Gnome 3 with Gnome Shell is not something that everyone would want to try, after being called as “unholy mess” by Linus Torvalds himself [1]. It has a number of shortcomings for a Gnome 2 user; you don’t even get a desktop to put your shortcuts or files :'( . Then why would someone still want to install Gnome 3 and try it? Because It can be customized to suit your needs and almost solve every shortcoming you cry about (including desktop shortcuts 🙂 ). So let us see what Gnome 3 holds.

Installation

Ubuntu 11.04 Natty Narwhal doesn’t come with any official repositories, hence we will have to use the gnome-team PPA to get the packages. (On a side note, Gnome 3 will be officially available for Ubuntu 11.10 Onieric Oclet, but no Gnome Shell Unity will be default desktop environment). Ok, lets get on the job.

Warning: This will cause some mischief in the Unity interface, so do it if you can bear with it.

So open your terminal and type:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3

This adds the required repository for us to install Gnome 3 and Shell. Then enter,

sudo apt-get update

This updates the repository cache

sudo apt-get upgrade

This will upgrade the required packages and the system. And finally,

sudo apt-get install gnome-shell

Now that we have installed the Gnome Shell, let us reboot and have a feel of it. Here we go.

Login screen:

As the system boots up I see that the maroon kind of color Ubuntu loader changes to blue in color. Then comes the Login Screen, its changed to [Sorry, I couldn’t get a screenshot of it :(, I will try to describe], the bottom bar has moved to the top with the day and time in the middle and the power off button in the right corner. The desktop enviroment seelction has be integrated into the login dialog itself and not it has just these: GNOME, Recovery Console, Ubuntu, User Defined Session. So its like this:

GNOME – It takes you the the GNOME Shell Environment

Recovery Console – It takes you to the console mode for recovery commands to be executed

Ubuntu – It takes you to the Ubuntu Unity Environment [Don’t try it, its terrible now :'(]

User Defined Session – It takes you to the err… the Gnome Shell again. [But whats this user define thing, someone should enlighten me]

Now let us select the GNOME thing and enter our password and shout out open sesame (hit return key, rather).

The Shell Layout:

First Look of Gnome Shell as soon as we Login

This is the first view I got. Not so impressed! Are you? An empty desktop with a just a top bar. Let’s click on something. The left side corner has the activities, which when clicked brings up the shell interface. The in interface has two layouts, one for the open windows (activities) and other one lists the applications.

The Applications Menu

The activities interface has favourites on the left and Workspaces on the right. The favourites bar work similar to the Unity launcher, the only difference being it doesn’t show up mouse hits right edge of the screen, you got to hit the right top corner.

The Activities screen when you hit the top-right corner

The workspaces are just like the 4 desktops we get in Gnome 2 and Unity, but this can go very well above 4 as per your need [I have used upto 7]. You can drag and drop applications from one workspace to another. The Shell automatically addes a extra empty workspace after every occupied workspace.

Moving windows between the Workspaces

New workspace created after window is moved to the empty workspace

Then we have all those tray-icons at the bottom. Hitting the right bottom corner brings up the bottom bar which shows the tray icons which are stocked up on the panels in Unity/Gnome 2. You can see my i-bus keyboard indicator and NTM Network monitor icons.

The Look and feel:

It all looks great like flowing in and out seamlessly. But it pricks the eye so much, the font rendering is bad overall. The default font seems to be a very bad choice for the shell and the icons in the applications menu are too big hitting the eyes too hard.Finally the the Mutter theme (the one that styles the title bar), is so old age, the system looks like Ubuntu 6 or 7 may be. The first thing is to go to the display settings to correct all these but these is almost nothing you can do from the newly “revamped” System Settings thing.

From the usage point of view, its still getting bad, there is nothing called a right-click on the desktop anymore, no shortcuts, icons, or files. Its just a plain empty desk, you put things on it and work and empty it once you are done. Neat concept, but its stupid and reduces productivity. To open just anything, you need to move the mouse to top-left corner click ‘Applications’ or hit the Windows key on keyboard and type the application name.There is no way to open the “Trash” directly at all, you will have to open the file manager and navigate to the trash. The search box also helps in searching the web through Google or Wikipedia by default (hey, thats something borrowed grom the Gnome Do)

So we need to customize/tweak the entire thing and bring back a interface that we all would love, to a great extend. I promise that by the end of customization session, you will love Gnome 3 and Shell just for the cutomizability 🙂