Gnome 3 Fallback mode - Get your productivity back

Updated: April 6, 2011

A few days ago, I spake at great length about Gnome 3. While it's a very pretty and comely interface, it struck me as counterproductive, designed with a change for the sake of change. Entirely subjective, of course, so feel free to disagree. One may choose to wallow in pity and despair, but I'm more sort of a solve-it person.

Thus, not all is lost, yet. Linux Mint will most likely feature Gnome 3, tweaked to look decent and usable. But there's more you can do. Gnome 3 features the so called Fallback mode, sort of a failsafe mode, which should kick in on machines with unsupported graphics cards. This is good news for people aching for older, more classic looks, because Fallback is almost exactly that. Let's take a look.


I tested the Gnome 3 beta live CD image, built on top of Fedora. My first attempt was an openSUSE image created using SUSE Studio. In a way, you get an early preview of both what Fedora 15 is going to look like, as well as additional Gnome 3 features.

Fedora + Gnome 3 preview

It looks pretty much identical to openSUSE image, with the main difference being the choice of applications available underneath the hood. All in all, the uniform interface is not a bad idea, if only it were executed with more forethought.

Main view

Let's change that, shall we.

Fallback mode

Now, the part that really interests us. Go to System Settings > System Info. In this window, you'll be able to activate - force - Fallback Mode. The next time you login, you'll enjoy a more mainstream interface you're familiar with from the Gnome 2.X generation.

Fallback options

Now, things are starting to look more reasonable:

Fallback desktop

You get your buttons back. There's a panel at the bottom. So far so good. Now, the system area icons could do with a little more aesthetics, but this is still an early release, so things may yet change.



System tray

Right-click on the desktop area or the panel still does not work by default. But even so, the Fallback Mode is a far cry from the toy story you get by default. It's a good blend of good looking and useful.

Gnome Tweak Tool

This is a handy utility that allows you to customize advanced Gnome 3 settings. It's still an early project and work in progress, so things may change yet. You may also want to see whether this program can help you tame Gnome 3 to your liking and use.

However, I had no luck installing it in the live session. No luck installing in Maverick, either; it complained about gsetting-desktop-schemas package missing, which I was not able to found in the repo, or elsewhere. So this thing could work, but it might also take a bit of effort setting up. For now, you can see a handful of screenshots on the official site.

More reading

I want to rant some more. Therefore, I'd like to refer you to an interesting article written by the Linux anti-hero, LHB, who speaks about the Fallacy of Choice:

Fallacy of Choice (a good read for disgruntled Linuxers)


Gnome 3 Fallback Mode is not as pretty or as good as the most polished and tweaked current Gnome desktops. Therefore, pitting it against the contemporary beauties is unfair and estimating what it may become is nothing more than a wild speculation. Gnome 2 had a lot of time to mature; Gnome 3 is only making its first hobbles, as gainly and graceful as a drunken armadillo. We should wait and see.

One thing is certain though, the Fallback Mode is more productive and useful than the standard, default Gnome 3 session. You don't get the full repertoire you may expect, but there's progress, good, healthy progress. In one fell stroke, you gain some 50-60% of your expected desktop functionality, which restores a bit of sanity and hope. Theoretically, you could get your old desktop back with some careful work on extra features, backward compatibility and a dab of visual polish. Experienced Linux distribution developers could pull this off easily, rebranding the skeleton looks with their own unique touch. Once again, we go back to Linux Mint, which has shown the art of subtle visual transformation many times over in the past.

So, at the end of the day, I still may be a raging retard slash conservative geek, but I'm pleased with my latest discoveries. The future may not be as bleak as it looked just a few days ago. Finally, there's one more project work mentioning - it's Trinity KDE. We will talk about it in a few days, as we examine viable alternatives and replacements for the KDE and Gnome desktops.