How do you use Gnome Shell?

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malberts

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I was one of the Gnome Shell sceptics initially but now I like it a lot.
I tried it before with Fedora 16 last year but it was too much of a
culture shock for me. The previous week I decided that I'm going to make
some effort to try and "get it". And now, since the beginning of
this week, I am using Shell and I see no good reason to ever go back to
Classic (or the classic desktop Superphor, for that matter). I am using
Shell 3.2 with Trisquel 5.5.

I will admit that the default/stock Shell install definitely
won't cater to everyone. So I went looking at the Gnome Extensions
(https://extensions.gnome.org/#) website and what other websites deemed
"the best extensions". For a while I felt like a kid in a candy store
looking at all the interesting hacks people have been making for Shell.

There are essentially 4 modes for using Shell: Top bar, Top bar and
bottom panel, Bottom panel, "VIM mode".

The Top panel mode is what you get normally. It is a strange mixture of
a legacy concept (the Menu button), the name of the application having
focus and then the more traditional system/notification icons. As it is,
I felt it was a waste of space. I always use the Super/Windows key to
access Overview mode. As for the active window name, I either keep
mental track when I have multiple windows open, or I am full-screen and
there's nothing to keep track of. So I see no point in that either. I
know Shell 3.4 introduced some simplified menu into that Window Name
thing (possibly inspired by Unity's Globalmenu) but I'll ignore that for
now.

So I started to look for ways to customise the top bar. To get straight
to the point, it is possible to get it to look almost like the old
panel. You can have an old-style menu, shortcut icons, open windows and
then on the right side whatever other widgets/applets are available. Let
me warn that your new old-style top bar will not be very customisable
from the GUI (like with 2.x Panel). You will not be able to drag things
around but I realised that's not really an issue for me any more. All my
old 2.x Panels always looked like that anyway: Menu, Shortcuts, Windows,
Applets, System/Notification Icons, Time. With this customisation I
think I might have been satisfied if I wanted the old-style Panel back.
But there was one issue that annoyed me: the Window List extension
looked very ugly and distracting. So I decided to dig some more and see
what I can do with Shell. But here is a list of some of the extensions I
used to simulate the old panel (all, except one, of them are on the
Gnome Extensions website):
* Frippery Applications Menu: this replaces the 'Activities' button with
an old-style menu. It doesn't use floating boxes for each level in the
menu hierarchy, but instead uses something similar to a website
accordion widget.
* Frippery Panel Favorites: this adds the items in the Dash as shortcut
icons to the top bar. To edit the items here you must edit the Dash instead.
* Window List: this adds all the open windows to the top bar. They have
an icon and the window title. It also moves the Clock to before the
status icon.
* Window Icon List: I also tried this one instead of the normal Window
List. It adds only an icon for each open window. It is much harder to
use, for example while I'm typing this email I can see 2 Thunderbird
icons and I have no idea which one is which. There is also no hover text
to help me.
* Frippery Move Clock: moves the clock to be the second item on the
right side. Only the status/username menu is after it. You do not need
this extension if you use the Window List extension.
* gnome-shell-classic-systray: It moves the notifications from the
bottom "shadow panel" to the top, next to the other system icons. Note
that you cannot click on the moved icons while you are in Overview mode.
You can only get this extension from a PPA
(http://www.webupd8.org/2012/04/gnome-shell-classic-systray-message.html).
* Remove User Name: as the name says, it removes your name next to the
status icon. It is not necessary, but I know what my name is :).

The above extensions give you the basic old panel layout. But if you
like making crazy modifications to your 2.x Panel then this will not
make you happy.

There are some other extensions that might be useful:
* Remove Accessibility: exactly what the name says. It seems like many
people complained that it is there all the time.
* Evil Status Icon Forever: this allows you to define what notification
icons you want at the top and which of the default icons you want to
remove. If you use this you don't need the Remove Accessibility extensions
* gTile: it gives you a GUI to organise your windows in a grid. There
are no keybindings that I am aware of, which is very annoying.
* Alternative Status Menu: by default the Status menu does not have a
Shut Down item, you have to hold down ALT. This puts the Shut Down item
in the menu.
* Places Status Indicator: it adds something like the old Places applet.
It shows your Nautilus Bookmarks and standard Places, like Home,
Documents, Removable Drives, etc.

There are a few ALT+TAB extensions that make it work in the old way,
i.e. one icon per window, but I find myself to prefer the new style
where you ALT+TAB between different applications and ALT+` to switch
between different windows of the same application.

