Make Gnome 3 more accessible for everyday use

Updated: February 18, 2017

Gnome 3 is a desktop environment that was created to fix a problem that did not exist. Much like PulseAudio, Wayland and Systemd, it's there to give developers a job, while offering no clear benefit over the original problem. The Gnome 2 desktop was fast, lithe, simple, and elegant, and its replacement is none of that. Maybe the presentation layer is a little less busy and you can search a bit more quickly, but that's about as far as the list of advantages goes, which is a pretty grim result for five years of coding.

Despite my reservation toward Gnome 3, I still find it to be a little bit more suitable for general consumption than in the past. Some of the silly early decisions have been largely reverted, and a wee bit more sane functionality added. Not enough. Which is why I'd like to take a moment or three to discuss some extra tweaks and changes you should add to this desktop environment to make it palatable. Follow me.


Gnome Tweak Tool

This is your essential weapon no. 1. We used it to make CentOS 7Fedora 24 as well as the more recent Fedora 25 behave. Whatever distribution you choose and it just happens to include a default Gnome 3 configuration, you will most likely need this utility from timestamp zero. You can install it thusly - of course, you should run all three commands at the same time for maximum street credit and leetness.

apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool

yum install gnome-tweak-tool

dnf install gnome-tweak-tool

Gnome Tweak Tool

Extensions & basic functionality

Most importantly, GTT lets you install extensions, which help restore some of the simple, expected functionality that Gnome 2 had, and which is missing from Gnome 3 by default. You will be surprised by the amount of trivial things covered.

Appearance wise, you can change the default themes, icons and fonts. On the desktop, you can add icons like Home, Trash and others, something that you do not normally get. GTT also lets you toggle startup applications on and off, add minimize and maximize buttons to your windows, and even add a bottom panel showing open application windows. This is an almost mandatory step for any Gnome 3 installation.

Extensions further enhance the behavior, including media, places, removable drives, or even Skype indicator, ability to add an application menu to the top panel, a new alt-tab switcher, and more. I've shown you this in more detail in my Fedora 23 article.

GTT, extensions

Integration, context menu

Dash to Dock

Cream of the crop, you can transform the Dash hidden inside the overview into a proper dock, with application shortcuts, removing the pointless and tedious necessity of having to open either the application menu or the Activities windows to search for favorites. This gives you instant productivity. I have reviewed Dash to Dock, the excellent extension that provides this behavior, in a separate review. I tested this most lovely little tool inside Chapeau 24, a Fedora-based spin. And we will soon examine another interesting extension that offers goodness and sanity of a similar nature. Stay tuned.

Nice desktop

Hover text

Show desktop

One of the missing widgets in Gnome 3 is the ability to show your desktop by hiding all open applications. The same issues plagued Plasma for a while before the thingie was finally restored in Kubuntu 16.10. Silly, isn't it. Well, Gnome 3 still does not have a button, but you can somewhat cheat and quickly create a keyboard shortcut.

Under Settings > Keyboard, go to Navigation and search for Hide all normal windows. It should read disabled. Then, assign a shortcut key to it. I would recommend something like Super + D, which is very similar to what Windows does, as well as a few other, saner desktop environments, too. But I have a few more tricks up my wizard's sleeve, which I earned on my 30th birthday, along with a hat and a beard, for you on this topic, except those will have to wait for a separate article.

Show desktop

Default software center

If you are not pleased with default applications, you can replace them. For Ubuntu-based distros, most notably, the Gnome Software tool, which is pointless and inaccurate. You can just remove it and install the old Ubuntu Software Center. I've shown you how to do this in my Xubuntu Yakkety Yak review. But this is only a temporary relief, as the Ubuntu Software Center is not meant to be, and the support will cease soon if not already. Still this might give you the reprieve you need until a proper solution is baked, and by that I mean another fork of another tool or something. Forever cutlery.

USC installed

You might also want to consider replacing the file manager, as well as adding new file templates into the Templates folders inside your home directory, so that you have more than just the 'new folder' option on right-click. Again, details in my Fedora 24 pimp guide. Speaking of Fedora and guides, we will have ANOTHER pimping article coming soon.


And that's it for this round. I guess, with the combination of my other Gnome related articles, including the two Fedora guides, plus dock, plus extensions and whatnot, you should have enough ammunition to tame your Gnome 3 experience to your liking, with focus on sanity, productivity, ergonomics, and efficiency.

If you ask me, as soon as you hit a fresh new vanilla Gnome 3 desktop, undo it. Get yourself the Gnome Tweak Tool, grab half a dozen extensions, add windows buttons, add a dock, and then exhale, and start breathing normally. At the very least, this should give you the same kind of look and feel that Gnome 2 offered 10 years ago. That is, children, what we adults call progress. But worry not, we will revisit this topic again and again, with still more fine tips and tricks to make your desktop more pleasing to run and use. Never surrender. Have a lovely existence.