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Gnome’s Hell and Lamborghinis | Part One

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10 worst bugs in Shell

I’m including Shell versions 300-340

10. Shell crashes with a fast double “r”
Ok, this bug isn’t important to many of you, but it personally drove me nuts. I was trying to port a silly game I had made in Canvas HTML5 (some bouncing objects with gravity etc) into a Clutter/Cogl shell-extension in Gnome 320.

To reload a shell extension after you do some coding, you have to restart shell by Alt+F2 & “r”. If you do this twice inside 30-60sec Gnome Shell will crash. This bug was reproduced both with nVidia and Nouveau drivers.

And the worst part was that relogin again you had to open code editor, nautilus, set the workspaces etc.. I tried for 3-4days to make this extension, but I quit as I didn’t want to end up into madhouse.. not yet!

9. Alt+Tab & Alt+~ / Cycling Apps
While Shell’s overview provides a smart and nice way for switching between your apps, isn’t so fast as Alt+Tab. So, Gnome introduced the first Alt+Tab that requires both hands as you need arrows keys to pick your app.

Having 3-4 workspaces with Chromes/Firefoxes opened with some tabs, cycling between them is a pure nightmare. I can’t blame directly Gnome Shell for it, as every other Desktop OS faces the same problem. But I was hoping that Gnome would had come up with a better solution.

This is another feature that in Gnome are looking for better techniques.

8. Memory Leaks
How much memory Shell needs? In some occasions up to 2GB! This bug hit, and hit hard mostly at Gnome 320 with hundreds of users complaining. A quick workaround was to restart the Shell, but restarting Shell was making apps placement in workspaces gone (another bug).

While in 340 things are better, some people still face this issue. By the way a normal RAM that shell needs is about 80-200MB.

7. < Alt > ernative shut down
An irritating easter egg from Gnome developers to naives Gnome users! This bug grew big, bigger than really is, because Gnome devs forgot to mention a small detail; how we can shut down our boxes, and many users had to log out first and then shutdown.

Jakub Steiner (if I can correctly recall the name -but if not him; another major Gnome designer) said that logging out and then shutting down is the right away to turn off your Linux. So if that is true, why you removed log out option from single user boxes (in 360)? …

Do not also forget that Touch Screens have not an “Alt” ..Oh well let them on ;)
This awful design approach of one small detail done so damage in Gnome3 reputation, that a year and a half after this issue is still reminded. They say better late than ever, and Gnome Devs fixed that on 360.

6. Two or more monitors
I never had two monitors to cope up with it but I have heard so many people to complain about dual monitor support under Gnome that I have absolutely no choice but believe them.

It is really shame because this bug mostly affect users that do video (and image) editing which is one of the strongest points on Gnome/Linux. I am not sure what they are exactly planning for 360 but I know they are trying to solve this issue.

5. Notifications & Empathy
Gnome made impossible possible! You get all the notifications that you don’t want and you lose the notification that you don’t want to miss. And Jesus, why I am persistent notified that my second partition is mounted?

But the worst thing by far is the way that Empathy communicates with Shell. You cannot open your contact lists directly from Shell (which is a feature that was supposed to be included) and if you give focus to an opened Empathy window which is being to another workspace, Shell will move you to that workspace which I personally find it annoyed, as I have to switch back to continue my work.

The good news here is that there is totally revamp of notification system in 360!

4. Tweaking
Remember I’m talking about for Shell only, and no GTK or icons. The first thing I found annoying here is that I cannot drag n drop Shell top bar icons or remove them or change some options, for example use an analog clock.

Extensions gained some nice features in 340 like gsettings access (and options!), and an update button from Also I am using lots of them and I haven’t any compatibility issue between them.

In 360 we get an auto-update for extensions and of course a better documentation so people can write more and better extensions!

3. Shortcuts
I am very disappointed from Gnome Devs in this area, because they haven’t included combos. And I have a suggestion for them: To introduce combinations of 30+ buttons inside 3sec and winners will have their name written in Golden Gnome Users Book and a ticket (with all expenses included) to Tokyo, Japan for the World Final Tekken Tournament!

Getting back serious, this is an awful awful usability bug, specially for an OS that targets Touch Screens. I don’t know how they will deal with it, but there is already a discussions about.

And if you think that you know all Shell’s shortcuts check the cheatsheet guide.

2. Dynamic Workspaces
One of the strongest points of Gnome Shell is also one of the its strongest weaknesses. I don’t want to analyze this further coz it needs a full page; I am just closing the bug with a question: How many times you have been forced to re-arrange your Apps in workspaces?

