Why I said goodbye to the Gnome Desktop

Why I said goodbye to the Gnome Desktop

Summary: It's finally time for me to leave the Gnome Desktop, thanks to Gnome 3. Fortunately for me, the MATE desktop is a continuation of the Gnome 2 Desktop, and as of Fedora 18, is integrated into the Fedora repository; it's also fairly easy to install.


The Gnome 2 desktop has been one of the most popular desktops on GNU/Linux over the years. But Gnome 3 brought big changes, and things are still being added and removed from it, which has frustrated me. And so I've finally convinced myself to drop it entirely. 

I had managed to run Gnome 3 in Fallback Mode and, by applying the "Clearlooks-phenix" theme and a handful of tweaks, got it almost as useful as Gnome 2. 

I was missing the ability to customize the menus, and the tray application I use to automatically run applications in the tray "kdocker" wasn't as seamless as "alltray" was with Gnome 2. But then, it was announced that Fallback Mode will be gone in Gnome 3.8, replaced with some sort of "Classic Mode" session: so the work I had just done to get Fallback Mode functional may be lost. 

Then recently, after trying Fedora 18, I discovered that the developers have simplified and stripped features from Nautilus, Gnome's file manager. 

Two of the features that I use on a daily basis - split pane view and compact view - are gone in Gnome 3.6. This was the last straw for me; I'm done with Gnome 3.

Thankfully, Fedora 18 will have MATE support, which is the continued development of Gnome 2. But you cannot install MATE by default on its own with the installation DVD for Fedora 18: if you want a clean MATE installation (without the extra bloat of the full Gnome 3 packages), you can use one of two options:

  • Install Fedora 18 with the Network Installation CD, which will allow you to select the MATE Desktop environment as your default environment to install.
  • Install Fedora 18 with the Installation DVD, and specifying the Minimal Install. Then, add MATE afterward, which will require about 500 MB of downloads from the Fedora repository.

I opted for the second option with the Minimal Install.  

Thankfully, it was not too overly difficult.  These are the steps needed:

1. Install Fedora 18, Minimal Install, from the DVD.

2. Log in as root, and run this command to download and install everything needed for the MATE Desktop environment: 

yum groupinstall "Mate Desktop"

Wait while the entire 500 MB downloads and installs.

3. Activate graphical logon with the command:

ln -sf /lib/systemd/system/graphical.target /etc/systemd/system/default.target

4. Create a normal user account (use your favourite tool, such as "useradd", etc.).

5. Reboot to test the changes, and the graphical logon should come up and default to "MATE" for the session at the logon screen. Log in with your normal user account and enjoy MATE.

It has all of the bells and whistles that Gnome 2 had, and applications that were broken in Gnome 3 now work again, such as "alltray".  It was definitely nice having these programs back again.

Fedora 18 MATE Desktop
Fedora 18 MATE Desktop

One thing to watch out for with MATE, however, is that some applications that were part of Gnome are renamed for MATE. For instance, Nautilus is now known as Caja, and gEdit is now known as Pluma.

There has also been talk about the Cinnamon Desktop which is also included with Fedora 18, and even the possibility of it becoming the new default desktop environment for the next release of Fedora.

Cinnamon is more modern than MATE, however MATE is a very strong option since it has many years of refinement behind it from Gnome 2.

Topic: Linux

Chris Clay

About Chris Clay

After administering Linux and Windows for over 17 years in multiple environments, my focus of this blog is to document my adventures in both operating systems to compare the two against each other. Past and present experiences have shown me that Linux can replace Windows and succeed in a vast variety of environments. Linux has proven itself many times over in the datacentre and is more than capable for the desktop.

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  • I have tried fedora 18 too

    the worst thing after gome interface is new nautilus i don't know what developers are thinking? can't they really see the obvious problems? anyhow i have installed cinnamon but fedora 18 had a lot of bugs apart from gnome problems and in the end i could not tolerate anymore , returned to mint and installed mint 14 and it is fantastic, every version is better than the last one... even though i liked fedora and it felt more professional but it has a lot of problems as it is...maybe i will try it again on their next release!
  • your definition of fairly easy and

    my definition are poles apart. All that work involved with a somewhat subjective definition of success at the end would do my head in.
    • There is room for improvement

      hubivedder :

      I can understand this and I'm guessing that future versions of Fedora will make selecting the desktop environment more streamlined. This was the first Fedora release to include MATE directly, and they have succeeded in doing that. I have read that the Fedora team was not able to include every desktop environment on the DVD so MATE and Cinnamon are only available via the Network Installation CD or installing afterward if using the Installation DVD. Thanks for the feedback.
  • I like Strawberry, You Like Vanilla

    I'm happily using Gnome Shell on Fedora 18. That rather surprises me, since I've avoided it in the past. A great deal of the pining for Gnome 2 seems to me to be rooted in conservatism and an unwillingess to change. Fair enough. But, personal preference for Gnome 2 ought not to automatically translate into broad attacks on Gnome Shell. What you or I like does not mean thtat what other people like is inherently bad.

    As for the fussing about Nautilus: If you relied on a capability that's no longer there, you have a right to be annoyed. All apps change, though, at the whim of the developers, not users. It's a risk FOSS users have to take. It isn't our show. (I deal with files at the command line. Much easier.)
    • unwillingness to change

      Raising two points which have been brought up often for Windows 8: 1) not all change is good, not all innovation is progress; 2) what should matter more, remaining as efficient as possible or embracing fads?

