News from GNOME Shell land

The GNOME Shell crew are busy cooking up a tonne of improvements and new features for the next release. Plenty of things have already landed and there’s much more in the pipeline, so I thought it was time for a bit of a review of what’s been happening. This is also a nice sneak preview of what’s coming in 3.2. 🙂

Integrated chat and messaging

Amazing work going on here, largely thanks to Guillaume Desmottes. From 3.2, GNOME 3 will have fully integrated chat and messaging. This means that the system will be able to automatically log you into chat and messaging services without you needing to launch a separate application, and you will be able to take calls, reply to chat and room invitations as well as file transfers from the shell itself. Much of this has already been implemented, including a decent chunk of backend work.

Notification counters

Jasper St. Pierre has added notification counters to items in the message tray. This means that it will be possible to see how many emails are waiting for you without having to go to your email client, or how many messages you have missed in a particular chat. Guillaume Desmottes has also contributed to this work.

Persistent workspace switcher

Florian Müllner has changed the behaviour of the workspace switcher so that it now stays extended when you are using more than one workspace. Having tested this feature for a while, I have to say that it works really well and makes using workspaces feel much more natural.

Pretty window picker

An effort is currently being made to improve the appearance of the window selector part of the activities overview. The window thumbnails are being given stylish new decorations, which are already looking nice thanks to Maxim Ermilov. Here’s a sneak preview of his current work in progress:

New login dialogs

Ray Strode is busy working on new fully integrated login dialogs for GNOME 3. These will be super-slick and have the same style as the rest of GNOME Shell.

These are the mockups (no pressure, Ray 😉 )

Edit: check out Ray’s new post showing off the new login dialog (and don’t miss the video). Here’s a teaser:

Typing notifications

As a part of the messaging integration work, Alban Crequy and Jonny Lamb have added typing notification support to GNOME Shell, so that people who you are chatting with can see when you are entering a reply into a notification bubble.

Integrated contacts search

Morten Mjelva is working on this for his GSoC project, and it is one part of the integrated contacts framework that will feature in 3.2. It means that you will be able to search for contacts from the same place that you search for applications, recent documents, settings, and so on.

This is one of the mockups he’s currently working from:

Clocks for multiple time zones

Adding the ability to display the time for different places around the world is the focus of Stéphane Maniaci, who has been keeping us posted on the GNOME Shell mailing list. I know this a feature that a lot of people want to see, and it sounds like his work is proceeding well.

User menu improvements

This is another Florian Müllner effort. He’s working to ensure that the user menu gives a richer and more consistent representation of the user, and to introduce a toggle switch for a ‘Do not disturb’ mode. The functionality for do not disturb was included in 3.0 but it wasn’t fully present in the UI. When ‘Do not disturb’ is enabled, your messaging status will be switched to busy (if you are available) and only important notifications will be displayed. This will be a great little feature.

Here’s a screenshot of Florian’s work in progress:

Google Calendar integration

The drop down calendar now has Google Calendar integration, thanks to David Zeuthen’s work on GNOME Online Accounts.

Easier window resizing

One item that has been on the wish list for some time and which has finally been fixed is making it easier to grab the edge of a window in order to resize it. To make this happen, Jasper St. Pierre has added wider invisible borders to windows.

Pretty rounded window corners

Another item that has been on the wish list for some time are properly rendered rounded window corners. It sounds like a small thing, but getting this right will make the desktop look a whole lot nicer. And Jasper’s working on it.

Integrated on-screen keyboard

More GSoC goodness, this time from Nohemi Fernandez who has been working hard on creating a nice integrated on-screen keyboard. She already blogged about this, which means I can steal one of her screenshots. 🙂

Hot plug hotness

You may have read about this on Cosimo’s blog, but he’s already a way along with making device hot plugging work nicely with the shell. Once this work is completed, you will get proper notifications when you plug-in a removable device, like this one:

Performance improvements

And finally, Owen Taylor, GNOME Shell’s intrepid leader, has been doing some research on making performance even better. You can read more about that on his blog.

