Five Things To Fix In Gnome Shell

A few days ago, I installed the release candidate for Gnome 2.30, which provides an overview of what Gnome 3 will look like when it appears next fall.  Since I've begun using Gnome 2.30, I've become more disappointed by the hour with the way it works.  Here's a list of the top five flaws in Gnome 2.30 that will make me an LXDE user if they are not addressed before the Gnome 3 release.

Before delving into the criticism, I should be clear that I'm not fundamentally opposed to the new ideas present in Gnome 2.30.  Some of the concepts it incorporates--in particular Gnome Activity Journal, which saves users from having to remember where their files are stored--are highly valuable, while I see potential for Gnome Shell being a useful window manager.  And some of the complaints below may be more properly categorized as bugs than fundamental design flaws.

All the same, the build of Gnome that I've been using represents a major step down from the intuitive and responsive desktop environment to which I grew accustomed when I adopted Ubuntu years ago.  I'm shocked that this is a release candidate for any stable version of Gnome, because I can't see it being usable at all for many people.

In particular, the following things should change:

1. Laggy interface

Admittedly, the Dell Latitude 2100 netbook on which I'm running Gnome 3 is no Hercules of CPU or GPU power.  But it is only a few months old.  Boasting two gigabytes of memory and a decent Intel graphics chipset, it handles normal compiz effects without issue.

My experience with Gnome Shell on this machine, in contrast, has been less than impressive.  There's a sharply noticeable delay when clicking buttons in the Activity overlay, and switching between workspaces and normal/overlay mode is choppy.  The video below illustrates some of these issues:

Some of that choppiness is due to dropped frames in the screencast, but most of it is in Gnome itself.

2. No taskbar

As it exists in the RC for Gnome 2.30, Gnome Shell has a panel that contains a notification area, but no taskbar for switching between windows.  Even when multiple windows are open on the same desktop, the panel displays the title only of the application that has focus.  The only way to know which windows exist on which desktop is to switch to overlay mode.

This is just plain silly.  Even if Gnome developers want to discourage users from managing windows via a taskbar, they should make it clear which windows are open on which workspace at which time without necessitating a switch to overlay mode.

3. No support for compiz

Unlike traditional Gnome, Gnome Shell is its own window manager--which means that, at least as it stands currently, users can no longer choose between window managers like Compiz, Metacity or Enlightenment according to their needs.  It also means the extensive additional functionality offered by some of these window managers is unavailable under Gnome 3.

The lack of support for Compiz is particularly troublesome to me.  Not being able to wobble my windows or rotate my cube is one thing, but other Compiz plugins--such as Scale and Zoom--provide vital functionality that's sorely lacking in Gnome Shell.

Maybe Gnome Shell and Compiz will find a way to play nicely together by the time of the 3.0 release.  But as of now, the lack of support for basic Compiz functionality is a serious problem.

Applications can't be categorized

Gnome Shell's application menu, available from the Activities overlay, doesn't provide any way to categorize programs.  It just lobs them all together in alphabetical order, rather than sorting them according to genre, as the Gnome <2.30 menu does.

This decision presumably reflects Gnome's newfound focus on moving away from organizational hierarchies, which I applaud when it's implemented properly.  But not being able to file applications under categories takes things too far.

It's Ugly!

Last but not least, Gnome 2.30 is just plain ugly.  In particular, the black, borderless panel with pixelated white text is less than appealing to the eye, and doesn't respond to changes to the desktop theme.  The Activities panel is a bit more aesthetically pleasing, but still nothing to write home about.

To be sure, there's no right or wrong when it comes to deciding what's "pretty."  But I'm confident that I'd have a hard time finding many people who would call the current interface gorgeous.  Moreover, the lack of customizability is troubling, since it makes it impossible to fit Gnome's look to one's preferences, whatever they happen to me.  And free software is all about customization, right?

Gnome 3 or not Gnome 3?

Succinctly, those are the five things that I think are most wrong with Gnome 3, if the 2.30 release candidate can be taken as any indication of what it will look like.

