Gnome 3.2 More Evolution than Revolution

Gnome 3.2 has been released. This time around, the developers have focused on a large number of small improvements rather than big, headline features. That said, there are a couple of interesting new additions in the areas of web integration and personal data management.

Adhering to a six month release schedule, this is the first major Gnome release since version 3.0 debuted in April this year. Rival desktop environments KDE4 (released Jan 2008) and Gnome 3 have something in common in that they were both quite heavily criticized upon release. However, the situation isn’t exactly the same because KDE 4.0 was, arguably, unusable upon release in addition to being a huge departure from the previous series. By contrast, most of the criticism of Gnome 3 has centered on the new user interface and seems to be subject to personal taste. Therefore, it’s not surprising that most of the work seems to have gone into improving refining the new shell.

Sure enough, in the opening section of the official Gnome 3.2 announcement, entitled “Evolution” we are told:

“Based on user feedback, lots of small changes have been made to give a smoother experience in GNOME 3.2.”

See the appropriate section of the the release notes for the full list of improvements. Notable additions include the new Contacts application, the instant image previews in the file manager and the new color management feature. Generally, everything has been spruced up, refined or subjected to greater integration with the whole.

The default theme is a dark one, and overall, Gnome 3.2 now shares quite a bit with KDE4 in the looks department.

Dark blue hues are prominent in the default scheme of the Suse Gnome 3.2 Live CD.

However, despite the focus on refinement rather than new features per se there are two fairly major new features that both relate to web integration.

Sticking with plan A: The old task bar and application launcher of Gnome 2 have been replaced by icons that run down the side of the screen. Some love it; some hate it.

Online Accounts

Online Accounts is a system that allows the user to store application data using web services as a back end for email, calendar, contacts, chat and other resources. I have no doubt that the idea of having separate contacts and other personal data for every service will soon seem old-fashioned, and the aims of the project are clearly similar to KDE’s Akonadi. As it stands, Empathy, Evolution and the new Contacts application can make use of this system and various Google services and Twitter can serve as the data source.

Although the feature is still nascent, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it doesn’t seem like the extensive, all-pervasive framework that Akonadi is. Having said that, and for that reason, I don’t think that its introduction will create the same reliability problems that Akonadi did when KDE4 applications first began to make use of it.

Web Apps

The second new web-based technology is a feature that enables web applications to open directly onto the desktop. You may remember that we explored this approach before with our overview of Peppermint OS. The new Gnome feature works in much the same way. Web applications can be added to the standard application launcher menus. Subsequently, they run within a seamless web browser, making them look more like native applications. One benefit of running web applications in this way is that if the seamless window running the application should crash, it doesn’t crash the main, tabbed web browser that you were using to browse the web.


Gnome 3.2 is largely an improved version of what we already had. If you’re a fan of 3.0, you’ll be happy with the upgrade. Those of you who disliked 3.0 will probably not be persuaded by this new version. Switchers from other systems such as Windows will probably be intrigued to learn that the Linux desktop is far from being a clone of what they are used to. As I've said before, LXDE and XFCE may well come into their own in the coming year as increasing number of people decide that they prefer a “classic” desktop to a fully integrated desktop environment.

Ubuntu 11.10, released on October 13th, is an example of a Linux distribution that will sport Gnome 3.2 as the front end.

If you want to try Gnome 3.2 out before it hits the major distributions, try this Suse based LiveCD (Link correct on 30 Sep 2011. Subject to change).

There is a PPA that allows you to add 3.2 to earlier Ubuntu distributions, but I didn’t have much luck at getting it going. It’s worth a try in a virtual machine if you are able to roll back to an earlier snapshot, but it’s definitely not worth the risk on an important installation.

These are the official release notes for Gnome 3.2


UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.


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I'm Disappointed

Jim7634's picture

I'm disappointed in the author of this article.

For those of us who can't stand gnome-3.x or unity there is always Mint. Mint is a Ubuntu spin off who, as of their latest release 11 (Katya),are still supporting gnome 2.32.1. Thus far (about a month of use) I haven't found much difference between Ubuntu 11.10 and Mint 11 (Katya) EXCEPT for the window manager.

You're incorrect about Online

Anonymous's picture

You're incorrect about Online Accounts. The developers have stated on mailing lists that OA is not a place to put all online account management, only the online accounts that the MAIN gnome apps are concerned about. Additionally they don't have twitter support b/c of API key signing concerns but that might be sorted out fairly quickly after KvD mentioned what was done with Gwibber.
So, in short, much less ambitious than akonadi, but also completely stable and fast. The closest thing to akonadi that is even vaguely gnome related would be tracker (of course tracker does a good deal more than akonadi so a closer comparison would be something like akonadi+strigi using the nepomuk ontology), but that is not part of gnome.
Also you didn't talk about the new gdm experience, onscreen keyboard (which is REALLY nicely done), and improved chat integration.