I’m sure there are things that I’ve missed. There’s lots of minor fixing and tweaking going on, and there are bound to be other improvements before the next release. As you can see though, this is already an impressive amount of work which makes me really excited for 3.2.

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66 Responses to News from GNOME Shell land

  1. John Vilk says:

    Ooo, ‘Do not disturb’ looks very useful. Quick question, though, that I’m not sure you will be able to answer: Without the user menu open, is there a visual indicator somewhere that you are in ‘Do not disturb’ mode? Maybe I’m alone in this, but I frequently forget to change my ‘away’ status in IM clients, even when they change their system tray icon to indicate this. With messaging integrated into the shell, you could do something more noticeable, like slightly change the background of the top bar from black to a lighter shade of black or something.

    Anyway, just an idea. I’m looking forward to trying the updated shell! 😀

    • Allan says:

      Hey John,

      You’re right, that is a potential danger of do not disturb, and we’re looking at some different solutions to the issue.

  2. Para-Dox says:

    Great work. 😉

    About notification counters, it’s only on notification bar or also in the app icon?

    For the user menu, I think it’s better to use a checkbock than a swith for “Do Not Disturb”

    But waiting until September will be long. 😛

    • Para-Dox says:

      Ho, I forget this:

      In user-menu, I think it’s nice to have an “Edit” button on right the user name in the menu instead of a menu entry nammed “My Account”. It’s more intuitive.

      • John Vilk says:

        I suspect that users don’t edit their names frequently enough to have that feature in such a prominent location, where it could be easy to hit by mistake. This functionality was probably relegated to “My Account” to avoid cluttering this menu, and to group editing features into one location.

      • rezwerd says:

        wait, you mean a button to edit the whole account, right? not just the username? so basically moving the “My Account” menu entry over next to the username… sounds good to me, but it might not be quite as intuitive as you think. some people might confuse it for an edit button for the username, as @John Vilk suggested.

        maybe if the button said “Edit Account”? that might be too long though…

    • John Vilk says:

      Honest question: Are there any places in Gnome Shell that still use checkboxes? It seems like everything that once used checkboxes has been replaced with a switch.

      I can’t check right now because I’m away from my main desktop.

    • Jasper St. Pierre says:

      They’re only on the message tray.

      There was a plan[0] to have them on the Alt-Tab popup and maybe on other places, but we all decided that it didn’t make sense.


  3. Florian Müllner says:

    Thanks for the update, Allan! Remind me to buy you a beer at Guadec 🙂

    I suspect modesty on your side, but you omitted any credits on the design side – most of the above is also the work of Jon Mccann, Jakub Steiner and Allan Day. Keep rocking!

  4. frimost1 says:

    All good stuff. Great work!

    Only one question: the persistent workspace switcher behaviour is “always extended”? ie, when you are working with an application the switcher will be visible? I think it should be hidden cause it’s very wide and not all people have a big 24 panoramic screen 🙂

    All in all, congrats for the hard work!

  5. Kris Thomsen says:

    About the user-menu, isn’t a bad idea design-wise to have the user name both in the panel AND in the dropdown-menu? Shouldn’t it be enough to have it in the panel?

    • bochecha says:

      I have to agree with that. This screenshot looks like something for either narcissistic or alzheimer people. 🙂

      It makes a lot of sense to have it inside the menu, like in this screenshot, as it makes it look like some kind of a simple “business card”. I find it actually very elegant.

      Given that having the username always displayed in the top panel has been one of the complaints I heard the most about Gnome Shell (and the fast user switch applet before), and that it really looks horrible for people who have a long name (I mean, just imagine that on a netbook panel:, perhaps it is time to remove it and make the menu a simple icon, just like the system status icon next to it?

      This would also make the top panel more symetrical, wouldn’t it?

      • Allan says:

        The user menu performed quite well in the (admittedly small scale) user tests that I did a while back. People seem to understand what the menu item is and roughly what it contains (everyone I tested successfully found system settings there, for example), so I’d be hesitant about changing it.

