My first impression of GNOME 3

GNOME3 has been released, Ubuntu has a repository for it, so I dutifully upgraded to the latest version. To be honest, I was curious at getting to see the big changes that have led to massive amounts of both praise and rants. I have to say, that I am kind of like it, but am still pretty disappointed.

I installed gnome3-session, which led to a desktop that looked approximately like Windows 3.1 in its appeal. Only after I found out that gnome-standard-themes are also required but apparently not pulled in by default, did things start to actually make sense. One Ubuntu peculiarity is that gnome3-session apparently pulls in gnome 2.32, but gnome-session pull 3.0, don’t ask me why. At least they block each other.

Speaking of themes, after I was presented with the most ugly window border I had ever seen (due to the lack of gnome-standard-themes), I tried to find settings related to themes. There are NONE, as far as I could find out. The only one is to change the desktop background, but there is no "theme switcher" (I have now learned that theme switching is not yet implemented and you have to manually copy and overwrite the theme file). There is no "window border" setting, letting me choose how window borders can look and there is not even a color scheme setting that lets me choose to use a pinkish desktop if I wanted to. I know, all this is probably possible by fudging with javascript and css files, but I was a bit puzzled by that. I am sure tools will come over time that make this easier in the future, but for now you better like the standard theme and colors (the theme is nice, even if the titlebar is using a bit too much vertical space for my taste).

On the issue of settings. Whenever I click on a mail address, it invokes the evolution first time wizard now. Heck, I don’t use evolution, I write my mails either in Thunderbird or in emacs thanks. There used to be a setting called "preferred applications". That one seems gone now. Not even the gnome-tweaks tool has it. Does anyone know where I can set things so that it sends mail not using evolution?

The desktop looks pretty, and mostly things haven’t changed that much: Notification icons look similar, workspaces are stacked vertically rather than horizontally now (and grow as required). What was previously "panels with autohiding turned on" is now essentially the Gnome shell.

What annoys the heck out of me, is that there is no way to find out how things work or how they can be changed, which is not so intuitive. Take the "Accessibility setting" icon for example: I like the fact that accessibility is given prominent space and has been thought about. But I am mostly not challenged, and I would like to remove the icon to save space. Left-click, mmh, "accessibility settings", nothing there… Right-click? Nothing happening. How the heck do I get rid of unwanted notification icons? Google… The solution: Download a "gnome shell extension", consisting of a .js and a .json file, that sets some weird variable to ”, to make the icon disappear. You must be kidding right? Second, I want my weather indicator back. More google… Besides some hand-drawn scetches on there I find nothing. Is it already there and I am too stupid to find it? Is it in the works? has it been deemed uneeeded? Neither google nor yahoo helped me find out.

Previously I had my 5 most needed apps in the panel which I could start immediately. Now I have to go to the hot-corner to make the panel appear, find the app and go there to start it. It’s more moving and more waiting. I can live with that but it’s not much of an improvement for me. The work spaces display is quite nice, I liked that. Also, the windows placement, offering easily full screen and split-screen window sizes make sense, and I am going to use them a lot.

I have not found out yet if keyboard shortcuts are configurable, the current ones need a lot of F-keys (to get the window overview, etc). Unfortunatley, I use Apple-Keyboards, and to reach F-keys you have to press ‘fn’ in addition to the Fx key. This makes it a bit inconvenient to use them often, so I would prefer some other keyboard shortcut. By the way, the GNOME cheat sheet is helpful in getting to know those shortcuts. I wonder why they did not add a help icon that loads that web page so that people starting GNOME3 for the first time are not lost and get some hand-holding. Had I known about that page earlier, it would have shortened my learning curve for sure.

Gdm displays a list of users on login, and although I always login with the same users, sometimes a different user is selected. I know that at some version in gnome2, I could select which users should be shown in the selection (or which one should be pre-selected), but this is apparently gone. To be hones, it was like this in the last versions of Gnome2 already, I believe. Not sure.

One thing that is absolutely horrible, is that I am an avid emacs user. Emacs most important area is the "minibuffer", the lowest line in the window. However, that happens to be exactly the space where "notifications" are now shown. Notifications are not translucent enough to actually see what happens beneath them (say, if I want to type the path of a filename I want to open). They also don’t go away by themselves without me clicking on them, which is very inconvenient when I am just typing in emacs.
Once, I click it away, it seems that immediately the next one pops up, preventing me from ever getting my file opened:
"You are now offline" followed by "Battery discharging" followed by the hilarious ‘Application problem: "Application problem" is ready’ (which made me laugh loudly).
Next, some empathy messages popped up there: my contact ‘’ announced (displayed with a picture of my coworker who I am sure has never heard of LWN) that Fedora 15beta has been released. That picture of my coworker talking about Fedora had me nearly freak out.

One widget that I am not very fond of, is the ON/OFF slider. It has been copied from Apple’s UI, I believe and it makes sense on capacitive touch screens, but on a desktop that I operate with a mouse, I find it awkward to have a widget that I have to click-grab move around and release again. Also when it is in one position and is only labeled "Off", does it mean that is it Off right now, or that I have to drag it to the off direction to actually turn it off? This was not always clear to me. I would have preferred a checkbox, which is essentially what this is. On a non-touchscreen, it just doesn’t make sense to me.

Last but not least, whenever the "Authentication needed" dialog pops up, the password entry dialog is not focused initially, it requires a mouse click to do so. I believe this was different previously, and I actually preferred it that way.