6 reasons why GNOME is still the best Linux desktop environment

GNOME 3 is a responsive and stable environment that allows the user to focus with minimal distractions.
453 readers like this
453 readers like this
GNOME

Gunnar Wortmann via Pixabay. Modified by Opensource.com. CC BY-SA 4.0.

I've been using Linux for about 15 years now, trying multiple desktop environments along the way. For the majority of my career, I was a diehard KDE Plasma user (starting with version 2.x). I stuck with Plasma for the majority of the 4.x series, eventually moving on due to stability issues. I've tried Xfce, MATE, Openbox, and many others, but ever since I switched to GNOME 3, I've never looked back. It's a responsive and stable environment that allows me to focus on my work with minimal distractions.

Here are six reasons I thoroughly enjoy the GNOME 3 Shell.

1. Smart and stable

I haven't experienced any issues with stability since switching to GNOME 3. I've run it on three System76 machines and two Dell Latitude laptops, and it's worked like a charm on each. The experience couldn't be better—it's rock solid and never crashes. This is very important—I use GNOME 3 for work, and the last thing I want is to lose what I'm working on—and lose precious time.

Although my experience with GNOME 3 has been solid, I have seen crashes while testing beta distributions that weren't fully baked. While these crashes were typically due to faulty beta drivers (rather than GNOME itself), GNOME 3's recovery feature still allows me to recover from lockups. If the shell ever stops responding, all I have to do is press ALT+F2, then R and Enter to restart the session without losing any application that was running. In fact, even after forcefully restarting the GNOME Shell, it not only brings back my applications but also puts them back on the same display/workspace they were on before the restart.

This just goes to show you how smart and stable it is—it never really crashes for me, yet it still has a built-in recovery feature so I can restart the entire session without losing my work.

2. Stays out of the way

One of the complaints I've heard about GNOME 3 is that the desktop components are too large and take up too much real estate on the display. But I think GNOME 3 has a cleaner interface than most other environments. Most of its desktop components are contained within the activities overview, with just a single (very skinny) panel on the top of the screen, leaving the rest of the desktop free for whatever I'm working on. GNOME 2.x and MATE with the default layout had two panels that took up twice as much space. Although you can customize environments like MATE to use a single panel, GNOME 3.x does away with the two-panel layout of old, leaving more room for your applications.

Since most of GNOME's desktop components are contained within the activities overview, it never gets in my way. If I want to focus even harder on something, I can simply press F11 while using GNOME's terminal application and make it take up my entire screen. If I want to access the GNOME interface again, I simply press the Super key. Of all the desktop environments I've tried (and I've literally tried them all), GNOME makes me more productive and leaves more room on my display for the things that really matter to me.

3. Display switching actually works

For many years, I've used a laptop with a docking station hooked up to dual displays, and this has been the single most frustrating part of using Linux. I can't count how many times I've lost work because my laptop froze while docking and redocking, or the many Xorg Server crashes I've experienced as a result. I'd pretty much gotten used to the idea that using docking stations with Linux is chaotic—until I switched to GNOME 3.

GNOME 3, so far, is the only desktop environment I've used that is completely reliable with a docking station. When I undock, GNOME switches on my laptop display and moves all the applications I had running on the two displays to the single internal display. GNOME not only handles docking without locking up, it's also smart enough to move the applications back to the displays they were on before undocking. This works completely flawlessly for me, with no freezes or crashes. Since I use a docking station, GNOME seems to be my best choice.

4. Lots of extensions

Some people say GNOME 3's default interface is very limiting and there's not much you can do to customize it. While the defaults work great for me, it's simply not true that there is no customization in GNOME. Its interface can be customized with extensions that allow you to tweak the environment just the way you like. These extensions can display current weather conditions, add a refresh icon to the list of wireless networks in NetworkManager, insert new menus, and do much more. Extensions are available at extensions.gnome.org, and you can manage them through the GNOME Tweak tool.

