My experience with GNOME 3 so far

You know, GNOME Shell and I are not really strangers to each other for a long time now. I have been using it almost daily as my main desktop since late 2009, when I started shipping it to Debian experimental. That means that I had ample opportunity to both get used to it and witness the huge improvements it had with every new release.

My general feeling towards GNOME 3 is this: ♥. Yes, I love it! I love the new themes, I love the window borders, I love the top panel, the overview, the dynamic workspaces, I love the Me menu, I love the clock and the calendar, the system indicators with the beautiful symbolic icons, being able to search for applications in such a nice way, the window animations, the multi-screen support, the new nautilus, the dash, looking glass. It’s hard for me to even express how thankful I am and how much admiration I have for the awesome folks who helped bring this to life. Thanks so much!

My GNOME3 desktop
My GNOME 3 desktop

After all this time, there are only two things I can say I dislike about GNOME3, apart from some minor wishlists: the alt-tab behaviour and the message tray. Let me expand on those.

Message Tray

Of the very few things I dislike, there is only 1 I hate and cannot see myself living with: the accordion animation in the message tray. No, really, it’s such a terrible, terrible idea. Every single time I try to use that thing I overshoot while moving the mouse to the left, then overshoot again moving the mouse to the right because the frigging icon has moved. It’s no good knowing that I can click in the text or in the empty area to its right, it feels wrong. It’s terrible that my actual target is moving at all. Every single time I use it is a small frustration for me – it’s as if the message tray was playing games with me, laughing at me for not having good enough mouse pointer driving skills – even more than the infamous sub-menus used to. And I had to go through that penance whenever I wanted to find the person I was chating with to resume the conversation.

I wrote an extension that disables the accordion animation by simply not showing the title at all when you hover the icon, and I patched GNOME Shell’s CSS to make the icons a bit bigger, so that it’s easier for me to hit them with the mouse. It’s clearly not ideal, and you still have to click the various “people” icons to figure out which of your friends who were lazy enough to not add a picture to their IM profiles is that one, but it’s still much better than chasing the (smaller) ones around to figure that out. Perhaps we should have the icons be bigger and always have the title bellow them? I don’t know, I trust the awesome designers who designed the awesomess that’s everywhere else will come up with a great idea.

My Message Tray
My message tray with bigger icons and no accordion animation.

Alt Tab

The number 1 feature of workspaces for me has always been locality – being able to not see all of the other applications and windows that are open elsewhere. This lowers the amount of noise when I’m trying to find something. The overview is very nice in this matter – only windows in the current workspace are shown, and even when you have an extra screen, the windows in there appear in that screen.

The alt-tab behaviour, on the other hand, of showing all windows and apps, even with the separator, bothers me. It’s really useful to have when you want to go to a specific window no matter where it is (I usually use the dash for that, though), but it adds noise when you want to go to a specific window _in this_ workspace, which is the most common use case for my usage. So I copied the alt-tab code over to an extension and modified it so that only windows in the current workspace would be considered.

In addition to that, with the windows in the extra screen always being there no matter what workspace you’re in (which I think is an awesome idea), they are effectively in all workspaces, so they add constant noise even with my extension. It’s also weird to have to look at the main screen to switch to a window in the extra screen. There’s a huge discontinuity. What I would prefer is having alt-tab to follow the mouse regarding screens – only show windows in the extra screen if you hit alt-tab in there, making sure the selector thing appears in there as well.

21 thoughts on “My experience with GNOME 3 so far”

  1. Hello, could you please post your code for the alt+tab feature ? Do you know if there is a bug/discussion filled in ? Thanks.

  2. Share your Alt-Tab extension! I’m desperate for it – this “all workspaces” behaviour is going to be a deal-breaker for me.

  3. Totally agree. The message tray must be polished on the aspect you named, but i algo will add: alerts must be somehow more visible than the current way. The alerts for incoming mails or messages from empathy for example, leaves immediatly, and if i’m not looking at the screen on that minimal moment, i dont have an indication later of the message, unless i go to the message tray.

    1. Yeah, I would like to have a mode in which icons requiring attention would appear (just a few pixels of them) at the bottom of the screen, or something like that.

  4. Regarding the label for the notification area, how about having the label show up above the icon you are mouse over-ing? I would love if you could put that extension online.

    My biggest peeve with the alt-tab is that it is a bad combination between app switcher and window switcher, and the edge cases are driving me nuts.
    As an example open one terminal and two firefox windows. Now select a firefox window and then go to the terminal window (doesn’t matter how). Now press alt-tab real quick, see how that went to the last window you were on?
    Now select the other firefox window and alt-tab again, see how that didn’t go to the last window you were on?

    Another example. Select the terminal window (make sure all three are not maximized) now alt tab. See how both firefox windows went up over the terminal? What if you only want one window to go up?
    Alt-Tab then Alt-Shift-` (the key above tab)
    great :/

    Other then that I agree with you and love it as well…

    1. That’s not a bad idea, about the label, but I would very much prefer having the label always visible.

      I posted a link to my tray extension in the post, and there’s a link for the other in a comment =). I would like to make alt-tab act exactly as it does in metacity, actually (with window thumbnails and titles in them), but haven’t gotten around to it.

      About the “raises several windows” issue, I think is worth a read. I dislike that behaviour as well.

    1. The most likely cause is that the extension is not being loaded because of a version mismatch. As far as I know, the extensions for now need to declare the exact gnome shell version they work with (I may be wrong). Check your gnome-shell version and then edit the metadata.json file inside the extension directory to have it there instead of 3.0.0.

  5. When do you think there will be a transition of GNOME 3 to unstable/sid from experimental ?

    Also do you think there is possibility of a parallel GNOME 2.8 say in next 6-8 months for those who are in Squeeze (who might not want to go to GNOME 3 goodness)

    One of the deal breakers for me would be if the netspeed applet extension would not be in GNOME 3. That would be really cool to have.

    1. The transition to GNOME3 to unstable has already started. It will take one or two months is my guess.

      If you are on squeeze you are on stable. Stable does not get new software, just bug and security fixes, so you’re safe. As for wheezy/sid, no, there’s no sane way to keep both GNOME3 and GNOME2 available in the same suite.

  6. The ALT-TAB behaviour was almost enough for me to abandon Gnome 3 for the time being. Thankfully I discovered that the binding for “Move between windows immediately” gave traditional (i.e. sane) behaviour, albeit without a fancy schmancy popup window.

    It doesn’t help that shortcut names were cut off in the settings dialog (including two entries labeled “Move between windows of a…”) and aren’t particularly well named. The “Move between windows, using a popup window” behaviour seems more accurately described as “Move between applications”.

    And really, shortcuts being combined into the “keyboard” settings isn’t particularly intuitive, especially since it is under the “hardware” header.

  7. Hi again.

    Have you ported the extension to 3.2 already?

    I have tried to change the shell-version to 3.2 but it does not seem to work anymore.


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