I like Gnome Shell

Since the Gnome Shell (also known as Gnome 3) launch, every now and then there is an article, a blog post, or a Linus Torvalds thoughts saying that Shell is horrible, that it's useless, that it's bad. I think that most of the people saying that are just resistant to change. Of course, there is also the point that Gnome didn't respect his philosophy (incremental improvements, as read on The Register), but that's another debate.

I never was a big Gnome fan. Yeah it did the work. Yeah it was light enough. But I always chose KDE, or a very lightweight desktop, or a very customizable desktop, but never Gnome. And since KDE started to become more and more heavy, I was searching for a new desktop. And BAM, Gnome Shell arrived.

The extensions

In my start-up, we love Shell. Seriously. Some of us use the out-of-the-box experience, but most of us use one of his big strength : his plugin system. Sure, out of the box there is some missing functionality, but it's still interesting, and I had clearly a better first impression with Shell than with Canonical's Unity. But there is already a lot of plugins, and since it's javascript, there will be a whole lot of others.

gTile screenshot For example, one of the best is gTile. With it, you can organize your windows on screen very easily. You want to have 1/3 of the screen used by Chrome, and the other 2/3 with an equal split of four terminal ? Easy. And it's only one extension. I also like the multi-screen capable dock, the removable drive menu, and a lot more.

Ok, I agree, there is some of them that must have been inside Shell from the beginning, like the removable drive menu. But isn't it great to be able to fix your desktop so easily ? Sure, there is other desktop that have a plugins system, like Mint's Cinnamon, but nothing I tested was as stable as Shell. Nor has a community as big as the Gnome's community.

Good ergonomics

There is more. I have a lot of experience with Windows 7, because I'm a gamer, and my last company was forcing us to use Windows, for security reason (yeah, never understood either). And regardless of your a priori against Microsoft or Windows, it's undeniable that 7 was a big leap forward in ergonomics : Moving a window on a side border resize it to take half the screen To open a program, just type the windows key and enter the name of the program (or just the first letters in most case) And some more. And you know what ? Shell does it too. And faster. And customizable (like the default search when nothing is found after typing the windows key, actually is calling wikipedia, and you can change that). So now, when I want to open gedit, for example, I just type "Super key > ged > enter". If I want to talk to my co-worker on gtalk, "Super key > his name > enter", and the contact window open (yeah, I need to found or create a plugin to be able to open the chat window directly).

And as I talk about chatting, the social integration is pretty cool. If you don't want to use it, don't. There won't be a popup from time to time asking you to connect an account or anything. As we are pretty close to Google in my company, it's really helpful to be able to see if I missed a chat message just via Shell.

The dark side

But of course, as a new project, Shell isn't finish. And it misses some features that I couldn't fix via existing plugins. As I said, if we were able to directly open a chat from the super search menu, it would be awesome. It would be good too to have the Google Apps fully integrated, with e-mail, calendar & all. Or at least an integration without Thunderbird. I mean there is a lot of protocol to share calendars or e-mail, if they were built in Shell, it would be very useful.

And finally, the darkest side of all : the keyboard use.

Shell in itself is pretty good :

  • You have the super key to open the explode view and access the awesome search
  • You can switch workspace with Ctrl+Alt+Up/Down
  • There is of course the Alt+Tab switch window
  • Ctrl+Alt+T open a terminal
  • You can access your shell notification (Super + M)

The only missing point in here is the selection of a window while in explode mode. Maybe there is a way, but I haven't found it yet.

However, the shell extensions are mostly not usable by keyboard. That's a shame, and though it's not entirely up to the Gnome Team, they must do something to ensure that most of the extension's developer make the extra effort of making it usable via shortcut. For example, gTile would be even more awesome if I could use it with my keyboard.

Imagine : Your working on a website in Vim, you want to have your Vim window side by side with your terminal used to build/deploy the site, and also a Chrome window to test it (I'm not an expert of using a browser via keyboard, but it must exists), and from your keyboard you make your window organization, without any script like on other linux desktop, just by calling the extension via a shortcut and then making your configuration with it's graphical interface, but again using only keyboard. That would be awesome.


Despite those little youth error, I really like Gnome Shell. I'm gonna use it a lot more, and watching his evolution, but clearly, as a developer, I'm clearly winning productivity, especially on such a small resolution.

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