A sneak peek at GNOME 3

Jack Wallen
Apr 6, 2010
Updated • Dec 5, 2012

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.

Another preface

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.

The look

Figure 1

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.

The installation

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:

  1. sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ricotz/testing
  2. sudo apt-get update
  3. sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

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:

  1. sudo apt-get install jhbuild
  2. wget http://git.gnome.org/cgit/gnome-shell/plain/tools/build/gnome-shell-build-setup.sh
  3. bash gnome-shell-build-setup.sh
  4. jhbuild build

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.

Final thoughts

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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  1. Ringo said on December 13, 2010 at 1:32 pm

    Nevilis sucks, he just rants at people with no understanding of why they make the decisions they do.
    Have you ever thought, nevilis, that some people here are basing their choice on years and years of experience you dont have? Man your attack on that experience sucks donkey spheres.
    I dont like gnome-shell for this reason. It looks and feels like some 1960’s idea of science fiction. Its taking the user interface backwards in time. At a time when microsoft is moving away from desktop based computing to cloud computing. Have you seen what windows 8 is about
    Suggest you look at microsoft Midori (AKA next windows – AKA windows 8) they are going to redefine the way computers work, not gnome. Windows 7 is the last windows based microsoft operating system. They have developed midori since 2003. personally I wouldnt touch anything by microsoft with a bargepole but i know who is taking computer interfaces forward and who is going backwards.

  2. BorbaRigmi said on July 16, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    This is exactly why I’ve never gotten into the Linux world.
    >>1.sudo add-apt-repository ppa:ricotz/testing
    >>2.sudo apt-get update
    >>3.sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

    That is just ridiculous. What the deuce does that nonsense mean?When will the Linux world figure out that in order to get more people to use your stuff, you gotta get rid of that cryptic BS and write rock-solid GUI installers. For Pete’s sake, come into the 21st century already!

    1. danny said on July 30, 2010 at 11:52 pm

      well it is not very hard to use the terminal any way just copy and fucking paste for this stuff

  3. Sammy said on May 28, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    GNOME should be trying for a simpler and better looking interface. I like the changes in Ubuntu 10.04 that give it more of a Mac OS X look and feel. Right now you can install Cairo Dock which gives Linux a much sexier look and feel like OS X. From what I have of GNOME 3 it is very ugly kinda like the old DOS windowing interface that where out around the time of Microsoft Windows 3.11 in the 1980, this is a major step backwards. Right now Ubuntu 10.04 with Cairo Dock is a very sexy interface which is needed to get more Linux users. GNOME should be working on keep the menu bar the same size but adding more realtime effects to it depending on what application is running kinda like Mac OS X.

  4. Xorlathor said on May 16, 2010 at 8:18 pm

    And yes, I have used Gnome 3 for a couple hour’s worth of computer work time, and absolutely hated it.

  5. Xorlathor said on May 16, 2010 at 8:17 pm

    I think Gnome 3 is pretty lame. It’s ditching all the amazing Compiz effects already out there, looks completely different with really no familiarity for Mac OSX and Windows users that are switching, and has next-to-no advantages over the current version of Gnome with compiz enabled. The window switching effects are slow and ugly, workspaces are nice to have but shouldn’t be a core part of the workflow as you’d waste time switching to different workspaces when you don’t need to, and overall Gnome 3 is really unnecessary. They should spend time making the current look fresher and shinier, with transparency and other effects. If not that, streamline the code and make it faster. I really don’t know where the Ubuntu people are going with Gnome 3, I hope it isn’t enabled by default, ever.

  6. Mutka said on May 12, 2010 at 8:27 am

    Love it thou it won’t stay installed after rebooting :(

    Have errors due to my intel onboard graphics.

    Ubuntu Lucid and Gnome 3(2.30) = <3 :p
    stuck with 2(2.29) for now :(

    1. Mutka said on May 12, 2010 at 8:29 am

      I get
      “The following packages were automatically installed and are no longer required:
      linux-headers-2.6.32-21 linux-headers-2.6.32-21-generic
      Use ‘apt-get autoremove’ to remove them.
      0 upgraded, 0 newly installed, 0 to remove and 0 not upgraded.
      michael@Ubuntu:~$ gnome-shell –replace
      JS LOG: GNOME Shell started at Sun May 09 2010 23:23:25 GMT-0700 (PST)
      WARNING: Application calling GLX 1.3 function “glXCreatePixmap” when GLX 1.3 is not supported! This is an application bug!
      WARNING: Application calling GLX 1.3 function “glXDestroyPixmap” when GLX 1.3 is not supported! This is an application bug!
      JS LOG: Failed to acquire org.freedesktop.Notifications; trying again
      JS ERROR: !!! Exception was: Error: 78 is not a valid value for enumeration KeyBindingAction
      JS ERROR: !!! lineNumber = ‘0’
      JS ERROR: !!! fileName = ‘gjs_throw’
      JS ERROR: !!! message = ’78 is not a valid value for enumeration KeyBindingAction’
      JS ERROR: !!! stack = ‘Error(“78 is not a valid value for enumeration KeyBindingAction”)@:0
      (“78 is not a valid value for enumeration KeyBindingAction”)@gjs_throw:0
      _globalKeyPressHandler([object _private_Clutter_Stage],[object _private_Clutter_Event])@/usr/share/gnome-shell/js/ui/main.js:306
      Error(“Chained exception”)@:0
      (“Chained exception”)@gjs_throw:0

