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Easy Steps to Make GNOME 3 More Efficient

Few Linux desktops have brought about such controversy as GNOME 3. It’s been ridiculed, scorned, and hated since it was first released. Thing is, it’s actually a very good desktop. It’s solid, reliable, stable, elegant, simple... and with a few minor tweaks and additions, it can be made into one of the most efficient and user-friendly desktops on the market.

Of course, what makes for an efficient and/or user-friendly desktop? That is subject to opinion -- something everyone has. Ultimately, my goal is to help you gain faster access to the apps and the files you use. Simple. Believe it or not, stepping GNOME 3 up into the world of higher efficiency and user-friendliness is quite an easy task -- you just have to know where to look and what to do. I am here to point you in the right directions.

I decided to go about this process by first installing a clean Ubuntu GNOME distribution that included GNOME 3.12. With the GNOME-centric desktop ready to go, it’s time to start tweaking.

Add window buttons

For some unknown reason, the developers of GNOME decided to shrug off the standard window buttons (Close, Minimize, Maximize) in favor of a single Close button. I get the lack of a Maximize button (since you can simply drag the window to the top of the screen to maximize) and you can also gain access to the minimize/maximize actions by right-clicking the titlebar and selecting either Minimize or Maximize. This behavior simply adds steps, so the lack of a minimize button is a bit confounding. Fortunately, there’s an easy fix for this. Here’s how:

By default, you should have the GNOME Tweak Tool installed. With this tool you can turn on either/or the Maximize or Minimize buttons (Figure 1).


Once added, you’ll see the Minimize button, to the left of the close button, ready to serve. Your windows are now more easy to manage.

From the same tweak tool, you can configure a number of other helpful aspects of GNOME:

  • Set window focus mode

  • Set system fonts

  • Set the GNOME theme

  • Add startup applications

  • Add extensions. 

Add extensions

One of the best features of GNOME 3 are shell extensions. These extensions bring all sorts of handy features to GNOME. With shell extensions, there’s no need to install from the package manager, you either visit the GNOME Shell Extension site, search for the extension you want to add, click on the extension listing, click the On button, and then okay the installation of the extension or you add them from within the GNOME Tweak Tool (you’ll find more available extensions through the web site).

NOTE: You may have to allow the installation of extensions through your browser. If this is the case, you’ll be given a warning when you first visit the GNOME Shell Extension site. Just click Allow when prompted.

One of the more impressive (and handy extensions) is Dash to Dock. This extension moves the Dash out of the application overview and turns it into a fairly standard dock (Figure 2).


As you add applications to the Dash, they will also be added to the Dash to Dock. You also get quick access to the applications overview, by clicking the 6-dotted icon at the bottom of the Dock.

There are plenty of other extensions focused on making GNOME 3 a more efficient desktop. Some of the better extensions include:

  • Recent items: Add a drop-down menu of recently used items to your panel.

  • Search Firefox Bookmarks Provider: Search (and launch) your bookmarks from the Overview.

  • Quicklists: Add a quicklist popup menu to Dash icons (which allows you to quickly open new documents associated with the application, and more).

  • Todo List: Adds a drop-down in the panel that allows you to add items lists.

  • Web Search Dialog: Allows you to quickly search the web by hitting Ctrl+Space and entering a string of text (results appear in a new browser tab). 

Add a complete dock

If the Dash to Dock is too limiting for you (say you want a notification area and more), one of my favorite docks is Cairo Dock (Figure 3). This amazing addition to GNOME 3 will go a long way to up the efficiency of the desktop. With it, you can add/remove applications, get quick access to shortcuts (folders such as Documents, Downloads, Music, and Videos), add applets (such as RSS reader, wi-fi indicator, netspeed, drop-to-share, and more). Cairo also allows themes and OpenGL hardware acceleration support.

gnome3 Cairo dock

With Cairo Dock added to GNOME 3, your experience will be made exponentially better. Install this great dock from within your distribution’s package manager.

GNOME 3 doesn’t have to be seen as an inefficient, user UN-friendly, desktop. With just a tiny bit of tweaking, GNOME 3 can be made as powerful and user-friendly as any desktop available.



