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GNOME Shell.png
GNOME Shell 3.16 in overview mode
Developer(s) The GNOME Project
Initial release April 6, 2011; 6 years ago (2011-04-06)
Stable release 3.24.2 (8 May 2017; 17 days ago (2017-05-08)[1]) [±]
Preview release 3.25.1 (26 April 2017; 29 days ago (2017-04-26)[2]) [±]
Development status Active
Written in JavaScript and C[3][4]
Operating system Unix-like
Available in 75 languages[5]
License GPL

GNOME Shell is the graphical shell of the GNOME desktop environment starting with version 3,[6] which was released on April 6, 2011. It provides basic functions like launching applications, switching between windows and is also a widget engine. GNOME Shell replaced GNOME Panel[7] and some ancillary components in GNOME 2.

GNOME Shell is written in C and JavaScript as a plugin for Mutter.

In contrast to the KDE Plasma Workspaces, a software framework intended to facilitate the creation of multiple graphical shells for different devices, the GNOME Shell is intended to be used on desktop computers with large screens operated via keyboard and mouse, as well as portable computers with smaller screens operated via their keyboard, touchpad or touchscreen.


As graphical shell (graphical front-end/graphical shell/UX/UI) of the GNOME desktop environment, its design is guided by the GNOME UX Design Team.[8]

Design components[edit]

GNOME Shell.png
GNOME Shell Overview mode
Activities button
Search bar
Notification area
Status menu
Workspace list
Indicators tray

The GNOME Shell comprises following graphical and functional elements:[9]

  • Top bar
  • System status area
  • Activities Overview
  • Dash
  • Window picker
  • Application picker
  • Search
  • Notifications and calendar tray
  • Application switcher
  • Indicators tray

Software architecture[edit]

GNOME Shell is tightly integrated with Mutter, a compositing window manager and Wayland compositor. It is based upon Clutter to provide visual effects and hardware acceleration[10] According to GNOME Shell maintainer[11] Owen Taylor, it is set up as a Mutter plugin largely written in JavaScript[12] and uses GUI widgets provided by GTK+ version 3.


Changes to the user interface (UI) include, but are not limited to:

  • Clutter and Mutter support multi-touch gestures.[13]
  • Support for HiDPI monitors.[14]
  • A new Activities overview, which houses:
    • A dock (called "Dash") for quickly switching between and launching applications
    • A window picker, similar to macOS's Mission Control, also incorporating a workspace switcher/manager
    • An application picker
    • Search
  • "Snapping" windows to screen borders to make them fill up a half of the screen or the whole screen
  • A single window button by default, Close, instead of three (configurable). Minimization has been removed due to the lack of a panel to minimize to, in favor of workspace window management. Maximization can be accomplished using the afore-mentioned window snapping, or by double-clicking the window title bar.
  • A fallback mode is offered in versions 3.0–3.6 for those without hardware acceleration which offers the GNOME Panel desktop. This mode can also be toggled through the System Settings menu.[15] GNOME 3.8 removed the fallback mode and replaced it with GNOME Shell extensions that offer a more traditional look and feel.[16]


The functionality of GNOME Shell can be changed with extensions, which can be written in JavaScript. Users can find and install extensions using the GNOME extensions website. Some of these extensions are hosted in GNOME's git repository, though they are not official.[17]



  • The Linux distribution Fedora uses GNOME Shell by default since release 15.[18]
  • Ubuntu doesn't use GNOME Shell by default, but users are able to install it from the Ubuntu repositories since version 11.10.[19] However, Ubuntu will move to GNOME shell in 18.04 LTS. In addition, an unofficial flavor named Ubuntu GNOME Remix was released alongside Ubuntu 12.10.[20] It gained official flavor status by Ubuntu 13.04 release cycle and was renamed Ubuntu GNOME.[21]
  • The GNOME version of openSUSE 12.1 uses GNOME Shell by default.[22]
  • In 2011, Arch Linux dropped support of GNOME 2 in favor of GNOME 3 in its repositories.[23]
  • Mageia 2 and later include GNOME Shell.[24]
  • Debian Jessie makes GNOME 3.14 available. More recent versions of GNOME Shell are also available in Debian testing and sid (unstable).[25][26]
  • Sabayon Linux uses the latest version of GNOME Shell.


