GNOME 3 Fails As A Desktop Environment

Because if you don’t like exactly 100% what the GNOME developers think the desktop should look like, then too bad, you’d just have to suffer.

In addition to really annoying misbehaviors that I doubt anyone could justify (like the evolution color problem), here are the list of things that cause me to hate GNOME and will eventually cause me to reinstall KDE.

Full disclosure: I’m normally a KDE user and have been trying the latest GNOME using Fedora 21 pre-release. I expect that some of the things I mention below are bugs that will be fixed in time for the public release, and if so feel free to point them out. Also, I’m aware that some of the issues I have can be “fixed” by installing the GNOME Tweak tool or editing the dconf (the GNOME “registry”), but I don’t feel this is a valid way to build software – “if you want it to not be painful, you should be an advanced user”. Did I mention I love KDE?

  1. There is no way to change the color theme!!! Or any other aspect of the desktop look and feel, for that matter. if you are not in love with how GNOME developers like their desktop look, then sucks to be you. There are some extensions that help with that, but – see (2).
  2. Every customization option (except changing the desktop background) is hidden away in very obscure corners that no sane (non-power) use will figure out. Yes, the GNOME extensions web site is great, but where is the link to that from the control center? The tweak tool is nice, but it is definitely an expert tool, while dconf-editor is only slightly less painful then MS-Window’s regedit.exe – and neither are installed by default.
  3. Evolution colors – the default (and only) mail application is unusable using the default (and unchangable) color theme – the message list feature black text over dark gray background, while email addresses are rendered using dark blue over medium gray (which is even less readable then using black text).
  4. The GNOME terminal can no longer be set to transparent background. This used to work with the previous version, but now – what purpose is there to customize the background image if I can’t see it behind my maximized terminal session?
  5. The default application switcher scheme were there are two switcher shortcuts – one between applications and one between “windows in the same application” is so annoying. Fortunately Fedora 21 installs “Alternate Tab” extension by default – that restores sane window switching, so now its just the matter of discovering how to enable it, which brings me back to problem (2), i.e. the inability to do so without discovery dconf-editor, tweak-tool or the GNOME extensions web site.
  6. Focus stealing prevention: it was never customizable (like it is in KDE), but at least it was sane – but in the last couple of releases, a new window never gets focus unless the user has started it from the dash. Here are a couple use cases that are now completely annoying because of that:
    • Double click a message in evolution’s message list – instead of the full text of the message appearing, you get a notification “Your evolution window is ready”, which you have to click or use ALT-~ to find the new window.
    • Click a URL in an application (like an email message) – instead of taking you to the browser, you get a “Firefox is ready” notification.
  7. No logout button – like Hotel California, you can check-in anytime you want, but you can never leave. Granted, the only reason one would want to log-out of GNOME shell on a single user computer, is to switch to KDE and we can’t have that (yes – I know there’s a dconf setting to re-enable this, see the disclosure above).
  8. To run commands for which there is no desktop launcher, one can use ALT-F2 to get a “Run Dialog”, and it even TAB-completes command names, but the main application launcher only supports desktop launchers and will refuse to run applications without such desktop entries – such as Eclipse or stalonetray (which I use to work with applications that do not support the new desktop notification standard). KDE’s application menu is much better in that regard.
  9. No full window drag support: most desktop environments on Linux support using a modifier key to allow the user to move windows by grabbing them anywhere (usually it is the ALT key). GNOME Shell has no such facility, a problem which is compounded by client-side window decorations, which on non-full screen windows usually leave very little to grab as the window title bar is filled with all kinds of buttons.
  10. The wireless network notification doesn’t show the name of the network being connected to – only after a connection is established does the network name appears. So if there are several networks available, you need to either wait for the connection to complete(1) before you know if to change network, or open the full screen modal network selection screen to verify. For example, when I ride the train there are normally two networks – one for the train itself and one for the station. When I sit at the train for several minutes before it departs, I don’t want my computer to connect to the station’s network because it will disconnect as soon as the train pulls out of the station.

Expect more annoyances to appear here as I’m not a person who shies from a fight – if GNOME Shell wants to pour on the pain, I say – bring it on!


  1. which can take a long time on a slow network because GNOME Shell does not indicate the network is available until it can verify internet access – like MS-Windows. This is actually a good thing because GNOME Shell detects “captive portal” style-network and automatically pops-up a window with the login page []

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