Fedora 16 And GNOME Shell: Tested And Reviewed

GNOME 3: Conclusion

Despite the colossal blunder that is GNOME Shell, there is a good deal of merit in this new version of GNOME. 

A Diamond In The Rough

Bizarre default configuration aside, the GNOME Tweak Tool and user-created shell extensions prove there is a platform to work with in GNOME Shell. Try to think of the current iteration of GNOME 3 as a foundation to build upon. An empty canvas. And truly, it doesn't get much emptier than this:

With a load of tweaks, GNOME 3 can be a modern, functional, efficient, and even beautiful computing environment. One of the things we don't like about Linux distributions in general is the lack of originality. Sure, different distros use different icons and themes. But the majority of them retain the stock GNOME or KDE layout.

The extension system allows for significant customization of GNOME Shell. It's now possible for one GNOME 3 distribution to look and function differently from another. There are multiple routes to take with UI layout once you throw extensions, and the possibility of distro-developed extensions, into the mix. 

Can't We All Just Get Along?

Unity, the new user interface for Ubuntu, also received its share of harsh criticism. Which new GNOME-based GUI is winning? If you caught our review of Ubuntu 11.10, you know that most of the problems we had with Unity were in the defaults, whereas our biggest issues with GNOME Shell are in the fundamentals.

It really is too bad that Canonical and the GNOME Project decided to go their separate ways. Both user interfaces feel like products of a bitter divorce. Not the kind where I get the car and you get the living room furniture. The kind where we bring out the chainsaw and literally cut everything in half.

GNOME 3 and Unity both suffer from a handful of usability issues that could easily be rectified by combining the two projects. GNOME is in great need of the Unity Launcher, and Unity could benefit from using the GNOME 3 Activities overview as opposed to Dash.

The screen shot below is a side-by-side of the empty GNOME 3 shell and the Unity desktop, followed by another side-by-side of the GNOME 3 Activities overview and the Unity Dash. 

What's missing? Here are a few mock-ups depicting what could have been:

Take GNOME Shell, add the Launcher, functional desktop, and static configurable workspaces of Unity and you have something that's familiar enough, capable enough, and slick enough to appeal to both current users and potential converts.

While the GNOME Project is unlikely to utilize anything from Unity in the near future, Canonical is slowly integrating GNOME 3 into Ubuntu. So, we'll get to see which GNOME 3 features get implemented in upcoming versions.

While the practicality and efficiency of Unity over GNOME Shell is highly debatable, Canonical seems to have the advantage. But so far, the real winners in this GNOME 3/Unity split are XFCE and KDE.

The Takeaway

Using GNOME Shell is an exercise in supreme frustration. After spending the first month with this interface, I wanted to crawl into a corner and die. That's right. Month. Coming from someone who changes OSes with the same frequency that most people change clothes, the learning curve associated with GNOME 3 is steep.

The second month we discovered shell extensions. GNOME 3 not only became something we could use, but it became something that we wanted to use. The power of the extensions system got us excited about this desktop. With a heavy amount of customization, GNOME 3 can be tailored to suit the needs of nearly any user. But the bottom line is that it shouldn't require this much effort to get the basic functionality provided by other desktops immediately upon installation. Regardless of the potential, if you “upgrade” to GNOME 3 you will almost certainly lose any semblance of work flow.

Normal folks should definitely skip this one. Don't even bother with the rental. Linux nerds reading this article are encouraged to give GNOME 3 another spin, and distributors shouldn't give up on GNOME 3 simply because of GNOME Shell's default configuration.

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  • dbfm
    Wow! it took you a whole month to discover extensions.....what were you doing??? You know about search engines, right?

    I do agree that a lot of what is implemented by extensions really should be part of the base install with a nice UI to configure it all. But, have you seen https://extensions.gnome.org/ it's not perfect, but it's a step in the right direction.
    I must confess that I've only skimmed over the review, but think I've read enough to know that overall you are pretty negative about the current state of Gnome Shell, and I think you've been a bit harsh. It is after all free software in the very early stages even now (12 -18 months after the first release?)
    I think you also have to accept that the nature of Fedora is that it's a bit, well, beta! Stable, but not the finished polished article.....it isn't trying to be.

    I completely accept that the default, base install of Gnome Shell is a bit lacking, but I've been running F15 and then 16 for approaching 12 months now (having moved from Ubuntu) as my full time desktop OS, and for me (with a few weaks and extensions) it's the most intuative, flowing, beautiful UI I've ever had the pleasure to use.

    So all you readers, don't be put off by this guy! If you don't have the first clue what you're doing, then leave well alone for 12 - 18 months more till it all settles down and matures a bit, but for those of you who've got even half a clue what you're going and don't mind seending a bit of time googleing for clues on how to do what you want to do, give it a try, you might just love it!
    Personally, after 12 months, I now find it pretty frustating to use anything else...
  • Djhg2000
    Never tell users a weak root password is fine, if they ever install a remote shell server (like ssh for easy file transfer via sftp), they would be at grave risk of being hacked. If the bad guys get your root password, all bets are off.
  • sicofante
    It's funny how some Linux "community" products aren't community driven at all. GNOME is just the pinnacle of this hypocrisy, but Ubuntu isn't very far behind. Stubborn, arrogant and blind leaders are driving these "community" projects into a selfish view of how everyone should use a computer, no options accepted. They seem to believe we're in 1980 and GUIs are being invented as we speak. They try their products on "new un-prejudiced users" they must be breeding themselves, because there's no such thing in the world of computer users. No wonder they're failing massively.

    The GNOME extensions are a testament to the failure of the design team that created GNOME Shell. If KDE can be accused of being a un-designed desktop where the user is asked to make most design decisions through thousands of options, GNOME Shell is even worse: the user is presented with a minimalistic unusable thing, then asked to install additional pieces of software he has to search through a simple list on a website or "just develop them using Javascript". That's what they call "make of easy"!!

    Unity is a bit better in the way that they do make design decisions and they test them. You take it or leave it, but Unity is not hard to grasp for any Windows or OSX user with a slight guidance on their first steps. The problem is, as you pointed out perfectly well, who's gonna show newcomers Unity when power users are explicitly excluded from tinkering and are just dismissed when asking for reasonable options (the dodge bug - https://bugs.launchpad.net/ayatana-design/+bug/930148 - is an amazing display of the stubbornness, blindness and arrogance by the Ubuntu leader)?

    So they've put themselves inside a vicious circle: they "design" for newcomers but newcomers will never see their products because the evangelists -power users- are fleeing. Duh!
  • Micropat
    My own impression of GNOME 3 is far more positive. I regularly swithch between Fedora and Ubuntu. When I use Ubuntu, I run gnome 3 on it. I prefer it to unity. I get the point that gnome 2 is much more friendly to mouse users. With gnome 3 I make extensive use keyboard shortcuts and haven't really felt the need to bother with getting extensions. However, having read about them here, I'm tempted to go and try a few extensions. And as for shutting down - for ages it was "sudo shutdown -h now", until I read about the Alt trick. I thought that this was the most unintuitive shutdown feature ever. Then windows 8 consumer preview came along LOL.
  • AliKhan9
    wowww... i liek these shortcuts. I have found some new and useful shortcuts from this post. Thanks for sharing.
  • dbfm
    Ok Kids, 3.4 is here, have another look now. Thankfully it's nothing like this reviewers "what could have been" mockup, but a lot of his valid complains have been addressed....not all I might add, but it is getting there.....