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The reasons behind Gnome-Shell’s new face

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We tried to reach the designer of Gnome-Shell Jakub Steiner who pushed the new Shell design in Git to explain us the changes, but he replied that the work is still very preliminary, things are maybe going to change and so he can’t be interviewed just yet. Fair enough and we will try to talk to him again when Shell features will be freezed.

So for now we dug a bit into Gnome’s documentation and we present you the reasons behind these changes at least the way are printed in Gnome Live.

1. Tons of Apps

Gnome -and Linux- distributions are used to preload your box with dozens of applications that either hardly use or you don’t even know what are used for. Sometimes there are applications like Transmission (torrent client) and Evince (PDF viewer) that while are kinda necessarily to exist in every box, you just want to use the alternatives and because few people remove them they are keeping appearing in you application overview like trash. In a box that user solely installs the applications, categories aren’t mandatory.

Gnome Team believe that your box should come as much as possible free from Apps and let the user to choose what he wants. The projects that will met these requirements are the Gnome OS (which we posted that is number two Gnome goal for 2013/14) that will come empty from Apps and Gnome Application Center that will embrace Apps discovery from users.

2. Pre-defined Categories

A huge scrolled grid with a hundred of applications is absolutely impossible to be scanned. Categories can work around this problem by filtering the number of items shown at one time, but as they are not defined by the user the issue remains because he has to cycle through anyway.

Installing a new application will give the user just a chance to guess in which category this application will be added. For example a user installs Evince and he expects this application to be visible under Office Category. Instead Evince is installed under Accessories Category.  The user next day is looking for it in Office Category, but he can’t find it there. Then he has to cycle again through all categories -in best case scenario- , or he is going to install it again as he supposes that previous installation was failed or because he forgot he has already install it.

3. Spatial Memory

Instead of categories the new Shell will ship the concept of paging -the white bullets on the left. The reason behind this is to embrace the spatial memory, which means that a user will remember for example that his Facebook application is somewhere in the second page at bottom.  This technique is what Google applies in almost every service, but here things are a bit more complicated as the user can change themes from time to time. Changing theme can reduce or increase the number of pages because themes tend to change the number of application icons that fit in your screen.

However Spatial Memory still can work in the concept of how low or top an application will be shown in the grid.

4. Favorites 

This is very preliminary but it seems that Shell will include Zeitgeist framework for grouping applications according to how often are used or will let us to arrange the position of applications on grid with drag and drop.

5. The role of Dash

Another very preliminary feature.  The dash is currently used for showing our favorites and indicates the running applications.  Because the number of simulanious running applications is typically very high it makes the dash less useful for touch devices and it generally not scaling very well.

Jakub Steiner proposes to :

  • Change primary role of the window picker to be running app picker
  • Use stacks of windows + overlaid large icon
  • Primary action is to select an application. Secondary is to expose the stack and pick a window. Mimicks Alt+Tab, Alt+~ switching.


Except the removal of the categories in the Gnome-Shell three point six we get and a new button for application discovery that you can see it and have to see it  in action here.

Jakub Steiner in his blog says:  “After some frobbing in Inkscape and Blender, I came out with a streamlined layout the overview, using a toggle button on the dash to expose ‘all apps’ for the less commonly used ones

And continues: “There are currently a couple of benefits to this approach — removing an item (favourite) from the dash is a matter of dropping it back to the ‘all apps’ pool without the need to show a temporary delete icon. We’re only removing it from the dash, not really uninstalling or deleting it. The ‘…’ button (“show me more…”) lives in the context of application launchers rather than arbitrarily floating in space.

Gnome three point six (3.6) will be released in September 26 and I think this release will be one of the best Gnome releases ever.

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  • Jim Campbell

    Hi – thanks for writing this blog overall . . . it’s great to see attention being paid to GNOME (Gnome? :) in this way, and the site looks lovely.

    A couple of notes, though. Please avoid gendered language where possible. In this article you repeatedly refer to the user as “he,” but we all know that women use GNOME, too.  : )  Here’s something I found that presents some reasonable alternative phrasings:

    Also, the application name is just Evince, not Evinence.  

    Thanks again for writing this blog.

    • Alexis Diavatis

      I was 1/3 right :)  Thank you for the notices. About Gnome check this: 

  • Sander Deryckere

    I do have a question with removing the categories.

    Currently, you can use alacarte (menu-editor) to edit the shortcuts shown. Alacarte is organized in categories in the same way as the shell. But if the categories are removed on the shell, will they also be removed on Alacarte?

    Or will it just be an inconsistent mess?

    • Alexis Diavatis

      Without being 100% sure, categories are defined in GSettings so you can still use Alacarte. I guess there will be an extension that will make categories again visible. But that is just a guess, I don’t really know.  

    • Floo Bar

       Categories are part of .desktop-files. Those are defined as a free desktop standard. The shell is simply not going the category-info anymore.

  • Shiretoko

    Too much space between icons equals visual bloat.

  • Hoi

    One thing that is pretty hard for me to process is why are these mockups done in low resolution and at 4:3? 16:9@1080p is the industry standard so woudn’t it make sense to develope the interfaces to fit that rather than something that hasn’t been used in years?

    • Vagelis Giannadakis

       I guess 4:3 and (relatively) low-res are hints for the tablet form-factor…

      • Greg Eden

        All Android Tablets are 16:9 except for a few cheap Chinese tablets trying to copy the iPad form factor. Only Apple champions the old style form factor of the last century. Gnome sure ain’t ever going to be installed on an iPad.

  • Coudcoud63

    I wonder if there’s going to be a tool or a file where users could add personalized keywords on applications.
    So they could be able to add an “office” or an “accessories” tag to Evince and find it by striking “off…” or “acc…” in the search field.
    This could somehow replace the categories.

  • Paul Best

    If the software center has applications grouped into categories, why not have those same categories available for the menu? It seems really inconsistent to install an application selected from the graphics category and then not have the same category available to easily find it.

    Why not make the first page special, displaying frequently used, recommended, and/or recently installed applications, with the category list matching the software center below it for the same visual style. If the desire is to have only a few applications installed by default then categories may initially not be needed in a default install, but it would be useful to show them after a certain number of applications are installed either from a particular group or total to provide a sane default for both situations. If I install several graphics applications, showing a category for them, or allowing the user to create a category for them would make a lot of sense.

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  • Greg Eden

    The problem with spatial memory is that the icons will jump around as you add new ones. No one’s system is static, especially Linux users. So what was on page three today might be on page four tomorrow. It would be nice if categories could at least be retained as an option. I use the Axe menu extension, and I would guess it will continue to read .desktop files and continue to work.

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  • AmbientRevolution

    Liking the changes, especially good job. :)

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