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GNOME in its 3. reincarnation brings many new concepts into the user interface and therefore enables us to get a whole new user experience when dealing with our tools and their management. Reduction to the essential information. The desktop environment GNOME has nicely transferred some concepts of the terminal world into a full-featured desktop environment. GNOME Shell and GNOME applications are manageable with shortcuts. The windows of the Gnome apps are designed to take up the entire room of the screen. Rudimentary tiling support for split screen is integrated. This means, proven concepts of the world of tiling window managers, terminals & multiplexer were adopted.


Charles Berret explains his workflow under GNOME and which tools he uses to write and research ⁽¹⁾.

The overview of the used technologies is not entirely GNOME-specific. Lots of them are used without using GNOME as a desktop – as they are an integral part of most distributions ⁽²⁾.

The view on the GNOME apps shows the meanwhile massive deviations to the MATE ecosystem. This is closely related to the design decisions of the GNOME fraction. The MATE desktop uses GTK+3 as GUI toolkit. Nevertheless, applications for GNOME appear as foreign objects under MATE ⁽³⁾.

The project overview of the Git repos is not complete anymore as GNOME switches to GitLab. Primarily, this is therefore a starter to get a general overview ⁽⁴⁾.

Besides this a starting point for the administration of the GNOME desktop ⁽⁵⁾.

  1. uses this → »Charles Berret: Communications Ph.D. student (Columbia)«
    Posted: 2016-12-06 | Interviewee: Charles Berret
  2. GNOME → »Technologies«
  3. GNOME: Wiki → Design → »GNOME 3 Core Apps«
  4. GNOME: Git repository
  5. GNOME → GNOME Help: Administrators → »GNOME System Administration Guide«


Only some important components will be emphasized here. The perception referred to the interaction of the individual parts helps to customize the desktop to particular requirements.


To gain an impression from the GNOME Shell as the essential underlying user interface and its slightly different concept the »Tour« is a good starting point ⁽¹⁾. »Technology« provides a good overview, inter alia, how and where Mutter integrates as window manager / display server / compositor into the system as a module ⁽²⁾. »Design« outlines some aspects on the of the individual components of the desktop ⁽³⁾. The cheat sheet serves a useful purpose when it comes to helpful functions of the GNOME Shell that are not so evident. Among them are the key assignments for a pure keyboard controlled desktop ⁽⁴⁾.

A short leap in time to a blog entry of Owen Tyler shows us the inception of the transformation from the desktop environment to GNOME 3 – and therewith to a turning away from some established usage concepts ⁽⁵⁾.

  1. GNOME: Wiki → Projects: GNOME Shell → »Tour«
  2. GNOME: Wiki → Projects: GNOME Shell → »Technology«
    Last edited: 2013-11-22
  3. GNOME: Wiki → Projects: GNOME Shell → »Design«
    Last edited: 2015-10-20
  4. GNOME: Wiki → Projects: GNOME Shell → »CheatSheet
  5. Blog: Fishsoup → »Implementing the next GNOME shell«
    Date: 2008-10-22 | Author: Owen Taylor

Display manager GDM

The reference manual from the display manager GDM: Here it is possible to take a look at the overview and if needed in the section configuration ⁽¹⁾. The GNOME display manager is already able to manage Wayland sessions.

  1. GNOME → GNOME Help: Administrators → »GNOME Display Manager Reference Manual«

Window manager and compositor Mutter

GNOME is already running by default in some distributions under the Wayland display protocol. For this the former window manager Mutter is also deployed as Wayland compositor and display server.

The historical background of the window manager & compositor Mutter has relevance. Both articles are from the time of the introduction of Mutter as a replacement for Metacity. Metacity evolved then to Marco for the desktop environment MATE. According to this it is then maybe more obvious, why Compiz is used for the MATE spin-off of the Fedora distribution (as exchange for Marco) and in which way the graphic library Clutter is connected to all this ⁽¹⁾. After reading the LWN article, the piece in the puzzle CSS from »Technology« of the GNOME Shell makes more sense ⁽²⁾.

  1. Golem → »Mutter: Neuer Window-Manager für GNOME 3.0«
    Date: 2009-07-09 | Author: Julius Stiebert
  2. LWN → »Mutter: a window manager for GNOME 3«
    Date: 2009-08-04 | Author: Koen Vervloesem

GUI toolkit: GTK+

There are several relevant toolkits & libraries, but this one has to be included. Therefore, a brief glance on the Wikipedia article ⁽¹⁾. The feature list puts this more in a nutshell ⁽²⁾. Some screenshots (a bit outdated) show the usage in existing software ⁽³⁾. Mentionable, in the historical context, is an article from 2013, which explains how GTK+ and Wayland play together. In this one it also notified that GTK+ can take over Client-Side Decorations from now on (the issue with Wayland and CSD is subtopic of a following article) ⁽⁴⁾.

  1. Wikipedia → »GTK«
  2. GTK+ Project → »Features«
  3. GTK+ Project → »Screenshots«
  4. Phoronix → »GTK+ Is Becoming Very Usable With Wayland«
    Date: 2013-03-26 | Author: Michael Larabel

Linux distributions and Unix-like systems

You could quite reasonable label Fedora Workstation as reference distribution for the GNOME desktop, therefore this one is mentioned in the first place here. Everything what happens in actual developments, also in the substructure, flows in and offers a system from one cast ⁽¹⁾.

Who wants to keep pace with the times can turn towards Antergos as rolling release, which employs mainly repos of Arch Linux, but provides additionally configured desktops. The focal point was originally the GNOME desktop ⁽²⁾.

Pure OS is based on Debian and the company Purism behind it supplies the hardware directly with it. This company develops a smartphone on that basis at present ⁽³⁾.

  1. Fedora: Fedora Workstation
  2. Antergos → Website
  3. PureOS → Website

Integrated tiling functionality

We are used to stacked or floating windows on our screen. Occasionally we use the opportunity to snap applications to the left or right on our desktop and to split the work area on our screen in this way. Have a look at integrated solutions offered by desktop environments that expand this functionalities.

GNOME solves this with its growing ecosystem of extensions. Associated with this – external, but mostly well-integrated solutions – comes also a higher flexibility referring to the appropriated functionality. The currently implementable extensions that integrate tiling – in slight variations – into the GNOME Shell are limited. gTile seems to be the best option at this point in time and is briefly introduced in this article of Fedora Magazine ⁽¹⁾. The manual is located on the GitHub repo ⁽²⁾.

Alternate the usage of Shelltile is an option. The readme-file on GitHub visualizes the functionality very well ⁽³⁾. The possibly existing error rate of the Shelltile extension is shortly discussed in this Reddit-thread ⁽⁴⁾.

  1. Fedora: Magazine → »Must-have GNOME extension: gTile«
    Date: 2017-06-05 | Author: Joe Brockmeier
  2. GitHub: gTile/gTile → »A window tiling extension for Gnome. New official home of vibou.gTile extension.«
  3. GitHub: emasab/shelltile → »A tiling window extension for GNOME Shell.«
  4. Reddit: GNOME → »Tiling addon instead of windows manager«
    Posted: 2017-08-08

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