Posted by: reformedmusings | December 9, 2011

Taking GNOME 3 in Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric for a spin

I wrote yesterday about Linux Mint 12, which provides some nice built-in extensions to GNOME 3. Parts of the discussion about Mint apply to generic GNOME 3, especially the Activities features. To see how Activities works, read about it here.

I originally planned to write a post tonight comparing Mint 12, Ubuntu 11.10 Unity, and GNOME 3. However, in preparing I realized that I hadn’t fleshed out my GNOME 3 setup, and therefore hadn’t learned enough to discuss it. So, I played with GNOME 3 and learned some new things.

GNOME 3 departed in a new direction from its predecessor, losing significant functionality in the transition. The loss doesn’t appear to be as great as that in the transition from KDE 3.5.10 to KDE 4. However, the concept of indicators has apparently died.

Here’s the generic GNOME 3 desktop from Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric (look ma, no Unity!) with my fall background being the only customization:

You can’t tell from the desktop that this is the 4th of four workspaces and that several applications reside on other workspaces. I don’t look upon that void favorably. The only useful piece of information on the screen is the time. Simple and clean? Yep. Useful? Not so much.

Driving the pointer to the upper left corner of the screen, or clicking on Activities, or hitting the Super key brings up the activity screen that reveals all:

For additional details on how the Activities screen works, please see my Mint 12 review. One other note on this screen. You can drag icons from the Applications tab to the dock-like bar on the left to add them to your favorites. Right clicking on the icons can add or remove them from the favorites list. Simple and intuitive.

Clean? Yes. Attractive? Yes. Productivity enhancing? Nope. While preparing for this post and then writing it, I found repeatedly dragging the pointer to the upper left to open the dash and then back to the workspace bar on the right to be beyond tedious. Using the Super key didn’t improve things much. On a large desktop screen, this scheme leaves much to be desired.

Since Ubuntu provides a virtually generic GNOME 3 shell, the GNOME 3 Shell Extensions mostly work with this release. I installed a handful to customize my desktop and make it easier to use:

Once installed, they can be turned on and off with the Advanced Settings app. [Quick interlude: Note that the only button/control on the window’s title bar is the close button on the upper right. That’s standard for GNOME 3.] Here’s what I have after this customization:

I found the workspace extension particularly useful. Clicking on it brings up a list of active workspaces:

Of course, you have to remember what app is on which workspace. An extension exists to list all open windows on the panel, but it takes up too much room. There’s only so much real estate available.

I hadn’t originally intended to move the clock from the center to the right, but found it necessary because the favorites pushed the active window display over the center clock display. With this setup, I can see what workspace I’m on, go to places quickly, and access a standard GNOME menu to find apps quickly. This setup works better for me, but still leaves some holes.

One hole involves indicators. The old GNOME 2 indicators don’t generally work on the GNOME 3 panel. Some program indicators do load, but GNOME 3 hides them on the lower right of the workspace. Moving the pointer to the lower right area of the screen reveals them:

Note that they do not display as designed. The screen icon with the circle and line through it is supposed to be my hardware sensor display. The weather indicator next to it should be showing conditions and temperature. Mousing over them shows their individual names. All these indicators function correctly when right- or left- clicked. Even if the indicators displayed correctly, GNOME 3 hides them from view. That dramatically limits their usefulness.

That’s pretty much my quick spin with GNOME 3.  It looks great, and the dash is pretty cool. But simplicity doesn’t necessarily equal elegance. In this case, the simplicity comes at a price. The standard workspace tells the user nothing about their current computing environment. The dash tells you almost everything, but only when you call it up. With the right extensions, though, GNOME 3 can be usable, but it’s not ideal for me. Creating this post in GNOME 3 taught me that very quickly.



  1. […] making a good run with Unity, Mint 12, and generic GNOME 3, I have a few observations to make. The idea behind this exploration was to see if I needed to make […]

  2. […] my previous post, I compared Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Unity, Mint 12, and generic GNOME 3. When I rank ordered them at the end, I included KDE in the mix based on an earlier version. […]

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