The options

Nearly every mildly experienced GNU-like OS user has had to content with the problem of which graphical environment to install, why?, because it’s how we use OS these days, with point and click. People are often perplexed by the choice even existing as the dominent OS of the day hardly allow you to modify your environment at all let-alone replace it all together with another groups systems.

I won’t go too in-depth into the actual choices available and their ups & downs as this isn’t a comparison posting, I just want to express my feelings on my choice. For those un-aware the big contenders at this point in time is the old favourite GNOME, to be more specific GNOME version 2 which was used as the default environment for nearly every big distro. KDE is GNOME’s biggest challenger with the project being home to a huge array of programs written around it’s libraries, chief of which is the Qt application framework which competes with GNOME’s GTK+. The last two are far smaller projects and are XFCE and LXDE, both intended to be light-weight systems for weaker hardware but still loved by many regardless of their computer specs.

The defaults

This posting is about GNOME version 3, specifically I have version 3.4 installed under Debian GNU/Linux. The installation comes with the usual GNOME array of application libraries for programs to take advantage of within and outside of GNOME and the default selection of GNOME applications. Once it’s up and running you’ll first encounter the plain old GNOME Display Manger login screen, GDM3 includes the GNOME3-style top panel with time and shutdown options, the login prompt a simple box with a list of users, a password field and a dropdown list of installed environments to boot into upon logging in.

Once you’re in most people who have fond memories of GNOME2 are having meltdowns as GNOME3 has not just leaped into a new realm of design they rocketed across. GNOME3 doesn’t make heavy use of menus as it’s predecessor and it’s competition does, instead there are a few icons in the top-right for notifications and some settings for GNOME, the top centered at the top in the same panel and the word ‘Activities’ in the top-left. Moving your mouse to the very top-left corner dims the background and reveals a screen neatly displaying all your open windows on the left with a list and preview of active virtual screens on the right, this screen also contains a search bar and tab which both display your installed applications, simply typing while in the Activities screen searches your application list as you type so as little as a couple letters is enough to have the program you wanted highlighted and ready to start by either clicking or pressing enter.

Some confusing points of GNOME3 include no list of open programs anywhere but in the visual display in Activities, the absense of a minimize button and not knowing that moving the mouse to the bottom-right corner reveals the notifications tray. The extensions

I would say the extensions system has made GNOME3 a much more desirable environment than it was initially without, people can develop extensions for GNOME3 itself with Javascript (pretty-much The scripting language these days) and host them on with ease.

All Desktop Environments and Window Managers (A different flavour of environment) are very configurable from within and without itself, meaning interfaces to change settings or editing configuration files, but I haven’t before encountered a system which works so smoothly and simply as GNOME3 extensions. Some hick-ups include some extensions that should probably be in GNOME itself as some already are which provide a unified system for managing the extensions such as a link to the advanced settings provided by an external package called Gnome Tweak Tool. This tool provides a few extra settings for GNOME such as changing the default fonts, showing seconds in the time, which icons to show on window decoration such as minimize and maximize if you want, what to do upon closing the lid and etc.

It’s worth mentioning that the add-ons are managable from the GNOME extensions website as installing GNOME3 adds an add-on to your browser, which is likely Iceweasel or IceCat, that allows the site to modify your extensions on your system. It’s just nice to have a program that can handle it too.

Finally on the GNOME extensions website, extensions are viewable in a list that can be sorted by popularity, downloads, alphabetically or recent submissions. It’s also possible to view all extensions made by a specific account or use the search bar.

My screen

GNOME3 Screenshot

On-to my screen, I’m running GNOME3 on my laptop because it’s just the system which felt best for me, I am still surprised I feel the way I do about it as I was fairly critical of it for the longest time, partly because I couldn’t use GNU OS at the time and as such wasn’t forced to learn it very much.

Upon attempting KDE which just seemed a bit pointless to use with it’s iffy facilities for customising and it’s apparent love of menus which I am not a fan of, also upon trying to live with the light-weight XFCE4 but I just didn’t enjoy using something that resembled Windows 95 that much, of-course I still didn’t like having to find everything in menus and the system just didn’t offer much in general as an environment to live in.

