Recently I did what every good technical writer does - spent a lot of time getting something working that has yet to be released in order to test it out and write about it. This "it" was gnome-shell. GNOME Shell will be the basis of the newest release from GNOME to arrive sometime near the middle-to-end of this year. I have to say, I'm really impressed. Why am I so impressed? Because it seems that the good developers of GNOME have finally re-invented the desktop.
Now I will warn you that I am a fan of GNOME. I understand that KDE did the same thing when they re-invented their take on the desktop. The difference is - the innovation from KDE seemed more like a "retooling with added features". GNOME 3 will be a milestone for the desktop. I have head some people say it is too much like the "iPhone interface". To those I have to say "use it first". But no matter where you stand, GNOME 3 is going to be different, and this article will show you how to install it and give you a first glance.
I must say that what you are going to see is actually the newest GNOME Shell...which will be the driving force behind GNOME 3. But what is GNOME Shell? To put it simply, GNOME Shell is in charge of things like switching windows and switching applications. In a way, GNOME Shell will be the window manager of GNOME (Currently that job is tasked to Metacity), but will also take over the task of compositing (currently handled by Compiz).
You should also know that GNOME Shell is very much in development. GNOME 3 is due out in September of 2010 and the development is going on strong. So when trying to experience what GNOME 3 will offer, remember it's likely it will crash (although I have yet to experience a single crash) and many features are yet to be included.
Figure 1 shows what GNOME 3 will most likely look like. What you are seeing is the desktop with the Activities menu open. When you open this menu all of your open windows thumbnail to make room. The new "menu" is broken up into Applications, Places & Devices, and Recent Items. This makes accessing your most used (or most recently used) items faster. Of course, as I said, this is missing features that will find their way into the full release.
Now for the rough part. Getting GNOME Shell installed and running isn't easy and it doesn't always work (no matter how well you follow the steps). My installation is done on a clean Ubuntu 10.4 distribution. The painless way to install is to follow these steps:
If you are lucky, once the installation is complete, you can hit <Alt>F2 and then type gnome-shell --replace. If you ARE lucky you will happily see GNOME Shell take the place of your current desktop. If you are not lucky, you will wind up with an error or two. If you are not lucky you will have to jump through some hoops - those hoops being:
If this completes, try the gnome-shell --replace command again and cross your fingers. Hopefully by now you have a running GNOME Shell instance and can start to appreciate where the GNOME developers are heading.
On another site I work for I proclaimed the challenge to finally re-invent the desktop metaphor to be over (with GNOME being the clear winner). For this I was shot down from all angles. But I stand behind my claims that GNOME will have on their hands the most useful, elegant desktop on any PC anywhere.
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Ghacks is a technology news blog that was founded in 2005 by Martin Brinkmann. It has since then become one of the most popular tech news sites on the Internet with five authors and regular contributions from freelance writers.