Gnome shell starting to become my favourite

In Gnome, Gnome shell, Linux desktop, open source, Unity on August 19, 2011 by oli4444

I have several different computers, running Gnome 2, Gnome 3, Unity and Mac OSX. New interfaces always take a while to get used to, so after the initial launch of Gnome 3 and Unity the “classic” Gnome 2 interface was still my favourite to get my work done.

Gnome 3 has the best looks (yes, I like it better than OSX), but to get my work done I don’t need the best looks. A long time ago I ran Enlightenment with the aliens theme to have a very cool desktop, but I always switched the Sawfish when I had some real programming to do.

So what is making Gnome 3 making my first choice? The main reason for that is the keyboard control. Hit <alt><f1> or the <windows> key and start typing some characters of the program name and hit enter. Better, start typing the name of the bluefish project file that I used recently and hit enter, and I have my project open. I don’t have to type the exact name of the command (typing “te” already selects “gnome-terminal” for me, “tru” selects my “bluefish_trunk” bluefish project file, “fi” selects firefox, etc.) which makes it very fast and convenient. Switching virtual desktops (called workspaces in gnome 3) is <ctrl><alt><up> or <ctrl><alt><down>, and when I need a new desktop it is automatically created by hitting <down> one extra time.

Some other things I like a lot: tiling widows side by side by dragging a window to the right/left, and restoring the original size when moving the window again. However, I would like to be able to widen the windows after tiling, the left window can be widened on the bottom-right corner, but there is no way to make the left window a bit wider. I like <alt><`> for switching between windows of the same application (it feels natural because it is so close to <alt><tab>). I like <alt><f2> to start new commands, especially when using <ctrl><enter> to start that command in a new terminal.

What would make things even better for me:

  • <Alt><tab> behavior per desktop per window. I just doesn’t make sense to me that switching between two web-pages in two firefox windows is different from switching between two web-pages in chrome-and-firefox. I often <alt><tab> between a couple of terminal windows and bluefish windows. The default just switches applications, and I usually need a specific session of that application on the same virtual desktop. The alternate tab extension however, makes me tab between all open windows on all virtual desktops (which usually is a long list).
  • Easier mouse access to virtual desktops. The hot corner is left, but to switch to a different virtual desktop without key combination, I have to move the mouse all the way to the right (which is a long way on a widescreen display). I have the workspaces menu extension installed to have the virtual desktops in the top bar, but it needs two mouseclicks to switch between two desktops. An improvement could be to make the top-right of the screen a second hot corner that activates the workspaces area by default (I have the right-hot-corner extension installed, but I first have to move the mouse to the top right for the hot corner, and then to the middle to activate the workspaces area).
  • Better use of the vertical screen space. The top bar of each window is quite high, and it only has a close button and you use it to drag the window. Especially when maximising a window the top space of the screen has a lot of unused space. This is an area where Unity tries to do good things (except that the menu thing in unity is slow and buggy as I posted earlier). Luckily Bluefish has a fullscreen feature!
  • Make it the default to open a new window. For most programs I use I have multiple open windows (terminals, bluefish sessions, firefox sessions etc.). If I want to switch to an open window it is much faster to select that window in the overview mode than clicking the icon in the dash (which selects just one of the open sessions which is anyway usually not the one you need). I want to use the dash to start a new session, regardless if I have a session running already. Having the hold <ctrl> while clicking is annoying. Same for starting a program using the keyboard control: if I type “fi” and hit enter, I don’t want any of my existing firefox sessions, I want a new session!

20 Responses to “Gnome shell starting to become my favourite”

  1. Try to install Gnome-do on your gnome 2 desktop. I’ve been having a really hard time switching to Gnome3 because it’s a step back from gnome-do. I’m used to just pressing + and typing away what I want to do: either an application, an url, a string to search on google, whatever. I’ve been using the keyboard to jumpstart my web navigation ever since windows 98 and it’s run menu so it’s kind of hard to take a step back in gnome3.

    I know it might be a step up for people who aren’t used to stuff like gnome-do but for me it’s a serious step back.

    • You can hit the windows meta key and type in the shell. ‘+’ key make no sense since if you are in an edit window the window manager won’t pick it up. The biggest issue right now with type to web is we default to wikipedia and not google or any other search engine. The shell too a lot of cues from gnome-do and I am sure it will continue to make the search bar much better.

  2. Hey,

    Take a look at to fix #1.

