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Fallback mode is going away – what now ?

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One piece to the dropping Fallback mode story is that it’s possible to get some of the GNOME2 style workflow with extensions (bug #685744). What we might see is a “Classic” switch either in Gnome Control Center or more likely in Gnome Tweak Tool, that enables some extensions that revert the traditional Gnome2 workflow -as much as possible.

The real good news is that Gnome will work pretty close with Extension Authors to further improve that experience.

This is the very interesting email of Matthias.

In the discussion over fallback mode at the Boston, we’ve talked about GNOME users who use fallback mode because they are used to certain elements and features of the GNOME 2 UX, such as task bars, minimization, etc. GNOME 3 has brought new patterns to replace these,such as overview and search. And while we certainly hope that many users will find the new ways comfortable and refreshing after a short learning phase, we should not fault people who prefer the old way. After all, these features were a selling point of GNOME 2 for ten years!

So, what to do ? Thankfully, we have a pretty awesome extension mechanism in gnome-shell (, and there are a ton of extensions out there which allow users to tweak gnome-shell in all kinds of ways. This also includes extensions which bring back many of the aforementioned ‘classic’ UX elements. The downsides of extensions are that (a) there is no guarantee that they will work with a new shell release – you often have to wait for your favourite extension to be ported and (b) there’s so many of them, which often do very similar things – choice is always hard.

As part of the planning for the DropOrFixFallbackMode feature[1], we’ve decided that we will compile a list of supported gnome-shell extensions. This will be a small list, focused on just bringing back some central ‘classic’ UX elements: classic alt tab, task bar, min/max buttons, main menu. To ensure that these extensions keep working, we will release them as a tarball, just like any other module. Giovanni already added an –enable-extensions=classic-mode configure option to the gnome-shell-extensions repository, which we will use for this work.

We haven’t made a final decision yet on how to let users turn on this ‘classic mode’ – it may be a switch in gnome-tweak-tool or something else.

Some questions that I expect will be asked:

Q: Why not just make gnome-shell itself more tweakable ?
A: We still believe that there should be a single, well-defined UX for GNOME 3, and extensions provide a great mechanism to allow tweaks without giving up on this vision. That being said, there are examples like the a11y menu[2] or search[3], where the shell will become more configurable in the future.

Q: Why not cinnamon ?
A: Cinnamon is a complete fork of mutter/gnome-shell/nautilus – ie a completely separate desktop shell. Our aim with dropping fallback mode is to reduce the number of desktop shells we ship, not replace one by another. We’ve had a friendly discussion with clem about the reasons why they went from a set of extensions to an outright fork, and we don’t think they apply in our situation.

Q: Why isn’t it enough to just have these ‘classic mode’ extensions ?
A: We want to support these, ie make sure that they are available and work at the same time as the next major GNOME release. The most straightforward way to do that is to make them part of our traditional release mechanism – git repositories and tarballs.

Q: Who is working on this ?
A: Giovanni, Debarshi and Florian.

Comments, questions, suggestions welcome.

There isn’t any decision yet but what is going to happen it will happen in Gnome 3.8. The scenario is to see a “Classic Mode” in Gnome Tweak Tool (that loads a set of extensions) and the fans of more traditional desktop, will get a better Gnome 3 experience, as Gnome doesn’t want to sacrifice the quality in this new mode (if comes of course!).

This is clearly another opening of Gnome in “core” community alongside with Extension Authors.. We can’t but welcome the move!

Don’t miss to read the interesting discussions in the Gnome Desktop Development Lists ..and participate of course if you have some good ideas!

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  • Aventinus the Zethos

    – Fallback mode is going away. What now?
    – Now, the future…

  • jon_downfromthetrees

    Potentially, this is a very positive decision, for two reasons. First, that there’s been a response to all those people who want to use Gnome but don’t want to use default Gnome Shell. Many people do not make that distinction. But, it’s an important one. Especially, I imagine, to the Gnome team’s plans to increase the focus on Gnome applications. People are unlikely to use Gnome applications if they refuse to use Gnome Shell. This move should alos address loss of users to Unity, Cinnamon, MATE, SolusOS etc. If the classic extensions allow users to add applets and icons to the panel, the chances for the effort’s acceptance will increase.

    The second positive aspect is the decision to take those few extensions under the “official” Gnome umbrella to ensure they are maintained and kept current with new releases. The extension concept is a good idea but without official support for an extension it becomes a nice-to-have users can’t depend on. Let’s hope this sets a precedence.

    • Carlos Solís

      I remember when I used GNOME Shell, that I customized it with several extensions to work more or less like the regular GNOME desktop. Then the Cinnamon desktop arrived, and it was basically the setup I had built, so I jumped to it and stayed with it until today. Now, if the official GNOME developers create a classic Cinnamon-esque set of extensions that works out of the box without usability bugs, I’ll consider switching back.

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