Extensions are both a blessing and a curse, because the countless extensions available have varying degrees of stability and quality. The best extensions allow you to do things you wouldn't normally be able to, while the worst ones may slow down the environment or cause it to crash. My recommendation is to use extensions lightly (quality over quantity). Too many extensions can cause stability issues or clutter up the environment. On average, I try not to install more than three extensions. I find this gives me just the amount of spice I need to enhance the experience without bogging it down. My personal favorites are OpenWeather, TopIcons Plus, and Workspace Indicator. Although Dash to Dock is quite possibly the most popular extension (and the one most newcomers install first), I don't use it because I don't find having a panel to be very useful, given that the default GNOME 3 experience is efficient at handling multiple applications on its own.

While extensions can be great, for the most part I don't really need them. GNOME 3's default layout more than suits my needs, and any extensions I install simply enhance the experience, but aren't required for me to get my work done.

5. Dynamic workspaces feature

Dynamic workspaces is one of the features that makes using GNOME 3 a must for me. The concept is simple. You start out with a single workspace and more are automatically added as you need them. You can easily view all the applications running on a workspace simply by pressing the Super key. This may not seem like a big deal, but if you're the type of person who ends up with windows hiding behind other windows, this makes it easy to see exactly what is running and allows you to close applications you're not using. Holding the Ctrl+Alt keys while pressing the Up or Down arrow allows you to switch between active workspaces. As you open applications on a workspace, a new blank workspace is automatically created for you to start using. When you close all the applications in a workspace, they're deleted for you.

This may seem like a jarring difference from how we've historically managed running applications, but if you give it a try, you may end up preferring this method. I typically have a single application running in each workspace. I find that switching between them by using the Ctrl+Alt+Up/Down arrow key combination is much faster and more efficient than clicking on an application in a panel. If I want to run multiple applications in a workspace, I tile them against the left and right edges of the display.

Another thing I like about GNOME 3's way of handling workspaces is that, if you have more than one display attached to the computer, by default only one display has workspaces enabled. This means that as I switch workspaces, only my left monitor cycles between them. The display on the right stays static. This allows me to have a terminal window open on my right-hand display, and I can switch to the workspace with my email client when I want to check my messages—without losing sight of what's going on in the terminal.

6. Customizable themes

To be honest, the default GNOME 3 theme is not the most beautiful one I've ever seen in a desktop environment (while certainly not the worst). Its simplicity is nice, but for someone like me who enjoys tinkering and theming, it's important that I can customize the visuals to suit my tastes.

Thankfully, installing themes in GNOME is easy. To install a new theme, you simply download it (gnome-look.org is a nice source) and extract the downloaded archive into the .themes directory within your home directory. By using the GNOME Tweak tool, you can cycle among the themes you have installed. This allows you to change the appearance of the applications as well as the GNOME Shell itself.

Until recently, there haven't been a whole lot of themes available for GNOME 3, with the Arc and Numix themes pretty much hogging all the spotlight. While those themes are certainly fine, it's nice to have more to choose from. Thankfully, ever since Ubuntu announced it is switching to GNOME as the default desktop environment, the theming community seems to be working overtime, and many more themes are available now. My personal favorite currently is Vimix Dark. What's yours?

Although I typically check out other desktop environments to stay current on the evolution of desktop Linux, I always come back to GNOME. And while GNOME 3.x may not be for everyone, I recommend giving it a thorough chance. While the GNOME way of doing things may seem strange at first, it is a great desktop environment and allows me to do my work with more efficiency than any graphical user interface I've ever used, Linux or otherwise. Because I enjoy using GNOME 3, I'm eager to see what enhancements the developers have in the works.

Looking for more reasons to love the GNOME desktop environment? Check out these two other articles about great features in GNOME:

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Jay LaCroix is a technologist from Michigan, with a focus on Linux and open-source software. Using Linux since 2002, Jay has been a die-hard fan ever since. He is currently a Senior Solutions Architect and freelance consultant and enjoys training and empowering others to use Linux and to make the most of this amazing software.

