When GNOME 3 launched over a decade ago, a whole new way of interacting with your GNU desktop was introduced. However, many people liked the existing procedure: Navigating app menus, minimizing windows and not using a full-screen launcher. The MATE desktop was created as a continuation of GNOME 2, and other alternatives appeared.
However, you don't have to replace GNOME to keep much of the old experience. GNOME Classic has been pre-installed on millions of GNOME desktops for years and may be just what you're looking for.
What is GNOME Classic?
GNOME Classic is a different way of using the GNOME desktop environment. You can select it as an alternative option on the login screen by clicking the gear icon before entering your password.
GNOME Classic is free and available to everyone. However, there are situations where it may be more attractive:
- Business users who prefer a traditional workflow and may not have the freedom or resources to exchange standard software.
- Environments in which GNOME is deployed on a large number of computers with many non-technical users whose workflow would be disrupted by large changes.
- People who simply prefer the traditional way of interacting with a desktop.
If you downloaded a Linux distribution for the first time after the GNOME 3 transition, you may not be familiar with the GNOME 2 interface unless you encountered MATE. Here is an overview of how it works.
The application menu
An application menu is located in the upper left corner. How to start apps organized by category. To edit app names, optimize icons, create new categories or move apps, you need to install a special tool for the job.
Available app menu editors:
If you are familiar with the GNOME configuration settings, you can also edit the menu using the dconf editor.
The local menu
The Places menu provides quick access to your files. The menu lists your home folder, locations saved as favorites, secondary hard drives, removable drives, and network folders.
The app menu
The third menu is the name of your currently open app. If you haven't opened one yet, nothing will be shown here.
The app menu shows open windows for the current app, the ability to open new windows, access to app details, and a location where all relevant windows can be closed at the same time.
This menu is one of the most obvious differences from the GNOME 2 interface. So far, the system settings have occupied this area, as you can see when you install MATE today.
It is not surprising that the date and time are displayed here on your control panel. However, notifications are also displayed here. A dot appears next to the time a notification was received.
Clicking either the date or time opens a single menu that shows notifications, your calendar, and the weather. You can also activate Do Not Disturb mode.
System icons and notifications are displayed in the top right. These are the same as in standard GNOME. Regardless of which icon you click, the same menu opens, giving you access to available Wi-Fi networks, sound, power management, system settings, and the ability to log out or turn off.
A window list takes up most of the bottom of the screen. Here you can see your open windows. Your active windows are shown filled in or shaded. Minimized windows have parentheses around the title and are hidden. You can minimize and restore windows by clicking on their names in the window list.
The work area switcher shows your available work areas. The default number is four. In contrast to the standard GNOME, your work areas are arranged horizontally.
Clicking this small button in the lower left corner displays all windows that you have opened in the current work area.
From here you can also move windows between your work areas (also known as virtual desktops). Simply drag a window into the desired work area in the lower right corner.
GNOME Classic is really a set of extensions
GNOME Classic is not a separate code that developers have to manage. Instead, it's a series of GNOME extensions that together replicate the GNOME 2 interface.
That said, you can recreate most of GNOME Classic by simply enabling the following extensions:
To shift the date and time from the center, you can also use the Frippery Move Clock extension.
If the process is so simple, why is there GNOME Classic? Because you need to know if there are extensions and which ones need to be activated to replicate the experience. You also have to do this manually for each machine. In offices or computer labs where this interface is preferred, it is easier to only enable GNOME Classic as the default session.
If you manually rebuild GNOME Classic by activating the appropriate extensions, you still have a few GNOME 3 isms left. Removing this functionality requires even more technical knowledge of where all GNOME configuration settings are buried and how you can make changes without damaging the desktop.
GNOME Classic currently uses the Xorg display manager instead of Wayland. What that means is better read about Wayland
Using Linux with Wayland? What you need to know
GNOME Classic vs MATE
Neither GNOME Classic nor MATE are inherently better. What you prefer depends on what you're looking for on a desktop.
- If you like the overall look of modern GNOME apps, you can keep them with GNOME Classic. In contrast, MATE brings back traditional title bars, menu bars and toolbars.
- GNOME Classic is more of a designer. The control panel symbols are clearer and more consistent. The workspace switcher has rounded corners and softer tones. With MATE, you need to search for topics and adjust things manually if you want more of a modern design aesthetic.
- Like GNOME 2, MATE is a relatively configurable desktop environment. Even compared to GNOME 3, GNOME Classic is not configurable. If you only use a single panel or want to rearrange the elements in your panel, you can't do that in GNOME Classic at all.
- Just like standard GNOME did away with desktop icons, GNOME Classic doesn't have desktop icons either. MATE does it.
- GNOME Classic uses no less system resources than standard GNOME. After all, it is standard GNOME in the background. So if you find GNOME too difficult for your computer, switching to GNOME Classic won't speed things up, apart from the less reliance on animation. MATE has lower system requirements and may feel faster on the same computer.
In short, GNOME Classic is not a copy of GNOME 2, nor does it contain many of the features included in GNOME 2. If you want this, you'll probably want to install MATE instead
MATE explains: A look at one of the most durable Linux desktops
. However, if you find that GNOME 2 looks dated, even if you like the user interface or you simply don't need to reinstall your desktop environment, you should try GNOME Classic.
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