Rage3D Kombuting // Linux Mint edition

Author: Pete Vagiakos
Editor: Charles Oliver
Date: March 13th, 2013

Gnome Shell

Back to Gnome Shell

All these days running Cinnamon, I got used to it. I mean, it's very close to how the Gnome 2 interface used to be, so there's no need to learn how to new things. But, as I previously stated, I like Gnome Shell and its flow of work. Granted, when it first debuted it lacked a LOT of features, and still does; but Gnome developers and constantly adding things, and the community has produced some excellent extensions, that you install and alter functions and GUI elements of the shell, making your life easier and allowing you to customize the shell to your heart's content, something that is simply not possible with any Windows OS.

So it was time to go back to familiar territory - and add the latest and greatest version of Gnome Shell and Gnome 3, in general. You see, in Mint's (and Ubuntu's) repositories, some versions of the Gnome programs are held back on purpose, so they are not the latest versions - Nautilus, the file manager comes to mind. So in order to have all the latest versions, I added the gnome3 PPA:

  • sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3
  • sudo apt-get update
  • apt-get install gnome-shell gnome-session gnome-shell-extensions gnome-tweak-tool

Make sure you select gdm when you are asked, so that you use Gnome 3's native login manager. Logout, choose the Gnome 3 session, input your username and password and voila!

As I have already mentioned, Gnome Shell is a departure from the known and tried paradigm of Windows and older Linux desktop environments, and people don't like change that much. You can get an idea about how the desktop behaves from the above video, which was made by the owner of Webupd8, a great site for Linux news and How-Tos. For me, once I got used to the different workflow, I actually liked it, so I prefer Gnome Shell more than other alternatives like Cinnamon, Unity etc. So after spending all this time in the first pages customizing Cinnamon, it's time to do the same with Gnome Shell now.

One of the things that sets Gnome Shell apart is the extensions support. These are written in plain javascript, and they allow users to customize almost every aspect of the environment to their liking. Installing an extension is very easy, all you have to do is go to Gnome's Extensions website and select the ones you want from a variety of selection. You can have docks, hide icons, add new capabilities to existing menus or add new ones... there's no limit to what you can do. Here are the ones I chose:

  • Antisocial Menu: This handy little extension removes the social elements from the user menu on the top left, meaning the status icon, online accounts and the like. I don't use these at all, even though I did install Empathy as my messenger client, as it is better integrated with the shell. So it saves up space, and looks neater.
  • Coverflow Alt-Tab: I love the effect, and with this extension you can apply it to when switch between windows with Alt-Tab. So there.
  • Extension-Shortcuts: It adds a handy menu to easily manage the already installed extensions you have.
  • Lock Screen: Adds a nice padlock icon to the top panel, so you can lock the screen with one click.
  • Message Notifier: One of the most useful extensions I know; it shows how many conversations with new messages you have. So if you go away for a few minutes, and come back, you can see if someone spoke to you via IM at a glance.
  • Remove Accessibility: Removes the Accessibility icon which appears by default on the top panel.
  • User Themes: A must-have if you want to customize your desktop; this is the extension that allows you to load shell themes from the user directory. Meaning you can copy Gnome Shell themes to /home/user/.themes/ and you will be able to switch between them with gnome tweak tool.

So here's how my desktop looks like after installing all these extensions. In my eyes, the shell keeps getting better and better, as more options are available to the user (the first releases of Gnome Shell were...well, Spartan, to put it mildly as far as the customization was concerned. But things are improving and the new 3.8 version which is round the corner promises even more fixes and stability. One utility that will allow you to customize and change things with Gnome Shell is the Gnome Tweak Tool, which I have already installed from the beginning. It allows you to change things like themes, customizing appearance and extensions, change fonts, and other things missing from Gnome's System Settings.