I did not really test any of the methods that add a bottom panel because
I never liked having two panels anyway and I realised that I do not
really want a panel at all. But I had a brief look at:
* Frippery Bottom Panel: it adds a bottom panel with open windows and
Workspace icons.
* Panel-Docklet: it can add a bottom panel with Workspace icons,
Favourite icons (from Dash) and open windows.
I should add that it is possible to run the Classic Panel alongside
Shell. I didn't test it much, but if you run "gnome-panel" you get your
Panel back if you want it.

But then I found an extension that made me realise how I want to work on
a desktop. The extension is "Panel Settings" and doesn't do much by
itself. You can use it to move the Top bar to the bottom but it looked
ugly because of the curved bottom. But the great thing was that I could
make the Top bar appear only in Overview mode. Using that setting in
combination with either a Shell bottom panel or gnome-panel would make
your desktop look and act like a Classic desktop until you press the
Super/Windows key to get the Overview mode.

With the Top bar now removed, I realised that I had an almost "VIM mode"
desktop. In work mode I had my windows and nothing else. In Overview
mode I could do other things. I use Overview mode only to launch
applications (usually I need 3 character to find the correct one) and
shutdown. I can see a lot of potential if Overview mode is hacked more.
I don't even use the mouse when I'm in there (except to shutdown), so if
something was done to the preview windows or if it was replace by
something useful (in my case) then Overview mode could be more useful.
But as it is now, I don't worry too much: I use it to run application,
see the time and almost nothing else.

And then I found one more extension that made me realise Gnome Shell
might turn out to be really awesome after all. It is called "Shellshape"
and it makes your window manager use an organic Tiling mode (like
Bluetile) in addition to stacking/floating mode. It supports keybindings
too. The bad news is that it now only works with Shell 3.4. But that is
the perfect excuse for me to try Shell 3.4 before Trisquel 6.0 is
released. All I would need with that is a way to hide application
titlebars and I think I would have something close to a perfect desktop
for me.

So now with all distractions hidden and with the exciting idea of
Shellshape I now have only one really big problem: what should I do with
my empty desktop root window :)? I turned off Nautilus desktop handling
so now it is just a big empty space with a picture. Granted, it will not
be seen much, maybe only after logging in. I thought that I would just
make it plain black and forget about it. Or I could find a cool picture
and cover it with a giant clock and some useless l33t stats provided by
Conky :). Maybe that will be the perfect place to showcase some really
great Trisquel artwork?

I've also experienced some weird issues. I mentioned in a previous
thread that I couldn't get Nautilus to show up in the Overview
applications list. It seems that it only displays applications that are
in the Applications Menu. I enabled Nautilus under Accessories/Files
using "alacarte" and it showed up.

Sometimes I get random lockups: it would show my windows but everything
would be frozen. Sometimes I can switch to another virtual terminal but
other times not even that would work and I have to do a hardware
shutdown on my laptop. I also get graphical corruption. Overview mode
will turn solid blue or have big patches of blue covering parts of the
screen. It usually corrupts the GUI fonts too. I've also had freezes and
corruptions at the same time. The animations are a bit laggy when many
open windows are displayed in Overview. Those descriptions aren't the
best and I probably missed some details. I have not done much empirical
testing, but I suspect this might have more to do with the acceleration
on my graphics card (Nvidia NVS 140M) and nouveau than with Gnome Shell
3.2. However. I will definitely test this with Shell 3.4, because it
spoils what is otherwise a really nice experience.

There was one issue on Trisquel's side. It looks like Gnome Tweak Tool
is modified in Trisquel to remove Gnome Shell tweaks
(http://bzr.trisquel.info/package-helpers/trunk/annotate/head:/helpers/oneiric/make-gnome-tweak-tool).
I had to download Ubuntu 11.10's version and install with dpkg to get
the functionality back. The change prevents you from changing some Shell
settings and it removes the list that allows you to enable/disable
extensions. The extensions one is important because without it I have to
go to the Gnome Extensions website to enable/disable extensions or I
have to move/remove folders manually.