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  • Mike Said:

    Maximize: Alt+F10 I actually found Super+Appname more conven7ent than any dock.

  • Sevin Said:

    Great article! It's a real pity that Gnome3 lets silly little design decisions pervade. Gnome-Tweak would not be a thing if no one wanted it. Obviously people want window buttons (honestly, so far I have not met anyone using Gnome who does NOT have those turned on). Also, I prefer Plank to Cairo-Dock. It's quite nice!

  • Joachim Hansen Said:

    Double click the window titlebar to maximize and minimize. Middle click to lower it. If you know about this GTK3 features its faster than hitting the window buttons.

  • pablo Said:

    when i first started using gnome3 a few months ago it feel weird, now Im completely used to it and I find myself frustrated hitting the Super key in other interfaces to bring up the summary of all my currently open windows... After getting used to it, I think it's the best desktop available on the market.

  • Chris Said:

    hi, thanks for your article I have found gnome 3 to suit me very well compared to other desktop environments. I think it's a matter of ones tastes especially if a user prefers a cleaner interface with lots of functionality , then gnome 3 would be the best choice. When i first used it (gnome 3.8), i felt it looked like a knock-off of the windows 8 user interface because it tried badly to make it more tablet/touch friendly but after getting adjusted to it, using the new and modern interface was such a joy even on my laptop!! I think the gnome team has done a really good job with this innovative desktop environment.

  • Brian Said:

    I really wanted to love Gnome 3, but the several times i had it installed i encountered far too many problems. I think that visually its a stunning desktop, but good looks do not help you get work done.

  • joncr Said:

    The long-running hostiity toward Gnome Shell says a lot more about the complainers than it does about anything else. It's still common to come across people, for example, who cite the ability to add extensions as a sign of Gnome's weakness and bad design, while simultaneously extolling KDE's widgets or old Gnome 2's applets. People who fixate on forcing Gnome Shell to behave as an old fashioned Windows-esque interface where users need to be constantly minimizing and maximizing to get out of their own way don't get it. They aren't using Gnome Shell the way it is designed to be used. If someone wants to minimize and maximize to and from a panel, and all that, fine. Just stop applying inappropriate expectations to Gnome. Menus and panels didn't solve the desktop interface problem Gnome hasn't either. But, at least it came up with something a bit different rather than a rework of he same tired bits from 1998. Meanwhile, the Dash To Dock extension gives you a great dock without the ovehead and Edsel-like tacky shininess of Cairo dock.

  • fab Said:

    You are aware you can customize the dock, right ? You don't have to activate all the shiny effects/applets just because they are available (actually the default theme is very sober).

  • Jordi Said:

    Simple Dock extension

  • rjf Said:

    If only I could find an extension that removed the fat transparent borders around Files (aka Nautilus). I can clearly click outside the file manager window into a window of a completely different program that lies partially underneath but nothing happens because of what I can only describe as these fat transparent borders. I only see it on Nautilus too, nothing else seems to suffer from this bug.

  • rjf Said:

    If only I could find an extension that removed the fat transparent borders around Files (aka Nautilus). I can clearly click outside the file manager window into a window of a completely different program that lies partially underneath but nothing happens because of what I can only describe as these fat transparent borders. I only see it on Nautilus too, nothing else seems to suffer from this bug.

  • Ryan Said:

    You could try using an alternate FM like Marlin.

  • Eduardo Said:

    Why would you need yet another dock down there? to make it look like something else, I guess. Screens are wider... And yes, I do too find my self hitting the top left corner with the mouse or pressing super to bring the dash, even XFCE has come with an applet to behave the same way. To my point of view, very much like the celulars interface but with the advange of a real keyboard.

  • archuser Said:

    Gnome 3 looks ugly especially the windows and icons , libreoffice is pathetic and all linux apps are full of bugs including the kernel , one cannot think of switching from windows and have a smooth life.

  • archuser Said:

    One more thing to add i use citrix receiver to connect to my work environment and it does not work well with Gnome 3 especially if i launch mstsc( MS remote desktop) gnome 3 crashes giving you only option to logout , also sometimes ica files do not launch at all , then i have to kill multiple ica sessions and relaunch it.

