Making Gnome 3 Usable

Gnome logo with 'big toe' having a large nail in it, the number '3' on the head of the nail, and blood dripping out of the wound

(for the 'rest of us', at least)

Sometimes the evolutionary progress of ideas results in something NEW and WONDERFUL and everyone is happy and wants and welcomes the changes, because they are sensible, improve our lives, make work easier, and so on.

And SOMETIMES the changes are FOISTED UPON US because OTHERS 'feel' as if we need them, removing some of our own ability to choose what we want and how we want to do our work, because, after all, THEY know BEST.

It is my SAD duty to conclude that GNOME 3 is one of those changes that has been FOISTED upon us, taking away a good amount of our choice. Even Linus Torvalds, the man who brought us Linux, would agree.

Unfortunately, it appears that we're going to be STUCK with this MONSTROSITY until a sufficient number of CLUE BATS have been used upon the Gnome development team to the point where they FINALLY GET A CLUE and GIVE US OUR PERSONAL CHOICE BACK. I don't mind if people happen to like the excessively BULBOUS FONTS or the EXCESS SPACE BETWEEN PANEL ICONS or the UNITY INTERFACE. If people want that, they should be able to have that.

(what ever happened to 'the customer is always right' ?)

What we must do in the mean time, to survive

In the mean time, as open source operating systems "upgrade" to this hideous replacement for something that we have grown accustomed to (keep in mind the results of 'Windows Vista' to those of us who had grown used to Windows XP, SAME KIND OF THINKING on the part of developers, SAME KIND OF PREDICTABLE REACTION on the part of users), we the users MUST ADAPT to whatever is thrown at us, to re-gain our productivity, and WORK AROUND the obstacles that are THROWN INTO OUR PATH, AGAINST OUR WILL. And I am writing THIS DOCUMENT in order to PROVIDE EVERYONE WITH THE TOOLS NEEDED TO DO JUST THIS!

You're welcome.

There are 3 major issues that Gnome 3 creates by its very presence, issues that are likely to cause any Gnome 2 power user to pause for thought, and not very nice thoughts at that. In some cases, one of these may have already been 'fixed' for you (thank you, Debian Linux). The other issues are ALSO 'fixable' with some personal effort on YOUR part. Just follow these instructions and you SHOULD be fine...

The 3 Major Issues
  • Missing Gnome Panel
    OK the panel is missing. How do you run your applications? Ubuntu has 'Unity' by default, and other distributions are probably similar, but it ONLY WORKS WELL IF YOU ARE RUNNING A PHONE OR 'FONDLESLAB'. You want your customizable and hideable toolbar back, but you don't know how to get it to work. You're stuck in limbo and you want to GET WORK DONE instead of spending hours researching how to get your old configuration (that you like) back.
  • No OBVIOUS way to add icons/modify the panel (once you have it)
    So NOW the panel is visible, but it's 'too narrow' or has the CLOCK CENTERED ON IT and isn't much use. How do you turn this thing into what you had before? You can't even HIDE it any more, since the hide buttons are GONE. WHAT DO YOU DO?
  • Desktop Icons Missing
    You no longer have your desktop icons, visible navigation helpers, trashcan, and so on. You want them BACK. You can't even right-click the desktop to change the background! What happened to THE BASIC DESKTOP INTERFACE? HOW CAN YOU GET IT BACK? WHAT GOOD IS A DESKTOP DIRECTORY WITHOUT THESE THINGS?
  • And worthy of mention, No 'Command Shell' easily/obviously available
    Unless you like to 'mousie, clickie, scrollie, mousie, scrollie, scrollie, GRRRRRR, Ah, THERE it is' through endless bulbous icons until you find 'terminal' (near the end of the alphabetized list) so you can get to a place WHERE YOU CAN TYPE COMMANDS IN. Fortunately, <ALT> + F2 still works!

The easiest solution

If you do not have the panel, such as with Ubuntu 11.10, do not fret: you can USUALLY install the gnome-panel package, log out, then log back in in 'classic mode' (or similar). The example here will show how it is done with Ubuntu 11.10. You're mileage may vary with other operating systems, but the general principle SHOULD be the same.

To get to a command shell, press <ALT> + F2 to open the 'run' menu, then enter "gnome-terminal" (without the quote marks). This should open the familiar Gnome shell, which you can then customize as needed (on both Debian 'Wheezy' and Ubuntu I found that my shell customizations were still possible, so SOME hope was re-gained). Once you are here, use your favorite package manager to install gnome-panel. In the case of Ubuntu, it's "apt-get install gnome-panel". And you will probably have to 'su' to root, first (or use sudo). No problem for an experienced Linux or BSD user, right?

Once you have installed the panel, you will probably need to log off. If you have to, use the ACPI power switch or press CTRL + ALT + DEL (aka 'triple bucky') to do it. Why mess around with an interface you're going to get rid of, right? And once the system re-boots, you SHOULD see an option in the login to use a 'classic' desktop (or similar) if the package system was set up properly. In the case of Ubuntu 11.10, it was. Thankfully.

Once the panel is visible, you'll probably HATE the way it looks. It does NOT extend to the edges of the screen, and/or only displays things you DO NOT WANT (except the menus, which you DO want). So you try to right-click the panel, ONLY TO FIND IT DOES NOT WORK. So, WHAT MUST YOU SACRIFICE TO THE GODS OF GNOME in order to CUSTOMIZE YOUR PANEL? In most cases, the 'magick keystroke' will be (cough) the WINDOWS START BUTTON KEY, plus the <ALT> key, and right-click the panel. TA-DA! You get the 'properties' menu back! If you do this to an existing item, you can move (or remove) it. I removed the volume plus network panel app because they take up too much space, and how often do I change net properties for a DESKTOP MACHINE THAT IS CONSTANTLY CONNECTED TO A NETWORK? I can always add things back if I need them.

