Controversy over GNOME 3

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GNOME Shell 3.6 with Web.

The release of version 3.0 of the GNOME desktop environment, notable for its move away from the traditional desktop metaphor, has caused considerable controversy in the GNU and Linux community. Many users and developers have expressed concerns about the release's usability. A few projects have been initiated to continue development of GNOME 2.x or to modify GNOME 3.x to be more like the 2.x releases.

GNOME 3.x aims to provide a single interface for desktop computers and devices such as smart phones and tablet computers. This means using only input techniques that work on all those devices, which requires abandoning certain concepts which desktop users were accustomed to, such as right-clicking, or saving files on the desktop.


Among those critical of the new version is Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux kernel. Torvalds abandoned GNOME for a while after the release of GNOME 3.0, saying "The developers have apparently decided that it's 'too complicated' to actually do real work on your desktop, and have decided to make it really annoying to do." Torvalds stated that his objections were universally held by the varied Linux developers he knew.[1] He later started using GNOME again, saying things had gotten much better in the past year but noting that "they have extensions now that are still much too hard to find; but with extensions you can make your desktop look almost as good as it used to look two years ago."[2][3] Torvalds has suggested Frippery and GNOME Tweak Tool to be merged into GNOME 3.[4]

Response from GNOME maintainers[edit]

Responding to some of these criticisms, GNOME designer William Jon McCann said in an interview that "people are not making it up and it may indeed not be what they like", stating that "there are a lot of different products out there that may fit their way of working better." However, he also reminded them that "this isn't the first time we have encountered such reactions", adding that "many of the same people who are now claiming that GNOME2 was such a great thing for them were some of the most vocal opponents of the things we did in GNOME2." He also commented that some "feedback is certainly valid and we are going to use that to make informed decisions in the GNOME3 cycle", stressing that GNOME 3 is still early in development and that it took "eight, nine years to get to where GNOME2 ended up and we've had like four months of GNOME3."[5]

Supportive opinions[edit]

Reactions to GNOME Shell have not been universally negative. Scott Gilbertson of The Register commented in his review of Fedora 15, one of the first distributions to ship GNOME 3, that while there is "no question that GNOME 3 will be something of a shock for those accustomed to working with the GNOME 2.x line", that the new interface in the end "really does feel like a vast improvement over GNOME 2." Supporting his argument, he commented that one of the Shell's greatest strengths is "that it doesn't look like a cheap knock-off of Windows". Gilbertson concludes that the "result is a cleaner interface, to be sure, but one that's also very different from most OS designs."[6]

Fallback Mode[edit]

The Gnome Fallback mode in Gnome 3.0.0 displaying the GNOME Panel

GNOME Flashback[7] is a session for Gnome 3 which was initially called "Fallback Mode", and shipped as a stand-alone session in Debian and Ubuntu. It provides a similar user experience to the Gnome 2.x series sessions. As Fallback mode, it was used in situations where the GNOME Shell could not launch due to a computer not meeting its higher hardware demands such as compositing and further desktop effects, although it could also be toggled to be activated by the user.[8] GNOME developer Vincent Untz has stated that, while he prefers the default interface, users who do not appreciate the Shell may be more at home in the Fallback mode.[9] Both the GNOME Shell and the Fallback mode can also be further customized through the use of the "Gnome Tweak Tool", allowing users to regain a traditional desktop, change themes and fonts, and change various settings that are normally unavailable.[10]

The Gnome Classic mode in GNOME 3.11.90

Fallback mode was removed in GNOME 3.8 and replaced with a suite of officially supported GNOME extensions named 'GNOME Classic'. In December 2012 gnome fallback development resumed under the name Gnome Flashback.[11] As of September 2013 Gnome Flashback achieved compatibility with the Gnome 3.8 stack.[12] Gnome Flashback is not currently shipped with Gnome releases. Where graphics hardware is unable to run GNOME Shell, the standard Gnome Shell is started in software rendering mode using llvmpipe technology.[13]


As GNOME 2 is no longer maintained, the MATE desktop environment project was created as a fork of GNOME 2.[14] It intends to maintain the GNOME 2 codebase and application suite, keeping them up to date while also offering a traditional GNOME 2 experience.

"Mint Gnome Shell Extensions" (MGSE) was created by Linux Mint developers to bring a user experience of GNOME 2 to GNOME 3. It was released with Linux Mint 12 "Lisa" in November 2011.[15][16] In January 2012 the developers of MGSE announced the Cinnamon shell, a fork of the GNOME Shell. It was intended to maintain the underlying technology of GNOME Shell, including Mutter and GTK+ 3, while providing a more traditional, GNOME 2-like user interface.[17]

In March 2013, GNOME 3.8 was released, which includes a new "Classic mode" that restores a number of features such as an application menu, a places menu and a window switcher along the bottom of the screen, as extensions to the Shell.[18]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Ricky (2011-08-04), Linus Torvalds Ditches GNOME For Xfce, Digitizor, retrieved 2011-11-08 
  2. ^ Diavatis, Alex (2012-11-08), Linus Torvalds is actually back on Gnome 3!, World of Gnome, retrieved 2012-12-22 
  3. ^ Clarke, Gavin (2012-11-07), Passion of Torvalds, The Register, retrieved 2012-12-22 
  4. ^
  5. ^ Proschofsky, Andreas (2011-08-17), GNOME-Designer Jon McCann about the future of GNOME3, der Standard, retrieved 2011-12-04 
  6. ^ Gilbertson, Scott (2011-05-24), Fedora 15: More than just a pretty interface, The Register, retrieved 2011-12-04 
  7. ^ "GnomeFlashback". Retrieved 2013-08-02. 
  8. ^ Ljubunčić, Igor (2011-04-06), Gnome 3 Fallback mode - Get your productivity back, Dedoimedo, retrieved 2011-12-04 
  9. ^ Untz, Vincent (2011-04-13), gnome-panel is dead, long live gnome-panel!, Vuntz, retrieved 2011-12-04 
  10. ^ Stieben, Danny (2011-05-30), Configure Your Gnome 3 Desktop With Gnome Tweak Tool, MakeUseOf, retrieved 2011-12-04 
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^
  14. ^ Larabel, Michael (2011-08-17), A Fork Of GNOME 2: The Mate Desktop, Phoronix, retrieved 2011-12-04 
  15. ^ Lefebvre, Clem (2011-11-26), Linux Mint 12 Release Notes, Linux Mint, retrieved 2011-12-04 
  16. ^ Holwerda, Thom (2011-11-04), Linux Mint 12 Builds Custom Desktop on Top of GNOME 3, OSNews, retrieved 2012-01-02 
  17. ^ Lefebvre, Clem (2012-01-02), Introducing Cinnamon, Linux Mint, retrieved 2012-02-11 
  18. ^ "GNOME 3.8 Release Notes". Retrieved 2013-03-27.