GNOME Shell, GNOME Do, and things to come December 27, 2009

Back in the day, when I still believed that Twitter, identi.ca and I could coexist harmoniously all day long (social networking, forums, e-mail, and anything else that can pop up notifications of interesting stuff while I’m busy working cannot make me happy in a long-term, sustainable kind of way (at least not while I have any work to do)) I used to microblog with GNOME Do.

I like GNOME Do. And I like how it dovetails nicely with something relatively new from the GNOME stable; something that appeals to my appreciation of simplicity and effectiveness: the GNOME Shell.

GNOME Shell Activities screenshot

GNOME Shell involves a rethink of your workspaces — Actually, before I start getting too long-winded, check out a video, and maybe browse some of the related videos.

As you can see, applications, places, and recent documents are together, and can be searched together. In the Applications section of Activities, applications are only mentioned once, not per-window as we are accustomed to with a task switcher. I like this. It makes sense to me, in terms of how I go about using my machine.

I also like how the number of workspaces I use is more fluid than before. I used to use four workspaces. Mail would be on the first, work on the second and maybe the third, and music on the last. I find with GNOME Shell I move things around a little more, and I end up using two workspaces most of the time.

What I think will be great for new Linux users, and those who tend to use only one workspace, is that GNOME Shell integrates the benefits of multiple workspaces better with the way one goes about everyday tasks (or at least the way I go about everyday tasks). So when you start to work on a new task, it feels natural to add a new workspace, and open the applications you use to do your new task (say, mail and browser, or browser and word processor) in the new workspace, if only because GNOME Shell lists your applications, places, and recent documents, and lays out your workspaces on the screen at the same time.

You’ll find a great little cheat sheet here, to get you familiar with how to do stuff.

I have to congratulate the developers involved in this project on its stability. Although it might not be complete, GNOME Shell feels rock solid.

It’s also cool to be able to watch it evolving. Here’s a video of a slightly older version. You can spot quite a few changes.

And here are some mockups from the middle of the year.

RainCT has been doing some fantastic work integrating GNOME Shell with Zeitgeist, an event-based search tool.

You can feel part of all this quite easily. You’ll find a “gnome-shell” package in repositories for Debian Squeeze and Sid, Ubuntu Karmic, and Mint Helena. “sudo apt-get install gnome-shell” and then “gnome-shell –replace” will do what you need. For Fedora 12, OpenSUSE 11.2, and how to start GNOME Shell when you log in on Karmic, check out these instructions.

You can follow updates on identi.ca and Twitter. And check out the Getting Involved section on the GNOME Shell page on GNOME Live!

GNOME Shell screenshot

GNOME Do’s “Docky” theme provides a convenient alternative to Alt-Tab or Alt-Left / Alt-Right, or going to Activities to change tasks or workspaces. “sudo apt-get install gnome-do“, and under Preferences and Appearance, choose the Docky theme, if it isn’t already selected. You won’t be able to use Super-Space to summon GNOME Do because Super is repurposed by GNOME Shell to go to Activities. So under Keyboard preferences, change “Summon GNOME Do”. I use Alt-F3.

Scrolling the mouse wheel on the icon of an open application in the GNOME Do dock switches between that application’s windows, across workspaces. I love the Activities screen for organising my windows, but I find that using GNOME Do to switch between applications is quick and convenient, and more natural for me than Alt-Tabbing.

GNOME Shell is potentially the standard interface for GNOME 3.0. But why wait?

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