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How To Make Gnome Shell User Friendly On Linux

Gnome Shell is one of the most popular Linux desktop environments out there, and almost every mainstream Linux distribution manufacturer uses it by default. Despite Gnome’s popularity, it has some real issues that make it much harder for the average user to embrace. If you like the Gnome desktop, but wish it was a bit more user-friendly, you’re not the only one. In fact, it’s not uncommon for the average Gnome user to have at least one extension installed that modifies their desktop in some way. It is because of this, we’ve decided to go over some easy ways you can make the Gnome shell user-friendly and responsive on Linux.

SPOILER ALERT: Scroll down and watch the video tutorial at the end of this article.

Re-enabling System Tray

As of version 3.26, Gnome Shell hides system tray icons for programs on Linux that do not comply with the latest version of Gnome. They’re known as “legacy icons.” Programs like Discord, Steam, Dropbox, etc. still use this technology, and if you’re using a Linux PC with Gnome 3.26, this may explain why you can’t see tray icons anymore.

Officially, Gnome Shell offers no way to re-enable this tray. Instead, anyone looking to see these icons still will need to install a third-party extension. Open up your browser (Chrome or Firefox), go to the TopIcons download page and install this extension by clicking the slider button.

Note: you’ll need the browser integration plugin for Chrome/Firefox to install extensions like TopIcons. Follow our guide here to get it going if you don’t have it on your Linux PC already!

When you click the slider, an install pop-up will appear on the screen. Click “install” to get TopIcons working. From here, all legacy tray icons will show up on the panel.

Better Window Switching

The default way users move through Gnome is by clicking “activities.” In this area, there’s an overview of every application that’s open, and the user can select any of them in the menu. In addition to this, the activities section of Gnome Shell has a dock which houses favorites as well as open windows. That said, the dock may be annoying to some users, as it takes at least one click to get to it.

To make navigating Gnome Shell easier, consider making the Gnome Dock always visible. Users can solve this problem with the famous “Dash To Dock” extension. With it, users can have a persistent dock to move between open programs, access favorites, etc. quickly.

Install Dash To Dock via the Gnome Extension store. Like before, click the slider to start the installation, then click the install button inside of the popup that appears to enable it.

Want to tweak your dock settings? Open up Gnome Tweak Tool, click “extensions,” scroll down to “Dash to Dock” and click the settings button next to it. From here, you’ll be able to modify all of the options that Dash to Dock has to offer.

Turn On Minimize And Maximize Options

If you’re new to the Gnome Shell, it may shock you to find out that there are no “minimize” and “maximize” buttons. The reasons behind this are that there’s no need for these buttons when the Gnome “activities” area accomplishes roughly the same goal. Coming to Gnome from another desktop environment can be jarring due to weird design decisions, especially this one. Luckily, it is possible to re-enable these settings once again. Just be sure that you’ve got “Tweak Tool” (aka Gnome Tweak Tool) installed.

When you’ve got Tweak Tool on your Linux PC, open it up and look to the left-side of the app. Click on “Windows.” In this area, scroll down and look for the sliders next to “minimize” and “maximize.” Click both of the sliders next to these options to turn them on.

That’s it! Enjoy your minimize and maximize options in Gnome Shell!

Adding Quick File Access

Having to search for the file manager, or click on it from the dock each time you’d like to manage files on your Gnome desktop can be irritating. A great way to make Gnome Shell user friendly is to tun on the Places indicator. With it, you’ll be able to click “places” in the panel, and from there access folder shortcuts. Users can access mounted drives, network folders, the default folder places (Documents, Downloads, etc.), as well as custom bookmarks they save themselves.

Unlike a lot of other extensions on this list, the Places indicator ships with Gnome, albeit disabled. To re-enable it, open up Tweaks, click on extensions and scroll through the list of installed items. Find “Places” and click the slider next to it to enable it.

Once enabled, users should be able to access places right from the top Gnome panel.

Turn Off Animations

Gnome is great, but it doesn’t run very fast on slower computers due to how it relies heavily on animations. To make the Gnome desktop environment move more quickly on these types of machines, consider disabling animations. Yes, it won’t look nearly as good, and there won’t be as much eye-candy to look at, but it is a good trade-off if your system can’t handle it with default settings.

To disable animations in Gnome, open up the Tweak Tool. Inside the tool, look at the “Appearance” section. All the way at the bottom, there’s a slider next to “Enable animations.” Click the sider to turn off various window manager effects, transitions, etc.

Speed Up Gnome Shell

If turning off animations isn’t for you, there is a Gnome extension that will improve speed even further. Instead of disabling animations, it tweaks the settings so that the animations in Gnome are much faster. This modification is ideal for those with excellent PCs, who feel that the Gnome Desktop is slow (and not their computers). To get it working, head over to its page in the Gnome extension store, click the slider on the page and then select “install” on the pop-up.

From here, press Alt + F2 to open the command dialog. Type “r” and press enter on your keyboard. This action restarts Gnome (only on X11, not Wayland), and the Impatience extension will start to work.

Other tweaks

Want more ways to improve your Gnome Shell desktop experience, consider checking out our article on Gnome extensions! It covers many different Gnome extensions users can install to make the desktop better.

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