  • linuxuser Said:

    Gnome 3 theme especially white windows do not look nice and borders are not well drawn and look wavy .

  • Math Said:

    This review is missing the Simple Dock extension, an easy to install extension between 'Dash to Dock' and 'Cairo Dock'.

  • Davo Said:

    A number of times in my life I've been faced with new technologies that required a paradigm shift and thus a shift in my workflow. This is always painful. But when I have forced myself to learn the new paradigm and adjust my workflow accordingly I have often been impressed and convinced to change. The Gnome 3 desktop is one such instance. If you adopt its conventions -- and stop pining for a desktop that looks like a variant of Windows 95 -- you'll find it quite efficient and useful. At least, I have found it so. While I am quite familiar with, and spend time with, other desktop managers, I keep coming back to Gnome 3. It was certainly worth the (brief) pain of converting to a new way of doing things. Congratulations to the Gnome 3 developers for thinking about desktop workflow deeply and providing the first real alternative in decades. And, with extensions, doesn't it provide the best of all worlds -- adapt the full-on Gnome 3 experience, or add extensions until the desktop is something quite different? The existence of a tweak tool, and of extensions, isn't a sign of Gnome 3's weakness but its strength. (That said, I like my coffee black in this case.)

  • Fredrik Said:

    Tried earlier gnome shell, pretty decent ATM I mainly use Ubuntu and unity

  • Dereks1961 Said:

    In a previous comment archuser made two statements i would like to address. The first, "libreoffice is pathetic and all linux apps are full of bugs including the kernel". Every program out there is full of bugs. Bugs are a part of life. One of the reasons i switched to linux is because the bugs were fixed much quicker then any proprietory software out there. There have even been a few times (i am not a programer) i have managed to fix them on my own, something that can not be done and is forbidden on proprietory software. As far as Libreoffice being pathetic goes...don't use it. there are plenty of alterntives out there to use including running MS Office on Linux. You have choices, use them. The second statement was, "one cannot think of switching from windows and have a smooth life." and this is true but one can not think of changing from something they know and something they don't know and have a smooth life. There was a time when i would buy a new TV, plug it in, hook up the antenna and put it on the channel i want to watch. It was quick and somple (I don't have cable or sat.). Today I buy a new TV, plug it in and hook up the antenna, Next i have to go through several menus, spend more then 10 minutes scanning for channels before i can watch it. Even switching from one version of Windows to the next (like windows 7 to windows 8) you don't have a smooth life. You have to relearn every thing. My computing life has been much smoother and easier and closer to bug free since i switched to linux over 15 years ago.

  • 3r0s Said:

    Yes Gnome 3 is now very usable but when playing any flash video on wevsites the full screen fails to work. This is a problem started with Gnome 3.8 and not yet resolved by Gnome team !!! See

  • Wantoo Sevin Said:

    Red Hat default desktop is Gnome Classic, and it is a great experience.

  • hendrixmar Said:

    Here is one!!! :D i dont know but when i start to use gnome 3 with sabayon and i just felt in love with gnome. It was so minimalist. Something that didnt pay so much attention about that desktop concept.

  • Tt Said:

    Still needed on the desktop: >Date and time, >Audio controls (sometimes need these urgently when at a meeting, some tab among the 200 I have open starts blaring out an ad), >Network hot button, >indicators for CPU Usage, Memory Usage, Swap Usage; >Name of the doc or web page I have open; etc. Until then, not 4 me. Thanks.

  • Tt Said:

    It's kind of arrogant, isn't it, to give us a desktop that lacks so many important information items, which are presented professionally by Apple/Mac's OS X, the desktop used by the vast majority of professional corporate developers. Canl't believe it. Linus T. was right to criticize Gnome 3, though he now accepts it, after the Tweak tool was developed.

  • eder rafo Said:

    gnome 3 has problems with ubuntu 14 -

  • Ary Kleinerman Said:

    I don't feel it comfortable to use. I use Xfce

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