GNOME: The Desktop I Don’t Need to Think About

I moved to GNOME from Xfce a few months ago (spurred by a new desktop machine), but I couldn’t find the time to write up my experiences. Canonical announcing the death of Unity last month seemed like a good to finally get my thoughts down.

Way back in November, I got a new desktop. My beloved Thinkpad T420 was aging and slightly slow, but since it never left my desk, a small desktop and large monitor seemed to make more sense. I knew from the beginning I was going with GNOME, since it’s always felt fast and wired for people like me, who don’t want to use their mouse. Of course, Xfce has that same kind of configureability, but if I was using new hardware, why not take advantage of the processing power and use something nice looking, like GNOME?

I went with Ubuntu GNOME 16.04 and it required very little time to perfect. As near as I could tell, it came with GNOME Tweak preinstalled, making it easy to customize (and making me, like Steven Rosenberg, wonder why any GNOME system wouldn’t have it pre-installed…).

After that, I was all set. I wanted to change the background color of my desktop, but I couldn’t figure out how to easily do that so I gave up and my computing life hasn’t suffered too much for it.

I also wanted to use the default system-wide GNOME calendar (aka, Calendar), but to do that, I had to configure an Evolution account (Evolution is GNOME’s default [and bloated] email/calendar application), which felt annoying since I use Thunderbird for my email and calendar. I was able to add and then remove the Evolution account and preserve my Calendar settings, but it would be great if there was a direct way to configure Calendar. The new, much more robust California calendar application, which isn’t installed by default, seems to allow you to manually add calendars. Also, here’s a nice explanation of why GNOME has two calendars.

The GNOME California calendar app
The California Calendar app

I installed a few extensions (AlternateTab, which should be called NormalTab; Clipboard Indicator; and Hibernate Status Button). I love that the extensions are handled through the web browser. And now you can even use Chromium, which wasn’t the case a few years ago.

Other than that, using GNOME has been easy and uneventful. The worst thing I might say about it is that the software updater hides from my mouse the first time it opens.

Start to finish, from installing Ubuntu (the Dell never even got to boot into Windows!), to having all of my accounts set-up and configured, was like two hours. I think I’ve spent more time deciding what to order for lunch.

My workflow is that I use the super key and type whatever files, folders, or programs I want to open. Everything is fast and looks nice, but most importantly, I don’t have to think about my desktop experience.

In reflecting upon the move to GNOME, I’ve wondered if GNOME is that good, if I’ve gotten good at understanding what I need from a desktop environment, or if I’ve matured and am less concerned with tweaking every aspect of my desktop experience. After much internal deliberation, I really do think it’s that GNOME is a great fit for someone like me, who doesn’t want to use a mouse. It works very well out of the box and requires very little customization to work for me. What little customizations I did want are amazingly simple to implement with the extensions.

I remain surprised GNOME Tweak doesn’t let the end-user easily do more with the overall look and feel of the desktop—especially the desktop background—but it’s an extremely small price to pay for being able to have my desktop environment perfectly configured in just a few hours.