        You’re both probably right that the repetition of the user name isn’t particularly elegant, but I’d still say it’s an improvement. 🙂

      • bochecha says:

        (replying to myself since it seems wordpress only allows a limited nesting of comments)

        > “The user menu performed quite well in the (admittedly small scale) user tests that I did a while back…”

        I’m not saying it doesn’t work. I personnaly like it a lot and never had any problem with it.

        If you were answering this specific part of my comment:
        > “Given that having the username always displayed in the top panel has been one of the complaints I heard the most about Gnome Shell (and the fast user switch applet before)”

        I was alluding to all those “Gnome 3 sucks” blog posts we have seen a bit everywhere on the planets from people who only complained, didn’t contribute anything (not even constructive feedback) and then left to XFCE making as much noise as possible.

        Sure, those are not the people for whom you are designing Gnome 3 (and frankly, given their attitude, you shouldn’t even bother), but removing the name from the panel as some of us suggested here would have several advantages (panel symmetry, more elegant panel on smaller displays, less redundancy,…), one of which would be to please those people (and perhaps even make them stop complaining? No, I’m dreaming, here 🙂

        However, it sure woul be har to find a status icon that would express the idea of “current session and system settings” (which is more or less what the user menu contains), but that’s not an impossible task for our awesome designers!

        In any case, thank you for the report, don’t hesitate to bring us more good news like these. 🙂

        I really can’t wait for Gnome 3.2. (and actually, I probably won’t and will switch around Fedora 16 alpha ^^)

  6. brian says:

    @Allan Day in response to Kris Thomsen, above: I agree w/ Kris that it is unnecessary to have a user’s name in both the panel and the drop-down menu. However I think it is only necessary to have it in the drop-down menu. Having the user’s name in the panel takes up space, and makes the top panel look too crowded on smaller screened devices (7-inch) when in portrait orientation. Further, I have seen screenshots of some people with very long names, and it distorts the whole layout of the top panel.

    In general, I think Gnome should stick to an icon only top panel as much as possible, because of the variability using text introduces to the user experience in corner cases.

    Great job on all the GS changes by the way!

    And now for my own questions:
    1) Any way to hack GS onto an iPad? Drivers would be easy, since its all the same hardware.
    2) Also, any word on when the new cross-distro software store will come to fruition?
    3) What is the time-line for Gnome OS, approximately? Last year Jon McCann mentioned doing it by 4.0, but that’s a long time — any chance for earlier?


    • Allan says:

      Wow, big questions!

      1) I’ve seen it running on a WeTab and Bastien Nocera has done some great work making GNOME 3 work well on tablets in general. I haven’t seen GS on an iPad though.

      2) I suspect that’s a way off yet, though it is still something that many of us would really like to do in the future.

      3) I think people are still trying to figure out what GNOME OS should be! There has been some progress recently, though.

  7. mathw says:

    Looking quite exciting! It’ll be nice to have the new messaging work, as it’s a bit rough in 3.0.
    I’ve been hoping to see a decision to have Suspend/Hibernate/Shut Down on the menu…

  8. Jack says:

    I’m gonna’ trust you on the whole persistent workspace thing. Part of me really likes to scrub back and forth between my workspaces and windows, so it’s gonna’ feel weird for me that it stopped resizing/moving. XD Then again, GNOME-Shell’s obviously not a toy. I assume I can modify some of these things in GSettings, anyway.

    For the most part, I think all of these changes are pretty big improvements. Definitely worthy of the 3.2 update- keep up the good work.

    • nona says:

      From what I understand, it still behaves as before, but the workspace switcher only hides when there is only one workspace. If you’re using more, chances are you want to see them immediately when you’re in the activities overview mode, so they should stay visible. But that doesn’t preclude them resizing, moving, and being dynamic as they are in 3.0.

  9. Ivanonymous says:

    Very exciting! Thanks Allan for sharing, and thanks to everyone involved.

  10. Piotr Drąg says:

    What about Jimmac’s mode-switch killing mockups? I really like these. Any bug #?