Workspaces should act as real workspace, a space that particular apps that serve a purpose are placed. In 360 there is also a work in this area, with best thing a simple work around; an option to maintain a fixed number of workspaces (in the upcoming Gnome Tweak Tool).

1. Gnome Shell and Catalyst
The fiasco of the century! It isn’t worth to examine and analyze who the fault is but I can say this: I will never ever buy and ATi/AMD card and if I had a 400$ ATi card, I would never ever used Gnome again. Both sides lose. And users of course.

Are these all?
I am sure everyone can have his/her own list and I’ll be honest; I did this list super fast. Wasn’t hard to get 10 bugs in Gnome-Shell. I can easily make 10 more, but I still like it!


What I really love in Gnome is Red Hat’s open developing community which makes you able to see what’s coming next. And awesome things are planned for the short future!

And you people have to understand something. Gnome is not Gnome-Shell, Gnome Shell is not Gnome. Gnome consists of about 200 projects which Gnome Shell is one of the smallest (considering the code).

Gnome Shell attracts so much attention because is the interaction Shell, but.. is nothing but a Mutter’s plugin, easily to be changed and modified. And this is the real magick and success of Gnome Shell. I am totally sure that we will get a large number of varieties of Gnome Shell to choose from, not far from now.

Where are we standing now?
The fact is that Gnome leads the evolution of open Desktops and the rest are just following. Just check the competition:

KDE: KDE’s developers are quitting because are disappointed by project’s prospect, companies and organizations drop KDE support, the future feels uncertain and even the superior QT hasn’t made a major debut.

And remember the KDE’s CnC (Click and Crush) feature in 4.0 release. And I am not trying to blame KDE, but I want to show you that re-building a Desktop system isn’t the easiest thing in the world and bugs are unavoidable.

XFCE and rest: They just maintain a stable user base, you cannot actually compare the two systems (Gnome & XFCE) as they serve a completely different audience.

Cinnamon & rest: A forked Mutter and Shell. By making a better Shell we get a better Cinnamon. And more “Cinnamons” are going to follow! It is a nice alternative that exists thanks to Gnome’s original work. But innovation is an unknown word there.

Ubuntu/Unity: Ubuntu using more Gnome’s Technologies rather Canonical’s, and Unity has worse critics than Shell even inside Ubuntu community. Also Unity lacks technology specifications and innovation and also missing fanatical support by its user base (that means that Ubuntu users don’t contribute a lot in the project).

To be Continued..

I wanted to write much more but I run out of time and besides this post is already big, so I’ll make a second part. Next time I’ll show you that Shell is a Lamborghini, but not for few, as you might think!

Remember the above are my personal opinions; I claim any right to be wrong, and you have any right to disagree ..with a polite way, hopefully but not obligatory ;)

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  • Hunterm

    Cinnamon’s innovation is how it tries to provide the modern stuff GNOME Shell comes with, but tries to make it much more customizable; something GNOME 3 is definitely lacking.

    • Alexis Diavatis

      Gnome Shell is a blank template that you can build your very own interface, like Cinnamon did, what is more customizable than this? I don’t know why Cinnamon forked Mutter, but its authors will know better. I wish we get someone from its devs to talks us about.  

      • jon_downfromthetrees

        Forking the shell qualifies as configuration if you are a qualified developer.  It’s not really the kind of configuration all those unhappy Gnome 2 folks are after.

        I recall seeing the Cinnamon devs explain why they forked Mutter, but forget where I saw it. 

        • Ronald Trip

          It is to avoid conflicts:

          Edit by Clem: Many reasons… that would be a long answer  Gnome Shell doesn’t “use” Mutter, it IS a Mutter. If Cinnamon was a Mutter it would be a Mutter 3.2.1. If your distribution shipped Mutter 3.3, you would not be able to use Cinnamon with it. Because Cinnamon is a Muffin 1.0.0 and we provide to distributions both Cinnamon 1.2 and Muffin 1.0.0 and both of these don’t conflict with anything else we can make it so that people can run Cinnamon no matter what version of Gnome 3.x they have (of course there are other dependencies, on clutter itself and other libs, but that’s the rationale behind it). 


  • thubett

    “video (and image) editing which is one of the strongest points on Gnome/Linux”
    Err…really? GIMP is pretty good but I can’t say the same for any video editor.

    • Alexis Diavatis

      Your right, but what should I say? Having two monitors to run Servers, as servers is the only strong point in Linux ;) 

  • Brandon Watkins

     I don’t think you need to hands to pick your app when using alt + `…. as long as you are still holding alt you can cycle using alt +tab and alt + ` without the task switcher closing.

