Gnome 3 Desktop: What It Is And How It Works

Your desktop will never be the same

The Linux desktop is about choice. One of the biggest choices you can make is what desktop environment you should use. With Linux, there's a 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, and interactive computer workspace for users. 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

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

A screenshot showing the simplicity of the GNOME desktop.

Activities Overview

The Activities Overview is the heart of the GNOME 3 desktop. When you click the Activities button, press the Super key, or hover the cursor in the upper-left corner of the desktop, an overview window appears with access to favorite applications, the search tool, virtual desktops, and the Dash. The Activities Overview also presents running and minimized applications.

A screenshot showing the GNOME activities overview.

The Dash

The Dash is a crucial element of GNOME 3. The Dash contains launchers for those applications that are assigned as favorites. You can add and remove installed applications you want as favorites. At the bottom of the Dash, there's a square of nine circles. Click that button to reveal the Application Overview (which displays all the installed applications). You can then click the Frequent or the All button to filter the results.

A screenshot showing the GNOME dash.

An easier way to locate an app is to use the search tool. Type a search string for the application and, when the application appears, press Enter or click 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, right-click its launcher, then select Add to Favorites. To remove a favorite, right-click the launcher, then select Remove from Favorites.

The Search

The GNOME Search tool finds installed applications and files. It also searches for an application that isn't installed and then opens GNOME Software (the GNOME Application Store) to that app for installation.

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

One important feature of the Search tool is searching for files on a local drive. Open Activities Overview, then 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

If you click the date and time in the top center of the desktop, the GNOME Calendar displays an interactive calendar and notification window.

A screenshot showing GNOME's calendar.

Application Menus

Application menus in GNOME 3 reside in the top taskbar. These menus aren't associated with individual application windows. This behavior is similar to macOS.

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

Also, there aren't any window control buttons (such as Close, Maximize, and Minimize). To get those functions, right-click the application title bar, where you can manage the window containing the application.

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