With today’s freshly released version 40, Gnome introduces a new numbering scheme and big changes to the main set-up. The Gnome desktop has never been shy to controversial changes and this major new release is no exception.
I have been using Gnome on Fedora as my main desktop since 2014 so my review will be more from the perspective of existing users rather than new ones. For this review I used the newly released Fedora 34 beta ISO and tested it in a live environment.
The new numbering scheme is the first hint of the deeper changes the developers had in mind. We are now entering Gnome 4 territory with the first release being Gnome 40. The next point release will be Gnome 40.1 and the next full version Gnome 41, coming sometime later this year.
The Big Changes
The dock “dash” has moved from the left side to the bottom of the screen. This will make it appear more traditional and probably easier to appeal to new users of the desktop. For me personally, it is a small step in the wrong direction. Gnome’s most used feature is probably the “hot” top left corner which when invoked by the mouse opens the overview screen. Once you’re already at the top left corner, it is quicker to launch a new app from the left side of the screen. Now you need to move all the way down again. No biggie but a little annoying.
Work spaces have gone horizontal. Now this change is a bit more drastic. For millions? of users accustomed to move up and down between work spaces, they now have to move side ways. This might again have more appeal to new users but why force it upon your loyal followers? When using the scroll wheel, moving up and down feels more natural. Also visibility was better with the old overview/work spaces. You could see much better what was placed on the other work spaces. With the new overview, work spaces are simply too tiny to make out any open apps on them.
Gestures have been updated. You can now use three fingers to scroll horizontally between work spaces. That is a bit harder on smaller touch pads. It used to be 4 fingers up and down. 3 fingers up now invokes the overview and if you keep pushing you get to the app grid. That is quite good, actually. It is nicely demonstrated on Gnome’s special version 40 website – Video below is an excerpt from their site.
Gnome Web was for me a big surprise. In version 40 it is now actually fully usable. My experience with version 3.36 was quite bad. It doesn’t send CPU usage through the roof anymore. Watching YouTube videos is perfectly fine, the jittery mess is gone! Playing a 720P at 60 frames brings my I5 CPU cores to around 38% and the fan stays quiet. This is a massive improvement, well done! I am now looking forward to using Gnome Web on a regular basis. By the way, it got a new icon as well: Sleeker and less tacky.
The dock now has a separator between your favorite pinned apps and the open ones. The app grid now swoops up from the bottom and scrolls horizontally, but apps can still be rearranged and grouped as before.
Various Gnome apps have of course gotten little tweaks as well. In Nautilus we can now sort files according to creation date and when we try to copy a file over a file with the same name we automatically get the handy option to rename the file. Gnome Weather has a nice new look. Gnome Maps has revamped how it displays information on places of interest. It is looking good but I have to admit I hardly ever used it to pass any real judgement. Gnome Software is now a little less pesky with update reminders and apart from a new carousel for featured apps it also got a new icon. Calculator is incredibly useful. I am not sure what is new here but I wasn’t aware I could check currency exchange rates, convert Celsius to Fahrenheit and many many more options. Gnome Music installed in less than 5 seconds and looked great. However, I couldn’t test it much as fedora doesn’t come with the required Codecs and I was only in a live environment.
Rounded look. GTK is moving to version 4 and with it we’re getting a lot more rounded corners. Personally I prefer a more angular look but it is only cosmetic and does actually look good. Of course, as usual with every new release, extensions break and will need a while to be adapted with the usual frustration to developers and maintainers. Extensions allow to modify many aspects of the Gnome desktop and add features. It is probably only a matter of time before we get an extension that will bring back the previous Gnome 3.38 look and feel.
Gnome 40 looks good and is probably easier for new users to get into. It is more conventional and many have commented that it looks more Mac like! This is probably a good thing but it will certainly rub some long time users the wrong way. Many Gnome apps that started out very basic are becoming viable everyday tools and the overall cohesive look does make for a very sexy package overall.
I personally will need some time to adapt to the new flow and if I don’t then I’ll just wait for the extension that will give me back the old ways. Despite this I am excited about the changes and the many improvements. It will be interesting to see Ubuntu’s implementation of the desktop. Ubuntu 21.04 will still ship with Gnome 3.38 so we’ll need to wait for the 20.10 release to see the results. If you want try out Gnome’s new look and features you could run their latest release in a virtual machine or test it with fedora 34, currently in beta.
How do you like the new direction the Gnome desktop is taking? Let us know in the comments below.