The ideas behind the new desktop environment are mostly admirable, but their implementation is poor.  From general lagginess to lack of compatibility with other window managers to an ugly, static interface, Gnome 3 will leave a lot to be desired unless major inadequacies are addressed before the fall.

Discuss this Video 37

Mel (not verified)
on Mar 23, 2010
Are you sure this is a an RC? It will be released on September. Gnome 2.30 will be the Gnome we all know, and love. I hate how Gnome Shell works at this point and the fact that it doesn't support Compiz and customization is a total deal breaker for me. Another thing that bothers me is that the Ubuntu community has worked very hard to make Gnome panel slick and useful and that maybe the new panel won't support all of those changes made by them. I hope that in the coming months everything takes shape.
phx (not verified)
on Mar 24, 2010
I actually used the gnome shall a month ago.Actually I also lacked the absence of compiz but gnome shall is faster and supports similar effects.I also inspected the javascript codes that defines the size and type of panels and actually they can be modified but there is no interface right now if you want you are free to modify the codes not user friendly tough :(
GeoD (not verified)
on Mar 24, 2010
Not Gnome3!
Jan Haffner (not verified)
on Mar 24, 2010
I sure hope GNOME 3.0 isn't going to be another KDE 4.0. I left KDE because of the way they trashed KDE.. I hope I don't have to leave GNOME for the same reason.
Ryan (not verified)
on Mar 24, 2010
I think Canonical should hold a public vote on most design decisions such as whether we use Gnome Shell or whether our window controls are on the left or right. If Ubuntu is all about the community, why doesn't the community get a say? In my opinion Gnome Shell is clearly a step backwards. My mum uses Ubuntu and she would feed really stupid not knowing how to restore a minimised window. I doubt she knows how to Alt + Tab. Gnome Shell is not user friendly is this aspect. What good is the Activity Journal if you can't figure out how to do something as simple as changing windows?
Jo-Erlend Schinstad (not verified)
on Mar 24, 2010
I think the current user interface is easy to learn, effective to use and transparent. GNOME Shell seems nice and Zeitgeist promises to be a very useful tool, but it's far from ready. But the introduction of GNOME Shell doesn't necessarily mean that Metacity, Compiz and GNOME Panel with its applets will go away. Even if upstream chooses to use it by default, Ubuntu isn't required to do the same. I seriously doubt that Ubuntu 10.10 will use it by default, and I certainly hope it won't. The work on GNOME Panel has really improved the usability of GNOME and I hope Ubuntu will choose to stick with it for several releases.
slumbergod (not verified)
on Mar 24, 2010
I'll stick with xfce. It works how a desktop *should* work.
on Mar 24, 2010
I don't know what is in GNOME developers minds, but maybe they haven't realized that a window manager that REQUIRES video acceleration is like... ehem... Vista. What about older hardware? What about intel xinerama (double-screen) that doesn't support acceleration? Should those users switch to KDE? Maybe they should think again about the requirements. Not everybody have an NVIDIA hardware.
SPC (not verified)
on Mar 25, 2010
Gnome shell is a desperate push of desktop environment in wrong direction, duplicating functionality of existing features in the name of chasing KDE 4 backlights. It's more like an "art for sake of art" approach... SSDifferentPackage + truckload of CPU/GPU/memory consumption. Besides, UBUNTU is getting chubbier and chubbier with every edition, adding to that GnomeShell and kaBooom :D
aikiwolfie (not verified)
on Mar 25, 2010
This puts a bit of a dampaner on Gnome 3. I suspected Compiz wouldn't work. But I was hoping it would have enough Compiz-like-effects that it wouldn't matter. I don't use a window list on my panels. So that's no big deal for me. I'm not sure if we really need to categorise applications. Although it can make navigation on a traditional desktop easier. But isn't the point of Gnome Shell to get away from traditional desktops?
Sn3ipen (not verified)
on Mar 25, 2010
I don't think i like this. The Current GNOME got better and better with every release and now they want to change everything. Whats the point in that? This seems more and more like Vista and KDE4 to me. I don't care about that shell if i have to make lots of clicks just to do simple tasks such as jumping between windows and jumping to the next desktop. I have loved GNOME a long time for its simplicity and if I have to use a crippled DE for one year waiting for it to be stable and usable i will definitely switch! I have waited long enough for it already to get where it is today and i cant afford to be that patient anymore. I have works thats need to be done. ...and i am pretty sure lots of people will to if they screw this one up. Lets just hope they don't.