So NOW you change the panel properties to extend to the edges of the screen, display the 'hide' buttons, and move the date/time from THE MIDDLE OF THE PANEL to an edge (or remove it, YOUR choice!), and start adding panel icons, just like it was BEFORE when you had Gnome 2!!! Much better, right? Well, you STILL have NOTHING ON THE DESKTOP, and you want to put a bunch of stuff there, like before. Unfortunately, it cannot be "like before" since the ICON SPACING IS TOO MUCH, so you won't be able to fit as much on the screen. But you can at LEAST get the FUNCTIONALITY back, so it's a step in the RIGHT direction.

You will need the config editor to do this (or use the 'gnome tweak tool' - see below). To use the config editor, you can either run it from the 'applications' menu (under 'system tools'), or from either a shell or the <ALT> + F2 'run' command, as "dconf-editor" (minus the quote marks). From here, it's a simple step-by-step procedure:

  1. Select 'org' from the list (there should be a '+' next to it) and click the '+' to see its contents.
  2. Navigate to 'gnome', then 'desktop', then 'background' using the same method.
  3. There should be a box labeled 'show-desktop-icons' (or similar) in the upper right pane. Enable it with the checkbox.
  4. To see (or not see) the trashcan and other desktop icons, you can enable/disable them via 'org' 'gnome' 'nautilus' 'desktop'

NOTE: if you choose to use the gnome tweak tool to do this step instead, go to the 'Desktop' tab and turn EVERYTHING to 'ON' first. Then, turn things off that you might not want. It's a bit easier to explain that way...

So NOW you find out that the icon spacing is wrong, or the font is too large/small, or other things (less critical) are wrong with this NEW and (allegedly) IMPROVED desktop. You're stuck with it, but now you can survive. At least you can get work done. And don't forget to CONTACT THE GNOME TEAM and tell them just what you think of this NEW and (allegedly) IMPROVED "desktop experience", whether it's better, or (as I see it), WORSE than Gnome 2. Maybe if they're FLOODED with customer comments, they'll re-think their positions, to OUR benefit (and not just theirs).

Tweaking the Other 10 Percent

Now that your system is at least USABLE, you will PROBABLY want to fix all of the other nitty little things that are 'wrong with it'. As I come up with solutions, I'll post them here, so check back whenever your frustration level reaches the boiling point, and see if MAYBE I've figured it out already.

  • Missing 'Advanced Settings'. This can be provided by an installable application, Gnome Tweak Tool. I haven't figured out WHY the distributions I've already tried DID! NOT! INCLUDE! THIS! BY! DEFAULT!. Fortunately, both Debian and Ubuntu let you install a package with an appropriately easy to remember name 'gnome-tweak-tool' ("apt-get install gnome-tweak-tool").

    Gnome Tweak Tool lets you:
    • Fix the desktop (allow/display icons)
    • Change the font (to something 'less bulbous')
    • Change the theme (you may have to install 'gnome theme' packages)
    • Alter laptop 'lid close' behavior

    In Debian it showed up as 'Advanced Settings' in the 'System Settings' menu, and in Ubuntu it showed up in the 'Other' menu as 'Advanced Settings', so you may have to search for it. Yeah, what a drag... (bad pun intended)
    Once installed, you may want to install whatever 'gnome themes' are available since this application will FINALLY let you pick a theme (within limits, possibly), change the font sizes, and customize the desktop operation (possibly avoiding the need to use the configuration editor, from above)

  • NO Template For Application Icons on the desktop
    A simple solution to this MIGHT be to copy the following text to a file, "~/Templates/NewApp.desktop" and mark it 'executable':

    [Desktop Entry]
    Name=New Application
    Comment=New Application

    Once placed in 'Templates' it should NOW show up in the 'New Document' desktop right-click menu. Voila, you NOW have the ability (again) to create shortcut icons on the desktop! Remember to mark the template executable or it won't work properly. Now all you need to do is rename the file, put it where you want, add a command, fix the icon, and you're back to what you were able to do before!
    If you're like me, you'll have a bunch of app startups and customized app startups on your desktop, like 'wide terminal' for gnome-terminal with 132 char width (instead of 80), as one example.

Again, more will be added as I discover new stuff.

MATE - The "Other Gnome Panel"

OK, so you're tired of having to deal with the limitations that STILL EXIST, and you want something you can just GO BACK TO because you're TIRED OF GNOME 3? Well, it seems the Mate developers have KINDLY offered an alternative to the NEW gnome panel! So I guess it's 'New Gnome' vs 'Gnome Classic', except it's called Mate. No need to 'C-C-C-Catch the Wave' if you liked it the OLD way.

I first installed Mate under Debian 'Wheezy' (the current 'testing' release branch). The stable branch has gnome 2 so there's no need for it in the earlier releases. After installing Mate exactly as described HERE, gdm offered me a choice of 'Gnome Classic' 'Gnome' and 'MATE' for my desktop. Pick 'MATE' and voila! Back to the way it was before gnome 3! So far I have not noticed any differences, though perhaps they MAY exist. If nothing else it was EXCELLENT to be able to put icons into the panel WHERE I WANT THEM and to have a properly readable font. (It may be that my edits to gnome 3 affected the appearance, so I might re-try this on a clean install to verify...)

©2012 by Stewart~Frazier Tools, Inc. - all rights reserved
Last Update: 9/03/2012

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