Criticisms for the GNOME Shell

A look at the few things that bug me about GNOME Shell.

GNOME Shell gets a lot of flack from people that wish it was more like GNOME 2.x series, ranging from lamenting the difference to disgruntled rants that it’s a ruinous step towards Armageddon.

I’ve been using GNOME Shell since 3.x landed on Debian, and I enjoy it. But there are some things I don’t like about it (very few). Some of them are my own lack of relearning the desktop, failure to install appropriate extensions, etc.

Messaging Tray

This is my least favorite thing about the Shell. The Messaging tray is the area at the bottom of the screen that lets notifications be added, while sometimes acting like the old tray area where applications can add icons.

The problem is that it’s auto-hidden, which wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that it’s way too shy. I believe in recent versions it’s better, in that it will pop-up and stick around, but it’s still difficult to open if you’re on multiple monitors with the Shell on the left monitor. I run my mouse down, and miss it several times before getting it to show.

There’s supposed to be a kind of hidden bump at the top and bottom right, but those are both ineffective and annoying (ie, they don’t work when I want them to and do work when I don’t want them to).

Snapping Windows

Another feature of the Shell is snapping windows to three places: left-screen and right-screen both take up half of the screen when snapped. This is a kind of easy-tile system where you can have two windows side-by-side. The third snap is maximizing a window on the current screen.

I almost never use any of these on purpose, but do run into them accidentally more often than I’d like. This is especially common with the top-right mouse trap.

Multiple Desktops

My main complaint here is that it’s a pain in the ass to use multiple desktops. I either have to keep a mental map of my desktops, or keep going back to the Shell overview. There’s no normal workflow that automatically makes use of additional desktops. (I have a little more to say about that last sentence, see Workflow below.)

This is partly my fault, as I could probably learn to manually build these into my workflow.


The fact I’m avoiding the overview in dealing with multiple desktops points to the fact that I almost never touch the overview. In the course of a day, 90% of my overview use is in the first minutes of starting my computer. That’s usually to open a terminal, browser, and mail client. Maybe a few other things get opened/closed during the day (eg, wireshark), but these are rare.

I could have my common processes open on login, but then I’d really neglect the overview.

But this is less a criticism of the Overview/Shell, than the way I’m using it and that it’s meant to stay out of the way.

Things I Don’t Care About

I press Alt when I’m going to shut down. It doesn’t bother me. I understand that it would be trouble for discoverability reasons, and would see it fixed (I believe there’s some further work on changing it already?).

I open new windows from the application itself. As said above, I tend to avoid the Overview anyway, so making it easier to launch multiple windows for apps wouldn’t buy me anything.


I mentioned not using multiple desktops due to workflow problems. That’s the same reason I only sparingly use Panorama in Iceweasel/Firefox.

In general, I’m conservative in my computing. I keep the number of visible tabs in Iceweasel below 10. But that’s based on experiencing frustration when I have too much around. There are people who regularly speak of having hundreds of tabs open.

My guess is that they would rather find the tab they want than navigate to a new tab.

But the point is, there’s an opportunity to have things like Panorama and multiple desktops automated into the workflow. If I could open 50 tabs without managing them (building and pruning the set), it would be entirely common.

For Panorama, that would probably involve some sort of on-screen/non-dedicated group mechanism.

For multiple desktops, seeing the other desktops might be part of it, but that would add clutter to the desktop. Better might be to do away with the concept and instead have some other way of managing what windows are on the screen(s) at once.

In any case, having features that aren’t part of the workflow requires the user to build their own extra steps into their work.


If you look, you’ll see all my (minor) complaints are regarding places where GNOME Shell gets in my way. It doesn’t do it very much.

I’m rather happy with what’s here. It can be better, but for all of the grief it receives, it’s a stable desktop experience. I honestly believe that the complaints tend more to the feelings of betrayal at the loss of GNOME 2 than any deep complaints at the state of Shell.


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