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Alan Bell: She sells sea shells


Published Dec 20 2012 via RSS

Unity isn’t the only desktop environment that Ubuntu has. There are many and as they said, Unity is a shell for Gnome but it is not Gnome-Shell. I have been using Unity for a few years now and figured I would have a bit of a play with Gnome Shell for a bit. It is very easy to install, on Ubuntu clicking here: gnome-shell will with a bit of luck set it up for you. At the lightdm login screen you can then select gnome shell from the list of desktops and you are done.

Shell has two modes, normal and overview, and you get to the overview mode by hitting the super key (that is the one with the anticompetitive Microsoft advert on it in all probability). Overview mode allows you to see a launcher on the left (a lot like the unity launcher) and a workspace switcher on the right which flips workspaces for your primary monitor only, secondary monitor stays static, which actually works rather well for me, I prefer the 1 dimensional list of workspaces to the 2×2 grid that unity has by default. Also in overview mode at the bottom of the screen is a notification area, where you can see notifications that have happened, I like this too. Notifications seem to have a good balance between being ephemeral and reviewable, plus when you click on notifications in shell you actually get to the thing that made them – so you get a notification about an email and decide to go read it, click the notification and you activate Thunderbird rather than having to go and find it yourself. The menu bar  has cool looking speech bubble menus on the indicators and best of all it has an accessibility indicator in the menu bar so it is easy to turn on the various interesting assitive tools we have.  There isn’t a global menu which is great, after two years of using it I never really understood the benefit or got used to having the menu in a different place to the thing it belongs to. Overall it seems quite polished, quite productive to use and really rather pleasant.

So this is all rather fun, but is there cool stuff I am missing out on? I can see the HUD has gone, and the dash with it’s lenses and omni-global super search. Or are they? Gnome shell has extensions https://extensions.gnome.org/ and they can do rather a lot. I haven’t seen a HUD extension yet, but I think that would be entirely possible. As for Lenses, well yes, they are absolutely there, have a look at the Wikipedia search provider. You type stuff in overview mode and as you type it searches both your local applications and Wikipedia, returning article summaries that you can click on to open them fully in the browser. When running gnome-shell you can install the extension right from that web page with a little slider control, it then automatically downloads (into ~/.local/share/gnome-shell/extensions) and starts working, no sudo access required as it is just your session, and you opted into it personally as these are not installed system-wide (you probably can install them system-wide by putting them somewhere else). They are written in Javascript and have quite a lot of control over the user interface and can do all kinds of things, in fact looking at the capabilities of extensions it strikes me that pretty much all of the Unity features could be re-implemented as gnome-shell extensions. Right now I am mostly interested in extending the search provider area and the overlap of that with lenses. I want to see if the gnome-shell approach has the same problems as Unity with regards to privacy or different ones. I have been doing a bit of tinkering and in the next post I should have something to show.



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