GNOME 41 adds new features and makes several improvements to the open source desktop, and in this post we take a look at closer look at the best of them.

Released on September 22, 2021, GNOME 41 is not as dramatic of an update as the GNOME 40 release earlier this year. But while it does not rejig the desktop layout to the same extent it does carry with it the same sincere commitment to improving the GNOME desktop experience.

As you are about to see, the latest uplift includes a crop of new features, a bunch of improvements, plus one or two interesting design changes.

I should note that the Ubuntu 21.10 release due in October will NOT include GNOME 41 as its default desktop, but GNOME 40. A couple of GNOME 41 apps, such as the desktop Calendar, are GNOME 41 versions.

Intro out of the way, let’s go!

Top GNOME 41 Features

New Multitasking Panel (+ More)

A wild multitasking panel appears

There are a variety of updates to the GNOME Control Center (aka ‘Settings’) app this cycle, but the standout star is the new multitasking panel.

Several options adjusting how the GNOME Shell desktop works are surfaced here, negating the need to use the GNOME Tweaks app. You can: –

  • Disable hot corner
  • Disable active screen edges
  • Dynamic or fixed number of workspaces
  • Workspace behaviour on multi-monitors
  • App switching preferences

Multitasking isn’t the only new page added to the GNOME Control Centre in this release. A new ‘Cellular’ panel is also introduced in GNOME 41, to aid configuring mobile connections and modems. Like other panes in the Control Center, the new Cellular section only appears when compatible hardware is present, so don’t feel miffed if you don’t see it.

Cute new graphic for testing mouse settings

There are also a couple of tweaks to other panels, such as a new Accessibility setting to disable animations in GNOME Shell, and colourful new artwork in the Mouse & Touchpad settings test, which says bye-bye person flying kite, hello bear riding a motorbike!

GNOME Software 41

GNOME Software 41 has a new look

Remember those (rather spiffy) GNOME Software mockups we highlighted back in February? Well, a lot of that design work is translated into tangible code for GNOME 41, where it makes a good first impression.

GNOME Software has a new icon-based header strip. The ‘explore’ homepage boasts a bold new layout with bigger featured app banners, colourful category tiles, and informative ‘Editor’s Choice’ excerpts. The end result is a dynamic store front that feels more engaging and informative than the one it replaces.

App listing pages also benefit from some redesign efforts. They now makes better use of application screenshots, and relay more information about applications through the use of app information tiles.

App listings are now more informative at a glance

Away from the task of displaying and surfacing apps, there are other general UI improvements in GNOME Software 41 too, including an redesigned software repositories dialog, better list styling of installed apps and pending updates, plus a few new icons peppered throughout.

Power Options in Status Menu

Power up for power profiles

GNOME 40 introduced power profiles to the Settings app. GNOME 41 devs make switchable power profiles more accessible by showing them in the Status Menu by default.

There’s also been additional work to improve the integration of power profiles. For instance, low power mode is activated automatically when GNOME 41 is running on battery power and the battery reaches a low level (don’t want this? There’s an option to disable it too).

You’ll also notice that the brightness of the screen is dimmed more aggressively when low power mode is on.

An interesting change: power profiles can be requested by apps automatically, for the duration they run. For example, a games may request the device switches to performance power profile while it’s active. Devs have refreshed the Power settings panel to let users know when/if apps request this, as it may impact performance.

GNOME Calendar 41

Event handling in Calendar 41

I didn’t realise until recently that it wasn’t possible to make GNOME Calendar the default calendaring app (try for yourself on Ubuntu) — on my Ubuntu 21.04 install Text Editor is the default calendar app!

This was because Calendar wasn’t technically a file handler; it couldn’t be asked to open, say, .ics files, and do something with them.

The new popover

GNOME Calendar 41 can open .ics files and import events listed therein, letting you add them to any pre-configured calendar (or calendar account) of your choice. It also has a new event popover that makes it much easier to see event info on hover.

Connections (New App)

GNOME fans can look forward to going hands-on with a new remote desktop app in GNOME 41, with the perfectly titled Connections.

Connections in GNOME 41 Beta makes it possible to connect to and switch between multiple remote sessions at the same time; and the app is better at handling errors (and telling you about them) when things go awry.

The most eye-catching improvements come courtesy of the new first-run “onboarding” screens, which use some terrific artwork (including GNOME-style icons for macOS and Windows, no less). Also aiding new users is a simplified ‘new connection’ UI for, y’know, new connections!

Nautilus Tweaks

Nautilus 41 supports creating password protected archives

Nautilus (aka Files) makes a couple of key changes in GNOME 41, including the addition of an info bar when viewing the Trash folder. This bar lets you know when automatic trash emptying is active, and contains a quick link to Privacy settings (where you can, among other things, enable automatic trash emptying).

Keen on file compression? You’ll be pleased to hear Nautilus 41 features a redesigned “Compress” dialog with — finally — support for creating encrypted .zip archives. The new compress dialog is clean and task-focused, and a big improvement over similar features in dedicated compression and archive apps.

Assorted App Updates

Maps and Music both get updates

The following app updates were released as part of GNOME 41 beta, including the following:

GNOME Disk Utility is able to create new encrypted partitions using LUKS2; gains a button to ‘take filesystem ownership’, and changes a handful of icons for better clarity.

GNOME Maps finds fixes for a number of bugs, iterates on its use of icons within the UI, dumps Facebook check-in, and show take-away information for restaurants and other food services where available.

The Calls app picks up SIP base functionality in this release, with new UI elements to manage a SIP Account and make/receive VoIP calls.

GNOME Calls

Music, the no-frills local music player with basic capabilities, gets various UI tweaks, not least of which is an oversized play/pause button in the player control bar.

GNOME Text Editor (not to be confused with Gedit) gains keyboard shortcuts for zooming in v41, and upgrades its preferences implementation with a slick adaptive sidebar. This app is worth a look as a) it’s a solid text editor with all the basic features, and b) it provides a feature I love: session state saving without having to save things to an actual file.

Finally, Web (aka Epiphany) improves its dark mode support and now retains pinned tabs between sessions — which is very handy if, like me, you always have Twitter open!

Performance Boost

GNOME 41 also includes a fresh batch of performance boosts.

Displays with low refresh rates benefit from reduced input latency; multi-touch gestures behave more consistently in use; and workspace transitions are described as being ‘more seamless’ in this update.

Mutter, GNOME’s window manager, has also undergone a “significant code cleanup”.

Summary

In short, GNOME 41 continues to push towards crafting the ideal ‘distraction free’ desktop experience. While there are fewer “in your face” changes than last time, what is on offer here is considered and complete.

Try GNOME 41

You can download GNOME OS images to try GNOME 41 ahead of its stable release on September 22, 2021. Just keep in mind that the GNOME OS image linked below is not intended to be “installed” and used like a regular distro. It’s a showcase, not a daily driver.

Also note that the .iso below is intended for use with GNOME Boxes, and may not boot in other VM software.

Download GNOME OS 41 (Beta)

GNOME 41 is available to try in the latest Fedora Rawhide images, and the distro will ship with the desktop update in Fedora 35 when it’s released later this year.

While Ubuntu 21.10 won’t ship with GNOME 41 it will offer a small selection of GNOME 41 apps. Will a third-party PPA to upgrade to GNOME 41 on Ubuntu 21.10 appear? There’s a chance, but it is unlikely to be properly supported.

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