Gnome 3 & best extensions

Updated: August 31, 2018

Now, this is an article you probably did not expect. You all know I'm not fond of Gnome 3, because it comes with an inefficient default UI that mandates the use of numerous extensions and tweaks before it can be enjoyed. And as such, it's hardly a bundle of software one gets excited about casually, or willingly.

And yet, I did find it to be reasonable (after tweaks), and even enjoyed it to a moderately high degree in several editions of Fedora, well, for the brief time Fedora 24 and Fedora 25 were around - I am not really happy with the latest version, alas. Recently, having spent some time playing with CentOS, I decided to invest energy in using Gnome to the fullest, and that means exploring the repertoire of its available extensions. Hence this article really. Let's see what I've discovered.


Must have extensions

Before we can dabble in the nice-to-have best-of, there are several indispensable components that have to be added to Gnome 3 to make usable. I've mentioned this in the article linked above, but briefly, you need to install Gnome Tweak Tool (GTT) to be able to control and use extensions easily, as well as modify the user interface (like adding min/max buttons to windows). Then, you need to be able to install extensions, and this means, depending on your distro, both a browser extension and a small package called gnome-chrome-shell that allows extensions to be installed.

After this, we need some kind of a dock. There are several options available, with the highly popular ones being Dash to Dock and Dash to Panel. I like the latter better, as it bundles the system area applets, plus it comes with a Show desktop button. Once you have these in place, you have a normal, classic desktop.

Hover text

Clipboard indicator

Plasma 5 has the dopest clipboard around, with multi-selection and whatnot. Nothing comes remotely close. But then, there's this little Gnome extension that does let you have a smart clipboard. The tool is quite nifty, and it's customizable, too. You can choose how many entries to save, cache size, notifications, clear individual clips or all of them. Very useful, and pretty, too.

Clipboard Indicator

Indicator settings

Drop Down Terminal

In general, this isn't a must-have thing, but people of the most nerdistic persuasion do love having a terminal window quickly accessible. This becomes less of an issue if you use a dock, or if you have something like Yakuake installed, but if you fancy a native Gnome thing, Drop Down Terminal is the thing. It's activated by the tilde key by default, it's reasonably fast to roll down and up, and you can add charms and nonsense l33t text if you like. The one thing that is buggy is that if you relocate your top panel to a dock via D2D or D2P, then there's an empty line at the top of the screen.

Drop Down Terminal

Drop Down Terminal settings


This is a very inceptic name for an extension, but we have an extension called Extensions, and what it does is, it lets you access all your extensions from the system area, with the ability to quickly toggle them on or off, the same way you would with GTT. Handy, and designed with grace, too.


Media Player Indicator

As the name implies, Media Player Indicator allows you to preview and interact with music files you're playing even with the main program interface minimized or hidden away somewhere. You will have a nice applet tucked into the system popup menu. From there, you can control the volume, stop/resume playback, skip songs, and more. I've noticed there's quite a bit of variety among different distributions, probably related to the Gnome version, but some will also show cover art and rating, while others won't. Still, highly useful, as this is something that both Unity and Plasma have natively.

Media player Indicator

Music integration 2

Open Weather

Normally, I'm not too keen on weather updates inside the desktop, but then, occasionally, there's a nice piece of code, and Open Weather seems to be one of those. The usage is self-explanatory. The fact Tuvalu is used as a default location isn't. Nor the choice of imperial units, either. Really? The international standards ought to be respected, especially since Tuvalu uses metric, even if they drive on the wrong side of the road. Now, you can add multiple locations, and if you have GPS (enabled), you can also get auto location updates.

Open Weather

Status Area Horizontal Spacing

The world would be a sad place if there weren't extensions for OCD-inflicted people. SAHS is one such product, with a single configurable parameter - a slider that lets you change the spacing (in pixels), from 0 to 12, with the default value of 6, for your system area items. That would be everything except the static battery, volume and network indicators. You may think this is trivial, but no, Kimosabe, this is important.

Status Area spacing


There you go. Writing this article got me thinking. Gnome 3 is like Firefox 57. It brought about a radical change, made a lot of what made the original version great redundant, and hid options from users, making customization difficult. Gnome 3 also fights hard against extensions. But these are the bread and butter of what makes it useful, practical and appealing to users. The same is also true of Cinnamon, which has also partially been afflicted the same way. Technically, one may claim that extensions are a poor excuse for bad design, but then, in general, history has shown that they do make products more engaging in the long run. Collective intelligence can be a good thing, especially when harvested for free.

I am still convinced that Gnome 3 is doing it wrong, and that Plasma, Unity or even MATE are much better solutions on all levels. But then, if you do want to use this desktop environment, there are several handy extensions that can truly transform the experience. The must-have set, and then a sweetening of five nice little extras, which help make the desktop more useful and fun. If you have any other suggestions, this is a good time to use your email sending skills. And we're done.