10 Things I Love About GNOME 3
There’s a famous quote that goes something like,
“If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said ‘a faster horse’.” -Henry Ford
As you most likely know, Henry Ford’s company popularized the automobile. Naturally, automobiles are very different from horses and if you get too used to how a horse works, you might find it awkward to adjust to using an automobile. Automobiles, obviously, are much better than horses, but they no doubt caused complaints from horse riders who were too used to how things worked as they were and have worked for years. GNOME 3, being released tomorrow (Wednesday April 6), is having a similar problem: how do you innovate without annoying long-time users who are used to the way things are done now? The short answer is: you can’t. Changes must be made that might seem awkward or even stupid at first to some, but you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.
Fortunately for GNOME, their latest version of their popular desktop environment manages to break very few eggs, if any, and still magically makes omelets regardless of that. GNOME 3 designers and developers have had a lot of time to think and plan about the design of the latest desktop and it shows very clearly in several areas. Some refinement and improvement could come in future releases (and that is actually being worked on right now), but for now I am loving the GNOME 3 desktop as it stands today just fine. Why? I’ll give you 10 reasons:
1. It’s distraction-free
Most “modern” desktops today bombard you with icons, colors, buttons, notifications that cover the work you’re doing, and other annoying “features”. GNOME 3 rethinks this entirely. The top bar is uncluttered and simple, bringing an air of minimalism while still providing the features you need at your fingertips. Unlike other desktops where the clock is shoved in the corner, often between or right next to a bunch of other buttons and icons, the clock is moved right to the middle of the panel where it’s easy to see. GNOME 3 also hides the window list and “message tray” (for notifications) by default; no blinking “click me” or “attention” lights anywhere!
2. It has a new visual style
Many desktops either focus on being shiny or basic; never both. GNOME 3 somehow manages to be both, giving it a refreshing style that says “I’m new” yet “I’m mature” at the same time. The top panel is very small and exclusively black and white in color. This is not only good for accessibility purposes, but it makes the desktop look less distracting as I said above. It also includes a new default application (GTK) theme, “Adwaita”, which is easy to look at and stylish as well. It also uses nice and simple visual effects that don’t go too overboard on the “eye-candy” scale.
3. It puts me in the driver’s seat
When I use other desktop environments, it seems almost like they try to control how I work or what I do, such as offering “suggestions” when I know what I’m doing (Clippy, anyone?) or asking “if I’m sure I want to do this”. GNOME 3 assumes automatically that I know what I’m doing and only helps me when I specifically ask it to. If I want to switch windows, I ask for the window switcher. If I want to search, I ask for the search function. If I want to upgrade software, I ask to do so. It doesn’t bug me over and over to “do this” or “do that”, but lets me decide what I do and when, and that feels very empowering. If I ever do something that I didn’t want to do, instead of asking if I’m sure, it gives me the option to undo immediately but it doesn’t shove the option in my face. The new message tray in the bottom right corner also is blocked from showing notifications when I switch my status from “Available” to “Busy”. Instead of constantly bugging me about a notification that pops up, it stores it in the message tray for me to read at my leisure. No other desktop that I know of does this as effectively as GNOME 3.
4. All new, integrated settings manager
GNOME now provides a “Control Panel”-like settings menu like in Windows or Mac, but much simpler and easier to use. Clicking any option quickly brings up a simple settings dialog with a button to go back to the main settings menu. GNOME 2 had something similar, but it wasn’t nearly as integrated and straightforward as the current implementation.
5. Starting fresh
Many components of GNOME 2 have been deprecated or hard to maintain, and GNOME 3 does away with these entirely. Most notably removed is the old GNOME panel, replaced by the new GNOME Shell, the default desktop UI I’ve been referencing. Many libraries and programs were also upgraded to new versions such as GTK+, Empathy Instant Messenger, Nautilus File Browser and more.