21 Comments

What do you mean "still"? It never was. I mean, the 2.x series was OK, especially towards the end, but Shell was always - and still is (tried it on Fedora 25) - a horrible "tablet-like" experience, even worse than what Windows 10 is. I have to install about 10 extensions just to get something usable (and the extensions are also a horrible mess, with extensions just dying on you when Shell upgrades to a minor versions, and some go unmaintained after a couple of releases, but still get offered in the extensions market).

KDE Plasma 5 is currently the leader in functional, usable, stable and pretty.

Here's a tear down of your arguments:

1. Smart and stable - I don't know with what Shell you started, but when I jumped on the bandwagon at 3.0, Shell was crashy as all hell. Its main feature was the ability to easily restart - as you've mentioned. It improved overtime but it took until 3.6 to be stable enough for day to day work. Plasma 4.0 was about as horrible but it stabilized quicker and Plasma 5.0 was a joy from the start. I'm not sure which part of your clause was about smartness, so I won't comment.

2. Stays out of the way - true that. It stays our of your way. Too much in fact. If you spend most of your life in a single application, then I guess that's fine, great even. But as developer and writer how juggles consoles, development environments, editors, web browsers and what not - I look to my DE to help me with that, and Shell seems determined to not only not do that, but stick its foot out exactly when I'm out of balance. Beginning with the "dynamic workspace" mis-feature that makes sure that if I close the last window in a workspace, I can figure out in which workspace my other windows are and has to go into overview just to spend time looking for them; through having to go to overview if I want to do anything that is not "continuing to interact with my current application" - the application switcher is always a surprise, windows cannot be minimized, notifications icons are hidden in a corner where they are either unreachable or cover window content, etc' etc'.

3. Display switching - Shell does handle that marvelously, for very simple setups, definitely compared to KDE's Plasma 4. Starting with Plasma 5 there has been a lot of work on that area and I'm glad to say that now Plasma 5 has some brilliant features in that area - for example my office workstation has two vertically positioned screens while my home setup has a single standard external screen and KDE automatically detects the correct position when I dock at home vs at the office. With Shell I have to to readjust the displays again and again. The other thing that I find extremely annoying with Shell's multi-display support is the "workspaces only on the main monitor" - the secondary monitor can has a single workspace, period. No matter what. Driving me nuts.

4. Lots of extensions - the extension facility in Shell is indeed brilliant, especially the web based extensions market, unfortunately - and very similarly to KDE's "Hot New Stuff" libraries, its mostly a collection of junk with only very few select extensions being useful, stable and maintained over time - and the market has no facilities to promote these, so you are left with relying on word of mouth and LifeHacker-styled "best extensions for GNOME" articles to figure out what works.

5. Dynamic workspaces feature - as I mentioned above, I hate this feature with a passion as its the single most time wasting problem I have with Shell and the thing I first disable when I try Shell "one more time (tm)". Same as for your secondary point. Plasma (and basically any other Linux DE) handles workspaces in much the same way (including the quick switch), but the default "shortcut for each workspace" Plasma offers, combined with "stable workspaces" makes it so much quicker to move between applications because you know that your IDE is on workspace 1 while the browser is on 4 and the email is on 3, so to get from the IDE to the browser you don't need to switch through 3 workspaces - you can jump directly to where you want (or just switch left, because workspaces are in a loop, grid or whatever you want that works for your spatial orientation).

