GNOME Shell 3.10 in overview mode
Developer(s) The GNOME Project
Initial release April 6, 2011 (2011-04-06)
Stable release 3.14.2 (November 13, 2014 (2014-11-13)) [1]
Preview release 3.15.1 (October 30, 2014 (2014-10-30)) [2]
Development status Active
Written in JavaScript and C[3]
Operating system Unix-like
Available in Multilingual[4]
License GPL
Website /GnomeShell/

GNOME Shell is the graphical shell of the GNOME desktop environment starting with version 3,[5] which was released on April 6, 2011. It provides basic functionality like launching applications, switching between windows and is also a widget engine. GNOME Shell replaced GNOME Panel[6] and some ancillary components in GNOME 2.

GNOME Shell is written in C and JavaScript as a plugin to Mutter.

In contrast to the KDE Plasma Workspaces, a software framework intended to facilitate the creation of multiple graphical shells for different devices, the GNOME Shell is intended to be used on desktop computers with large screens operated via keyboard and mouse, as well as portable computers with smaller screens operated via their keyboard, touchpad or touchscreen.


  • Design 1
    • Design components 1.1
  • Software architecture 2
    • Features 2.1
    • Extensibility 2.2
    • Gallery 2.3
  • Adoption 3
    • Reception 3.1
  • History 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


As graphical shell (graphical front-end/graphical shell/UX/UI) of the GNOME desktop environment, its design is guided by the GNOME UX Design Team [7]

Design components

Activities buttonDashSearch barNotification areaStatus menuWorkspace list
GNOME Shell Overview mode
Activities button
Search bar
Notification area
Status menu
Workspace list

The GNOME Shell comprises following graphical and functional elements:[8]

  • Top bar
  • System status area
  • Activities Overview
  • Dash
  • Window picker
  • Application picker
  • Search
  • Notifications and messaging tray
  • Application switcher

Software architecture

GNOME Shell is tightly integrated with Mutter, a compositing window manager and Wayland compositor. It is based upon Clutter to provide visual effects and hardware acceleration[9] According to GNOME Shell maintainer[10] Owen Taylor, it is set up as a Mutter plugin largely written in JavaScript.[11] and uses GUI widgets provided by GTK+ version 3.


Changes to the user interface (UI) include, but are not limited to:

  • Clutter and Mutter support multi-touch gestures.[12]
  • Support for HiDPI monitors.[13]
  • A new Activities overview, which houses:
    • A dock (called "Dash") for quickly switching between and launching applications
    • A window picker, similar to Mac OS X's Mission Control, also incorporating a workspace switcher/manager
    • An application picker
    • Search
  • A messaging tray, an area at the bottom of the screen used for housing both interactive and static notifications separately from system status icons
  • "Snapping" windows to screen borders to make them fill up a half of the screen or the whole screen
  • A single window button by default, Close, instead of three (configurable). Minimization has been removed due to the lack of a panel to minimize to, in favor of workspace window management. Maximization can be accomplished using the afore-mentioned window snapping, or by double-clicking the window title bar.
  • A fallback mode is offered in versions 3.0–3.6 for those without hardware acceleration which offers the GNOME Panel desktop. This mode can also be toggled through the System Settings menu.[14] GNOME 3.8 removed the fallback mode and replaced it with GNOME Shell extensions that offer a more traditional look and feel.[15]


The functionality of GNOME Shell can be changed with extensions, which can be written in JavaScript. Users can find and install extensions using the GNOME extensions website. Some of these extensions are hosted in GNOME's git repository, though they are not official.[16]



  • The Linux distribution Fedora uses GNOME Shell by default since release 15.[17]
  • Ubuntu doesn't use GNOME Shell by default, but users are able to install it from the Ubuntu repositories since version 11.10.[18] In addition, an Ubuntu Gnome Remix is released alongside Ubuntu 12.10.[19] An official GNOME edition of Ubuntu released by Canonical Ltd. with Ubuntu 13.04 and it was named Ubuntu GNOME.[20]
  • The GNOME version of openSUSE 12.1 uses GNOME Shell by default.[21]
  • Arch Linux dropped support of GNOME 2 in favor of GNOME 3 in its repositories.[22]
  • Mageia will have the current version of GNOME in its version 2.[23]
  • Debian Wheezy (stable) and Sid (unstable) make GNOME 3.4 available.[24][25]
  • Sabayon Linux uses latest version of GNOME Shell.


