The Prime Eight Options of the GNOME Desktop Surroundings

GNOME is one of the oldest and most popular interfaces for free and open source operating systems like Linux. But modern GNOME doesn't look like its origins and has grown to be one of the best ways to use a computer.

Whether you're already using Linux or curious about why you'd want to make the switch, here are some of the best features GNOME has to offer.

1. Minimalistic, distraction-free design

Most desktop interfaces contain some screen elements that are unrelated to the task at hand. Windows and Chromebooks have taskbars at the bottom that hold all of your favorite or open apps. macOS has a dock for the same purpose. Most free and open source desktop environments for Linux have a similar layout.

In GNOME, the top panel does not contain any app launchers. This panel is small and black like a phone or tablet and has been static lately. It contains the date and time, a few system displays in the upper right, an activities button in the upper left and the name of the currently running app next to it.

You click the Activities button when you want to do something that has nothing to do with the currently open app. Otherwise there is little on the screen to distract you from what you are doing.

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2. Focused, consistent and intuitive apps

The minimalist design of GNOME extends from the desktop to the apps themselves. You don't have different menus to navigate or numerous settings to toggle. Most of the functions are often located at the top of the app in the so-called header bar. Some apps do their jobs so easily that they don't need a header bar at all.

GNOME views a plethora of options as a sign of bad design and a nuisance that makes apps difficult to maintain. Instead, developers focus on the essentials and cut down the rest. This makes GNOME apps incredibly easy to learn and, like the desktop itself, not very distracting. Since app manufacturers adhere to a similar design language, one app looks and works similarly to the other.

3. Desktop, tablet and mobile friendly

Not only do these GNOME apps fit nicely on your desktop, but when you zoom out, most of them now adapt to a mobile device as well. This adaptive design is similar to how modern websites work, with websites automatically adjusting to your screen size instead of displaying separate websites for PC, tablets, and phones.

Adaptive design is great for desktops because you can tuck an app away from the side of your screen and find that the user interface is still usable. It's great for mobile devices because developers don't have to build apps from scratch from scratch. You can also use the same apps on all devices, which allows you to set up and stick to a workflow.

You will particularly appreciate this work on 2-in-1 PCs, a form factor that GNOME is made for. The user interface and apps feel just as at home on a touchscreen as they do on a keyboard and mouse. GNOME can also switch seamlessly between the two by automatically adjusting the screen orientation when the display is rotated and by displaying a virtual keyboard if necessary.

4. A single place to do all things

The GNOME Activities Overview opens when you click the Activities button, drag the mouse up to the left, or click the Super Key. This screen shows which windows are currently open, what's in your workspaces, and which apps you can open. As you type, you'll see search results for apps, files, and other information.

To do something that has nothing to do with the current app, open the activity overview. Simple. Functions of other desktops can be distributed via an app launcher, various panel widgets or a dedicated search app, GNOME is housed in one place.

5. A fully functional app center

GNOME Software provides a one-stop shop for finding, installing, updating, and removing your apps. You can also download system updates here.

The home screen has vibrant app categories with pictures that stand out. App pages offer screenshots and other helpful information, such as whether an app adapts to mobile devices or which programs have access to your data. You can see download sizes and warnings for games that contain violence or strong language.

The GNOME software also tells you whether an app is open source or proprietary and offers a brief explanation of the difference. This helps set expectations of free software, which is mostly created by volunteers, while pointing out the disadvantages and dangers of installing closed source programs.

6. All programs that are necessary for the essentials

The GNOME Project has been around for decades, and a significant number of programs have emerged and matured during that time. Everything is in place for a fully functional desktop operating system.

Sure, there is the expected software such as a web browser, file manager, text editor, and calculator. But there are also more advanced tools such as a hard drive partition editor, a backup tool, a virtual machine manager and a remote desktop manager.

With GNOME, you don't have to go to the command line or general applications to perform most tasks or manage your system. Yes, you might prefer an alternative to what GNOME has to offer, but unlike most other free and open desktops, GNOME has a large enough app ecosystem to cover most tasks.

So much is it that alternative desktops often use GNOME programs to fill in the gaps in their software experience. Only the KDE project offers a more comprehensive suite of free software.

7. Support for the latest technologies

A desktop user interface offers more than what you see on the screen. Below that is a display server that stores images on your screen. There is an audio server that manages the sound. There are package formats in which apps are offered. Linux has multiple versions of each of these system components, with newer releases being released every few years.

These system components do not know what desktop environment you are using, but GNOME is often the first or one of the first to incorporate these new technologies.

Currently, much of the GNOME community has the Wayland display server which is replacing the X display server, the PipeWire multimedia server which is replacing PulseAudio, and the Flatpak format which is DEBs and RPMs (on some distributions) replaced, fully accepted.

The same applies to the hardware front. GNOME works on HiDPI and touchscreen displays. It also works on mobile devices. So if you're trying something new, you may have a better experience with GNOME than with some of the more traditional alternatives.

8. Make GNOME your own with extensions

GNOME only ships with a limited number of customizations available, but GNOME developers still know that no one size fits all, no matter how much thought and user testing goes into the standard design. This is where extensions come in that can dramatically change the way GNOME looks and functions.

Extensions allow you to make minor changes to your desktop or completely change the layout. With some extensions, GNOME feels more like Windows to people used to this workflow, while others can always make the Dock visible at the bottom of the screen, like macOS.

With the help of the GNOME Tweak Tool, GNOME suddenly becomes a fairly customizable desktop. While there are many extensions to GNOME, they are not built into the desktop. You'll have to use a web browser or command line to install them and some will stop working after upgrading to newer versions of GNOME.

Extensions are considered functionality for technical users who want to optimize their desktop so that GNOME does not highlight their existence. However, some distributions such as Ubuntu and Pop! _OS use extensions to customize their standard GNOME experience.

Fall in love with GNOME

GNOME is not quite like any other desktop interface. If you already have ingrained computing habits that you are completely familiar with, you may not like the way GNOME works.

However, if you are explicitly looking for something else, or if you are looking for a desktop that caters to someone who is first time learning to use a computer, GNOME might be for you.

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About the author

Bertel King
(339 published articles)

Bertel is a digital minimalist who works with GNOME on a handy laptop and carries a Light Phone II with him. He enjoys helping others decide which technology to bring into their lives … and which to forego.

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