6. Customizable themes - well, if there's one thing nobody can ever take KDE in, is customization. Plasma has configuration dialogs for things that in GNOME you can't even get by going to dconf. Did you know that in Plasma you can right click an application entry in the task panel and select "mute" to mute just that application? Did you know that you can right click a task entry in the Plasma kick-off menu to get a quick launch list, such as "new private window" for Firefox? Did you know Plasma has a built-in clipboard manager that you can enable from the system tray? And regarding themes, with Plasma you don't need to open your browser to get new themes - from the "Look and Feel" screen click the "Get New Looks..." button and you get a list of available themes to install automatically. Also - did you know that KDE can theme GTK+ applications running in the session - so you can have the GTK+ apps looks similar in style to the KDE apps for a consistent desktop experience. Try to run a KDE app under Shell and see how that look like...

You have highlighted some useful features of Gnome. I also find the way it handles extended screen on a projector quite handy. However, I've tried Gnome via Fedora and Ubuntu lately, and experienced freeze issues on both, especially when I tried to log out. Restarting from suspend can also be a challenge on both, abd sometimes a hard restart is needed. Fluxbox on Debian base gas been running like a charm oj the same device, with no such issues.

Same story, I always come back to gnome, currently using dash to panel and loving my desktop.

Two reasons why it is among the worst:

1) It is a resource hog.
2) It tells you what it is that you can do, rather than doing what you tell it to do.

Dolphin?

I don't know to what extend a window manager can be compared to a full desktop enviroment like GNOME, but I just switched to the i3 WM (https://i3wm.org/) and a just a few hours later I was noticing like the "conventional" GNOME/KDE/MS Window/Mac OSX desktops were "things of the past".
Yes, is still possible to run GNOME or KDE apps with i3 WM, but most of the times we are using the web browser and some other random tools and so the window manager becomes the central piece that defines what a Desktop really is. In such sense the qindow managers and the layout behaviours of GNOME/KDE/MS Window/Mac OSX are really poor in usability terms when compared to a modern tiling one like i3.
This is specially noticeable when using 4K monitors. i3 makes it easy and confortable to work with different apps and use the screen space in a very sensible, fast and pragmatical way. I can NOT say that same for conventional desktops.
I think those promoting Linux for desktop ought to think twice and switch to tiling window managers like i3. Following the (absurd and non-sense) usability guides of windows and Mac OS will just make happy the minority of Linux users switching from Windows and Mac. .. but I'm afraid Fedora or Ubuntu will not do until Microsoft decides to switch to the (bastly supperior) tiling mode since they (RedHat and Ubuntu) are not trying to be innovative and serve the users, but quite the opposite, are becoming conservatives and limiting to copy what Apple or Microsoft do. If they don't change its actitude the clear winer will be Google with its Chrome and Android OSes.

I was writing the same comment. I totally agree.
Moreover, to work on a laptop, i3 WM is so powerful, the mouse become useless and the only keyboard method really improve the user performance.

In reply to by Bilbo (not verified)

Gnome is ok as you said. So what's the near future of Gnome? The future has already came..
Big guys are developing hybrid pc/mobile devices to keep "data producers" (in the past known as "customer") aka "data cows" in their hands by offering unified, portable, simplified IT environment.
What's the Gnome's plan, idea or direction to answer them with a linux based pc/mobile "freedom computing platform" so if the future is?
KDE is already working on a pc/mobile hybrid desktop. KDE has thousands of modern apps (because of Qt) those run at nearly every OS.
From this view is that desktop environment diversity a big fragmentation in linux world?

It is extremely hard to make sense of most of the reasons you listed above about "GNOME is still the best Linux desktop environment" without understand the specific workflow you are under. Sure, Recovery and Display Switch can easily be understand by anyone, assuming they did work the way you describe. But the rest of the reasons seem too weak of an arguments toward your claim.

First of all, when you say "Still", people will assume you are coming from a traditional GNOME background, especially when you mention you have been using Linux for 15 years. But that's not the case, you use KDE most of the time in the past. In other words, you most likely not a GNOME 2.x expert, to make the fair comparison. In case, for anyone didn't know, GNOME 2.x and GNOME 3.x are COMPLETELY different. They don't share a single thing in common beside their name.

