Friday, 23 August 2019

Migrating to Gnome 3

I'm a massive laggard in the move to a Gnome 3 desktop.  Colleagues and friends have been using it for years and to be honest, I've never been comfortable using it.  But, that changed recently and I've actually grown to quite like the new desktop environment I find myself working in on a daily basis.  So I've made a full-blooded leap to a modern desktop.

Way-back when I started using Linux as a serious desktop alternative to Windows (in about 2000-2001 ish) I was running Gnome.  I migrated away from that to KDE 3 and switched to Gnome 2 when KDE 4 was released as I didn't like the changes they had made and the new KDE 4 desktop was horribly buggy and unstable in my experience.  (Maybe there's something about brand new desktops and my not taking a liking to them?)  When Gnome released Gnome 3 I absolutely hated the user experience and used XFCE for a while before settling on the MATE desktop which I've been using for quite a few years now.

Trying out Gnome 3 again recently and I was pleasantly surprised that the desktop has progressed significantly since those first few releases I couldn't get along with.  But it's the addition of extensions that are the final straw in my move as I've found with just the right mix I can craft a desktop that gives me a nice balance between the new world and the old, much more familiar, world.

So, the real purpose of this post is to share the extensions I've discovered.  I'll document these below in brief but would also be interested to find others that are useful:

Applications Menu
This was right at the very top of my list of requirements for Gnome 3 usability.  It simply puts an old school applications menu in the top bar, a bit like your old fashioned Windows start menu or similar from other desktops.  I am, however, finding I use this very little now as the search hot-key in Gnome 3 does seem to be a quicker way of finding and starting programs.

Frippery Bottom Panel
This is another of my top requirements for Gnome 3 usability.  It gives you a panel at the bottom of the screen (D'uh) that allows you to switch easily between applications you have running.  It also has a small workspace switcher which is why I like the Frippery version of this type of extension versus some of the others that don't have a workspace switcher capability.

Top Icons Plus
Either the Top Icons or the Top Icons Plus extension that I'm using here seem so ubiquitous for Gnome 3 users I wonder why on earth they're not a default option, aside from the fact the Gnome 3 developers do seem to retain their keen vision on what a modern desktop should look like and "old" system tray icons are not part of that outlook.  This extension, if you're not already using it, allows you to see system tray icons such as the ones used by Virt Manager or Slack, for example.

GPaste
A clipboard management system that has a nice integration with the Gnome 3 panel.  I was previously using apps like ClipIt or Parcelite that do pretty much the same job.

Lock Screen
This adds a button to the gnome panel that, when clicked, locks your desktop.  This would be the same as pressing Win+L on the keyboard.  I was in the habit of using a graphical button on MATE so having this back in Gnome 3 gives me the experience I'm used to.

No TopLeft Hot Corner
I find the Gnome 3 facility to show activities when you mouse to the top left corner really annoying and it detracts from my productivity when it happens automatically.  Fortunately, this extension disables that feature.  It does make it more awkward to reach activities with the mouse (I'd have to click the applications menu first then select "Activities Overview") but I more or less always use the Windows key anyway.

Places Status Indicator
This adds the old Gnome 2 style places menu to the Gnome 3 panel.  I find I flip between using this menu to start navigating directories and just starting Gnome Files and going from there.  Any which way, having this menu back on my desktop just makes it feel a bit more familiar and comfortable.

Remove Dropdown Arrows
The Gnome 3 panel insists on having an arrow indicator to show items that pull down a menu when clicked.  These menus seem obvious to me and the arrows look rubbish and take up space, so this extension gets rid of them completely.  Happy days.

Suspend Button
I run from a laptop most of the time and use the suspend feature every time I "shut down" my laptop.  Bizarrely, there's no graphical facility (that I can find) in Gnome to suspend my machine.  This extension adds a nice button to the status menu that immediately suspends my machine.  Perfect.

System Monitor
Adds little graphs to the Gnome panel that show resource usage.  The extension is pretty configurable but I have it showing CPU, memory and network utilisation.  This allows me to keep an easy eye on my machine and how loaded it is at the current time.  Extremely useful for spotting those occasional rogue apps that start eating an entire core of my CPU.

Media Keys
I haven't decided how useful this one is going to be yet and it's currently turned off.  However, when listening to Music through services like Amazon Music from a web browser it's nice to be able to control the audio without having to revert back to the browser ever time.  This extension simply adds a few buttons to the Gnome panel to control your media.  Handy if you haven't got the physical buttons on your keyboard too.

Do Not Disturb Button
I generally leave this extension disabled but it's useful to have installed and running when presenting or screen sharing.  It saves any embarrassing situations of people being able to read your notifications while they're looking at your screen.  Basically, it simply stops notifications being displayed, they're still received so you can go read them later.

Blog edited with more extensions added on 28th August 2019:
Frippery Panel Favourites
I'm not quite sure how I missed this from my original list as it's an extension I've been using more or less since day one in Gnome 3.  It takes your favourite menu and adds this as a set of icons to the top of the Gnome Panel.  Makes for extra quick access to your commonly used apps.

Some more extensions have been brought to my attention since writing the list above.  I've tried out all of the ones mentioned to me but these additions (below) are the ones that seem to have stuck.

Caffeine
This extension sits fairly well alongside the Do Not Disturb Button extension in my original list.  This one simply disables the screen saver and auto suspend.  Hence, in conjunction with Do Not Disturb, will make a good presentation or screen sharing environment.

GTile
This is a genius little extension that allows you to easily resize your windows in order to tile them across your display.  I love the side-snapping in Gnome 3 that allows you to size a window to half the screen size.  In my older desktops I also had corner snapping to size a window to a quarter of the screen, Gnome 3 doesn't have this by default.  However, GTile adds an icon to your Gnome Panel that, when clicked, allows you to size to any area of your screen across a pre-defined grid - you can even change the grid size.  Brilliant for usability with lots of on-screen windows at the same time.


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