So GNOME3, with it’s transitions, it’s minimal default screen and intuative window management and application listing. Over the past month or so of using it I’ve loaded quite a few extentions and done a bit of configuring to make myself feel more at home; as not to produce more walls made out of text I’ll list them and leave short summaries. Prepend the phrase ‘When configured’ to many of these as the default settings won’t produce what I describe if I changed something, the procedure of changing settings is done in a graphical program hidden within GNOME3 that one of these extensions reveals; it is also handled by the GNOME3 extensions website with an icon next to installed extensions that have settings to change.

  • Transmission Daemon Indicator - Displays a GNOME3-style icon resembling the Transmission Bittorrent client logo when transmission is active, showing upload and download rates and displaying all the data on your torrents in a list as Transmission itself does when clicked in a dropdown menu.
  • Alternative Status Menu - Changes the Status Menu shutdown options at the top-right which includes links to settings too to include Shutdown and Hibernate in addition to the default Suspend.
  • Remove Accessibility - Removes an icon with toggle buttons for many of the GNOME accessibility options, frees up space for other icons if you don’t need accessibility functions
  • Trash - Displays a Trash can icon if there are items in the bin for deletion, means you won’t forget to keep it emptied
  • Dash to Dock - One of the bigger extensions, this adds a dock similar to Mac OS X or Ubuntu’s Unity to the left of the screen with icons of favourite and active programs, hides when a window moves over it and reveals itself when you mouseover the left of the screen
  • Extension List - Adds a tab in the Activies screen for displaying installed extensions with toggle buttons for each, just a more native-seeming method for managing your extensions
  • Advanced Volume Mixer - Shows volume bars for each application generating sound in the volume dropdown on the top panel
  • Activities Configurator - Provides a bunch of configuration options for modifying the Activities corner and the top panel, making it transparent, changing the spacings, adding icons, etc. I also used this exnteion to rename the Activies corner to GNU
  • Shell Restart User Menu Entry - Adds a button in the user menu to restart GNOME, this doesn’t close or move programs, it just restarts the GNOME systems incase something crashed or bugged out, such as if you installed a conflicting or buggy extension; Nice to have just in case
  • Media Player Indicator - Shows a music icon with music player controls in a dropdown if running a compatible music player such as Clementine
  • Battery remaining time and precentage - Shows a battery icon in the top panel which indicates whether the charger is plugged in and what percentage the battery is at
  • Removable Drive Menu - Shows a drive icon when an extenal drive is mounted with a dropdown allowing opening that drive or ejecting it
  • Shade Inactive Windows - Makes inactive windows slightly darker, not too dark as to be incapable of reading text easily but just enough so that the entire screen isn’t bright white most of the time
  • Terminal in UserMenu - Adds a link in the UserMenu for Terminal
  • Native Window Placement - Positions windows in the Activities screen more naturally, less grid-like and closer together
  • Caffeine - Places a small coffee icon in the top panel and when active it prevents the screensaver from starting
  • Remove Rounded Corners - GNOME3 rounds the top corners under the top panel a little more than they already are with the default theme
  • User Themes - Adds a method of installing and changing the window themes within Gnome Tweak Tool (Advanced Settings)
  • SettingsCenter - Places settings-related menu items within the User Menu in a collapsed dropdown as to neaten the menu up
  • Advanced Calculator - Allows you to get answers to mathemtical equations into the Activies search bar
  • Frippery Panel Favorites - Adds your favourite applications, that also appear in Dash to Dock to the top panel to the right of the Activies corner
  • Coverflow Alt-Tab - Animates active windows across your screen as you Alt-tab between them
  • Bluetooth icon remover - I don’t use bluetooth on my laptop so the icon is a waste of space, this removes it
  • Antisocial Menu - The User Menu by default has a display picture and some info on your online profile which it gets from the default Instant-Messaging client, which I don’t use so it’s dead space which makes the menu much wider as-well, this removes it
  • Places Status Indicator - Provides a folder icon in the top panel and a dropdown with favourite places in your file manager
  • Startup Applications - Adds a link in the User Menu to a program that manages programs that start alongside GNOME at login
  • Weather - Shows the weather with an icon in the top panel with the current temperature, upon clicking a dropdown shows a lot of well layed-out information on the local weather
  • Panel Settings - Adds a collapsed dropdown to the User Menu containing settings on the top panel, including to hide it until the mouse moves to the top of the screen
  • Window options - Adds options the to the menu when you click an applications title in the top panel, which is there for the active window, including to move it to another workplace, be visible on all workplaces, be always on top of other windows and more