More Gnome 3 pimping - Highway to sanity

Updated: June 10, 2017

If Gnome 3 was a person, it would be a generic mannequin in a clothing store, with no visible eyes or a belly button. Those come as extensions, but you can only have eyes fully closed, mind. Welcome to another article that tries to make Gnome 3 more palatable to normal people.

Over the years, I've gone from total scorn to mild disdain and some modest fun when it comes to this particular desktop environment, thank Fedora for that, but it still fails in so many simple, trivial areas I sometimes have to listen to Aqua's Barbie Girl for a few hours on constant loop in order to keep myself from committing acts of violence. Let us tweak.

More panels, more docks, more productivity

We already talked about Dash to Dock, but then there's Dash to Panel, too. Go wild, and you will see an instant boost in your productivity, simply because you have shortcut icons right there and you do not need to muck about like a chromosomally challenged simian by opening the Activities view first. This ain't the Civil Service.

Nice 1

Show desktop

What? Yes, this sounds like Capt. Obvious, but hell no. I have written an entire tutorial that explains to what length of tweaking you need to go to actually have a little icon that lets you minimize all your desktop windows. Config file mucking, new software, it's a mess.

[Desktop Entry]
Name=Show Desktop
Exec=wmctrl -k on

Icon added to panel

Files behavior

Let me ask you two simple questions. How does one go about creating new files in the default Gnome file manager? And, provided this is somehow possible, how does one actually create new files when you use the List view?

So, for the first one, we talked about Templates, and where you can place new file types. Such files will then show in the right-click context menu inside Files. But this will only work when you use the Icon view. If you display your folder contents with detailed descriptions, which include size, date and other columns, any right-click will merely offer actions for the particular row, be it a file or a folder. You will not have the expected context for the creation of new items.

I've read about this a lot, and of course, when you have code monkeys defining UI, the way it's been happening lately in the entire modern software world, then you get excuses like use Ctrl + Shift + N and other nonsense. You also have bugs that have been open for more than a year, with the last update months and months ago, because fixing problems is not fun, especially not for people who love object-oriented Hentai.

Selected item, right click

The answer is: I have not found a reliable way to do this. There are no extensions that offer any kind of button or such. There is no file menu that gives you the desired clicks. I even tried compiling Nautilus Actions to see whether I could enrich my Gnome, so that my system would let me create new files like a normal human being. Compiling Nautilus Actions resulted in more bugs and problems and woes. First, the official repository is dead. 

Failed to synchronize cache for repo 'surkum-nautilus-actions', disabling.

Second, after you download the sources, you will need to grab a whole bunch of dependencies. Eventually, the compilation will fail on:

./configure: line 12015: intltool-update: command not found
checking for intltool >= 0.35.5...  found
configure: error: Your intltool is too old.  You need intltool 0.35.5 or later.

The following packages will allow you to get past the configure stage:

dnf install intltool dbus-glib-devel nautilus-devel

But then, during the compilation:

na-icontext.c:45:30: fatal error: glibtop/proclist.h: No such file or directory
#include <glibtop/proclist.h>

The ONLY workaround is to hit the Right-click key on your keyboard - it's nested between the Right Super and Right Ctrl keys. You do this without selecting any files inside the folder, and then you will have the desired action.

Right click key

Alternative file managers

As a solution, you may want to try Nemo, Dolphin or Thunar. However, these changes come with their own penalty. Nemo is the sanest, and it does offer a bunch of decent options, and largely, it behaves like a Gnome app.

Dolphin looks nice, but you will need to spend quite a bit of time playing, fiddling, changing settings and icons, until it develops the look & feel you'd expect from a Gnome program. Then, still, it did not cooperate well with the system theme, it did not integrate into the panel, and it was unable to play files from remote systems, which seems to be a rather big issue with Plasma in general.

Dolphin, icon size

Place entry, customize

Change icons

Dolphin, customize 1

Dolphin, customize 2

Dolphin, customize 3

But at least you can right-click and create new folders AND files! Small victory.

Dolphin, right click

Thunar, quite customizable, but then, it uses its own hard-coded theme and does not look pretty in Gnome with Adwaita. Much like Dolphin, it ignored the icon themes, and overall, I did gain a few odd points here and there, but then lost some in other areas. Which means that the Gnome file manager in 2017 does less than one did in 2013 or so, and there's no real replacement available, no matter which way you go. Horrible.

Best for last: theme editing

Now this is a hot one. If you're not happy with how Gnome behaves by default, you will have a rather tough time tweaking the system, because this desktop environment hides most of the settings from you, including any ability to modify themes or icons. If you feel the default color scheme for the selected theme is wrong, i.e. most likely pale or without sufficient contrast, you're kind of stuck. Well, there's a way.

I have a whole article on Gnome theme editing, but for those impatient, here's the crux of things. Gnome themes will be located in two places: either under /usr/share/themes as a global option or the hidden .themes folder in your home directory. Inside, themes will be listed by their name, and then inside each folder, there will be sub-folders like gtk-2.0 and gtk-3.0. One step deeper, these folders will contain gtk.css files. Basically CSS styles defining what the themes should look like, and how they ought to behave. Think of your desktop as one giant HTML file, and these are the visual, stylistic rules. Much like any Web page. The sad state of how the reality is perceived in modern days.

CSS edit

Now, if you want to make modifications, backup the original gtk.css file and then change whatever style you want. For example, fonts wise, you may want to edit the foreground color hexadecimal value as defined by the theme to something you find more suitable, e.g. black.

@define_color theme_fg_color #abcdef;

Reload the theme using GTT. Beholden the results, before and after, and then, gently weep from joy, or in joy, if you prefer:

Default font

Black font

More reading

Well, if you're keenly interested:

Even more Fedora 24/25 essential pimpology for the brave amongst you

Cardinal Gnome 3 accessibility guide for the bravest yet

Ubuntu tweaking guide, the new one that is


Sanity, delivered in bite size chunks, right to your doorstep. I've done a lot of work with Gnome-based distros recently, and I have to admit there's perverse if sisyphic fun in all this tweaking. Helpful, in the end, but it could have so easily been avoided if Gnome 3 was shipped as a product rather than a playground for sterility-seeking devs.

Of course, these types of guides highlight all the problems with the default settings, but they also expose the workarounds and the tricks you can apply to make your life easier, should you choose to stick with Gnome. This latest one gives you a new dock, a much needed show desktop functionality, some file manager tips, and a handful of what not to do. Equally good. Well, that's it for now. If you have any how-do-i questions, feel free to send them over, and I'll commit my time trying to unravel the mysteries of bad coding so that you don't need to bleed your life doing the same thing. A man on a mission. Yup.


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