I also have some other problems but I am not sure if I broke some
things. I used a Trisquel 5.5 Release Candidate (and probably broke it
already) and I added the gnome3-team/gnome3 PPA. Some of the issues I
have with the Top bar:
* Network Settings no longer opens the program, but
"nm-connection-editor" still brings it up manually.
* I cannot find a way to change my profile picture. When I click on the
big Trisquel icon near my name, it highlights (indicating something
should happen) but nothing happens.
* There is an "Online Accounts" item in the Status menu but it does
nothing. I think I must install it (gnome-online-accounts), but I did
not test this.
* The Available/Unavailable switcher is useless to me because I use
Pidgin instead of Empathy. I have not found any other reason why it is
there.

Some things I would like to see better integrated:
* Pidgin: besides the Available/Unavailable issue, Empathy allows you to
type a reply in the Notification popup but Pidgin does not. I don't
necessarily need this, but it might be useful. There is an extension,
Pidgin Conversation Integration, that might replicate the functionality
but I haven't tried. Perhaps I should have a look at Empathy (I've never
used it) and see if there is any good reason why I still use Pidgin.
* Thunderbird: The DateTime/Calendar applet only works with Evolution
for event management. There is supposed to be some a Thunerbird addon
that pushes Thunderbird/Lightning events to an Evolution server and then
to the calendar applet. But I couldn't get it to work and it seemed like
an unnecessary detour. In the past I preferred Thunderbird over
Evolution so I don't want to change to Evolution just for that
integration. Luckily there is an extension, Nothing To Do, that disables
the Calendar's Event functionality so it becomes just a plain calendar.

At this point I definitely think Trisquel should adopt Gnome Shell. I
used Unity a few times but I prefer Shell's extensibility. It would also
give us the opportunity to create a masterfully crafted Shell experience
by providing some useful extensions by default.

I am fully aware of the reasons why we are not using Shell. In Shell 3.4
accessibility has been improved, but I do not use these functions so I
have no idea what still needs attention. The only other big problem is
graphic acceleration. Please note that I am not trolling nor am I trying
to marginalise a part of the community, but I am not sure how bad that
problem really is.

I do not follow hardware trends much, but as far as I know most Intel
motherboards have had integrated graphics for a long time. I tested
Fedora 16 with Shell on an old 2004 Dell with Intel i915 chipset and it
worked. I think it lagged once in a while, but it was a live CD and
there are extensions to turn off some animations and even speed others
up. The point is that I had acceleration on an 8-year old machine,
though I probably wouldn't recommend to run it on such an old machine
anyway.

I never used AMD boards so I do not know if they ever had integrated
graphics. Is there a big problem with graphics on AMD motherboards?

As far as removable graphics cards are concerned, ATI is a bigger
problem than Nvidia, but a graphics card can be removed if it serves no
purpose. This is more problematic in laptops where you cannot remove the
card. I don't want to use "just buy better supported hardware" as a
reason to ignore people with this problem.

I am not sure how well the software acceleration works with Shell, but
if your CPU is powerful enough to handle that without a problem then
there is a big chance that you have integrated graphics anyway. Or am I
wrong in assuming this?

To get to the point: how big is the issue of not being able to run an
graphical accelerated desktop? Trisquel 6.0 is going to be our big
product and to be honest now, I no longer think Classic mode should be
our default desktop. We should definitely keep it for people who cannot
run Shell, or who do not want to run Shell (even if heavily modified to
resemble Classic) at all. I would go so far as to say we should have it
as separate option during the installer. But we need to take Gnome Shell
and integrate it better. Just installing "gnome-shell" makes it feel
generic and like we made no effort. Some people prefer Unity, but in my
experience Unity was meant to be generic and less customisable and
therefore it probably doesn't make much of a difference if it gets
installed without modifications. I'm sure people who love and know Unity
more might disagree with me.

So after this mouthful, who else is using Shell and how do you use/hack it?

--
Morne Alberts

malberts

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I forgot to mention one thing. I am not sure what the Gnome Shell
Extension license policy is currently. I have found an email:
http://mail.gnome.org/archives/gnome-shell-list/2012-January/msg00005.html
where they mention that it would be better if everything was GPL v2+ or
at least compatible if multi-licensed.

I hope that Gnome Shell Extensions don't fall into the Mozilla Add-on
trap. It would be a waste if we had to maintain a free listing of Shell
Extensions too.

Besides that, I've also seen extensions being packaged. I am not sure if
that is the preferred way. They do relate to the Desktop (something
active all the time) as opposed to a browser (not used all the time). So
I am not sure if it is better to provide a packaged (snapshot) version
of the better extensions (or our default ones if that happens) to ensure
that the desktop works properly.

