wrong, you said both of linux finished 4min before windows yet the graph show the other way around.
  • 1 Hide
    adamovera , March 20, 2012 9:29 AM
    Cowardly AnonYou've completely missed extensions.gnome.org and gnome-tweak-tool, and as a result your review is not an accurate reflection of gnome-shell. Gnome-tweak-tool gives things like "Have file manager handle the desktop" and "Trash icon visible on desktop", plus shell, window, and gtk theme selection, font configuration, and gnome-shell extension management. Extensions.gnome.org provides, well, gnome-shell extensions. Things like "Static Workspaces", which gives you a fixed number of workspaces. Or "Alternative Status Menu", which puts power, reboot, suspend, and hibernate on your status menu. Or "Applications Menu", which provides a Gnome2-like list of windows on the current workspace.Now, I admit that neither of these configuration options are immediately visible to a new user. Despite that, your review is bad, and you should feel bad.

    See pages 12 through 16.
  • 2 Hide
    adamovera , March 20, 2012 9:33 AM
    zhihao50graph for POV-Ray is wrong, you said both of linux finished 4min before windows yet the graph show the other way around.

    Thanks, good catch. The words are wrong, not the chart. Fixed it.
  • 2 Hide
    rex86 , March 20, 2012 9:45 AM
    I really really hate "Window snap". It's OK if you're working with one or two windows, but when you have more than three windows "Window snap" makes a mess of everything.
  • 1 Hide
    adamovera , March 20, 2012 9:57 AM
    rex86I really really hate "Window snap". It's OK if you're working with one or two windows, but when you have more than three windows "Window snap" makes a mess of everything.

    KDE has quad-snap, which rocks on a large monitor ;) 
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 20, 2012 9:58 AM
    Fedora is just an upstream testing ground for RHEL, not a real distro meant for people to use. That's why Linus says:

    "I use Fedora, but recommend Ubuntu".
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 20, 2012 10:26 AM
    I think xfce is far better than Gnome and kDE since both are resource hungry. In low end systems, xfce is atleast usable.
  • 0 Hide
    jeffunit , March 20, 2012 11:25 AM
    I wonder why fedora uses RPM.
    I wonder what RPM stands for.

    It isn't explained in the article, but it happens to stand for Red Hat Package Manager.
    Perhaps that is why fedora uses it.

    The is no special reason why 'parent distributions' are 100% free software, it is simply red hat's corporate policy.

    You might want to fix the typo on page 2, in the header which says 'whats new in fedora 15'.

    I happen to use fedora 15 and recently upgraded to fedora 16.
  • 2 Hide
    Anonymous , March 20, 2012 11:33 AM
    I use Ubuntu and I installed Gnome Shell form the repos just to try it. I liked Unity OK and I did not feel an undying love for Gnome2. After reading reviews and recalling KDE4, I was prepared to dislike Gnome Shell. To my surprise, I found that I prefer it to other desktops I have used. I will admit that the ability to add extensions and tweak the ui to your preferences is a big plus, but now that I have become used to it, Gnome 2 and Unity feels clunky to me!
  • 0 Hide
    nevertell , March 20, 2012 12:18 PM
    I've been using gnome3 (mint 12) on my X200s and it is wonderful.
    It is buggy at the moment, it crashes but never have I lost any work due to the shell crashing, you can kill it and it will relaunch itself without any problems. At first I thought that the interface is stupid, and I still use gnome2 on my 10.04 ubuntu desktop. BUT, I have to say, I am almost used to dragging my mouse to the top left corner of the screen when I want to switch workspaces/apps on my desktop as well :)  Yes, the end-user apps and GUI configs are not there yet, but the user experience is actually great. Because of the small screen real estate on my laptop, shell helps me save space and organize stuff more neatly, dynamic workspaces are really great, helped a lot during many serious presentations. The problem I have with it is that it is slower and it is really oriented for a window per application experience, I usually spend a minute managing windows before I get cracking on an image if I work with GIMP.
  • 4 Hide
    puddleglum , March 20, 2012 12:33 PM
    VerrinI'm really disappointed with the direction Linux has taken in its user interfaces.
    Linux isn't the only one going to this DBI (Ditz Blond Interface). I understand Win8 will force it on the rest of the world as well, and we all know this came from Apple (Thanx for nothing). At least with Linux we have other choices, even if they aren't as appealing as what we had in Gnome2.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , March 20, 2012 2:02 PM
    I tried Gnome3 for a while and while I found some features to be quite nice, I gave up on it eventually, as I felt it to be too awkward for daily use. Interestingly I had the same problems with it as the author - lack of convenient task switching, cumbersome handling due to being forced into the activities tab, lack of customizability.

    I'm now using Unity, while far from perfect provides me with a better usability than Gnome3 and the features I really don't like (global menu, overlay scroll bars, placement of window buttons) can be uninstalled or tweaked away with Unity.

    Gnome3 made me feel as if I'm forced to use the desktop in the very specific way the devs feel is right for me, not the way I feel is right - this problem exists to a certain degree with Unity, too, but for now I still prefer the direction Unity is taking and I feel I still have much more freedom for adjusting it.
    Eventually I might look into Mint and Cinnamon, which looks very interesting.
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