Official website for Linux User & Developer

GNOME 3.6 Review – Against the Grain

by Rob Zwetsloot

The latest version of the GNOME Shell is here, has it addressed the concerns of users, or gone further down the path of simplification?

The release of GNOME 3 was just over 18 months ago, and it’s been an interesting time to say the least for the desktop environment and its users. With complaints centring around usability and the abandoning of the traditional desktop metaphor, the GNOME project says it’s taking this user feedback to heart, returning oft requested features such as the power button on the user bar in the brand new GNOME 3.6.

Unity KDE Cinnamon MATE Ubuntu Fedora
Search in GNOME is still the best part of the DE

There are things that GNOME 3 does do well though – and 3.6 carries on this tradition. Keyboard navigation is pretty great, allowing you to press whatever your equivalent of a Windows Key is and search for documents and applications – this is very responsive, and if you know what you’re looking for you can access apps faster than before. Notifications have always been good as well, and there have been a few updates to allow for multiple events, easier dismissal of boxes, and they only show up important notifications when doing something full screen. We even quite like the dynamic workspace, creating new virtual desktops as you start using another.

Unfortunately, there is still so much fundamentally wrong with GNOME, and 3.6 seems to have gone even further out of its way to interrupt or generally slow down workflow. The main problem that has been plaguing GNOME 3 since its inception is navigating with a mouse – everything requires too many actions to perform. In the past, it was going to the hot corner to either go to another open window or workspace, and to open applications just add a few more steps. None of this has been addressed, and in fact has been made worse. Maximised windows now lose the menu bar, so to close them you need to go to the hot corner and do it from there, or right click on the top bar to access quit – both an extra action on top of the very simple one used before. With the GNOME Web Browser, you can’t use the drag feature to return it to windowed mode, instead having to right click the top bar again.

Unity KDE Cinnamon MATE Ubuntu Fedora
Putting a lot of necessary functions into the activities overlay slows down workflow

If one of the criticisms of Unity was that it seems optimised for touch screen devices, then these changes and the new additions in GNOME 3.6 can only be specifically targeted towards tablet use. All the mousing issues and simplification of the UI make sense if you’re primarily using your fingers – no maximise button next to exit in case you press one and not the other, the hot corner, using the activities overlay to change windows, etc. The addition of the new lock screen and a clock application typifies this change to touch screen friendly interface.

The lock screen works very much like a smartphone or tablet lock screen – it has the good stuff such as notifications, big clock display, but it also has a ridiculous unlock process of using your mouse to click and drag the overlay up to access the login screen. A few glowing arrows are your only indication of how to do this, and while similar to the iOS Slide to Unlock message, these arrows flash up very briefly and quite rarely. You can use Escape or Enter to get past the screen, but you’ll only learn that through experimentation or finding the brief sidenote in the GNOME documentation.

Unity KDE Cinnamon MATE Ubuntu Fedora
A lock screen designed for smart phones and tablets does not work on a desktop

GNOME tells us that they’re listening to user feedback, but the results of 3.6 seem to say otherwise. While touchscreen devices are slowly gaining market share, PCs and Laptops still make up the vast majority of systems that can even use GNOME. However, GNOME 3 is just no longer for desktop use.

And don’t get us started on Nautilus.



GNOME 3.6 continues the practice of taking half a step forward and several giant leaps back, making it frustrating to use on a standard desktop PC or Laptop. The focus on touch friendly controls have further hampered the user experience and noticeably slowed down workflow, and we don’t believe that this will ever change.

Tags: , ,
  • Tell a Friend
  • Follow our Twitter to find out about all the latest Linux news, reviews, previews, interviews, features and a whole more.
    • Mark M.

      I think most of these complaints about Gnome 3 are by people that have no imagination and would have complained about Windows 95 as “confusing”. I’ve used Gnome since the low 2’s. I think Gnome Shell was a radical leap forward in UI, and the first serious attempt at a UI that leapfrogged Apple’s creaky interface and Windows 7. It’s the best attempt at a system that can bridge touch and WIMP navigation, and it has forced the user to use search more directly, which is an undeniable efficiency improvement.