  • jon_downfromthetrees

    Hmm.  I dunno if logging out and then sitting down is the “right” way.  Who says? Why?  If it’s important, just incorporate logging out in the shutdown procedure and let the user click “shutdown” and get on with things.  After all, if the machine is turned off, what’s the concern about someone being logged in?

    Memory leaks are bad and need to be plugged, obviously. On the other hand, reviewers often hype how much memory a distro takes immediately after launch.  This is pointless.  Memory use often expands as available memory expands, so a 16-gig machine will show different numbers than a 4-gig machine.

    Notifications:  I want some things: 1.  I want to be able to choose where they display. 2.  I want to be able to choose from a range of sizes. 3.  I want to be able to choose the font and its attributes, with the balloon resizing appropriately. 4. I want to be able to view a display of alternative notification balloon designs and pick one.  This ought not to be left for theme builders to handle. 

    Also, I want to prevent notifications from displaying when I choose that, and later on look at a collapsed display of them.

    Two shell reloads in 30 seconds isn’t fast.  Two reloads in two seconds, maybe. Something is amiss if Gnome can’t cope with refreshes 30 seconds apart.

    Meanwhile:  1. Ship gnome-tweak-tool with Gnome, or incorporate its functionality in some fashion.  2. Build the Dash out as a real dock and let me make it narrower.  (Now, I kill it with an extension and run Plank.) 3. Give me an easy way to turn off that infuriating “I’ll take over your screen if you make me touch the top panel” business.  What if I want to position three open instances of Firefox at the top of the screen?  I have to waste time trying to keep each one a pixel away from the panel.

    • Vagelis Giannadakis

      All valid points.

  • Raidensub

    The bug i hate in Gnome Shell is this:

    I made a post in askubuntu because i thought this Ubuntu specific. Most of the people can’t see this if they have a big monitor but i have 1024×768 monitor.
    If you search the internet you can find some very old bug reports.

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  • Mike Manilone

    What @336a5f6685199ddf5ff0b59709870eca:disqus said is one of the disadvantages. I very hate the memory leaks, really! 

  • liam

    Great post.
    Coming from an obvious fan of GS, this sort of criticism is very healthy, although some of these problems are clearly just bugs that will be fixed (for a data point, with only firefox open, in a sandbox, GS is using about 140M, and has mapped about 550M).
    Something that I’d like to add is overview grouping. Although I do use many applications, I tend not to use the virtual desktops. The reason is b/c they are too hard to get to, and I don’t recall where which application resides. Instead I use the GS extension Overview Icon which, well, places the applications icon atop the mipmapped apps in overview. This works well with as long as you only use a few apps and not multiple instances of an app, but fails badly when using many, many apps. Desktops are cludgey, IMHO, since their existence stems from an inadequate WM. If we could group apps in overview and provide names for them, that is something that would scale (similar to firefox’s tab management, which you can completely ignore if you don’t use it, but is amazing if you do lots of web research).
    The thing I am saddest about (aside from some design decisions) is the lack of well defined hooks. The fact that extensions can bring the shell down (which is unavoidable due to the use of monkey patching) means that extension developers need to have some confidence in the stability of their target. Obviously GS needs tons more work, but if extensions are to be a truly useful thing (that is, the kind of useful software that I’d tell my mom or grandmom to use) they need to be more reliable. Documentation helps, but reliable hooks help more. Once the hooks have been implemented any extensions that decide to work with other parts of the shell should be labeled as such at

  • Vagelis Giannadakis

    Kudos for the objective article! Critique always helps! Μπράβο!

  • Enrique Dans

    What do you mean by ”
    KDE’s CnC (Click and Crush) feature” ?

    • alex285

      I tried KDE 4.0 when released, and I had 1 crash in every 10 actions. Never seen in my life more unstable Desktop. Thus every click (action) was a crash.  

      • Enrique Dans

        Ah yeah. True.

  • David Edmundson

    KDE: KDE’s developers are quitting because are disappointed by project’s prospect, companies and organizations drop KDE support, the future feels uncertain and even the superior QT hasn’t made a major debut.
    [citation needed] 

    That’s FUD spreading bollucks. 

    – A KDE Developer.

    • alex285

      Hello David, 
      Every time that someone writes something bad about a popular OS project is FUD. If I am wrong and KDE gains in popularity and get support from more companies we’ll be very happy to have someone from there to make this clear. You have space here if you want to.

  • Fewt

    We have reviewed your bug reports, and none of these are bugs as they are features that are working as designed.  Closed WILLNOTFIX. XD

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