7. Smart window and workspace management
There are a multitude of ways to work with your windows and applications in GNOME 3. Most notable is the “Activities” overlay which can be toggled with a click, a hot-corner (moving your mouse into the corner the button is located), or a button press (the “Windows” key, also known as Super/Meta). The Activities overlay shows all of your windows spatially organized in the center, with a more traditional “dock”-like window list at the left. On the right is a “workspace” selector for window organizing. Each one, if you’re unfamiliar with the concept of workspaces, can hold different windows into groups as to keep your desktop uncluttered and allow you to focus on the task at hand. GNOME 3 lets you drag and drop windows to multiple workspaces and it automatically makes new ones as soon as you need them. This makes it easier to find the window you want to switch to and keeps your desktop nice and organized. GNOME 3 also has a Windows 7-like gesture feature where you can drag windows past the top of the screen to maximize them and to the sides of the screen for side-by-side viewing. I use this a lot when watching a video and browsing another web page at the same time, and it’s very useful.
As I’ve stated earlier GNOME 3 is very minimal in several respects. There is no “configuration overload” like in KDE, where there are many useless options that don’t need to be present whatsoever and only make using the software more confusing. Another minimalistic change present that I didn’t mention earlier was the removal of the “minimize” and “maximize” buttons, leaving only one button (for now) on every window. The functionality is still there, but they decided that it would be simpler to not include a button. Maximizing can already be done with a simple double-click or a gesture as mentioned earlier, so there’s no need for a button and makes window management seem simpler (and gives you a much wider target area for maximizing). Minimization, however, makes little sense in the context of GNOME 3. There are no desktop icons because you shouldn’t have to move a window around to see what’s behind it on your desktop, as well as how cluttered and ugly desktops can become over time. Because there’s little reason to minimize a window, the functionality was hidden, though still present if you absolutely must use it (though I can’t fathom a reason why). It also uses very little screen space, even less than most “Netbook” UIs available now.
9. Easy yet powerful
GNOME 3 is incredibly straightforward to use and simple for new users to get used to. Even though it’s so simple, power users will find a lot of love present. GNOME 3 includes a myriad of keyboard shortcuts to make using your desktop quicker than ever, such as Alt+F2 to run any command, Alt+Tab to switch between windows in a group (and Alt+` to move between windows in the same application), Ctrl+Alt+Tab for keyboard navigation of the panel and Activities overlay, pressing the “Windows” key to use the Activities overlay, and many more. You can see them all and customize them to what you want in the new settings manager. GNOME 3 also has an extremely handy search function as well; just open the Activities overview and start typing and you’ll get instant results from your applications, files and places. The search function and Alt+Tab alone, even without the other features, are more than enough to suit my needs.
10. A wealth of great applications
GNOME is known for it’s very easy to use applications, and GNOME 3 is no different. The Empathy Instant Messenger is one of my favorites, which is surprising to me even still because for years I was a die-hard Pidgin fan (another instant messenger). I made the switch recently and it actually does a very good job, actually feeling much simpler and smoother than the other instant messengers I’ve used over the years. Rhythmbox, the default GNOME music player, does almost everything I ask of it and is very extensible with plugins in addition to being easy to use. Brasero, while not the most feature-filled disc burning application out there, is very simple to use and integrates with Rhythmbox for playlist burning. I’ve also grown to liking the default text editor, Gedit, as well as the default File Manager, Nautilus; both of which are very simple, powerful and extensible. GNOME 3 also integrates with these programs very nicely, such as letting me reply to messages in Empathy right from the notification itself or by letting me control Rhythmbox from the message tray. There are a ton of other great applications of GNOME’s, such as the AbiWord word processor or the surprisingly usable Epiphany web browser. If you ever try GNOME, check them all out and see how they work!
Unlike more expensive, less-open, and less-usable desktops, GNOME is completely free in both senses of the word. To see up-to-date screenshots, videos, and even try GNOME 3 for yourself, visit gnome3.org or the GNOME 3 release page (as well as the release notes page). If it seems rather odd or even bad to you at first, try it for a week with an open mind. Try to adjust your workflow to how GNOME Shell works and see how much it improves! Trust me, it really does work wonders :)!