JanC (not verified)
on Mar 25, 2010
I think you are somewhat confused about what is "GNOME 3". Currently, you're still using GNOME 2, but with some applications that are intended to become the default UI for GNOME 3--when they are ready. The switch to GNOME 3 is supposed to happen only when all the components that its new DE needs are ready, and the only main difference with the previous 2.x release will probably be that it changes what is the default DE. BTW: 'mutter' is a compositing window-manager just like compiz, and maybe it will grow a plugin system of its own? If not, it should be possible to replace/fork it, just like compiz replaced metacity for many many people...
snkiz (not verified)
on Mar 26, 2010
As far as I can tell gnome-shell is all about using shortcuts and searchbars to find what you want. Fine if you know what your looking for. But to someone sitting down with no knowledge of what's on the system or how it works its a nightmare of random clicks to find what your looking for, change windows or do pretty much anything you do simply now. Not to mention the need to learn a completely new programing language just to change the shell look. The combination of shell with gnome's insentient need to hide options is a disaster waiting to happen.
aikiwolfie (not verified)
on Mar 26, 2010
The more I see videos of Gnome-shell the more I grow to dislike it. It looks too slow, too cumbersome and overly dependant on the mouse/touch screen/point amp; click paradigm. Now correct me if I'm wrong. But don't Linux users tend to migrate towards using the keyboard because it's faster? Even Microsoft in their recent adverts here in the UK are making a lot of noise about "typing in the name of the application" because it's faster than searching through a tone of menus and sub-menus. The command line is not a new feature or innovation. Not even in GUI environments. Even Windows 3.x had a run dialogue box. It seems to me as though the Gnome developers have been seduced by the touch screen fad. Their only problem is precious few people are using Linux boxes with touch screens and even fewer need a touch orientated interface. Gnome-shell looks like it runs like a lame dog and I'm fast losing interest. I'd rather use KDE or go buy a Mac.
aloctavodia (not verified)
on Mar 27, 2010
@aikiwolfie you should try gnome-shell, it does not work the way you thing, for example to launch an application you just press and then type the name of the app (a la gnome-do, but not so powerful). Gnome-shell is not a "touch oriented interface" I don´t really like gnome-shell at this state, but seems to promise a lot. I think a new way to switch application must be found (not overlay not Alt+Tab).
on Mar 29, 2010
janC said in outline what the reviewer missed. I dont know how one can criticize something that is supposed to be released at the very best in september/october, but I guess there could even be a Gnome 2.32 before the version 3 is out (then in the spring '11). So, the overview the reviewer is in fact talking about is just some kind of alpha stage, and it's a real shame he didn't get informed at the way things are before posting such confusing article. There's plenty of information around about how Gnome 2.30 was decided not be Gnome 3. Gnome 2.30, which is at release candidate stage (yes) won't integrate gnome-shell or even zeitgeist/gnome activity journal by default. It'll be in the repositories just so that people can actually see how it evolves, for the sake of test. So you did install them on your own, probably did a "gnome-shell --replace" but think 2.30 is Gnome 3, then I suggest you read some more. Besides, there's still plenty of time ahead in order to implement features so that the user is not too much disoriented. This is currently just a basic snapshot of how it will look like in general. This is really sad you could mislead your reader to believe Gnome 3 is heading the wrong way when it's actually nowhere near release state.
Ziplocpeople (not verified)
on Mar 31, 2010
If I'm correct you're completely incorrect about compiz in gnome 3.0-- From my understanding Gnome-Shell is entirely optional and the other components of Gnome will continue to be maintained and updated (ex. gnome panel.) Gnome-Shell =/= Gnome 3.0 Also quit criticizing it because your netbook can't run it, netbooks SHOULDN'T be running heavy composite WM's in the first place, that's not what they're designed for. Seriously get your facts straight, if you don't like Gnome-Shell, don't use it.
Niels (not verified)
on Apr 2, 2010
My laptop has a 4330 HD radeon-card with limited 3D support, so I will not be able to use gnome 3.0. A lot of people buying new laptops will face the same problem.
