Adding additional functionality to the GNOME Shell experience has just gotten much easier with the launch of an official ‘Extensions’ site.
‘extensions.gnome.org‘, which has just entered a public alpha, gives GNOME Shell 3.2 users an easy way to browse and add additional features to their desktop directly from the browser. No additional repositories or PPAs are required.
The site, which is primarily provided for GNOME 3.2 users, only works in Firefox presently. Support for additional browsers is planned.
Amongst the extensions already on offer are an old school ‘GNOME Applications Menu’, ‘Frippery Bottom Panel’ (which adds a window switcher panel to the bottom of the screen), and a ‘Places Status Indicator‘.
GNOME expect more extensions to become available over the coming weeks.
What is a GNOME Extension? GNOME explain: -
GNOME Shell extensions are small pieces of code written by third party developers that modify the way GNOME works.
Since extensions are created outside of the normal GNOME design and development process, they are are supported by their authors, rather than by the GNOME community.
Extensions provide a way to prototype out new possible features for future versions of GNOME, and for advanced users to make customizations in ways that aren’t necessarily compatible with the overall design vision of GNOME, but are still cool and useful to a subset of users.
But it’s not just about ease of use. The site provides another important role: security.
Until now installing GNOME Shell extensions required manually installing them yourself from source code or by adding a third-party PPA – opening up a minefield of potential security issues.
Thankfully the new GNOME extension site addresses this, by checking submitted extensions for ‘potential security problems’ and bad coding: -
Since extensions become part of the core operating system, they need to be checked for potential security problems. Extensions uploaded to extensions.gnome.org go through code review before they are made available for download.
Many will see the launch of GNOME’s extensions site as adding another string to GNOME’s bow in its assumed-war with Ubuntu’s Unity interface.
Whilst the latter is ‘locked down’ in set-up and approach, currently providing no official way to add additional functionality to the Unity experience (bar a handful of Indicators in the Ubuntu Software Centre), GNOME appear to be embracing the need to cater to minority ’use cases’.
This is despite the fact that many of the extensions presently available are at odds with the GNOME Shell design philosophy; GNOME are nevertheless throwing weight and resources behind catering to those users who want them.
I have heard talk of a ‘Lens/Scope’ section being added to the Ubuntu Software Centre for Ubuntu 12.04 – something that I truly hope happens.
But there is no denying that GNOME, in launching the site, has taken a respectable stance in supporting users wishes to tweak the default interface to their liking.