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I've had a love/hate relationship with GNOME since its early days, from its fledgling beginnings up to its current state as the GNOME 3 desktop we all know today.
As a long time XFCE fan, I tinkered off and on with GNOME 3 in hopes of making the switch a permanent one. After finally settling on running GNOME full-time, it turns out the switch was much easier than I had anticipated.
Putting aside comparative expectations
I think the best thing I did when I decided to make the switch a permanent one, is to stop comparing it to other desktop environments. This allowed me to fully experience the GNOME 3 desktop without comparing it with KDE, XFCE and so on. With this new mindset, I found that the integration and work-flow were actually quite refreshing.
So, what do I mean by comparing it to other desktop environments? Allow me to break this down a bit.
XFCE: When I was considering GNOME 3 as a replacement for XFCE, I was looking at GNOME as it used to be – designed for absolute simplicity. Easy access to Applications, Places and System were the first on my list. Second up was expecting a non-flashy desktop experience. XFCE lacks the cool compositing effects found under GNOME, so once I realized that on a modern computer these effects weren't actually "hurting" my ability to run programs or play games, I was then able to better enjoy what GNOME had to offer.
KDE:Without question, KDE is a powerful and very customizable desktop. But KDE is not going to appeal to those who prefer to avoid an over abundance of GUI options within the various menus.
While this has improved over the years, I still prefer to handle most of my configuration via a configuration file or from the terminal. Obviously this is not a good match for everyone, but it's something I happen to prefer myself. To be clear, I'm not saying one can't do this in KDE, rather the flow of the desktop prompts one to use tools I prefer to avoid myself.
Like GNOME 3, KDE also has neat compositing effects that provide a very modern feel to the desktop. But after spending time with both desktops, I've found that GNOME is better at matching my vision of what I want to use in my desktop environment. At this time, KDE simply isn't a match for me personally.
Breaking the legacy mindset
When I first switched to GNOME 3, I found myself using a tweak tool to provide the functionality I had become accustomed to in XFCE. One of those tools gave me the ability to minimize applications. Sometime later, I decided to fully embrace the desktop and try using the GNOME desktop features to switch between various applications. For me, it turned out the left corner "hotspot" area, was a useful alternative to minimizing applications.
After trying this approach a few times, I was shocked at how easily I was able to re-train my brain to accept this approach to application switching. Even more recently, I've been revisiting Alt-Tab, which with the coverflow Alt-Tab extension looks like it may be an even bigger hit with me personally.
The GNOME 3 experience
Like the KDE desktop, GNOME 3 is full of functionality if you're willing to invest a little time configuring it the way you like it. Where I think GNOME really shines, however, is that even without additional extensions installed, it's still a great experience in its overall flow and layout. Less clicks to gain menu access, easily locate needed applications, for me GNOME has it all.
Getting back to GNOME extensions, I've found that installing and using GNOME extensions is amazingly simple to make happen. Simply browse over to extensions.gnome.org and look for the extension that appeals to you. Click the switch from Off to On, and immediately you're prompted to install it. This process couldn't be any simpler.
Finding the right extensions for your desktop can absolutely make using the GNOME desktop even better than it is out of the box. For me, I prefer extensions that enhance my desktop usage by either speeding things up or making less work to get to things I need. Below you'll see some of my must have extensions.
Advanced Volume Mixer – Without question, the Advanced Volume Mixer is an extension I find invaluable for the GNOME desktop. Using this extension allows me to easily control the output of any application's volume. You can also adjust the volume of all available sound devices with a single pull-down menu.
Dash to Dock – Rather than installing another dock, I found that the Dash to Dock extension provided me with a fantastic dock alternative to the stand-alone docks found in the software repositories. One really nice feature I've found invaluable with this dock launcher is that it automatically provides me with my applications list at the bottom.
Drop Down Terminal – Instead of opening up a separate terminal window, I enjoy pressing my set hotkey and having my Drop Down Terminal appear from the top of the screen. The biggest reason this rocks is that I can run package updates in the background, then free my focus onto other tasks in the same general work space.
Impatience – As great as the GNOME desktop happens to be, making the animation speed faster simply makes using it even better, thanks to the Impatience extension. This increased GNOME desktop animation speed allows me to enjoy the cool compositing effects, without the usual slowdown that comes from the experience.
Netspeed – How fast is my Internet today? Am I seeing a bottleneck with ample upload speed yet a failing download speed? The Netspeedextension can be of help here by displaying how fast your up/down speeds are.
There is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all desktop. For some of you, this may mean going with something with greater control within the GUI, such as KDE. Perhaps instead, using a more minimalist desktop like XFCE is what you're better off with. And yet others still, might find themselves feeling at home with the old GNOME 2 standby known as MATE. Whichever desktop you choose, I highly suggest trying all of them to see which one wins you over.
Speaking for myself, I think GNOME 3 is fantastic. Sure, it took some work to get used to a "new" way of doing things, yet at the end of the day I couldn't be happier with its feature set and performance. In the interest of full disclosure, I do run XFCE on my nephew's old laptop, since it's the desktop he's more satisfied with. But speaking for myself, I think GNOME is going to be my goto desktop environment for the foreseeable future. That is, of course, unless KDE woos me back somehow. And, considering I used to be a KDE user years ago, it could happen.