robert (not verified)
on Apr 5, 2010
There are several things I hate at GnoeShell (GS). One thing is that GnomeShell adds a lot of "noise" to the desktop. Changing from one app to the other (not using alt-tab) is only possible via the "activities" corner. And this opens all the stuff I do not want to see at this time at once - a lot of useless animations/informations just to change to another window. The "wobbling window" thing of compiz in my opinion is not just plain eye candy. It adds phyicallity to my desktop. It just "feels" cool to change window positions. I like to compare this to Apples way of doing animations at the iPhone. When the vertical scrolling reaches the e.g. the bottom of a list the list "bounces" slightly back from the gound. It's not necessary but adds this kind of real life physics everyone understands immediately. The only advantage of GnomeShell I see over compiz is, that it also shows minimized windows during the "scale". If only compiz would learn to do this...
Arkadi (not verified)
on Apr 5, 2010
I think we all should give Gnome-Shell a try when it's ready and I don't think it would be ready in half a year.
Aldi (not verified)
on Apr 6, 2010
Indeed, a taskbar in some form is needed. Even with the old task-bar concept there is plenty of room for rethinking. For example, I always work on different projects at the same time and usually have many windows open. Old Gnome handles this load of windows much better in the task list as MS Windows does, but still, it always takes time to find the right window. A very promising solution is the way KDE does the tabbed browsing. In the new version it is possible to group any application window in tabs in one window. This is a great enhancement!!! Please also consider this in Gnome!
Rufus Polson (not verified)
on Apr 7, 2010
I launch all the applications I use consistently from launchers on the taskbar, with one click. So, with Gnome Shell having no taskbar, how do they propose to let me launch applications that easily? Typing in the name? Good grief.
Emil Koutanov (not verified)
on Apr 7, 2010
I've been using Gnome shell for a little while now, and I've been refraining from making comments until I had a chance to adapt to some "controversial" things. Now that I have adapted to some, but not to others, I can comment on my experience. 1) The absence of the taskbar is unjustified. While Gnome designers are obviously pushing for alternative means of switching between windows, these means are slower and more cumbersome than the "good old" taskbar. I run a development machine with 8 desktops, with a particular style of organisation of windows between desktops. What Gnome developers have failed to see, is that (unlike in MS Windows), Linux users actually (consciously or subconsciously) group like windows by desktops. When I'm on a particular desktop and I want to switch to a logically similar application on the same desktop, having to go out into the Activities area or ALT+TABing is overkill, when a taskbar (that is limited to only the windows on the current desktop) could do the job much faster. Again, this is more applicable to a multi-desktop environment, where the user already employs some sort of "mental" organisation of windows on desktops. 2) Animating the Activities area can be slow on some computers. There needs to be an option of switching animations off. This goes back to the points made by others on this and other forums: there is simply not enough configuration options to tailor Gnome shell not only to each individual user, but also to the hardware. 3) The Recent Items in the Activities area should NOT be in the open. If I have a personal next to me while I switch between desktops using the Activities area, then (depending on what I have recently been up to), I may not like the fact that others around me can see my recent documents. 4) We need applets, like CPU/MEM resources monitor, hardware (temperature, et al) sensors, and so on. 5) Having a black bar with only the window title and a clock at the top is wasteful and only replicates what the window's titlebar already states. See point (1) about restoring the taskbar to the top of the screen. 6) I would like to switch between desktops using a desktop switching applet. This would require one mouse gesture as opposed to two (get to Activities, then switch desktops). While shortcut keys are useful, the aren't always available or accessible (e.g. I could be eating lunch and have one hand dirty). 