Gnome 3.16 sneak peek: A preview from the eyes of a KDE Plasma user

The next major release of Gnome (3.16) is scheduled to be released on March 25. Here is a pre-release, sneak peek of the upcoming release.

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I installed Gnome 3.16 on Arch Linux enabling the unstable repo of Gnome and testing repos of Arch Linux. The version I have on Arch is version 3.15.x series. The pattern Gnome follows is even release numbers are the final releases and odd numbers are for development release, that's why you always see Gnome 3.10, 3.12, 3.14 and 3.16.

I used to be a Gnome user before Ubuntu decided to switch to Unity. That's when I switched to KDE's Plasma desktop and have been using it as my main desktop environment so far.  This hands-on review gives me an opportunity to compare the two DEs and see what we can learn from each.

The first impression

I must admit that I loved what I saw when my Arch system booted into Gnome 3.16. It's a very well designed and polished DE. However, I am not a huge fan of their default icon theme - it reminds me of a desktop from the 90s.

Unlike Plasma it's not very easy to change the icon or desktop themes in Gnome. While the Gnome Tweak Tool does make it easy to 'change' the installed themes, it doesn't let me install new items. From what I know it still requires a hack to install new themes in Gnome.

Nautilus (aka Files), the default file manager of Gnome has received major design improvements. The old 'gear' menu, which used to offer a drop-down like menu has been replaced with a popover. It has also improved view options, making it even more neat. One major change is that now Gnome offers a notification when files are deleted so a user can undo such changes.

Nautilus: the weakest file manager of all

Nautilus however remains one of the weakest Gnome apps: you can't delete any files by simply hitting the delete button, you can't batch-rename files, you can't have an editable path-bar, etc. When compared with Plasma's Dolphin, Nautilus just doesn't measure up.

Gnome is clearly inspired by Mac OS X and with Yosemite Apple has introduced the feature to batch-rename files. I hope Gnome developers will follow suit. Not being able to edit paths also makes it harder to change directories without having to jump through hoops, which would be my second feature request.

Better notifications

With the upcoming release, Gnome is also improving notifications: these now appear on the top of the screen instead of the top right corner.  I just noticed that one can take action on such notifications. I can close them or open the app that pushed the notification. This is quite a lot better than Ubuntu Unity, where no action can be taken on notifications and it remains there, distracting the user. However, I did find the notifications to be way too big and inconsistent with the system.

Let's talk about inconsistencies

One of the inconsistencies that I see in Gnome is that while the entire Adwaita theme is light gray/white and looks beautiful, all of the elements on the top bar look out of the place and I would say, ugly. All of the components on the top bar have a darker, out of place theme. Whether its notifications, drop down App menus or system settings options. As you can see, the App Menu of the same app has a different, darker theme whereas embedded menus have a beautiful theme.

design consistency

Different elements of Gnome 3.16 desktop showcase different theme and color scheme.

I wonder why they don't use the same color scheme that they use in the apps? Maybe in future releases of Gnome, they will bring the same design principles to all core components of the Gnome desktop.

What's most frustrating about Gnome is that half of the options are in the App menu and half of the options are in the menu embedded in the app window. I don’t know why developers don’t merge the two windows and integrate everything with the embedded menu.

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One other area where I think Gnome needs some heavy improvement is the taskbar at the bottom. Prior to 3.16, it was extremely difficult to access settings of apps like Dropbox, which were shoved in the taskbar at the bottom. Most new users wouldn't even know there was taskbar. It seems like developers are working on it and now the entire bottom task bar has shrunk to a tiny arrow at the bottom and clicking on the arrow opens it. I was able to actually access the Dropbox settings. I think it should be simply moved to the top bar for easy access.

Broken extensions

The biggest problem with Gnome as I see is that there is no tool that allows users to install new themes, icons and extensions - given that extensions are extremely important for the overall usability of the desktop. Another problem that remains with extensions is that they break with every new release of Gnome. The moment I upgraded to the 3.15 branch, almost all of my extensions stopped working. When I visited the extensions pages, after detecting my version of Gnome, it showed only a handful of extensions - none of which I was using.

When I compared Gnome with Plasma, I must admit that I did like their minimalistic design decision. However Plasma can be easily customized to a minimalist desktop - to look and feel like Gnome. Plasma's elements are free to be moved around, allowing a user to personalize their computing.

These two desktops have different philosophies, but they can learn from each other and offer a much improved experience to a Linux user.

In a nutshell, I liked Gnome 3.16 quite a lot and have been happily using it for a while. I can see myself using it instead of Plasma if some of the problems with it, which I mentioned above, were not deal breakers.

For the hardcore Gnome fans, this is one of the best Gnome releases ever.

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