Five reasons to try Ubuntu GNOME
Itâ€™s been a week since Ubuntu 13.04 Raring Ringtail was released. Many are enjoying the enhancements to Ubuntuâ€™s Unity desktop, but many former fans – including our own Kev Quirk– are not feeling very impressed.
I was a big fan of Unity when it first debuted as the main desktop of Ubuntu in 11.04 two years ago, but recent performance issues and a dash design that feels more and more needlessly cluttered turned me off and sent me looking for better alternatives. Like here and here and here.
About two months ago I started using Ubuntu GNOME (formerly known as GNOME Shell Remix) and itâ€™s become my absolute favorite distro (or spin) running my absolute favorite desktop environment. It has a lot of the core Ubuntu stuff I like — I can even install Ubuntu ONE if I want. In fact in many ways I feel that this is the Ubuntu-that-might-have-been had Canonical decided to stick with GNOME and simply make its own custom extensions instead ofÂ designingÂ its own desktop from scratch.
But thatâ€™s a whole â€˜nother can of worms that could be the subject of a dissertation. Letâ€™s get to the point. If you like modern desktop environments but are feeling a little bummed or bored by Unity, here are five reasons you should try Ubuntu GNOME right now.
GNOME Shell might not be as lean and mean as XFCE or E17, but itâ€™s incredibly responsive. A press of the super key reveals GNOME Shellâ€™s Activities Overview instantly. Itâ€™s launches much faster than Unityâ€™s dash on the same system. Files and other apps load faster. And, though the system gobbles up about as much memory as Unity does, the feel of the entire system is noticeably smoother. In fact Â I recently installed Ubuntu GNOME on a 2006 Gateway tower with 2 GB RAM and an Inter Core Duo chip and it runs like a machine pulled off a shelf today. It’s a hell of a boost over the rusty old copy of XP it was running before I rescued it.
2. Activities Overview
Activities Overview is a field in which you can see all open windows on a workspace, begin typing to search files, documents and applications and access the bottom notification tray. Anything on your computer is accessible very quickly. All it takes is a press of the super key or pointing your mouseâ€™s cursor to the top left corner. No need to select lenses or rifle through menus. New to GNOME Shell 3.8, there is no longer a way to filter apps by category, but the applications view allows the user to flip between a view of recent (most used) apps and all installed applications. The ‘all’ filter feels a lot like the app tray on your Android system.*
The other neat thing about Activities Overview is the dynamic work space switcher. You can pull windows into new work spaces or even drag an app to a work space to launch it there. It may take getting used to for those used to a more traditional work space system, but dynamic work spaces are great in that you can have as many as you want. As you close all applications in a work space, it simply closes.
These are both a blessing and a curse. The curse is that each new version of GNOME renders most of the extensions youâ€™re using obsolete. The great thing about extensions is that they are very easy to add and remove through the gnome shell extensions site (must use Firefox or Epiphany). But they allow the user to decide just how he or she wants to configure the desktop.
The star of the extensions show for me is Dash to Dock, which converts GNOMEâ€™s dash, a dynamic list of applications that are otherwise only available in Activities Overview, into an intelligent, expanding and windows-dodging dock complete with quick lists (just right click those icons). While not as feature rich as Unityâ€™s launcher or any number of add-on docks like Docky, AWN or Cairo, it performs very well — it hides way better than Unityâ€™s Launcher — Â giving the user an easy way to switch between open apps and launch new favorites. Itâ€™s probably something the GNOME developers should consider making permanent.
Unityâ€™s top left corner notifications are fine, but they always seem to get in my way. And it bugs me that theyâ€™re not clickable. GNOME Shellâ€™s notifications are out of the way, at the bottom-center, and clicking on the notification will open the file or application in question. New emails in? Click the notifications and Evolution will open right up. Notifications are also triggered by mounting new USB drives or devices, allowing you to quickly open the relevant application.
5 Desktop Integration
GNOME Shell does not have the handy Web applications that Unity has, but it does offer better out-of-the box integration with a number of web services, including Google. By adding your online account, your contacts, calendar and Google Drive documents are synced. Google Chats can even be managed from the notification tray. Unity has added some of these features, but they feel more complete in the Shell.
GNOME Shell may leave something to be desired for some. It does not have the same level of trim and polish as Ubuntu. Ubuntu does look very nice out of the box. GNOME Shell is, however, easy to customize with the Gnome Tweak Tool, which allows you to swap themes, fonts and icons AND itâ€™s installed by default (In the screenshots,Â I’veÂ kept the default shell theme but used Faience icons and GTK theme). Hey, that might just be reason number 6…
GNOME Shell offers, in my opinion, better overall performance, more options for customization and simply a better set of tools for everyday desktop working. Yup. I work every day on a System 76 running Ubuntu GNOME and itâ€™s the best setup Iâ€™ve ever had.
*Ubuntu GNOME does not ship with GNOME 3.8 by default. It ships with GNOME 3.6. GNOME 3.8 must be added by using a special PPA. Gnome 3.6, however, does have all of the features mentioned in this list of reasons to use Ubuntu GNOME.