7) Applications need categorisation. Gnome developers have been riding on the assumption that the default categorisation is often confusing, which is partially correct. However, what's even more confusing is lumping everything into one category. At the very least, the user should be able to use the default categorisation, particularly when they've been using Gnome for years and have gotten used to it. Alternatively, there must be a way for the user to define their own way of categorising apps, in the event that they aren't content with the default hierarchies. Overall, I'm quite happy that gnome is NOT heading in the way of KDE. Yes its different, but not in the way that KDE is. However, I believe that the Gnome shell is far more geared towards new computer users, or users migrating from Windows and Mac environments. It also suits more casual computer users who don't run multiple concurrent desktops and applications. I feel that the "hardened" Linux (and Gnome in particular) users are not being adequately catered for. I constantly find myself having to perform more mouse movements and clicks to get where I want to be. While the interface is simpler, it is not the complexity of Gnome that ever bothered me. The arrival of the Shell is also contradictory to Gnome's "incremental" nature of evolution. Gnome needs to be different for the sake of becoming better, not for the sake of being different. To summarise: Like: + The Activities area (minus the recent items); + The application search; + The open applications list in the Activities area; + The Places and Devices. Dislike: - Absence of a window list; - Absence of a desktop list; - Absence of applets; - Lack of configuration options; - The window title on the black bar.
alex (not verified)
on Apr 26, 2010
Hey hey Gnome 3 goes to mobile area amp; touch screen solutions. And that is cool. However will be release in almost 6 months amp; obliviously needs 6 more months to be polished. So give it some time :) Also why you complain about switching windows? You can use awn anyway :) To be honest, I am sure that gnome will get much better than KDE (depends to GTK+) but I doubt that will be competitive to Google's Chromemium OS. Btw I am hoping some serious games to take place in 2010 for Linux.. Cyaa
Clive (not verified)
on May 2, 2010
Um MS and apple have poured tonnes into research of UIX and thier outlays have become similar because thats what people like hence windows 7s taskbar being a little more like the OSX dock. This is a huge misatake by gnome and honestly i guarantee there will be a fork or a mass exodus to an almost polished kde 4x or xfce. Why the f would i need so many screens what is the point, so i can have like 1 app per screen are you kidding im trying to get work done.
regeya (not verified)
on Sep 6, 2010
Bah, Clive. Look at the Favorites; it works almost exactly like the Dock. Look at the Apps menu next to the Favorites; it works almost like a docked Applications folder in OS X. Look at the search interface, which allows you to search for apps and documents, almost exactly like Spotlight. And so on. GNOME Shell is NOT all that foreign; they've just taken all that stuff that Apple and Microsoft have tacked onto their own interfaces, and glued them all together in a more coherent interfaces.
TrekkieTico (not verified)
on Sep 18, 2010
My opinion here is about the window title, I think the maximized windows should have no title bar but instead that title to be merged inside the upper bar, the clock should be pressed to the right to make more space. Then the buttons: ubuntu style at the left; that because by using it for a while I've seen that it's better to make everything taking the cursor to the upper left.I think it would be better cause there are two names: the app name at the top, then the app tittle bar showing another name and the buttons but no more use, just one line wasted. That is kind of netbook-remix and the app menus should go imediately below not merged like mac.
dE (not verified)
on Nov 25, 2010
Gnome 3 -- Proof that developers cant be designers.
BuggyDE (not verified)
on Jan 29, 2011
Tried both Unity and Gnome-Shell on a desktop and both are utter crap. Change for change sake is going backwards. Unity on tablet PC made more sense and I can try work with that, but on a desktop I found that it hindered me more than helped me. Gnome-Shell on a desktop looked good for about 30mins then I found no simple way to customise the interface to help improve productivity. When I demo applications or the os to customers, I do not want to have my list of recent documents showing and I can see no way to disable or hide that, maybe it will be different in the final release. It seems that more and more customisation features are getting locked away with each new release, the major selling point for me on Linux is that I can customise it to do what what I want how I want. I have been a fan of Ubuntu since release 6.04, (currently on 10.10) I don’t see myself sticking with Ubuntu much longer, only as long as I can remove unity and install Gnome 2 