Note: Please keep in mind that this article was written in March 2012, so it may or may not be partially out of date.
Much has been said about the usability or the lack thereof in GNOME 3 and I don’t want to start a whole rant here (although I fear, I will anyways). I just want to say that one of the main reasons I turned away from Ubuntu by the end of 2011, was the fact that they tried to turn my Computer, on which I do actual work, into a smartphone like entertainment device. Yes, I am talking about the Unity Desktop Environment.
So I was a bit shocked when I finally installed Arch and GNOME 3 on my laptop and found that it had almost the same flaws that drove me away from Unity. I was this close to switching to OpenBox or something similar, but I decided to give GNOME a shot.
I quickly learned that there are a lot people out there that were as annoyed as I was and put a whole lot of effort into turning GNOME 3 into a usable desktop environment. So I made a lot of changes and am now quite comfortable with my system.
In this post I would like to present the changes that I have made to my GNOME 3 installation that I found made it usable for my needs.
Getting a Taskbar
GNOME 3 does not have a taskbar. Which means when you are working in one program there is no way of seeing what other programs you have running and what they are doing (without pressing a button). Apparently the idea behind this is to avoid distraction, I personally prefer to have an overview over running programs and find it hardly distracting.
I found a solution to this problem in tint2 (arch-wiki) a panel/taskbar that was actually developed for window managers like OpenBox that did not come with anything like that. Well, guess what, GNOME 3 doesn’t come with anything like that either and tint2 works just as well.
Getting the desktop icons back
As ridiculous as it may sound: GNOME 3 has a Desktop (i.e. you can select a Wallpaper), it has a folder called “Desktop”, but it does not display the contained files on the actual desktop.
There is a very useful tool when it comes to customizing GNOME, namely the gnome-tweak-tool. It can be installed from the repositories and offers a lot of options GNOME does not offer natively. For example
Make use of the emptiness in the top bar
While lacking a taskbar GNOME 3 features a fancy monochrome top bar that displays the time, the currently focused window and a little more. Mainly it displays the color black.
Seriously, two thirds of it are not used at all. (I am guessing it is to not distract the user… I cant see which programs are running, but must stare at the bluetooth symbol all the time…really?)
Enter extensions.gnome.org, a site that features plugins for GNOME mostly affecting the functionality of the top bar and the user menu (the drop down menu that appears when you click on your username in the top right corner). And the site is actually hosted by the gnome people themselves? That must mean they are coming to senses! Yay!
While still described as in “Alpha” state the site is really convenient to use, you just look for an extension you like, click on a little switch next to it and the extension gets installed and activated. Clicking on the switch again turns it off again.
My personal favorites are:
- Alternative status menu: It modifies the usermenu and adds Suspend, Hibernate and Power off as separate entries, so you don’t have to hit Alt before you can switch off your machine.
- Show Desktop Button: Adds a button that hides all windows with one click.
- Presentation Mode: Adds a switch to the usermenu that lets you enable “presentation mode” which keeps the screen from going black. (Useful not only for presentations, but also for watching DVDs)
- Remove Accessibility: Removes the never used by me accessibility symbol. It is sad that an extension is needed for something like that.
But there are much more nice little tweaks, just browse the site and try stuff.
Conveniently delete stuff
On every Desktop environment that I have ever used, I was able to delete files by selecting them and then hitting the delete key… not in GNOME 3, I can’t!
To get the power of your delete key back, open dconf-editor, go to
org -> gnome -> desktop -> interface
and check the “can-change-accels” box. Now open nautilus, select a file, click “edit”, hover over the “Move to Trash” entry and hit delete. That way you assign “delete” as a shortcut to “Move to Trash”. (You should probably uncheck “can-change-accels” after you are done, to prevent undesired changes)
That is all I can think of for the moment. There are more specific things like integrating your Google calendar with GNOME 3, but I will deal with that in a separate post, because it is not as general as the stuff I described here.
I hope I could help some of you out and am always happy about suggestions and comments.