GNOME Shell has received mixed reviews: It has been criticized for a variety of reasons, mostly related to design decisions and reduced user control over the environment. For example, users in the free software community have raised concerns that the planned tight integration with Mutter will mean that users of GNOME Shell will not be able to switch to an alternative window manager without breaking their desktop. In particular, users might not be able to use Compiz with GNOME Shell while retaining access to the same types of features that older versions of GNOME allowed.[27]

Reviews have generally become more positive over time, with upcoming releases addressing many of the annoyances reported by users.[28][29]


The first concepts for GNOME Shell were created during GNOME’s User Experience Hackfest 2008 in Boston.[30][31][32]

After criticism of the traditional GNOME desktop and accusations of stagnation and lacking vision,[33] the resulting discussion led to the announcement of GNOME 3.0 in April 2009.[34] Since then Red Hat has been the main driver of GNOME Shell’s development.[35]

Pre-release versions of GNOME Shell were first made available in August 2009[36] and became regular, non-default part of GNOME in version 2.28 in September 2009.[37] It was finally shipped as GNOME’s default user interface on 6 April 2011.[38][39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Müllner, Florian (27 April 2017). "GNOME 3.25.1". gnome-announce-list (Mailing list). Retrieved 2 May 2017. 
  3. ^ "GNOME 3 Myths", GNOME Live!, retrieved December 19, 2010  |chapter= ignored (help)
  4. ^ "GNOME/gnome-shell". JavaScript: 52.9%; C: 43.3%. 
  5. ^ Module Statistics: gnome-shell, retrieved February 14, 2011 
  6. ^ "Planning for GNOME 3.0", GNOME Live!, retrieved March 23, 2011 
  7. ^ Sharma, Apoorva (March 23, 2010), "Why does Gnome-shell replace the current gnome-panel", gnome-shell-list mailing list, retrieved August 18, 2012 
  8. ^ "GNOME UX Design Team". Retrieved 2014-11-13. 
  9. ^ "GNOME Shell Design". Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  10. ^ Kissling, Kristian (July 8, 2009), "Mutter: Window Manager in GNOME's Future", Linux Pro Magazine, retrieved March 23, 2011 
  11. ^ Cutler, Paul (July 1, 2009), Behind the Scenes with Owen Taylor, retrieved January 16, 2016 
  12. ^ Taylor, Owen (March 23, 2009), "Metacity, Mutter, GNOME Shell, GNOME-2.28", desktop-devel-list mailing list, retrieved August 18, 2012, gnome-shell is set up as a Mutter plugin that is largely written in JavaScript 
  13. ^ "Mutter 3.13.4 release". 
  14. ^ "GNOME Shell 3.13.4". 
  15. ^ Ljubunčić, Igor (April 6, 2011), Gnome 3 Fallback mode - Get your productivity back, Dedoimedo, retrieved November 25, 2011 
  16. ^ "GNOME 3.7: what is happening now | Goings on". GNOME. 2012-12-05. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  17. ^ "Extensions", GNOME Live!, retrieved November 25, 2011 
  18. ^ Releases/15/FeatureList, Fedora Project, retrieved November 25, 2011 
  19. ^ "OneiricOcelot/ReleaseNotes - Ubuntu Wiki", Ubuntu Wiki, retrieved April 18, 2012 
  20. ^ Andrew (2012-10-19). "Prefer GNOME Shell? Download Ubuntu GNOME Remix 12.10 ~ Web Upd8: Ubuntu / Linux blog". Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  21. ^ "Introduction to Ubuntu GNOME". 
  22. ^ Portal:12.1, OpenSuSE Project, retrieved November 25, 2011 
  23. ^ Bîru, Ionuț Mircea (April 30, 2011), "GNOME3 in extra", Arch Linux, retrieved December 4, 2011 
  24. ^ "Release Notes", Mageia Wiki, March 7, 2012, retrieved March 24, 2012 
  25. ^ "/ packages / sid (unstable) / gnome / gnome-shell", Debian, retrieved July 10, 2012 
  26. ^ "/ packages / wheezy (testing) / gnome / gnome-shell", Debian, retrieved July 10, 2012 
  27. ^ Taylor, Owen (March 24, 2009), "Re: Metacity, Mutter, GNOME Shell, GNOME-2.28", desktop-devel-list mailing list, retrieved August 18, 2012 
  28. ^ Wallen, Jack (March 28, 2014). "GNOME 3.10 has resurrected what was once the darling of the Linux desktop". TechRepublic. Archived from the original on March 28, 2014. 
  29. ^ Matt Hartley, Chris Fisher (5 January 2014). "In Defense of Gnome 3". Linux Action Show. Jupiter Broadcasting. Retrieved 2 April 2014. 
  30. ^ "My glimpse at Gnome-Shell". Mad for Ubuntu. Archived from the original on 2010-05-23. 
  31. ^ "User Experience Hackfest". GNOME. 2008-10-14. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  32. ^ "Timeline: The Greatest Show on Earth". Be the signal. 2011-03-15. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  33. ^ "gnome in the age of decadence". wingolog. 2008-06-07. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  34. ^ "Planning for GNOME 3.0". 2009-04-02. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  35. ^ Matthew Garrett (mjg59) wrote, 2010-10-26 18:39:00 (October 26, 2010). "mjg59: Fun facts". Archived from the original on May 5, 2012. Retrieved March 12, 2013. 
  36. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  37. ^ "GNOME 2.28 Release Notes". GNOME. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  38. ^ "GNOME 2.91.x Development Series". GNOME. 2011-03-24. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  39. ^ "GNOME 3.0 with GNOME Shell officially launched |". Archived from the original on December 27, 2011. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 

External links[edit]