      That said I really loved 3.4, and am dismayed to see 3.6. I liked apps and windows separate in the hot corner. Using the panel’s new button for apps was not what I was expecting, so I guess I’m really going to be using the search now. I am also in mourning that the Computer icon has been removed from the desktop. Not everybody wants to start their navigation from their home directory.

    • ElGato

      Hi everyone,
      I Rally like using GS (on a netbook – small screen) bit why Do they have to re-invent tue wheel with every update????
      Extensions broken, libraries screwed up so that Most Themas Do not work anymore, THAT is what p… Users oft, even tue ones who actually like te Look and feel of Gnome Shell

      Btw the best Feature of GS can be easily built in practically any DE: Set a key combination to Start a Programm launcher, and there you go. Done that vor XFCE wich i use occasionally, and it Works great.

    • ergodic

      I have used Gnome for the last 9 years. And version 3 through 3.4 for the last year and a half. Today, after a week of intensive effort to make Gnome 3.6 usable, I gave up. I came very close to dump Fedora an OS I have been using since version 3.0.

      Fortunatly, Cinamon, another interface offered by Fedora 18 saved the day.

      Many have commented Gnome 3.6 configuration limitations. For instance Nautilus no loger offer “Tree View” in the side panel and “List View” can not be made the default selection. Documentation is superficial, it laks critical information such as to configuration files etc.

      It is a shame that outstanding programs such as Gnome are becoming just tablet and cell phone apps.


    • Len

      As far as I’m concerned Gnome took the momentum out of Linux with Version 3, and although a lot of great software guys have come forward to fill the void it created, the historical software efforts made by many over the years were trashed in the process. Thousands of apps no longer work, and there is no one out there to update them.

      As for usability, Windows 7 is much better than all existing desktops. Fortunately Microsoft also suffers from auto-suicide, but Microsoft has one thing Linux does not have for the Desktop users – Office, and NOTHING beats office or is even close at this point.

      So the entire Linux industry took several steps back thanks to the gnome team. If Microsoft had real engineering oriented marketing, Linux would fast becoming a historical footnote in the computing industry list of challenger who had it better, did it better, and then self destructed. Gnome reminds me of Honeywell and Digital Equipment.

      I am excited at the possibility that a shift to KDE might just save the day, but KDE never impressed me.

      I have been re-evaluating gnome 3 this week, to keep current, and a lot of bugs are gone, but I still find myself being forced to run to the command line in frustration. Not that I mind much, but most desktop users won’t or can’t do this. I concur BTW with the standards comments in the review, with one exception. There are standards in the industry, and they are Microsoft’s. Those standards are what the MAJORITY of users expect to see, and when they don’t they get confused. The idea that some new paradigm en masse exists and sufficiently useful as to justify the changes in gnome is simply foolish, and that illustrates the lack of experience on the team.

      On this vein, I have to mention Intel and the idiotic architecture we now labor under, well hidden by the tools we use, and certain fighter jets that prove even a brick will fly if you have enough power behind it, or the banking system that steals worldwide prosperity. All of these are examples of mistakes from the past that live waiting for re-discovery by future generations. Unfortunately, you just can’t hide the desktop, and for that reason gnome’s mistakes map opportunity as much as they expose serious danger. Left uncorrected for much longer, gnome will no longer be with us.

    • Dan

      This isn’t a review. It’s a temper tantrum!

      Gnome 3.6 perfect, no. But if there was a perfect UI out there, we wouldn’t have multiple.

      Most of the issues you have with Gnome 3.6 are a result of not knowing how to use it. In fact, most of the key sequences in Windows work on Gnome 3.6 and other UIs.

      Closing a full screen window: alt-F4 or drag the app off the top

      Navigating through open applications: alt-tab or move the mouse to the hot spot.

      Open application: Move to hot spot, type name (or part of) hit enter. I’ll take that over menu navigation any day!

