Everyone was left asking what Linux Mint would do when their next big release came out. Would they take the path of least resistance and follow Ubuntu, their parent distribution, by accepting Unity? Or would they stick with upstream and make Gnome Shell their default? Maybe they might give Gnome 2.x a new lease of life and keep that as the default – it would certainly win them a lot of fans! Linux Mint 12 is now out, and we know the answer to this question: none of the above.
Gnome Shell Extensions
The team behind Linux Mint have gone in a completely unexpected and original direction. They’ve picked up Gnome Shell but, rather than using it as is, they’ve taken advantage of the integrated support for extensions to substantially customize it. Almost all of the problems that people have had with Gnome Shell are fixed by Mint’s Gnome Shell Extensions. They have:
- Re-introduced the bottom panel, complete with an Application menu and window list.
- Put a shutdown option back in the session menu.
- Turned on desktop icons by default.
- Re-introduced window minimization.
- Re-enabled the system tray.
- Made Alt+Tab work like it used to, switching between windows rather than applications.
We can’t sing the praises of this approach enough. Since all the usual Gnome Shell features are still in place, and each extension can be turned on or off individually, users can gradually acclimatize to Gnome Shell – or not if they don’t want to. Users can create the desktop they want. We also think this is a huge testament to the developers of Gnome. They set out to build a new platform with the explicit intention of allowing this kind of customization.
While they probably imagined this customization would be put into practice using Gnome on tablets and other alternative form factors, its come up trumps in this situation as well.
The real question is, how well do the extensions work, and what kind of an experience do they deliver? The first thing to say is that most of the extensions work well. This is great, since we love having a shutdown button in the session menu, and being able to use Alt+Tab as we have done for the last decade. It’s also clever the way the Mint team has made sure extensions don’t explicitly clash with built-in functionality.
For example, the addition of a bottom panel would have made the Shell notification area impossible to access, but they got around this by making it appear above the panel, and accessible by clicking a button similar to ‘show desktop’.
The only coding bugs we found during testing were with the application menu: often, the rendering was slow and wouldn’t keep up with our mouse. Sometimes, only a small part of it would be displayed when it was launched, and wouldn’t reappear until we moved our mouse to where we imagined the rest of the menu should be.
There were a few other problems, too. Most notably, there’s now lots of duplicated functionality, which takes away from the cohesion that defines Gnome Shell in its pure form.
Some of the time, this kind of duplicated functionality is hardly noticeable. Sure, there are two different ways to launch applications, and two different Favourites panels, but choice is good, right? At other times, it actually impacts on the desktop visually, and in a way that degrades the experience.
Continuing to have the active application displayed in the top panel, for instance, seems redundant when there is now a window list at the bottom. What’s more, we’re unsure why the bottom panel has been styled differently to the top: it makes it look tacked on, when to use it you’d think it was well integrated.
This is a real shame when the Shell theme that the Mint team has created otherwise looks really good – probably the best alternative Shell theme we’ve seen to date. Overall, we think the new extensions are a great way to bridge the gap between Gnome Shell and the 2.x desktop, but we think there’s plenty of room for the implementation to be refined in future releases.
Read Full Review at Source Web Site: linuxconfig.net