Although I am very glad that GNOME is working out for you this well. It is important to keep voicing alive! Design wise, I would love GNOME 3.x keep pushing the boundary they are pushing. Development wise, not so much, the ONE thing that announce me the most about GNOME 3.x is the direction they take with GTK3.x. They change their mind like every release. It is a mess when it comes standard. All the GTK3.x theme need to keep up with their standard development, in other words, they are broken every time they have a new release. In case you didn't know why there a lot of hate going on, here is one strong reason.

GNOME3.x are innovative, but the innovative the Apple way, only not as good. Like many have mentions, sure it do cool things, but they got define what's is cool, and if you aren't doing it the GNOME way, you are pretty much not welcome. Making customization to work on GNOME 3.x is constant battle. GNOME twist exist for this exact reason. That's actually something unique about GNOME 3.x. Even you have mention that it doesn't get a lot of good theme, until recently. which I have no idea why you even put Customization as a reason why GNOME 3.x is a good DE.

Dynamic Desktop feature is cool, but GNOME 3.x use it like a torture. In Traditional DE, you got a windows tab panel somewhere to tell you, what you are running. and you can simple go to those tab and click to change focus, or open up "minimize" windows.In GNOME 3.x, by default there isn't such things. you much see everything that's on the current desktop before you can choose which application you are going to use. not to mention everything is shifting back and fore like no tomorrow. Open up the app menu? some F-King deal. the entire screen is cover with app, covering everything you are watching or doing. just so GNOME can show off its fancy full screen menu. Even with the newer release, and some of its twist, it still cover like 1/4" of the screen. Dynamic Desktop? maybe too Dynamic, with every click, you are going through a Lord of the Rings journey to do something simple. Epic yes, usefulness, not of many, myself included.

Here is something stability about GNOME 3.x. as a software, it is finally become stable enough..... after 6 years of development. Congra! However, coming from more industrial background, that's crazy. Things should be stable enough at day 1. in the worst case, a year before a software become useless. As a DE, I agree that it should be the most stable piece of software they should be beside the Kernel, assuming you don't work in the text world. but even that, arguably speaking your console is your DE. so yes, it still should be the most stable. But here is the thing, how long will GNOME 3.x be around? Maybe 2 years, Maybe 3? before GNOME 4.x come able. In other words, 2/3 of the software life cycle, it is being unstable. And like I mention, its internal standard for Themes and stuff are still not stable, it is all over the place.

So in a nut shell, Do I like GNOME 3.x? Not really. GNOME 2.x is far better. That's why there's Mate, it is not like people can't let go of the past, it is more like the future didn't offer any better. Really, Graphically, GNOME 3.x does looks nice by default, but that's pretty much it.

Personally I switch to i3wm early this years, and I much say, it would never go back to any DE have I used. And I only have one reason for that, it is able to achieve more with less. Everything is truly out of the way. if you don't call for it, nothing will show up, and surely not the dynamic way. When it comes to customization, it is hard because it allows you to do pretty anything you want, in order word, you need to do what you really want, how to achieve the result you want, not to mention you pretty much all the options out there to choose from. yeah, try to match all the GTK2.x , GTK3.x and Qt4/5 app. and unify...... your OS. To be fair, this problem exist on any DE you can use under Linux. But really, I am longing for exciting innovative DE comes to Linux. but for now, under current Linux Landscape, i3wm, is where I call home.

I loved GNOME 2, but 3 has ruined itself unfortunately. So it's KDE (needs usability polish) or MATE.

only problem is, gnome 3 hogs 1.7 gigs of ram itself without anything running
system: 2gb ram, intel atom, archlinux

I'm a Gnome user and have been for years. Gnome is a great interface, but more recently (3.2+) I am spotting sloppy quality control and poor testing.
If you install Gnome onto a btrfs system, be careful about your extension choices. Some that work on ext4 systems will lock up your Linux user, or the entire Linux box.

