A little over 3 weeks ago I started using GNOME 42 as my only desktop environment. As a fan of Plasma and tiling window managers, what has been my experience so far? Well, I'll tell you about it.
TL;DR: My experience has been… good, pretty good. I understand the appeal that GNOME and its workflow have, and the Activities view is quite useful and intuitive, whether you're using a mouse or have your hands on the keyboard. However, I can't help but highlight a few details that I didn't like and that I need to mention for my conclusion to be more complete.
It just works
GNOME does justice to the slogan "It just works". I understand the appeal of this. You don't need to (and you can't) configure anything to have a fairly complete and easy to use environment. Get used to the paradigm it offers and you're done, get to work. The default applications offer the basics to get you started: a text editor, an image viewer, a screen recorder, calendar, terminal, among others.
The search in the activity view left me satisfied, although my requirements are not very broad: the first thing it searches and focuses on are applications, which is what we look for the vast majority of the time (really Krunner, take note of this, when I search for "Dolphin" I mean the application, not the dolphin PNG); the search expands to documents, clocks, contacts synchronized with Nextcloud, calendar events, and even characters and the browser bookmarks, all without configuring anything. The environment It just works.
But that's perhaps my biggest conflict. It works, but that's as far as it goes. The default apps feels, at best, limited with no opportunity for growth, or with a questionable selection of features. Here are a few examples:
- Nautilus allows editing the address bar via keyboard shortcuts, but not with the mouse.
- There is only grid and list view in Nautilus, no grouping of files by type.
- The file selector does not show thumbnails of images, but Nautilus does.
- The top right menu allows to control the volume, but not to choose the device I want to use, forcing me to go to the Settings application to choose it.
- The calendar syncs with the weather, but does not allow jumping to a specific date, nor is there an agenda view to see events listed.
- There is no way to hide the controls in the Picture Viewer, so you always see the "next", "previous", and "rotate image" buttons above the image.
- Right-clicking on the wallpaper brings up a practically useless menu.
- Some settings, in my opinion basic, are in the GNOME Tweaks application, such as the policy to focus windows, the Action Key (default is Alt), or the applications that start along with the system. These are just some of the things that come to mind now that I consider to some extent basic. I understand what GNOME wants to accomplish and I appreciate it. "The average user doesn't need <insert specific functionality>", however, the selection of what the "average" user needs and what they don't seems questionable to me. Is choosing whether you want to hear sound in your headphones or your speaker less important or more advanced than changing the power conservation policy? Why you need to create an empty file in the "Templates" folder when every other file manager offers the option to create a new file? I'm not an UX expert, but this is weird to me. I'm just mentioning my needs and tastes though.
The resources issue
GNOME consumes more RAM and CPU than plasma, let alone XFCE, sway or i3, and much less than Windows 10 which consumes by default almost always 50% of the available resources.
In a normal boot, without any application running in the background except those that GNOME and OpenSUSE decide to start by default, I'm consuming just over 1 Gb of RAM. It doesn't affect me at all, as I have 8 Gb of RAM that I have never fully occupied. However, I am concerned about the feeling of slowness in the system.
It's true that I don't have a very new or fast system, but not even with active transparencies and fancy effects had I suffered frame drops like the ones I suffer in GNOME 40+. Opening the Activities view is painfully slow and laggy, opening the list of applications (which by the way, I would prefer that they were in alphabetical order since I don't have a last generation touchpad and moving in it is slow) is slow too, searching for something takes a couple of seconds to show results, but the worst comes when waking up from sleep, since the system seems to be still half asleep and the top panel menus don't always open or the system behaves especially slow.
I have experienced a couple of other problems, but I attribute that more to Wayland than to GNOME itself. On a couple of occasions after waking up from sleep, Mutter crashed, something I've experienced in Plasma and sway before. Also, some Qt5 applications developed by Plasma do not open because Wayland is not configured for them.
Will I stay in GNOME?
During this experience something very particular happened to me: I felt no interest in customizing the system. There are plenty of extensions to try, and it was already demonstrated that libadwaita is customizable by editing `~/.config/gtk-4.0/gtk.css`, but in spite of that, I didn't feel the urge to modify something. Maybe because of the complexity of the task, but I felt comfortable with the system as it was. I installed a couple of extensions to activate the dark mode manually and to make the panel transparent, but no more.
GNOME 42, contrary to what I thought, turned out to be boring. Plasma or sway have excellent configurations but there is something that invites me to move as much as possible, offering me entertaining evenings. GNOME on the other hand, although I installed it because of the interest in the extension ecosystem, doesn't invite me to modify it at all. An interesting situation.
To the question, will I stay in GNOME, the answer is… no! I just said it, GNOME is boring, and one of my hobbies is to change how my computer works every 15 days. Besides the slowness I mentioned above makes me look elsewhere. These 3 weeks, however, made me fall in love with the Activities view and some aspects of GNOME that I will try to recreate in other environments… for fun, of course.
Just because I don't stick with GNOME 42 doesn't mean I don't appreciate it or understand its appeal. After this experience I will definitely recommend GNOME. Getting used to its paradigm can be tricky for some people, and if you're going to install Dash to dock and add a minimize windows button, better install Plasma, but if you're looking for a different, but usable experience, GNOME 42 is definitely for you. For me?… maybe not yet.