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GNOME 42: First impressions from a Plasma user

Clickbait title, I know. I decided to try GNOME 42 after several months of using Plasma and a few weeks playing with Sway. In all this time I have criticized several of the GNOME team’s decisions (as the nobody whose opinion doesn’t count that I am, but I like to complain) and for me GNOME 42 is a somewhat controversial release, to say the least.

GNOME, from my perspective, has gone through several stages since GNOME 3 came out: first its initial stage as GNOME 3 which was refined until GNOME 3.38. Then GNOME 40 came out recently, which changed several aspects to suit its goal of being more laptop friendly. And now its third stage is GNOME 42, which introduces the first official iteration of libadwaita, the new library that allows to make GTK applications that look and work perfectly in GNOME, and the direct consequence I believe, of the famous letter Stop theming my app.

But leaving all that aside, I saw some posts on reddit and a couple of videos about GNOME 42 and I said “bah, why not?” so I installed OpenSUSE Tumbleweed (that deserves another post later) with the GNOME desktop. After a few hours of using it I’m writing this post on gedit where I share with you my first impressions.

The GNOME experience

It’s not the first time I use GNOME. A couple of years ago I wrote my experience with GNOME 3.38 I think, in a blog that has already ceased (or should have ceased) to exist. In short, my experience was good but I highlighted back then some problems, mainly the relationship of the developers with the community and the lack of customization, and I’m not talking about themes only, but keyboard shortcuts or configurations on how windows are handled that simply didn’t exist in GNOME at that time.

But GNOME 42 is a new release and I’m looking to revisit my old opinions to see if anything has changed. It’s not fair for me to go around the world criticizing software that I used almost two years ago and has undergone a variety of changes and improvements since then. Being able to go back and analyze my old views to see if they are still valid is important, who knows, and now I become a GNOME follower? So, here is a list of what has caught my attention so far.

The good stuff

  • Libadwaita: The new theme looks great, modern, with a selection of colors that I quite liked. It’s true that it’s flat, too flat, but it’s in line with what is currently in trend in graphical interfaces, whether we like it or not. GTK4 animations are pretty smooth too.

  • The new application to take screenshots: Simple and elegant, I really liked it and I would love to see something like this in other desktop environments. It not only allows to take screenshots, also videos which is quite useful if I don’t need the complexity of OBS and in wayland where ffmpeg doesn’t work.

  • Extensions: Although not officially supported, there are quite interesting extensions that simply have no equivalent in Plasma or other environment. I’m talking about things like burn my windows or forge that add functionality that is impossible to have in other environments.

The not so good

  • Libadwaita: The new theme looks great… in the applications that use it. I find it strange the decision the developers made, as “secondary” applications in my opinion like Clock, Weather or Calculator received a redesign, while core applications like Nautilus, Evince, Gedit, Terminal, Eye of GNOME and many others keep the old Adwaita style, which looks horrible next to the new theme. Here there may be some conflict with OpenSUSE and the packages they decided to include by default (Evolution instead of Calendar, for example) but this difference in applications that are official GNOME makes me feel uncomfortable and that I’m looking at an unfinished product.

  • Lack of customization: again, I’m not just talking about themes. The policy for focusing windows, assigning windows to specific desktops, where new windows appear, keyboard shortcuts, specific rules for certain windows. These are all settings that I was used to see and being able to change, but in GNOME they don’t exist. It is true that some of them are in the GNOME Tweaks application and others maybe you can change them with dconf or extensions, but they are things that seem basic to me and I am surprised to see that Mutter does not include them.

  • Bugs I didn’t expect to see: Although this sounds a bit spiteful on my part, I’ve always read that GNOME is quite polished and no bugs are seen, so the experience is very good, plus a great focus on details and user experience (UX). Well, in my experience of a few hours I have found several problems and bugs that range from curious to serious:

    • The animation of the Activities view is quite slow and laggy when I connect a second monitor to my laptop, even if the laptop lid is closed. I’ve had that problem since I first tried GNOME 40 on NixOS (it may also be a matter of my integrated Intel graphics card no longer holding up to such jobs, but in other environments I don’t see similar problems).
    • Sometimes, the panel icons seem to be in focus but the cursor is far away from them. This can be seen in the attached image. Sometimes also after waking up from sleep, the panel buttons do not work.

Example of a focused button

  • Some letters and texts, especially those with a fainter color, look too blurry and it seems that my screen is in a lower resolution than the real one.

Example of blurry fonts

I will continue for at least two more weeks

Since I installed OpenSUSE just before traveling again and will be two weeks away from home, I will live with this installation for now, which will hopefully give me a true perspective of what the GNOME experience is like. I will use this time to better explore what the environment has to offer and (sorry developers) customize the environment, which I already saw in some reddit posts that it is indeed possible to theme libadwaita, so I think I will have fun these weeks. Let’s see what experience I have later when I write the sequel to this post!