Gnome 3.2 Review


Jon says:

After my rant on the podcast, in which I got sidetracked for a whole minute on the uselesness of Gnome 3.2's new GDM login screen, I thought I'd post a fuller review here of the latest Gnome release. Has it fixed all or some of the little frustrations that so many people had with Gnome 3.0? Or has it become more annoying?

For bobthebob1234, here's the tl;dr version: Gnome 3's got some nice improvements, like smaller Gtk+ widgets and titlebars, as well as great potential with its online account integration. Unfortunately, it's still got lots of annoying little bugs (which some call features) like no automatic focus on the user selector in GDM and alt-key to shutdown.

The Bad Parts

As I said on the podcast, I don't find the new GDM theme very attractive. The elements are all too big, and the rounded corners too pronounced - there's no subtlety in it. The theme is also effected by Gnome 3's reduced customisation options. If you've decided to customise your icons, or your fonts, or most anything else using Gnome Tweak Tool, you won't find these changes reflected in the GDM, leading to greater inconsistency in the desktop. It would be nice, as well, if the GDM background reflected that of the main desktop.

What I found more annoying is that the user select dialoge doesn't receive automatic focus when the screen loads, or so I thought. On first appearances, it seemed that I was no longer able to press enter to select my user name, instead needing to use the mouse to first select my user name, and then switch back to the keyboard to enter my password. It turns out, however, that it does receive focus, but you have to press the up arrow before you're able to select a user. This strange, undiscoverable behaviour, is only a minor annoyance, but it does effect my perception of the entire desktop.

The real issue here isn't that some functionality has been removed or had its location moved, it's that it's been made undiscoverable. I doubt, for instance, if anyone would have been so bothered by the alt-key to shutdown situation if there were some way to figure this out without reading the Gnome 3 cheat sheet or other documentation first. It's mad that after a kernel update, a user's system might tell them to reboot, only for them to have to turn to Google to figure out how to do this!

Then there's NetworkManager and the password dialogues. If you're connected to a wireless network which then goes out of range or gets switched off, and you know this to be the case, you still face a series of prompts asking you for various passwords so the system can try and reconnect to a now non-existant network. I often find myself having to click cancel on four separate dialogues, one of which isn't themed in the same way as the others, before I can finally get back to my work. This seems like the complete antithesis of Gnome Shell's efforts not to distract the user.

The Good

The update to the Gtk+ theme is a big improvement. Titlebars now take up a far more reasonable amount of space, while window controls are still a good size and easy to click.

Also relating to the Gtk+ theme is the increased area for resizing windows. Whereas before it was almost impossible to resize a window that didn't have the special Gtk+ 3.0 corner handle, now it's a fairly straight forward operation that even my shaky hands can manage.

The other great addition is Sushi, a file previewer like OS X's Quick Look. On almost any file in Nautilus, you can press space and a large preview will pop-up without you having to launch a separate application. Images can be made full screen, and audio and video have really great looking controls - far nicer than those found in Totem, the default video player. Once again, it's not exactly a discoverable feature, but once you know about it it's quite nice.

The Promising

As well as these updates to the general user experience, Gnome 3.2 has also introduced a few new applications and features. The most notable is the Online Accounts integration. This tool, which is found in the System Settings, allows you to link your Gnome desktop with your Google account (more are planned, I believe). Once you link it, if you're an Evolution user you'll see your Google Calendar appointments appear in the Gnome calendar at the top of your screen, and you'll be able to see other aspects of your Google account in two new Gnome applications, Documents and Contacts.

The idea behind both of these is that they provide a central place to manage all of your online and offline information and keep it synced. So Contacts takes your Evolution and Google contacts and allows you to edit and view all of their information from a single application. If you have the right applications installed, Contacts will also give you a shortcut to open these and begin a new conversation with this person, whether that's through email, IM or VoIP. In my experience, this application has worked well, although I've yet to figure out how to organise the mess that is my Google contacts.

Documents aims to do the same for your local and online documents, only I've not had nearly the same success with this. The application looks great, but it's only ever found six of my Google Docs and never any of my local ones. It uses Tracker for the local backend, and since I'm using Arch it's quite possible I just haven't configured it correctly, but I do expect it to find more of my Google Docs - not sure where I've gone wrong here!


All in all, it's a mixed bag of a release. The improvements that have come with it are definitely welcome. The Gtk+ theme updates have certainly improved my day to day experience with the desktop, and I'm hopeful that the new applications and online accounts integration will turn in to really excellent features in the near future.

Unfortunately, many of the bugs and annoyances from the 3.0 release persist - largely because the Gnome team doesn't consider these bugs but features - and some new ones have been introduced.

Weighing things up, I'd say that my overall experience with the desktop is little improved from 3.0. That said, it's not an altogether bad thing since I did quite like the 3.0 release and still find this series of Gnome releases to be the best free desktop for my needs.

I do still dream of what things would have been like if Gnome 3 was just a radically polished version of Gnome 2.x, with a more consistently spaced panel, upgraded applications, integrated and quick desktop search, and a smart compositing set up by default... if only.