      With Firefox and Chrome, hit F11 to go in and out of full screen.

      Lock screen: His ESC to get password prompt! Took me 5 seconds to figure that out!

      I’ve been using Gnome 3.6 since it came out, and love it. It’s so much better than Gnome 2 or any Windows. I like it so much, I haven’t even bothered looking where KDE’s at right now. Hope they’re doing just as well.

    • devon

      Unusable on a desktop? Takes way too much clicking?…. I have been a devout LXDE fan for about 2 years and hated Gnome 3. I decided to try out the shell about 2 months ago again after trying the first release and I adore it. 3.6 does exactly what I want out of linux, and I think it’s the most attractive desktop I’ve seen. I’ve never been a huge Gnome fan so this is coming from simply loving the Gnome shell.

      You seem to not know how to use it, as none of your critics are issues or problems with my installation. On LMDE it is lightning fast and with the extensions you can make it do what you like. I don’t know, I wanted to read a review not a lesson on why Gnome 3 isn’t a good desktop. I thoroughly enjoy using it. I think Cinnamon is ugly.

    • virtualeyes

      Gnome 3.6 is gorgeous looking compared to MATE, Cinamon, et al.

      Functionality-wise, no, would not use Gnome 3.6 as is.

      However, all is not lost.

      Use Gnome in the background and slap a tiling WM like Awesome or i3 over the top.

      Couple of alt-clicks to hide Gnome top and bottom panels, yum install gnome-do, and voila, Gnome is hidden from view, but still accessible if you prefer GUI panels, not to mention that network manager, keyring service, notifications and friends continue to do the legwork for you behind the scenes.

      Fedora 18 + i3 window manager = all good ;-)

      p.s. am curious to try out a Gnome free setup, just not yet sure what I’ll need to replace the suite of Gnome tools and services.

    • marty

      I like devon comments above.

      All desktop environments have their pros and cons. Some prefer kde, some prefer GNOME 3, or Xfce or whatever. When I first tried GNOME 3 when it was released I was on the fence. I liked GNOME 2. I was use to it. However, GNOME 3 has a very nice design and solid quality behind it. Sure, I was slower at finding and running programs. However it all depends how you use it.

      For example, I run my programs using ALT+F2. Whether I use GNOME2 or 3, it is the same. If anything, GNOME 3 as already mentioned just looks more polished.

      Another example when flicking between programs, I use ALT+TAB. Again, same for GNOME2 or 3. However, it is better in GNOME 3, much easier to find what you want in my opinion.

      Also, instead of clicking ‘Activities’, click move your mouse to the top-left! Or even easier, just press the Windows key near the ALT and CONTROL key. It will toggle it.

      I am not saying GNOME 3 is perfect but it does look like it is going a nice direction in my opinion. I will admit that I am using Debian (Gnome 2) as I write this, but I feel confident GNOME 3 will be pretty cool in a few more years.

      There are improvements to be made, but my hat is off to GNOME. I personally feel they have done a good job. Sure, one big difference compared to GNOME2 is programs take longer to load, sometimes by about another 4 seconds! Also It does have a more touch friendly interface than a mouse one, and would like to see a bit more improvement on that side (people like myself who program will still prefer a proper keyboard and mouse — however as an emacs user I dont use the mouse that much)

      I certainly do not hate GNOME 3. I think people negative reviews are over the top. Some are likely to argue with me here but still I feel GNOME 3 will get much better.

      for note – I chose to go back to debian for a while since using fedora for a few years (most of that time using GNOME 3). I found GNOME 2 a little clunky but got the hang of it. I do like and in some ways miss the GNOME2 menu but I also miss GNOME 3 as I write.

      I rarely went into the ‘Activities’. In the end, the shell, emacs, and the keyboard commands are my most used assets. Doesn’t matter what I use, really.

    • john

      I love gnome3!
      It’s a modern gui!!

    • A Concerned Citizen

      I think we’re overlooking something important. Bill Gates is still alive. He needs to be assassinated.

    • Fa