Monday, 15 September 2014

Gnome 3 on CentOS 7 - How I Made It Lovely and Usable

I generally really liked Gnome2 in RHEL6 - it was stable and worked well, and it's shortcomings had been largely addressed over the years. I promised I wouldn't fall prey to everyone else's griping about GNOME3 - but it's quite hard not to. For example, I have to use the command line to configure many of the GUI settings - Seriously??

I won't whinge too much, I'll just record what I've had to do to make Gnome3 a nice place to be. After a flurry of several days' activities, summarised below, I actually really quite like Gnome 3 now, I just don't understand the defaults and/or design decisions behind them.

Starting out in Gnome 3

This picture does sum up what it first felt like to use Gnome 3 after many years of Gnome 2:

But what I ended up with is something far more like:

So how did I get to the point of a personal tick of approval?

Install some packages, configure the GUI from the command line:

# Key Gnome Tools: dconf editor, Extensions browser plugin, a menu editor and the all-important Tweak Tool
yum install -y dconf-editor gnome-shell-browser-plugin alacarte gnome-tweak-tool

# Update Firefox to v31.0, updated from v24 since RHEL7 was shipped
yum update -y firefox

# Install Gnome's Epiphany "Web" Browser to browse Gnome Extensions. Only needed if you# Set the screen timeout to 60 minutes, which cannot be done via GUI options
# Configuring a GUI via the command line - seriously?
gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.session idle-delay 1800

# Replace the system Firefox packages with the latest ones from the internet (to run Firefox-current instead of -ESR):
yum install -y

Install Gnome Extentions:

Open in Firefox browser, and install the following extensions, which are essential for desktop usage:
* Activities Configurator (to adjust top-left hot-corner timeout)
* Impatience (to adjust animation speeds)
* Frippery Panel Favourites (to put application-launch icons in the top panel)
* WindowOverlay Icons (Application Icons on each application preview in the Overview overlay)

Optional Extensions, for personal taste:
* Removable Drive Menu (Allows eject of removable devices from top panel)
* Caffeine (adds a button to top panel to disable screensaver/screen-power timeout; useful for a workday)
*  Lock Screen (adds a lock button to top panel, to allow single-click screen lock)

Now open the Gnome GUI Tweak Tool:

* Configure  Shell Extensions/Activities Configurator, adjust HotCorner Sensitivity to 200 (as per
* Configure Theme: Turn on Dark Theme for all applications
* Configure Shell Extensions/Impatience: Adjust to scale 0.65 (Gnome default is 1.0)
* Configure Fonts: Set Default font to "DejaVu Sans 10"
* Configure Desktop: Set background Picture URI to "Sandstone.jpg" (or something else you like)

Edit the "Favourites" Application List:

This list appears in multiple places, in the same order. This appears as Favourites in the "Applications" menu in the top Panel, and as the icons used in the "Frippery Panel Favourites", and as the menu in the Overview overlay. So, to edit it, use the following steps:

* Press the Windows key on your keyboard (aka Super,  Meta key) to get the the Overview overlay
* Right-click on each app in the left side-menu you don't like & remove it
* Now open the Show Applications (nine white dots) icon
* Right-click on each application icon & select "Add to Favourites"
* Drag the Order  of icons up & up as you please

The order appears in all areas (Panel favourites, Applications->Favourites) which I really like.

Install a Firefox Extension to hide the title bar:

Open Firefox, and install the extension "Htitle" - this hides the top title bar when in full-screen mode, and gives you back quite a bit of screen real estate.

...And You're Done

And after that you have a very lovely, workable Gnomey system!

Bonus Marks: Make the Dark Theme More Pervasive

Ok, this is more personal taste than bonus marks. I definitely prefer the Adwaita Dark Theme for Gnome (which is just a dark version of the default Gnome3 theme), which is quite easy to turn on (in the Gnome Tweak Tool, as listed above).

However, once you enable this, eagle-eyed- (and not-so-eagle-eyed- and even blind-) people will probably notice that some Gnome apps don't look all that Dark when using the Dark theme, and thus look quite out of place. This doesn't make sense, until you know that while many apps are now written in Gnome's windows-drawing library GTK3, some are still using the older GTK2, and the older apps don't utilise the Dark theme. It is also possible for some gtk3 apps to override the dark theme choice, although this is less of an issue than the gtk2 apps.

So, to fix this, we somewhat follow the instructions in this link, albeit reversed (thanks to this answer for pointing me there), and then add gtk-2.0 goodness on top of it all (thanks to this guy for the gtk-2.0 dark theme).

mkdir -p ~/.themes/Adwaita
cp -rp /usr/share/themes/Adwaita/gtk-* ~/.themes/Adwaita
cd ~/.themes/Adwaita/gtk-2.0
wget -O gtkrc-dark
ln -sf gtkrc-dark ./gtkrc
cd ~/.themes/Adwaita/gtk-3.0
ln -sf gtk-dark.css gtk.css

And also, installing and using the Firefox theme "FT DeepDark" also makes it blend in much better with the Dark theme.

Update: the latest release of Firefox theme DeepDark is no longer compatible with Firefox 31.x - you will need to install an older version. See here for older versions, version 11.1 is still compatible.


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  2. Thanks for this. I need to bookmark this page so I can get my new VM workable. I agree, the design decisions and defaults are highly questionable. You'd think people would know better from experience, but alas, such is typical of open source projects. People move in, make some changes, get bored (or too busy) and move out. New people move in, weren't around when the Lessons of Yesterday were Learned, and make all the old mistakes over again, as well as creatively inventing new mistakes. I'm afraid we're just stuck with that.

  3. Nice, thanks, but I didn't see any way to name the workspaces, which was what I was looking for. I installed the 'tweak' tool, which lets me change the number of workspaces on the desktop, but no way to change their names.