but how long till that deprecates? I will not be going for Gnome 3 unless I can have it function and look like Gnome 2. This will become more of a problem as developers start shifting applications over to Gnome 3 libraries. There is also the fact that both Unity and Gnome-shell use Zietgiest, this is something I have a big problem with, not only with the major impact on performance I get, but the big brother approach of the program tracking every little thing I do (and yes I do know about blacklisting and configuration details), there is also an security and privacy issue. I am thinking that if this is the way forward of Gnome(I don't like KDE) and other desktop elements in Linux I may end up changing back to Windows. It is sad cause I have been using Linux solidly for the 10 odd years now in one form or another. I may be wrong and the final release may yet blow me away and I change my mind, but looking at the way Unity and Gnome 3 work at the moment I am not impressed.
keith (not verified)
on Dec 29, 2010
I'm going to have to disagree with most of you. I love the direction Gnome is going. The driving force behind it was to break away from the norm of desktop environments and I believe the Gnome team has done a great job in doing so. I personally can't wait until its officially released. :)
on Mar 25, 2011
BuggyDE: No need to apologize. But The VAR Guy thanks you for doing so. And thanks for reading/engaging with -TVG
on Mar 25, 2011
Readers: The VAR Guy enjoys healthy debate. But our resident blogger tries to ensure that the comment boards contain family friendly dialog. Wink, wink. Nudge, nudge. Please watch the language. -TVG
BuggyDE (not verified)
on Mar 25, 2011
Sorry my bad. My apologies.
BuggyDE (not verified)
on Mar 25, 2011
@Sean - Try reading the whole post before commenting --gt; I may be wrong and the final release may yet blow me away and I change my mind, but looking at the way Unity and Gnome 3 work at the moment I am not impressed. lt;--- If a product I used (free or not) stops performing in a way that it hinders my productivity, then I will change that product. I believe it is a freedom of choice I have. If developers never get negative feedback then how can they improve their product? If you had bothered to read the rest of the post you may have seen that I did expand on my reasons. Since I don#039;t have the skill set or time to fork a major project, I don#039;t! Instead I have supported Linux in many other ways, including selling computer hardware with Linux installed (350 last year), I also give lessons to first time Linux users and help small to medium business and roll out Linux servers about 150 so far. So while I am not a code monkey I try do my bit where I can to help and support the growth of Linux. So who is bitching on the side lines? If you cant be bother to read the whole post then don#039;t bother commenting, cause you just sound a like a twat.
Sean (not verified)
on Mar 24, 2011
"Tried both Unity and Gnome-Shell on a desktop and both are utter crap. Change for change sake is going backwards." _____________________ What crap! If that attitude had been prevalent when Gnome started, the lot of you would be on Windoze. I used to pooh-pooh the old sweats when they presented their vision of end-lusers debating things that they should not and could not understand. To those old-sweats, I apologize deeply. For the rest of you lot, if by now you haven't figured out how to keep your machine in the state you prefer, why the hell have you stayed with Linux? Is being the captive pawn of Canonical really a step up from being the captive pawn of Microsoft? If your only way to preserve your desktop is to shit on the work of others, particularly on the in-progress work of others, I'll suggest you missed the entire point of FOSS, and we'd all appreciate if you resumed paying for the privilege of using a computer, because you are too stupid to use if for free. Linux isn't going to suddenly displace Windows or Apple, so let's stop bending over for these muppets like they are taking part in the process, because beyond bitching on the sidelines they aren't. If you don't care enough to fork the project and fix it yourself...STFU! your opinion is not only unsolicited, it's wrong.
PawnTampa (not verified)
on Aug 25, 2011
Gnome shell has helped me out. i think the software framework is Ok slow sometimes but ok. Thank you for all the info this will help me out alot. Scott
Can GNOME 3 Become the Next Big Open Source UI Contender? | (not verified)
on Aug 3, 2011
[...] I was no fan of GNOME 3 (or GNOME Shell, its core component) during its development process. As I’ve written in the past, I thought it was slow, unattractive and too committed to a particular software framework that made [...]
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