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Gnome 3 – Designing A Desktop For Today

Notice: This post is more than a year old. It may be outdated.

Gnome 3 will present a different UI to that we know as Gnome now. Partly this is a response to KDE 4 and the UI changes there, but mainly it’s about bringing the concept of ‘The Desktop’ into the modern era; Gnome is about providing a UI that just works and the current bread-and-butter desktop isn’t the best solution to the way modern users use their OSes.

Your desktop should give you access to your most used applications, media and internet services straight away. Firing up your browser to check Facebook, opening a twitter Air application to tweet and having to manually add your most used programmes to a launcher is all a bit inconvenient.

“There should be one centralized way to display all sorts of notifications, ranging from system updates about battery time left to updates about new e-mails to updates about your friends’ activity on the web to RSS feed updates”


As is the desktop doesn’t actually do anything. It tells you nothing. You make it look pretty, place things on it but is it serving a function that isn’t already being served elsewhere? No.

Thanks to the onset of large collections of media, people tend to keep their files far more organized. After all, you don’t have ‘Music’, ‘Video’ and ‘Document’ folders for nothing.

Currently the desktop is just a fancy backdrop to the rest of your productivity. This is something Gnome 3 aims to address.

“People currently poll too many various applications and web pages to get the new information, and the desktop is well positioned to aggregate all of them.”


A great place to start seeing the changes in desktop are on netbooks and mobile devices.

Small portable internet devices need functionality better suited to their nature; a desktop just doesn’t add anything to a mobile internet device. So we see it replaced with launchers designed for smaller screens or custom interfaces that pool social data right on to the desktop so you’re fully able to interact with your online life without having to open specific applications to do it.

netbookremix Jolicloud screenshot

Combine this with presenting data and notifications direct to the desktop and you’re starting to see what the desktop should’ve started to become many years a go – useful.

Gnome 3 aims to leverage the simplicity of the Gnome ethos with the modern day needs and requirements of users.

Managing Tasks

Aggregating social data and more directly on to the desktop is just one aspect of creating a modern Desktop Environment.

The way in which people manage windows, tasks and open applications are just as important.

Windows 7 is a great example of an OS reacting to more modern Window management needs; the Windows 7 task bar is being hailed as intuitive, productive AND helpful. Too many eye-candy additions hinder rather than help the user.

Gnome 3 aims to overhaul the way in which the panels are used and as such proposes the following major areas:

  • An “Activities” button in the left corner that will bring up an custom “overlay mode” for starting new applications, opening documents, or switching to other open applications.


  • Battery status, network status, time and weather information.


  • A Notifications area
  • User’s name along with availability indicator in the right corner, pressing which brings up an actions menu with user’s status, IM options, system preferences, and quit options.

Adding application shortcuts or launchers to the panel won’t be allowed either – mainly to encourage use of the ‘overlay mode’ and to help ‘standardize the look.’ instead you can place widgets and launchers on the option sidebar.

There won’t be a bottom panel, instead you will navigate and switch between open applications using the ‘overlay mode’ or the sidebar.

Despite all of this, there still will be a backdrop for your open applications that aren’t maximized, and it will look very similar to ‘the desktop’ : –


The redesign is about adding functionality that is currently missing, a more intuitive way of managing tasks and launchers and social data but wrapping it all up into one clean and simple to use interface.. that will probably still use tango icons!

None of what is presented here is final or going to happen or be included, they are just designs, references and ideas for the development of Gnome 3 that can be tweaked, tuned and worked on. I would imagine, however, that Gnome 3 won’t be too far from what’s described.