GNOME Shell has received mixed reviews: It has been criticized for a variety of reasons, mostly related to design decisions and reduced user control over the environment. For example, users in the free software community have raised concerns that the planned tight integration with Mutter will mean that users of GNOME Shell will not be able to switch to an alternative window manager without breaking their desktop. In particular, users might not be able to use Compiz with GNOME Shell while retaining access to the same types of features that older versions of GNOME allowed.[26]

Reviews have generally become more positive over time, with upcoming releases addressing many of the annoyances reported by users.[27] [28]


The first concepts for GNOME Shell were created during GNOME’s User Experience Hackfest 2008 in Boston.[29][30][31]

After criticism of the traditional GNOME desktop and accusations of stagnation and lacking vision,[32] the resulting discussion lead to the announcement of GNOME 3.0 in April 2009.[33] Since then Red Hat is the main driver of GNOME Shell’s development.[34]

Pre-release versions of GNOME Shell were first made available in August 2009[35] and became regular, non-default part of GNOME in version 2.28 in September 2009.[36] It was finally shipped as GNOME’s default user interface on 6 April 2011.[37][38]

See also


  1. ^ "GNOME 3.14.2 is out". GNOME mailing list. November 13, 2014. Retrieved November 13, 2014. 
  2. ^ Clasen, Matthias (October 30, 2014). "GNOME 3.15.1". gnome-devel-announce mailing list. Retrieved November 11, 2014.
  3. ^ "GNOME 3 Myths", GNOME Live!, retrieved December 19, 2010 
  4. ^ Module Statistics: gnome-shell, retrieved February 14, 2011 
  5. ^ "Planning for GNOME 3.0", GNOME Live!, retrieved March 23, 2011 
  6. ^ Sharma, Apoorva (March 23, 2010), "Why does Gnome-shell replace the current gnome-panel", gnome-shell-list mailing list, retrieved August 18, 2012 
  7. ^ "GNOME UX Design Team". Retrieved 2014-11-13. 
  8. ^ "GNOME Shell Design". Retrieved 2014-05-21. 
  9. ^ Kissling, Kristian (July 8, 2009), "Mutter: Window Manager in GNOME's Future", Linux Pro Magazine, retrieved March 23, 2011 
  10. ^ Cutler, Paul (July 1, 2009), Behind the Scenes with Owen Taylor, retrieved November 25, 2011 
  11. ^ Taylor, Owen (March 23, 2009), "Metacity, Mutter, GNOME Shell, GNOME-2.28", desktop-devel-list mailing list, retrieved August 18, 2012, gnome-shell is set up as a Mutter plugin that is largely written in JavaScript 
  12. ^ "Mutter 3.13.4 release". 
  13. ^ "GNOME Shell 3.13.4". 
  14. ^ Ljubunčić, Igor (April 6, 2011), Gnome 3 Fallback mode - Get your productivity back, Dedoimedo, retrieved November 25, 2011 
  15. ^ "GNOME 3.7: what is happening now | Goings on". 2012-12-05. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  16. ^ "Extensions", GNOME Live!, retrieved November 25, 2011 
  17. ^ Releases/15/FeatureList,  
  18. ^ "OneiricOcelot/ReleaseNotes - Ubuntu Wiki",  
  19. ^ Andrew (2012-10-19). "Prefer GNOME Shell? Download Ubuntu GNOME Remix 12.10 ~ Web Upd8: Ubuntu / Linux blog". Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  20. ^ "Introduction to Ubuntu GNOME". 
  21. ^ Portal:12.1,  
  22. ^ Bîru, Ionuț Mircea (April 30, 2011), "GNOME3 in extra",  
  23. ^ "Release Notes", Mageia Wiki, March 7, 2012, retrieved March 24, 2012 
  24. ^ "/ packages / sid (unstable) / gnome / gnome-shell", Debian, retrieved July 10, 2012 
  25. ^ "/ packages / wheezy (testing) / gnome / gnome-shell", Debian, retrieved July 10, 2012 
  26. ^ Taylor, Owen (March 24, 2009), "Re: Metacity, Mutter, GNOME Shell, GNOME-2.28", desktop-devel-list mailing list, retrieved August 18, 2012 
  27. ^ Wallen, Jack (March 28, 2014). "GNOME 3.10 has resurrected what was once the darling of the Linux desktop". TechRepublic. Archived from the original on March 28, 2014. 
  28. ^ Matt Hartley, Chris Fisher (5 January 2014). "In Defense of Gnome 3".  
  29. ^ "My glimpse at Gnome-Shell". Mad for Ubuntu. Archived from the original on 2010-05-23. 
  30. ^ "Boston2008/GUIHackfest - GNOME Live!". 2008-10-14. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  31. ^ "Timeline: The Greatest Show on Earth". Be the signal. 2011-03-15. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  32. ^ "gnome in the age of decadence". wingolog. 2008-06-07. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  33. ^ "Planning for GNOME 3.0". 2009-04-02. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  34. ^ Matthew Garrett (mjg59) wrote, 2010-10-26 18:39:00 (2010-10-26). "mjg59: Fun facts". Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  35. ^ "". Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  36. ^ "GNOME 2.28 Release Notes". Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  37. ^ "TwoPointNinetyone - GNOME Live!". 2011-03-24. Retrieved 2013-03-12. 
  38. ^ "GNOME 3.0 with GNOME Shell officially launched |". Retrieved 2013-03-12. 

External links

  • Official GNOME website
  • GNOME Shell in Official GNOME website
  • GNOME shell extensions website