Gnome 3 Desktop: What It Is And How It Works

Your desktop will never be the same

Woman using Gnome Files app on a laptop in an office.

Original Image: Westend61 / Getty Images 

The Linux desktop is all about choice. One of the biggest choices you can make is what desktop environment you should use. With Linux, there are a wide variety of DEs available. One such DE is GNOME.

What Exactly is a Desktop Environment?

A desktop environment bundles programs that work together to form a cohesive, unified, seamless, interactive computer workspace for users. Or, to put it even more simply: The DE is the user interface for the operating system. In the case of GNOME, that operating system is Linux. Without a DE, your only alternative is a text-based shell session.

The GNOME Interface

A screenshot showing the simplicity of the GNOME desktop.

By design, the GNOME 3 interface aims for a spartan structure to simplify standard tasks.

Activities Overview

A screenshot showing the GNOME activities overview.

The Activities Overview is the heart of the GNOME 3 desktop. By clicking the Activities button, pressing the Super key, or hovering your cursor in the upper left corner of the desktop, an overview window appears offering access to your favorite applications, the search tool, virtual desktops, and the Dash. The Activities Overview also presents running, minimized applications.

The Dash

A screenshot showing the GNOME dash.

The Dash is a crucial element of GNOME 3. On the Dash, you’ll find launchers for those applications that are assigned as favorites, and add or remove any installed applications you want as favorites. There is also a very important button at the bottom of the Dash (a square of nine circles). Click that button to reveal the Application Overview (which displays all of the installed applications). You can then either click the Frequent or the All button to filter the results.

An even easier method of location the app in question is by using the search tool. Type a search string for the application and, when the application appears, press Enter or click on the launcher to open it.

A screenshot showing how to add an app to the GNOME favorites.

From the Application Overview, add apps to the Dash as favorites. Locate the app in question, right-click its launcher, and select Add to Favorites. To remove a favorite, right-click the launcher in question and select Remove from Favorites.

The Search

A screenshot showing how GNOME search can be used to install applications.

The GNOME Search tool finds installed applications and files. It'll even search for an application that isn’t currently installed and then open GNOME Software (the GNOME Application Store) to that app for installation. One of the more important features of the Search tool, however, is actually searching for files on your local drive. Open Activities Overview and type your search string. When the file you’re looking for appears, click it to open.

A screenshot showing how to search for files in GNOME.

The Calendar and Notifications

A screenshot showing GNOME's calendar.

If you click on the Date/Time in the top center of the desktop, the GNOME Calendar flies open revealing an interactive calendar and notification window.

Application Menus

GNOME Application menus have moved to the top of the screen.

Application menus in GNOME 3 reside in the top taskbar; they're not associated with individual application windows. This behavior is similar to macOS.

Some of GNOME's menus are hidden but revealed with a right-click.

You will also notice a lack of window control buttons (Close, Maximize, Minimize). To get those those functions, right-click on the application title bar, where you can easily manage the window containing the application.