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Your comments

The little things

Really interesting review - thanks for posting it. I really like Gnome Shell (I have only used 3.0 so far), but I do find several little annoying bugs really ruin the overall user experience (and being made to Google the 'alt key shutdown menu item' functionality was just plain stupid).

It is frustrating as Gnome Shell has the potential (I believe) to win over a lot of users who love their slick desktops.

That said I really like the look of 3.2, and I'll definitely give it a whirl asap. I just hope they don't let the little irritating bugs build up as they add new shiny features.

No Big Surprise

That Gnome 3.2 has more mystery meat navigation is no big surprise. That is after all how the Gnome User Interface Guide defines the desktop now isn't it.

Features, not Bugz :)

Push the power button on your machine when you want to shutdown. It is right above the Escape key on my keyboard, for instance. Also, Fedora 16 ships with the shutdown menu item visible by default, and you need to push Alt in order to get 'suspend'. Interestingly, my keyboard, as do most HPs I've seen have both power and suspend button, arguably making those menus unnecessary.

The GDM theme is not a bother. I like a desktop that ships with such trivial decisions made for me :)

It would seem that GNOME is so maligned nowdays that even genuine bugs are regarded as features. I would suspect the GDM focus issue is a bug that should be reported.

You also forgot to mention that the shell now handles removable drives, making it a lot more fluid and beautiful to launch and eject them, but making it annoying when you plug in a drive that you do not wish to attend to just yet (you are forced to interact with the prompt just to get it out of your way).

One of my favourite improvement, is that gnome-shell now consistently uses less than 75MB of precious RAM. Hurray!

GDM login screen

instead of using the mouse, you can press the down arrow, then enter to select your user. I think.

Also, I agree with it being pretty crap as well.

Excellent work, thanks to

Excellent work, thanks to Gnome Team !

Screenshots? I've heard


I've heard about Sushi and might have to seek it out...

Extensions, Extensions and more Extensions.

Extensions can be used to configure Gnome 3 any way you want. For 3.2 in Ubuntu there is a PPA accumulating extensions. More every other day. Want to have shutdown by default? Activate the extension. What a theme changer? Activate the extension. You get the idea. Gnome 3 is the most configurable desktop there is, and so far the ideas are coming faster than you can keep up with. And there are more to come, like a web integrated desktop. The distros have barely started to come to grips with the possibilities.

And Gnome Fallback is Gnome3 with a Gnome2 face. If you are stuck in the past just select Fallback or configure forced fallback. Tip of the day, in fallback mode hold alt key and right click to add items to the toolbar.

The future is Gnome Shell.

desktop search

I used to use tracker (with Fedora 12 I think?) but updates seemed to make it less configurable and it just wasn't working for me. I'm currently using an xfce desktop (on Debian) and tried Recoll desktop search, and it's working just fine for me.

Though, I don't use Google docs so I don't know if indexing those is an option or not.

Always an alternative

Yup. KDE brings my older hardware to its knees and Gnome 3 is just not developed enough, it feels bad. Long live Fluxbox!

Gnome 3? Intuitive?

Maybe - but I think I'll wait till Gnome 3.9. Reading the above it seems you have to have telepathy to anticipate what to do.

no improvement whatsoever

The new version of Unity is much improved. Gnome 3.2 on the other hand shows no improvement whatsoever. Unity goes through usability testing, but I can't see any evidence at all that the Gnome developers care a jot about us users.

Unity is better!

Unity is getting better and better each release. Unity is always becoming easier to use and has none of the funny "features" that Gnome shell has.

Ubuntu 11.10 is a great release and 12.04 is shaping up to be brilliant!

Well... WE 'ad it rough...

All this yappin' about Gnome... You young whippershappers don't know when you're well OFF!!!

When I were a lad, we used to 'ave to get up a 4 in t'mornin',
eat a breakfast of raw gravel, be flogged wi' barbed wire until 9, an' then be mercilessly tortured to dead by members of the Spanish Inquisition.

But t'worst bit was, after all that we 'ad to work on computers using Unity!

And we weren't 'appy!!!

GDM Standard

"If you've decided to customise your icons, or your fonts, or most anything else using Gnome Tweak Tool, you won't find these changes reflected in the GDM, leading to greater inconsistency in the desktop. It would be nice, as well, if the GDM background reflected that of the main desktop."

Isn't that as it should be though? If my girlfriend tweaks her desktop, I don't want to see her changes represented in GDM the next time I switch the machine on. Linux is a multi-user OS after all. Although I do think an official 'gdm-tweak-tool' would be good.

Gnome 3.2.1

Gnome has updated gdm to allow users to hit "enter" to select login accounts.

Gnome 3.0, with a few

Gnome 3.0, with a few extensions, is great for my laptop. KDE 4.7 is great for my desktop. Gnome 3.2 has some improvements that I'm really looking forward to using.

Frankly, Free Software users are spoilt for choice when it comes to beautiful and functional desktop environments. Whiners please learn to appreciate what we've got, and stop putting excellent work down.

Compared to Windows 7 Gnome 3.0 is a far better solution for my common needs.

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