Labeled by some as “unintuitive” and “a usability nightmare,” GNOME Shell used to be crap. Not anymore.
GNOME released version 3.12 of its popular desktop environment recently, and it refines the Gnome Shell concept yet again. It managed to pass the “usable” threshold a few releases ago and hasn’t stopped improving since.
It might take a while before this new version is packaged into your favorite distribution’s next release, but here’s a preview of what changes you can expect.
Searching through the Launchpad-like list of installed applications wasn’t the best experience. Although you could choose from categories, you couldn’t put apps in custom folders, and scrolling took a while. With GNOME 3.12, you can now create custom folders to make finding things easier. You can even create these folders while you’re installing applications from the GNOME Software Center, making it possible for you to immediately put an app wherever you want it.
Additionally, the list doesn’t scroll like a webpage anymore; instead, it scrolls as if you’re flipping a vertical page. It’s a small improvement, but useful nonetheless.
Some popular GNOME applications were revamped for this release. Gnome Videos, formerly known as Totem, received a complete makeover. It includes a new playback view as well as floating HUD controls that appear on top of the video, allowing the video itself to take up more room in the Gnome Videos window. The app also has new support for various online channels.
Gedit also got a major revamp, making its interface much slimmer and allowing more room for the content you’re editing. Despite the minimal look, Gedit packs all of the features you’ve come to use regularly. It’s a win-win.
Finally, the GNOME Terminal also received some love. It now has the ability to wrap text after resizing, a dark theme as default, and an included color palette (for color-coded output) which you can enable in the Color Settings pane.
Improved HiDPI Support
Another important highlight in this release is the improved support for HiDPI displays. Before, high-definition displays such as the MacBook Pro’s Retina display suffered from a tiny UI. In other words, GNOME wouldn’t account for the increased amount of pixels and scale UI elements so that they appear the same size on the screen. Alternatively, it would scale the UI elements, but they would appear blurry and pixelated. These new improvements change all that, so UI elements are appropriately-sized on your HiDPI display. As a side effect of HiDPI support, text rendering is also improved.
Please note that this applies to GNOME’s interface elements – it’s still possible for applications to lack support for HiDPI displays.
Improved Software Center
GNOME 3.10 came with a brand new software center, which gives users an easy way to search through their repositories. While it was functional then, it was still missing some key features such as screenshots, a rating system and repository management.
The 3.12 release offers all this, and it’s definitely a more useful tool because of it.
Improved Cloud Integration
Cloud integration has also improved with GNOME 3.12. For example, when you add your Facebook account to your list of Online Accounts, you’ll be able to see all of the photos you’ve uploaded to Facebook within the Photos app.
If you haven’t done so already, it’s a good idea to add all of your online accounts to GNOME in the GNOME System Settings – it’s just one step you need to take to configure all of your online apps including email, instant messaging, and photos.
The default theme looks better now. Changes include updated tabs, softer separators, button backgrounds, floating toolbars, and pop-over menus. Ultimately all of these changes are very subtle, but they give an extra touch of polish to the desktop environment.
Getting Closer to Official Wayland Support
Last of all, GNOME 3.12 comes with improved support for the upcoming Wayland display server. If you’re using a distribution that already comes with Wayland for testing purposes (such as Fedora), you can test out GNOME’s support for it by running the command
This is only a tech preview, so don’t consider it to be a stable feature just yet.
GNOME has been continually improving, and slowly winning back fans who were devastated by a controversial initial release. If you’d like to give it a spin right now as a Live environment, you can download the latest ISO image of Fedora Rawhide (check for the latest one that has createLiveCD – rawhide, Fedora-Live-Desktop-x86_64, 20140329 – as the description) and write it to a USB stick or run it in a virtual machine.
What are your thoughts on GNOME 3.12? Is it getting good enough for you to use, or are you still unhappy with the ground concepts of the desktop environment? Let us know in the comments!