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GNOME Shell to get an Activities Overview design revamp in GNOME 40

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GNOME Shell is already quite different to how traditional desktop environments feel, and they're planning to mix things up again with some design overhauls for GNOME 40.

The GNOME development team blogged about some of the upcoming plans in late December 2020, which did look and sound quite promising. With the main focus being on the Activities Overview feature, which is where you access application launchers, open windows and more - the big overlay you open on GNOME. This is what shall be adjusted in their planned overhaul.

Expanding on this recently in a fresh blog post, the team showed off where they're currently at with this new design. Which you can see in action below, which they shared running from a Virtual Machine (work in progress):

They're keen to note that everything else is the same on GNOME, just the Activities Overview is seeing the revamp and even with this new layout it's "structurally the same as the previous version". It will also work fine with vertical monitor positioning and shouldn't cause problems for multi-display setups either and they even said they have "some ideas for how to improve multi-monitor support".

Why are they doing this though? Quite a few reasons actually. It's going to be a lot more customizable and more personal, you will be greeted with a more welcoming screen after booting up instead of a blank desktop, much improved touchpad gesture support, easier understanding of workspaces and more.

GNOME mention how this was done as a result of "6 separate user research exercises" and they shall be providing details of that research to the public in a future post. Additionally, they do plan to open it up to wider testing and an "intensive period of bug fixing and evaluation" before they have a UI freeze in "about a month’s time". Not long to go though, as their Roadmap is aiming for a GNOME 40 release in March.

What do you think to the flow and design changes?

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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16 comments
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micha 5 days ago
I really like the current vertical layout for virtual desktops but so far the GNOME team always delivered. So I'm always looking forward to their changes even if it means adjusting my workflow a little. =)
Samsai 5 days ago
Quoting: michaI really like the current vertical layout for virtual desktops but so far the GNOME team always delivered. So I'm always looking forward to their changes even if it means adjusting my workflow a little. =)
I don't really like the switch from vertical workspaces to horizontal workspaces either. The way I managed to make the GNOME workflow work for me was through using a bunch of workspaces and the vertical layout and preview made managing that convenient. Bigger horizontal workspaces could mean that keeping track of windows and moving them around becomes more of a hassle.

I'm also a bit disappointed that the relationship between displays and workspaces has been kept as is. Only the primary display having workspaces and all other displays getting just one doesn't really fit my workflow at all, and I'd much prefer i3/Sway style per-display workspaces, so that I can have the secondary monitor carry out tasks related to the current thing I'm working on.

I'll definitely try how GNOME 40 works when it gets released, but thus far these changes don't seem like they'd sell me on GNOME 40 any more than GNOME 3.
Linas 5 days ago
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I like that the overview is less loaded with different widgets.
jens 5 days ago
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Quoting: SamsaiI'm also a bit disappointed that the relationship between displays and workspaces has been kept as is. Only the primary display having workspaces and all other displays getting just one doesn't really fit my workflow at all, and I'd much prefer i3/Sway style per-display workspaces, so that I can have the secondary monitor carry out tasks related to the current thing I'm working on.

Think you can use the gnome tweak tool to extend the workspaces to all monitors. I don’t remember exactly where that switch was, but I definitely have two monitors changing workspaces on my work setup.
Samsai 5 days ago
Quoting: jensThink you can use the gnome tweak tool to extend the workspaces to all monitors. I don’t remember exactly where that switch was, but I definitely have two monitors changing workspaces on my work setup.
You can, but everything that deals with the Tweak Tool is at least a bit hacky. And the best it can do is create essentially an extended workspace, so every time you switch to another workspace all monitors switch to a different workspace. It's an improvement over fixed workspaces, but significantly inferior to i3/Sway workspace behaviour. What I would like is the ability to have, say, a social workspace with IRC/Discord/Mumble on my second monitor, but also a workspace with a web browser for reading documentation. Then on my primary I could have Emacs open as I work on some coding project. What I would like to do then is occasionally switch the second monitor over to instant messaging without switching the workspace on primary. Or I might want to keep the social workspace open on the secondary while I browse through some other workspaces on primary.
AsciiWolf 5 days ago
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The actual design may still change, see this ticket. ;-)
brokkr 5 days ago
Quoting: LinasI don't really like the switch from vertical workspaces to horizontal workspaces either. The way I managed to make the GNOME workflow work for me was through using a bunch of workspaces and the vertical layout and preview made managing that convenient. Bigger horizontal workspaces could mean that keeping track of windows and moving them around becomes more of a hassle.

My thoughts exactly. I fear that "easier understanding of workspaces" translates to dumb 'em down until they're next to useless as a way to organize your desktop.
Schattenspiegel 5 days ago
Wow...just...wow...rofl

"6 separate user research exercises"
...and they have not even figured out the most basic of design flaws...

The "activities" button




................................... and the





.............................................................................................button to open the application drawer
......................................................................................................... are on opposite sides of the screen.
And that is just one of the problems.
I suspect a basic problem with the way user research works is that "easier to learn" is often not the same as "more effective to use". So you show people various ways of doing things and they're like "I get this one right away!" and you decide the User Has Spoken and you get something that isn't that great once people have it up and running for a while.
jens 5 days ago
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Quoting: Samsai
Quoting: jensThink you can use the gnome tweak tool to extend the workspaces to all monitors. I don’t remember exactly where that switch was, but I definitely have two monitors changing workspaces on my work setup.
You can, but everything that deals with the Tweak Tool is at least a bit hacky. And the best it can do is create essentially an extended workspace, so every time you switch to another workspace all monitors switch to a different workspace. It's an improvement over fixed workspaces, but significantly inferior to i3/Sway workspace behaviour. What I would like is the ability to have, say, a social workspace with IRC/Discord/Mumble on my second monitor, but also a workspace with a web browser for reading documentation. Then on my primary I could have Emacs open as I work on some coding project. What I would like to do then is occasionally switch the second monitor over to instant messaging without switching the workspace on primary. Or I might want to keep the social workspace open on the secondary while I browse through some other workspaces on primary.

I don't know i3/sway. But yeah, currently it is indeed either just one monitor or all monitors together afaik. Having just those two options works for me, but I can imagine going back from a more sophisticated workspace handling might be frustrating.
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