Jack Wallen takes GNOME 40 for a spin to discover that the subtle changes make a big difference in the effectiveness of this open source desktop.
GNOME is not everyone’s cup of tea–it’s different. Since the inception of GNOME Shell, this particular desktop tossed aside tradition to reinvent a wheel that had been turning smoothly for a very long time. For some, those changes were welcome, as the new desktop metaphor made great strides in getting out of the way of work. For others, the change was too great and seemed to be made simply because they could.
Fortunately, the GNOME developers stuck to their design and continued to slowly improve their desktop environment. Those changes seemed to have always been minuscule, so what we see now is pretty similar to what was originally released–only with a greatly improved performance and reliability). In other words, GNOME Shell is still GNOME Shell.
With the upcoming release of GNOME 40, those changes become a bit more obvious. The developers aren’t completely reinventing their reinvention, but to anyone who has used GNOME Shell for a while, the changes will be quite noticeable.
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GNOME 40 was originally slated to be included with Ubuntu 21.04, but that upgrade has changed and will have to wait until Ubuntu 21.10.
Of course, this is open source, so it’s not only possible to kick the tires of GNOME 40, it’s actually quite easy. So before I offer up my take on the latest offering from GNOME, let me show you how I installed the latest iteration of the desktop environment.
What you’ll need
In order to install GNOME 40, you’ll need a running instance of Fedora 33. I would highly recommend you do this on a virtual machine, as you don’t want to install a beta-level desktop environment on your daily driver. Spin up an instance of Fedora 33 on VirtualBox.
How to upgrade to GNOME 40
Once you’ve logged into Fedora 33, run a standard upgrade with the command:
sudo dnf update -y
Once the upgrade completes, reboot (if necessary) and enable the necessary repository with the command:
sudo dnf copr enable haeckerfelix/gnome-shell-40
With the repository added, upgrade the desktop with the command:
sudo dnf update -y
When the update completes, reboot the machine and log in to your newly upgraded desktop.
What’s new in GNOME 40
Here’s the deal: You’re not going to notice any changes that make your hair stand on end and have you shouting, “Wow!” The changes are impressive, but there is still the usual GNOME-ish sense of subtly about them. If I’m being honest, there’s only one change that will will have serious impact on how you work with the desktop.
Said change is immediately noticeable when you click the Activities button. Where everything used to have a very vertical flow, it’s now all horizontal (Figure A).
That’s fine and all, but it’s really more aesthetic than it is practical. Switching from a vertical to horizontal workflow really isn’t going to make the desktop any more efficient, but there’s more than meets the eye at work here. With the Activities overflow open, click the Show Applications button (the small square of dots at the right end of the Favorites bar). What happens then is the Applications overview will open (Figure B). Click the Show Applications button again to return to the Activities overview.
This feature is not new to GNOME Shell, but it does all of a sudden make you understand why the developers switched to the horizontal workflow. With the desktops in a horizontal row at the top of the window, it’s much easier to open a new application and then drag it to the desktop you want to use it in, without leaving the Application overview. It’s a very subtle change, but it makes a huge difference in ease of use.
This is one of those features you really have to experience to understand how it will impact your daily workflow. Having those desktops at the top of the Applications window makes a big difference.
The only change I’d request is the ability to place applications on a specific desktop without having to first place them on desktop 1 and then move them to the desktop in question.
You might be surprised to find out that’s the biggest change coming to GNOME 40. However, as I’ve already stated, it’s a change that will greatly improve your daily workflow on the GNOME desktop. In fact, I’m already wishing I had the feature on my production desktop, Pop!_OS.
What are the other changes? Surely, such a major release includes other updates? Of course. The short list of changes includes:
Migration to GTK4
Autocompletion in the file manager
Wi-Fi connections will be sorted by Connected connections, Configured connections, and by Strength
15-minute reminder time in GNOME Calendar
App windows include icons for easier identification
Dash is now horizontally placed on the bottom
Application launchers can be arranged “at will” in the Application overview
Another feature that’s getting an overhaul is GNOME Extensions. In fact, there’s a brand new initiative, called Extensions Rebooted. This initiative will attempt to solve the myriad issues surrounding GNOME Extensions, such as updates breaking extensions and dependency issues. Although this rebooted extensions effort won’t come into play for GNOME 40, it will hopefully start making headway into solving the issues that have plagued GNOME Shell for some time.
That’s the gist of what’s coming to GNOME 40. It might not be the earth shattering change you thought it might be, but the changes they have made are a major improvement over the previous workflow within this open source desktop environment.
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