I have no idea how extension updates are handled, so that is something
to keep in mind too.

--
Morne Alberts

Magic Banana

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Thank you for this very nice and detailed feedback!

I am a happy GNOME Shell user too. I have only installed one extension: Alternative Status Menu. Not only to get an easily accessed Shutdown entry (like you mentioned) but mainly to have the option to hibernate. Indeed, here is my setting: I have defined key-bindings for the ten first workspaces and have 1) Emacs; 2) Evolution and Pidgin; 3) Liferea; 4) ABrowser; 5) GNOME Terminal and 6) Exaile running (what occupy about 1 GB of RAM) on the six first workspaces. I know by heart their key-bindings and I always suspend or hibernate. I found this setting very efficient. Of course, the choice of applications is mine and another user would certainly run other applications.

Here is an important link you forgot to mention. Anybody who wants to test GNOME Shell should read the content it points to (or feel lost).

Dave_Hunt

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Hi,

This is great and detailed feedback on the Gnome shell!

I'm running version 3.4.1, with the accessibility, on Ubuntu 12.04. The
accessibility of the shell is very usable, though some things seem to
take more keystrokes than is most efficient. For instance,
single-keystroke shortcuts, such as 'super+a' for the application
chooser, 'super+1' through 'super+9' for the first 9 apps on the dash,
would be helpful. What Magic Banana has done with key bindings makes me
think this is possible, but, where to start?

Cheers,

Dave Hunt

On 05/03/2012 01:41 PM, name at domain wrote:
> Thank you for this very nice and detailed feedback!
>
> I am a happy GNOME Shell user too. I have only installed one
> extension: Alternative Status Menu. Not only to get an easily accessed
> Shutdown entry (like you mentioned) but mainly to have the option to
> hibernate. Indeed, here is my setting: I have defined key-bindings for
> the ten first workspaces and have 1) Emacs; 2) Evolution and Pidgin;
> 3) Liferea; 4) ABrowser; 5) GNOME Terminal and 6) Exaile running (what
> occupy about 1 GB of RAM) on the six first workspaces. I know by heart
> their key-bindings and I always suspend or hibernate. I found this
> setting very efficient. Of course, the choice of applications is mine
> and another user would certainly run other applications.
>
> Here is an important link you forgot to mention. Anybody who wants to
> test GNOME Shell should read the content it points to (or feel lost).

Magic Banana

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In the "system settings", you will find the "keyboard" settings. The second tab lists the "key-bindings". The ones to navigate among the workspaces are in the "navigation" category.

Notice that I translated the terms I put between quotation marks from French: the actual English terminology may be slightly different.

EDIT: Now that I think of it, you may read this message with a screen reader... and I do not know whether it signals the quotation marks!

Dave_Hunt

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I know what you mean; thanks!

Magic Banana

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In the "system settings", you will find the "keyboard" settings. The second
tab lists the "key-bindings". The ones to navigate among the workspaces are
in the "navigation" category.

Notice that I translated the terms I put between quotation marks from French:
the actual English terminology may be slightly different.

Magic Banana

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Thank you for this very nice and detailed feedback!

I am a happy GNOME Shell user too. I have only installed one extension:
Alternative Status Menu. Not only to get an easily accessed Shutdown entry
(like you mentioned) but mainly to have the option to hibernate. Indeed, here
is my setting: I have defined key-bindings for the ten first workspaces and
have 1) Emacs; 2) Evolution and Pidgin; 3) Liferea; 4) ABrowser; 5) GNOME
Terminal and 6) Exaile running (what occupy about 1 GB of RAM) on the six
first workspaces. I know by heart their key-bindings and I always suspend or
hibernate. I found this setting very efficient. Of course, the choice of
applications is mine and another user would certainly run other applications.

Here is an important link you forgot to mention. Anybody who wants to test
GNOME Shell should read the content it points to (or feel lost).

Horgeon
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Joined: 03/29/2011

I am too a gnome shell fan. I use the extensions alternative status menu, alternate alt+tab and user themes. I use Axiom Elementary as my shell theme and Faience as the icon set.

Horgeon
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I am too a gnome shell fan. I use the extensions alternative status menu,
alternate alt+tab and user themes. I use Axiom Elementary as my shell theme
and Faience as the icon set.

linuxbookpro
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Joined: 03/18/2012

As a web designer I appreciate the ability to add and edit new shell themes via a simple CSS stylesheet :D

linuxbookpro
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As a web designer I appreciate the ability to add and new shell themes and
edit them via a simple CSS stylesheet :D

malberts

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Here is a way to add DuckDuckGo Search to Overview mode.