There is a problem with bug reporting, which is a human problem when most maintainers are volunteers. If you are the only one to report a bug, then its not likely that the bug will be fixed. It takes a half dozen different complaints before that bug will raise a "fix me up please" flag.

So, you are essentially on your own if you find a common bug, but others do not bother to also post a bug report or add their id to your bug report.

One of my favourite extensions is TaskBar by Zpydr.
Installing this extension will allow you to do away with a few others.
The concept is clever, the code clean, easily configurable and ergonomically well done.
A complementary extension is GNO-menu. With these GNO-Menu and Taskbar, I consider them essentials. I don't need others, though I do install caffeine, openweather,

Almost at every two/three years, I switch to another DE
and every time come back to Gnome in less than one month

Gnome desktop is perfect for me. I'm not going to sit and debate why I think this, because in all reality everyone's idea of what a desktop should be to make it perfect is different...and that's the REAL power of using desktop Linux!....MS Windows gives you what THEY think your desktop should be, Apple forces their idea of what your environment is going to be for as long as you use their OS. But Linux? Linux gives you your browser, e-mail client, media player, office suite, games, text editor, and a host of other tools and then let's YOU choose what desktop environment YOU want those apps to "live" in. There is nothing better than that period. So.... Which desktop is the best for running Linux? WHICHEVER ONE FITS YOU!!!

Just my two cents...

I agree with you 100%!
You worded it perfectly.

In reply to by Eddie G. (not verified)

Anyone familiar with the "start" command in Windows? It would open a
document with the default program from the command line.

My favorite feature of GNOME is gvfs-open. I always create these two
aliases, since I live at the command line:

go is aliased to `/usr/bin/gvfs-open &>/tmp/go'

goe is aliased to `more /tmp/go'

For me, the first desktop requirement is the fruibility over internet. I am an internet company which provides the VDI over the cloud. Unfortunately I didn't able to use Gnome 3 efficiently due e lot use of bandwidth by the graphis movements. Only the MATE Desktop guarantee to me a good fruibility over internet.

hello,
I like so much KDE, but since few weeks I switch to Gnome because lot of crash in KDE, the whole interface or crash during file copy... crash when access smartphone... I do the same thing with Gnome and it works fine... So for the moment I stay with Gnome but I hope KDE will find a way to avoid all these strange behaviors I meet... (my distro debian buster)
have a nice day.

I think one of the few criticism I have with Gnome is the lost screen real estate that Gnome produces with the top panel, the title bar of the window (even full-sized) and then the toolbar. It is a lot of wasted space that Unity and OS X addressed by allowing the menu bar to move to the top panel. There is also an extension that hides the title bar when the window is full-screen so these options are helpful.

Extensions are a big bonus to Gnome. It provides a lot of features that I like, and I have a handful of ones I regularly install. I also found one extension developer help me when his didn't work quite right on my system, so that is a "Community for the win!" situation.

Your mention of being someone
"...who enjoys tinkering and theming, it's important that I can customize the visuals to suit my tastes.

Thankfully, installing themes in GNOME is easy."

This is a criticism I have for both Gnome and KDE. I remember fondly of years ago when you could change the panel's transparency, or color or even replace the color with an image, yourself. Now you need to go and find somebody's theme to do that, and get all the rest that comes with that.

Xfce is the only desktop I've used that allows that level of customization!

Overall, Gnome is good though. Don't get me wrong. It looks alright and works alright. For the most part it is stable and some of the eye candy is a hindrance rather than a nicety. This is probably due to my using old hardware.

Still, this article is a nice read! Enjoyed it.

Oh, and one more thing... I like how Gnome is trying to integrate with online services such as pulling Google Drive files into the file manager and allowing to open/save files regardless of where it really resides.
Alas, this too has not worked for me, but it is a feature that keeps giving me hope.

In reply to by Drew Kwashnak

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