      With respect to file managers, I gave up on Nautilus years ago. It's just not that good. Still, the GNOME team's decision to drop two pane support is putting aesthetics way in front of functionality. Turning Nautilus into Thunar but with higher resource consumption.
  • the nautilus problem

    I'm using f18/gnome 3 in a few deployments and it does the job well. I simply installed KDE's konqueror file manager and use that. It installed a lot of dependencies of course, but doesn't really use any noticeable extra overhead.

    I've never liked nautilus, but if that's your preference and you're disappointed with the features being removed I'd suggest pcmanfm. It's available in the official fedora repos and is very lightweight. I suspect it's a nautilus inspired project made by people who didn't like the direction nautilus was going. (though IIRC pcmanfm is associated with XFCE)

    I'm amazed at how few people fix their problems with a given DE by using parts from another. I've even used konqueror on an openbox machine.
    • Just for Informational Purposes

      PCManFM is part of the LXDE desktop, though it's intended to be a general purpose file manager for anyone who wants a light weight one. XFCE's default file manager is Thunar.
      • thanks for the clarification

        I was going off memory... and I can't edit posts here on ZDNet for some reason so I couldn't fix my mistake.

        But yes, pcmanfm is packaged separately in most distros and can be used with any DE. Thunar is a good alternative to nautilus as well.
  • I see a common theme with new UI

    So I don't use Linux much anymore. But I do see a common theme that is becoming clear to me. A lot of operating system users are not liking the path any of these OS developers are going. Be it OS X, Windows 8 or Fedora or Ubuntu. Maybe its been clear all along that users like what they like. Such as Windows XP, you cannot seem to kill this OS off. Or when Ubuntu came out with a new UI and users started moving to Linux Mint. Or how the adoption rate of OS X Mountain has been much slower then Apple wants. In fact Apple had to give away Lion for a period just to get users in a place to upgrade to Mountain Lion.
    Maybe the writing is all over this issue but the Microsoft's, the Linux developers and Apple are not reading what users are telling them.
    • Scott is on the money !

      Thank you Scott - at last a sensible and objective comment. The idea that change for the sake of change is the 8th , 9th , 10th wonders of the world is so old hat that you have to wonder why development companies continue to waste resources changing to new ways of doing old tasks. Users NOT developers ultimately will determine what they like and subsequently buy although I have heard that Microsoft will NOT be offering XP Users the ability to download old service packs or patches after they shut it down in the next year or so. That means if you are running XP they will be holding us all to ransom when a drive becomes infected and needs rebuilding or you decide to buy a new PC but wish to still use your old XP Licence and DVD or clone an existing build. I like change where it can be clearly demonstrated to be beneficial. In the case of Microsoft W7 and W8 offer nothing new to users except a new learning curve , new cost and new difficult ways of doing the same old tasks. Great for them bad for us. Why do we take it all the time ??

      IT Director
    • I agree but it's about Hand Held devices, not "PCs".

      First time I saw Ubuntu Unity I figured these changes are about making the user interfaces seamless between hand held devices and the PC.

      It isn't change for changes sake but change because most consumers of technology aren't bright enough or willing to put in the work to become comfortable using multiple user interfaces.

      Look around ZD and see how many articles claim we're in a post "desktop computing" era. Mayhaps post PC for the Consumer but not the builder.
      • using multiple UIs

        Given the numbers of iPad sold to date, there've got to be tens of millions of people who use both Windows PCs and iPads. Those are two rather different UIs.

        I think there's a lot of unsubstantiated belief about users' preferences, ignorance and/or stupidity. I don't believe it. I believe most of the people with the disposable income to buy PCs, and smart phones and tablets also have the intelligence to use multiple UIs. Just like people with the interest to do so figure out how to drive very different types of motor vehicles.

        One-UI-fit-all for computing devices is as misguided as one-size-fits-all for clothes. The growth of Linux Mint compared to Ubuntu is strong evidence Ubuntu got this wrong. That's the flip side to FOSS: developers' pride is a major consideration, so admitting screw-ups is less frequent than warranted.
    • Yup I have to agree!!

      It seems that the OS developers are more intent with keeping up with the Jones than usability. Windows 8, Gnome 3 and the new KDE are designed not for the desktop but easy integration with tablets. I would exclude OS X as Mac has 2 distinct branches the OS X desktop and the OS 6 for Pads and Phones at least they realise the desk top has a place.
      • KDE Has Different Plasma Workspaces

        I'm not really a user of KDE, but it does have two different workspaces for desktop and touchscreen interfaces. These are significantly different, so they do recognize a difference between the desktop and the tablet.

        (Incidentally, I tend to use XFCE, Fluxbox, or Openbox as an interface.)
    • You are correct

      jscott418 :

      You are exactly correct. With the introduction of mobile devices, and now with mobile devices that are beginning to attempt to replace the desktop, the UI seems to be more focused on those devices instead of the desktop. The desktop is not going away. It seems that in the case of GNU/Linux, since there is a choice for the desktop environment, the users will probably choose the desktop that best fits the device.
  • Why I said goodbye to the Gnome Desktop

    Step 1 of ditching the GNOME desktop has been completed.
    Now for Step 2, ditching linux completely. Once you do that you will be all set.
    • Not really.

      Funny thing about Linux, it does some things better than Win 7 , unless you mean Apple then LMAO!! Fools and money and such.
      • So you respond to a stupid MS troll with a stupid, uniformed OSX troll

        Congrats. Who's the fool, exactly?
    • Set for what?

      Linux works for him, why does it matter to you?
      Michael Alan Goff
    • It's The Fisher Price Rep

      Come to show us the GUI for 4 year olds
      Alan Smithie