      JS ERROR: !!! Exception was: Error: 75 is not a valid value for enumeration KeyBindingAction
      JS ERROR: !!! lineNumber = ‘0’
      JS ERROR: !!! fileName = ‘gjs_throw’
      JS ERROR: !!! message = ’75 is not a valid value for enumeration KeyBindingAction’
      JS ERROR: !!! stack = ‘Error(“75 is not a valid value for enumeration KeyBindingAction”)@:0
      (“75 is not a valid value for enumeration KeyBindingAction”)@gjs_throw:0
      _globalKeyPressHandler([object _private_Clutter_Stage],[object _private_Clutter_Event])@/usr/share/gnome-shell/js/ui/main.js:306
      Error(“Chained exception”)@:0
      (“Chained exception”)@gjs_throw:0

      and it works untill I reboot can hardly wait to have it on all the time

  7. nevelis said on May 11, 2010 at 2:01 am

    @Seks Fibreglass – I agree with you completely; don’t knock something till you try it. Most people jump on the “fuck *insert new innovation here*” bandwagon before they even know what they’re talking about.

    Like Ross said, the gadgets on the left is a bit counter-intuitive; but this can be changed in gconf in 5 seconds. And seriously – if that one default configuration setting drives you away from the entire platform then maybe you should learn some keyboard shortcuts instead of having to click on buttons too small to aim for on a good monitor anyway ;)

    All I care about in a desktop environment is being able to move & manage my files quickly. I don’t give a crap if it’s unfamiliar or “new” – if I find that it’s making me more productive, then I’m gonna love it :) can’t wait to try this out.

  8. George said on May 5, 2010 at 11:35 pm

    All of you are n00bs. Just use the console. Console can even give you fancy multi-colored characters if you want.

  9. Ross said on April 8, 2010 at 10:39 pm

    @Seks Fibreglass:

    I *have* tried gadgets on the left. They SUCK. This misfeature, and this misfeature alone, has driven me away from an entire platform.

  10. Gabe said on April 7, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    This looks really cool!

  11. Seks Fibreglass said on April 7, 2010 at 6:03 am

    >The difference is – the innovation from KDE seemed more like a “retooling with added features”

    How about spending 4mins doing research instead of talking out of your ass?
    Is that too much too ask?

    The WHOLE F**ING point of the whole migration was to change the underlying infrastructure, not add features.

    Seriously, if this is what Linux writers are like, no wonder the message is hard to get to the mainstream tech world.

    And the rest of the whiny bitches are as annoying as always: Waaaaah!!! THeyre gonna change my Gnome….Waaaaaah!!! Theyre gonna change my KDE…..Waaaaahhh!!!!

    I despise Mac fanbois for their sheeplike qualities and their abilities to spout PR phrases by heart (you know, its a “Unibody” chassis) but the Linux communities are annoying for a whole different set of reasons. (well, the Bubuntuers are the closest we have to Mac fanbois because THEIR distro does things that no one else does. Not.)

    I cant wait for some asshats at distros decide that the #3 shell is ready this fall and release it before its time. You know, like the other asshats who released KDE4.0 when everything written said it was not.

    Now I cant figure out who annoys me more, Wallen’s half assed SJVN comments, his love for hype (its the bestest evers!!) or whiny users who havent tried something but know they wont like it.

  12. joe said on April 6, 2010 at 3:46 pm

    aw man… r u kidding? I left KDE cuz of this kind of crap. It took me a year to get used to gnome, now this… Most people just want a simple desktop… click a button, see your installed apps, task bar, a couple icons for frequently used apps….. it’s been working for years and there’s nothing wrong with it now.

    XFCE, here I come.

    1. Bob Smith said on April 6, 2010 at 6:59 pm

      Don’t forget LXDE

  13. Anonymous said on April 6, 2010 at 3:37 pm

    It’s “peek”….”Sneak peek”.

  14. Nebulus said on April 6, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    It’s as bad as KDE 4. They tried to copy it and they made the same mistakes. I need an alternative to KDE, not a clone.

  15. Ross said on April 6, 2010 at 6:13 am

    The window gadgets (close, min, max) are all on the left. Terrible decision.

    1. Craig McLure said on May 7, 2010 at 6:45 pm

      This would probably be because it was installed on Ubuntu, and is probably using one of the default Gnome themes from there. Or at least, I hope that’s true!

  16. Bob Smith said on April 6, 2010 at 5:38 am

    do i need a good graphics card for the special effects?

  17. Bob Smith said on April 6, 2010 at 5:34 am

    heck yah! (this is not a reply btw.)

    gnome is the new kde

  18. Anonymous said on April 6, 2010 at 3:34 am

    You’re a technology writer, not a technical writer.

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