    • Florian Müllner says:

      No. He doesn’t consider those mockups final and probably won’t have time to work on it in the 3.2 time frame, so unfortunately it looks like mode-switch killing will be delayed to 3.4.

  11. mirek2 says:

    I’m still hoping that the Power off… button will make a comeback. I know that it’s a small thing, I know there’s even an extension to make it persistent, but this little thing really, really bugs me…

    On that note, judging from the mockups alone, it seems there is no obvious way to reach power options (Power off, Suspend, …) from the login screen. Will they be reachable from somewhere? And does the new login screen mean that the Power off button has been relegated under a shortcut key for good?

  12. krnekhelesh says:

    Looks really great!!! Thanks for the update. I do have a question…are the zeitgeist updates like the jumplists landing in gnome 3.2?

  13. danyR says:

    Looking great, can’t wait for the final release. But first, one request and one question.
    Request: Please make it so one can navigate from one edge of the top panel to the other by just clicking in the right arrow. Imagine, Ctrl + Alt + Tab -> Activities -> Left Arrow -> My Username.

    Question: With the new invisible resize borders, will now have the resize grip + the resize border or will GNOME move to borderless windows? I think the resize grip + to-the-pixel-rounded anti-aliased corners look…eeeerrrr…cute. 😉

    • Jasper St. Pierre says:

      The resize grip will still be there on GTK3 apps, and I have no desire of turning that off.

  14. The Window Picker Decorations:
    What I wonder is: why only for the window picker? It it looks good, it should really be used in Adwaita (the default GNOME 3 theme).I for one would like to see some more polish for a default theme and more stunning Looks.

  15. Evandro says:

    Another nice new feature is the new dark theme and matching window decorations for specific applications, like totem. This was done in mutter so it’s not exactly the shell, but close enough. 🙂

  16. What about persistent notifications? Say, for example, if I am reading an article and I get up to go to the bathroom, I am at risk of missing the notification that tells me that my mother tried to bother me over Facebook chat because I didn’t enter the GNOME shell overlay because I was busy reading said article. That isn’t acceptable. The ten seconds that the notification bar pops up is easy to miss if I’m away from the computer doing some trivial task and I don’t visit the GNOME shell overlay every thirty seconds. I believe there is a GNOME shell extension that fixes this but I’m too lazy to install extensions.

    • Allan says:

      The message tray is displayed if the machine has gone idle and you return to it. We’re targeting a number of bugs for the next release that should make messages that are waiting for you more obvious, though. We want to make sure that it is displayed if you are idle for just a short period, for instance.

  17. nitrofurano says:

    and where is the gnome-color-chooser compatibility and implementation on Gnome3?

  18. Matěj Cepl says:

    Calendar integration looks cool, but for those of us who hate storing their personal data with an advertising agency, how difficult is to create a new backend for this (e.g., CalDAV calendar on my own server)? Just Javascript or do I have to go to C-level?

  19. Hoon Lee says:

    I’m using Linux at work, particularly Debian for its stability with GNOME 2 but I really like the new idea of GNOME 3. However, there is much room for improvement. There are two things I’d love (seriously) to be fixed:

    – The inconsistent looking: just compare the 2 screenshots above: Inkscape in Workspace Switcher with nice buttons and rounded corners and Nautilus in Window Picker screenshot with bad buttons and Nautilus scrollbar is actually different and much more uglier than that of Inkscape

    – Too much space wasted in all UI components, especially vertical space. Just compare Windows or Mac, you can easily realize. Space is very valuable resource especially when working. Even on my 1440×900 laptop screen, I cannot view many things as I expect.

    Hopefully the next Debian release will have a mature and polish GNOME 3.

    • Allan says:

      Hey Hoon Lee, the visual inconsistency you’ve pointed out is due to applications using GTK2. This problem will decrease as more apps are ported to the latest version of the toolkit. I think there has also been some work to improve the GTK2 theme that is shipped with GNOME 3, so the differences shouldn’t be as jarring in the next release. (Might be wrong about that; it has certainly been discussed though.)