    I’m still looking for one to fix #4.

    The app-based approach is the only thing I dislike.

  3. Try Maximus (yum install maximus on Fedora) to reduce the titlebar height, and even completely remove the titlebar on maximized window.

    Really nice! (it needs a config option to NOT maximize all windows by default)

  4. You can start a new session from the dash with “middle-click” (how is this called in english?)

  5. The Gnome Shell has silently become a favorite desktop environment for many people. We’ve had some obnoxious and loud people (ie. Linus) whining about it breaking their ill learned old habits but whoa. This thing is pretty, allows me to focus on my tasks, and is for most parts pretty well thought out. Actually Gnome Shell is the first interface that actually puts up a real fight when pitted against the Aero of W7 or the default desktop environment of Macs…

  6. Doesn’t Unity do the same thing. Plus Ubuntu Tweak you can more control over the desktop settings. I agree Gnome 3 looks better but working with to different screens to get your work done is too cumbersome.

    • Unity doesn’t allow me to type “fi” to start firefox, but it does allow me to “” since firefox is my third favourite, but for non-favourites it doesn’t work unless you type the exact command name.

  7. Olivier, you should check the available extensions for GNOME 3. There’s even one that switches virtual desktops from a menu in the top panel. Then, there are others for changing the status menu (and ALT-TAB as someone highlighted earlier) as well as a dock that attaches to the right hand side of the main desktop. showing the favourites from the overview with having to hit the Super key. Personally, I use Docky instead and it works very well on there too. Therefore, I wouldn’t be surprised if GNOME-DO works as well. Like others, I too was surprised when GNOME 3 won me over and I even have it set up on Linux Mint. It just goes to show what can happen to the open-minded. Some may call it a mistake but it will be interesting to see how it spreads and grows.

    • John,

      I refer to both of these extensions in the post, but they are both not yet perfect, and they are both not the default (and gnome 3 should be good by default, right!?)

      • Olivier, I can’t believe that I missed these in your post the first time around but I stand corrected. Maybe I need to stop skimming too fast…

        It takes time for plugins to become part of the mainstream as has been seen with WordPress. Nevertheless, it is reasonable to expect things to feel complete the first time around and that isn’t the case. If the Gnome team are not prepared to do this, it’ll have to be the distro ones that address the matter and it does look as if there is ample room for them to act and maybe even individualise things a bit. Maybe Fedora should have done a bit more customisation for 15 than they did. Then, things could have felt more complete.

  8. Your post matches my sentiment: gnome 3 has become my favorite as well, despite roughly the same set of gripes. Here’s hoping things continue to improve!

  9. Agreed, Gnome-shell is stylish, unfussy and functional and what it does, it does very well. It takes the best of OSX, but is more intuitive and offers more elbow room. It’s difficult to avoid the impression that the Gnome devs succeeded in doing what the Unity devs would have liked to do.
    All the same, the Achilles heel for me is workspace switching. Nothing compares to being able to sling a window onto a new workspace and immediately rotate and focus it again, all without taking your hand off the mouse. Which is why Gnome 2 + Compiz is still king.

  10. Yes, I think your annoyances are pretty much the same as mine. Particularly the Alt Tab behaviour, since in many cases, two instances of the same application are logically separate – e.g two documents in Evince, or two file-browser views – and so it doesn’t make sense to treat them as related. And worse, when they’re *not* logically separate – it’s a pain in Evolution to switch between the email you’re writing, and the one you’re replying to.

    The others are more of an irritant. Definitely the new-window behaviour – every instinct says that left-clicking on the icons on the left should open a new window, not jump to a random desktop where I had a Nautilus window open. I can train myself to deal with it, but I shouldn’t have to fight decades worth of experience. Vertical screen space doesn’t bother me that much, but the workspaces are a nuisance to use via the mouse – moving from hard-left to hard-right on a big screen is a fair bit of effort.

  11. For #1, most stock GNOME 3 installations have Alt- mapped to the behavior you are looking for. So, for me, Alt-Tab switches applications while Alt-` switches windows within an application; defaulting to trying windows in the current workspace before cycling to other workspaces.

  12. “but there is no way to make the left window a bit wider. ”

    Is there an open bug on that? It’s a huge annoyance to me too.

  13. I have “Dash to Dock” installed which is very nice if I want to open an app but not open the activities overview. It also fixes problem #2 because scrolling on the dock switches work spaces. Also you can scroll anywhere in the activities overview to switch.

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