Improve your GNOME experience (Step up your GNOME)

Its been a bit of a long-time-no-see because my school has been keeping me busy.

This is the script of the video of the same name I uploaded on YouTube, Odysee and PeerTube instance Tchncs.

Now, unlike XFCE, GNOME is a very tight-knit and well-integrated experience, with all the apps following a common design style, but that also means GNOME is far more difficult to customize as much as what XFCE and KDE, for example, offer. GNOME’s approach towards making a DE seems to be ‘We are making something we like, if you like it, good, but if you don’t, we don’t care’. The thing is that this generally seems to be working. GNOME is currently one of the most polished and well-integrated desktop environments present, and it has a huge community of people who like it. I myself really like its workflow and don’t really do that many changes to the default settings. (Oh, and by the way, I am using the default GNOME installation on Debian using the gnome metapackage.) So today I am going to talk about Stepping up your GNOME. (*laughter sound effects*)

Because you guys seemed to enjoy my Debian XFCE setup video last year (I mean, its racked up 3.9 K views [It hit 4K a day after I uploaded the video]), today I am talking about GNOME.

The very first thing you should know about GNOME is that it really, really doesn’t want you to customize the desktop beyond the background image. So installing plugins, called GNOME extensions, on it is not as easy as it could be. You need to install a package named Chrome GNOME Shell, and a browser extension which only works on your distro’s version of Firefox or Chromium (so no Flatpak, or even GNOME’s own browser, Epiphany) and then you install them from the GNOME extensions website. However, this situation has slightly improved due to a very new app called Extension manager, which can be used to browse and install extensions. It is currently only available as a Flatpak, but you should be using Flatpak anyways so that’s not as big deal. (You can see my Debian XFCE video for information on Flatpak and its installation.)

Once you install Extension Manager, installing extensions is as easy as searching for it in the browse tab, and clicking install. These are the ones I install without fail.

  • Caffeine, which temporarily disables the screensaver and auto suspend, which is useful if you are giving presentations or reading really, really slowly.
  • AppIndicator and KstatusNotiferItem support, which sets up the system tray on the top bar for applications which use it, like OBS Studio.
  • Sound Input and Output Device Chooser, which lets you choose what input and output devices to use, which is really useful if you aren’t an idiot and use the wrong mic anyway to record an entire video ABOUT installing the extension and then having to do a voiceover.

Some other extensions which you may like are DING, or Desktop Icons NG, which brings back the desktop icons from the GNOME 2 days, Dash to Dock, if you want a MacOS like dock to launch pinned or running applications, Dash to Panel, if you want the Windows or KDE Plasma style taskbar instead of the GNOME top bar, and Arc Menu, which is a Windows-esque Start Menu for either the top bar or the Dash to Panel. If you do go with the Dash to Panel and Arc menu route, I recommend turning off the GNOME Applications button in the Panel settings.

Next up on my list is GNOME Tweaks, which is a software for changing several more GNOME settings which are not available in the main settings app. I recommend you go through all its options for your perfect environment, but the ones which I use are background adjustment for setting the desktop background to centered, tiled, zoomed etc., the lack of which in the main settings app is deeply confounding to me, and switching on the minimize and maximize buttons in window borders, the lack of which in the default configuration is a relic of the fact that GNOME wants to force its touch-friendliness to desktop users. Because that went so well for Windows 8. Another neat things you can do is add applications to start up default each time you login, which can be useful if you want to save that precious minute you would waste each time you open your computer for quickly joining that online meeting each morning. I don’t know if this is something only I do, but always wake up an average of 5 minutes before my online classes start.

The last thing, which is a bit of an optional extra is you can set up Firefox to look like a traditional GNOME app, like GNOME Web aka Epiphany using a Firefox CSS theme named Firefox GNOME. CSS themes are different from the traditional Firefox themes available on its addons website because they are installed manually onto your profiles folder and are much more powerful than simply changing the background colour to an image. I’ll leave a link to the theme in the description to its installation instructions and script, which has two versions for regular and Flatpak respectively. Not that I encourage running random scripts off the Internet, but I’ve looked into this one and its fine.

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