When the team behind GNOME came out with GNOME 3, which included the infamous GNOME Shell, the most popular desktop environment of the time saw a sharp decrease in users. And honestly, that trend is pretty easy to explain. When GNOME 3 initially came out, it was incomplete, buggy, and foreign. The concepts behind GNOME Shell were never before seen on a desktop system, and lots of users who were used to panels/taskbars and menus didn’t like the rather dramatic changes.
But all of that happened a few years back. Today, GNOME 3 is finally regaining users, and there are less people who go online to voice their hatred for the desktop environment. What happened to make GNOME slowly come back?
People Got Used To It
This may or may not be surprising, but a good amount of people got used to the idea of GNOME Shell and how it works — it’s as simple as that. Although the concepts and ideas behind GNOME Shell were pretty foreign to most people, those who decided to sit down with it and take some time to play around got used to how it behaved. Ultimately, it showed them that there’s more than one way for a desktop to look and function. Eventually, some people liked GNOME 3 for its unique approach.
The Growing Pains Have Stopped
There’s also been a lot of time between the first release of GNOME 3 and now for bugs and “papercuts”, which aren’t bugs but rather usability issues, to be corrected. Even if a concept is good, it won’t be fun to use if it’s riddled with bugs.
I remember when using GNOME 3 earlier on how the shell occasionally crashed and required a restart. Or how the top panel wouldn’t disappear when I played YouTube videos in full screen mode. None of those issues exist anymore (or at least they’re no longer GNOME’s fault), and that’s certainly a step in the right direction.
GNOME Shell is also more customizable, thanks in part to the creation of the GNOME Tweak Tool. With it, you can change deeper-level settings that aren’t available in the main configuration tools. This way, power users are happy to customize a lot further while people who just want a system that works aren’t confronted with too many options at once.
Classic Mode As A Compromise
Starting with GNOME 3.8, the development team introduced “Classic Mode”. This mode is supposed to use the existing technologies that are used for GNOME 3 but instead offer a desktop layout that is pretty similar to that of GNOME 2.
Although this mode isn’t quite as flexible as GNOME 2 used to be (and users who are looking for that are better served by MATE), it still makes the difference between the two versions less jarring. As a result, several people were fine with the compromise that Classic Mode provided, and started using GNOME 3 as their desktop environment.
Extensions and Themes
Not long after the debut of GNOME 3, an update to the desktop environment added support for extensions. This made the desktop environment much more useful for a lot of people because then anyone could write an extension that fixed a pain point they had with GNOME 3. Quite a few extensions have options to let you customize them even further. They’re also very easy to install — if you visit the Gnome extensions page in Firefox, you can install new extensions straight from the browser. This is simply a very convenient way to customize your experience in just a few seconds.
The same goes for themes, which are easy to install so long as you find a package that’s installable on your distribution. Themes (such as the Faience theme) help change the appearance of GNOME Shell to something you like. Depending on the theme, some changes are more subtle while others are quite drastic. Plus, if you know some CSS, you can easily create or edit your own theme to customize it even more to your specific tastes.
The Developers Reacted To Feedback
The final reason is simply that the development team listened to the feedback of their users and executed well in fixing those issues. As an open source project, you would certainly hope that the development team will listen to their users, but sadly this isn’t always the case. Heck, even when GNOME 3 was first being developed it may have seemed like they weren’t listening to their users then. The team had a vision of what their next desktop environment should be, and they focused on creating that.
However, now that it’s been out for a few years now, the team is listening to users so that they can keep their vision while fixing any gripes users have about it. The latest releases of GNOME 3 have received quite favorable reviews, which is in stark contrast to when the desktop environment first came out and barely anyone seemed to be able to figure it out.
Give It Another Try!
If you would have asked me whether I recommend GNOME 3 a few years ago, I would have said no even though GNOME 3 did have a few advantages even from the beginning. It was simply too different from a traditional desktop, and it also had some growing pains. However, today I’m more willing to recommend the desktop environment and even occasionally use it myself.
I probably wouldn’t make it my first recommendation to someone who’s completely new to Linux as the fact that it’s quite different remains unchanged, but anyone who’s dipped their feet in Linux should be able to handle it without a problem. If you haven’t looked at GNOME 3 since back when it first came out, I ask that you try it out again — you may be surprised.
What’s your favorite feature of GNOME 3? What issues do you still have with it? Let us know in the comments!
Image Credits: cracked ground hole Via Shutterstock