      • I heard some complaints about the padding in GNOME 3 applications due to the Adwaita theme. I don’t really mind since I have GNOME 3 installed on my desktop and space isn’t that valuable of a commodity there. I hope that an easy way to theme GNOME 3 comes up eventually.

  20. greg says:

    The aliasing of scaled-down windows looks pretty horrible. Why can’t Mutter use mipmaps?

  21. Brian says:

    Almost everything here seems to improve my desktop somehow. I can’t wait for this 🙂

  22. The Unabeefer says:

    I’d really like to see some Twitter (and other microblogging) integration, to the same extent as the chat. Also once the Google+ API is released, see what sort of things might be done down the road with that. Google+ looks mighty swell in Gnome 3.

    Great work!!! I am excited to see any and all updates implemented!!!

  23. Tom Dawson says:

    Looking very good, can’t wait for the improved log-in theme and the hotplug stuff. Excellent work as per, can’t wait for the 3.2 release. Couldn’t imagine a desktop without the Shell now!

  24. Ratul says:

    Really Can’t wait! Pure awesomeness!

    One simple UX problem I faced: Ages back :P, we had dock, minimizing panel or stuff like that where we click and, voila!, the 5th opened window is open! Now, as in current gnome3, the ways are either alt+tab, which can be tedious or overview and the click, which is, not that good idea (you opened facebook, a book and an editor with your mom watching. you don’t want the overview, right?). And I miss how I had terminal, chrome, force quit, some quick folders in my top bar for quick access. Any way to implement that, please?

    PS: I feel awesome when I recall meeting and listening some of you guys in the gnome asia summit 2011!

  25. Elder-Geek says:

    Persistent workspace switcher

    Which means Gnome 3.2 has discovered the humble “pager”, a standard item in many linux desktops since at least 1999. I am glad to see they realize that is not “clutter” and removing it did not “streamline and simplify the user experience”. Way to go Gnome 3 dev team.

  26. toxicbits says:

    I really like the way Gnome Shell is going, I even switched from Ubuntu to Fedora because of it, but some decisions seem to be just wrong, e.g. the missing option to shut down or to change the theme. Apparently there are many others who think the same way, so why doesn’t the Gnome team offer an option for users to vote how this should be handled in the next release?

  27. Anonymous says:

    The new login dialogs look awesome. Would you consider adding an “add new user” mechanism to it? The login dialog seems like the most common point at which you realize that you need a new user account. I’d also love to remove one more step from the initial setup of a Linux system, and just create a user for myself on first boot.

  28. Anonymous says:

    One random note about the integrated messaging support: *please* don’t automatically set idle time based on actual desktop idle time. I prefer to manually set away/busy/etc.

  29. CoolestGeek says:

    Love the idea of multi time zones, really missed that when I was using gnome 3. Back on Mint 9 for now as I had some stability issues with my distro and my laptop. Looking to maybe go Ubuntu next… Looks like gnome3 is moving in a great direction!

  30. PERRET says:

    Hello, I translated your article in French, thank you for writing it!
    The link to the article in French:
    good day

  31. Peter says:

    Gnome 3 already rocks and the updates in 3.2 look really great. Nice work guys.

  32. Herman says:

    Version 3 looks very promising, indeed. For the time being, however, and with only a rather tiny 11.6″ panel, I stick to 2.x – with only ONE panel at the bottom (similar to ‘default’ Win2K).

    I have the feeling that panels and in particular window decorators are way to thick in the 3.x version, at least when accessed on a small screen. From a user perspective, is it possible to customize the ‘notification area’, as it is in 2.x ?

    I think I’ll just have to take a look pretty soon, using a live CD 😉

  33. Reda Lazri says:

    Any news on Metacity?

  34. Danilo says:

    One thing I am missing is for workspace to not disappear when the last program is closed (at least for a minute or so): I usually want to open a new program on that workspace, or worse, a program might have crashed and I lose my spatial layout of workspaces and I have to rearrange all the windows to come back to a point I was at before.

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