Create a new textfile (I attached it):
/usr/share/gnome-shell/search_providers/duckduckgo.xml
This file uses the HTTPS version and includes the 'Trisquel' reference
when searching.

Then press ALT+F2, type 'r' and press enter (always do this procedure
when you change something). It will restart GNOME Shell. Now when you
type something in Overview mode you have the option of searching it at
DuckDuckGo.

I also removed Google and Wikipedia because I can search there with
DDG's bang syntax if I want to. You can either delete "google.xml" and
"wikipedia.xml" in the same folder, or you can execute:

gsettings set org.gnome.shell disabled-open-search-providers "['google.xml', 'wikipedia.xml']"

which will disable those two.

By default the search engines are sorted in a strange way, so you can
modify the sorting Javascript by using this code:
http://askubuntu.com/questions/89842/is-it-possible-to-re-arrange-the-search-providers-on-the-gnome-shell-activities/124160#124160
I tried it and it works, but I decided to remove it because I will only
have DuckDuckGo there.

Sources:
http://blogs.fsfe.org/hugo/2011/11/add-duck-duck-go-as-a-search-engine-in-gnome-shell/
http://askubuntu.com/questions/67660/is-it-possible-to-customise-the-search-engine-buttons-in-gnome-shell

--
Morne Alberts

AttachmentSize
duckduckgo.txt 1.92 KB
Magic Banana

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Thank you very much for this fix! I believe quidam would like to make DuckDuckGo default in Trisquel 6.0's GNOME Shell (like it was done in ABrowser). Have you contacted him?

Magic Banana

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Thank you very much for this fix! I believe quidam would like to make
DuckDuckGo default in Trisquel 6.0's GNOME Shell (like it was done in
ABrowser). Have you contacted him?

Bastian
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Thank you malberts, this was a very useful tip. Initially after I had deleted the Wikipedia and Google XML files + did a Alt+F2 -> r, gnome-shell went all bollocks, and didn't want to respond to any keyboard input (mouse worked though). After forcing a shut down and booting Trisquel again everything is fine though.

Bastian
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-- duplicated message --

malberts

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I experimented with GNOME Shell 3.4 from a PPA
(https://launchpad.net/~ricotz/+archive/testing) on Trisquel 5.5. It is
an unsupported and testing PPA and therefore I would advise anyone with
Trisquel 5.5 not to use it because things will break.

There were 2 things that I am aware of so far that broke:
* The GTK part of the Trisquel theme went crazy. I thought that maybe
something changed in the theming procedure between Shell 3.2 and 3.4 but
I don't think so anymore. It is most likely that the GTK rendering
libraries aren't playing well with this mix of packages. I just changed
the GTK theme to Adwaita for now.
* Totem is using a strange dark theme. I looked at the GTK3 and GTK2
theme and both are set to Trisquel's theme. The bigger problem is that I
can no longer play Flash videos in the browser as before. I used
Trisquel 5.5 out of the box to play Flash videos and I had no problem.
Now when a Flash video appears in a website I can see part of the Totem
GUI but the buttons are unresponsive. When I click on Play it hangs
completely.

On the positive side: I did not get any graphical corruptions so far. I
did get a glitch in Nautilus once but none of the issues I mentioned in
my first post. However, switching between Overview and the desktop is
still a little choppy sometimes.

As far as extensions are concerned:
The GNOME Shell extension website now shows me the word "OUTDATED" for
extensions that are old or not available for Shell 3.4. When an update
is available, it shows an icon that gets the compatible version. I
updated a few extensions and there were no problems. However, it seems
some extensions do not have Shell 3.4 versions yet. But those extensions
aren't too important (to me). Another nice thing is that from 3.4
onwards, the extensions can provide a GUI for some settings.

I am not going to look for solutions to the above problems because it
was only an experiment. As soon as I get my bigger hard drive I am going
to reinstall Trisquel 5.5 (this time from an official release version)
and run it with Shell 3.2 without all the other PPA's. I also intend to
install Ubuntu 12.04 to experiment with an "official" GNOME Shell 3.4
implementation in anticipation of Trisquel 6.0. I know Parabola has 3.4
already but I want to use it from Trisquel's base.

--
Morne Alberts