Anonymous's picture

I'm finally looking to upgrade, but have been very hesitant about the new GNOME 3.x. As I understand, much of the old functionality is still there, but must be heavily tweaked to activate it all. It's unfortunate that the "user feedback" has not made the programmers realize that some want the same workflow as before. I have found a set of extensions, which pretty much restores the old's Gnome Shell Frippery. I would have preferred that this was natively programmed, since extensions are interpreted and probably slower, but I will give it a try...or I'll just go with LXDE. It may be a couple of years before any of this is incorporated back into it though. It's too bad, I've used GNOME since Red Hat 7.1.

Gnome 3

Geary's picture

So far, I've had a fairly good experience. The user menu in the upper right is awkward in 3.0, but the one in 3.2 seems promising,and shell extensions will enable folks to get the most out of their Gnome 3 experience. I switched from KDE 4 out of curiosity and, so far, I like it. It's not as pollished or smooth, yet, but it'll get there. The overall concept is intriguing and I think Gnome 3 has a bright future ahead of it

You don't think it's as

Anonymous's picture

You don't think it's as polished or smooth as KDE? Wow, that's the first time I've heard that criticism. I've heard it's ugly, less capable, stupid, slow, etc, but not less polished. In fact, polished seems to be something that most people actually agree upon. Now what kind of object it is that Gnome polished is a matter of some debate.

Wait, so no Unity

Daevid Vincent's picture

"Ubuntu 11.10, released on October 13th, is an example of a Linux distribution that will sport Gnome 3.2 as the front end."

Does this mean Canonical finally realized everyone HATED "Unity" and are going back to Gnome as they should have never deviated to begin with?? Or are they just switching back while they work on Unity and will shove it down our throats on a future Ubuntu release?


Holger's picture

Unfortunately, Canonical did not realize how much unity is hated by many users. They still force-feed you with unity as the new standard desktop. However, what they did realize was the fact that they should allow users to install Gnome-Shell, too.
But Canonical must have added some ubuntu-tweaks to Shell, at least this is what I derive from user postings over here in Germany - some original functions of Gnome-Shell have even been omitted from the Ubuntu version of it. German users point each other to distros like Fedora or Arch in order to get the real experience.
I am using 10.04 at present and will stay with it until 12.04 is released. I do hope that either Xubuntu or Lubuntu get promoted into the ranks of a LTS-version. So far this is reserved to Ubuntu (Gnome/unity) and Kubuntu (KDE). Unity has become my pet aversion, can't get on "speaking terms" with KDE either - so I'll resort to either Xfce or LXDE on ubuntu.
But I'd love to have them as a LTS.


Gavin's picture

"Sticking with plan A: The old task bar and application launcher of Gnome 2 have been replaced by icons that run down the side of the screen. Some love it; some hate it."

I've found that many of things that bothered me about Gnome Shell are changeable with Gnome Shell Extensions. The thing you mention, the removal of the upper-left applications dropdown can be re-added with applicationsbutton-1.1.tar.gz from here:

I think it's also in the Ubuntu and Fedora RPMFusion repositories as well. Another extension I really like is: movehotcorner-1.0.tar.gz which moves the hot-corner to the upper right. I seem to hit the upper left hotcorner too often.

it works well

Anonymous's picture

A lot of the comment around Gnome 3.0 were based on productivity. I used it with Fedora 15, it takes a little bit of time to get used to it. But once you get it, it's quite an enjoyable and productive environement.

What is the distro on the

Anonymous's picture

What is the distro on the pictures above ? I know that it is not Ubuntu and it seems nice :D

It's fedora. The main

Anonymous's picture

It's fedora. The main wallpaper has those blue stripes in that distro

I don't think it's distro

MaTachi's picture

I don't think it's distro specific, but just the standard wallpaper in Gnome 3. Because I had it as my default wallpaper on Arch Linux too.

I've corrected the image

Michael Reed's picture

I've corrected the image caption to specify that this is the Suse Live CD. As I'm not a Suse user, I'm not sure if this is the default Suse color scheme. An image search for "Gnome 3 Suse" throws up pictures of green desktops and blue desktops.

UK based freelance writer Michael Reed writes about technology, retro computing, geek culture and gender politics.

It is probably Suse, they

Anonymous's picture

It is probably Suse, they referenced it in the story, although as it is about Gnome3.2 it probably isn't that hard to get it working in Ubuntu, just replace the Unity desktop with the Gnome one.