GNOME's Impact on Everything

May 25, 2011 by Noah
Today, Fedora 15 was released, so naturally I installed it right away. Despite a couple small bugs, it's working pretty well so far. However, I have yet another small rant to make about GNOME.

I've been very sceptical about GNOME 3 and gnome-shell (as I've talked about here, here and here). So, I had jumped ship to XFCE a couple years ago and will not be a GNOME user in the foreseeable future.

Now that Fedora is finally shipping GNOME 3, though, the GNOME dev team has again impacted me in ways I wish they wouldn't.

GTK2 Themes and GTK3 Themes

GTK is the widget toolkit used by GNOME and XFCE, and a lot of applications such as Firefox. GTK themes therefore are responsible for styling up the buttons, scrollbars, and other GUI elements in any GTK app.

The first impact of GNOME on the rest of the software ecosystem is that they moved to GTK+ 3.0 and everybody else is still catching up. How this affects XFCE?

  • XFCE is still using GTK 2. Whatever, this is up to the XFCE team to work on.
  • There is an extreme lack of GTK 3 themes. Fedora always ships with a dozen themes, but, only the default theme has a GTK 3 version. This means that under XFCE and all other GTK 2 desktop environments, themes work as they have before, but all the GTK 3 apps are broken now.
Screenshot of two XFCE apps (GTK 2) compared with two GNOME apps (GTK 3).

Setting any custom theme in XFCE makes all GNOME apps look ugly because there is no matching GTK 3 theme. Oh well, you think, just don't run GNOME desktop apps in XFCE?

The problem is that Red Hat and Fedora drink so much of the GNOME kool-aid, that all their other apps that aren't GNOME specific are also using GTK 3. This includes: the Network Manager (seen in the screenshot), and all the PackageKit GUIs (for graphically installing updates). There are probably other things too. This means that, to use XFCE or basically anything besides GNOME, you have to deal with ugly themes on a lot of "core" Fedora GUIs.

This problem should hopefully go away in the next release or two of Fedora, as XFCE and other apps are updated to GTK 3. I just hope Firefox doesn't decide to make the switch too early, though... that would drive me nuts if Firefox started looking this ugly.

My temporary hack of a workaround is that I made a symlink for gtk-3.0 for my current theme that points to the default theme's gtk-3.0, so at least GTK 3 apps don't look ugly... but they still don't "fit in" with my GTK 2 apps.

Volume Control Applet

GNOME's volume control applet used to be a program that puts an icon in your Notification Area to control your volume. This was cool: you could click the icon and it would pop down a slider for adjusting the volume, and if you went into the volume settings GUI you were able to adjust the volume up to 150% if you wanted to.

This is all gone now.

Why? Oh, because GNOME Shell has its own volume control icon built right into the desktop GUI directly, and it therefore has no need for a Notification Area based applet anymore. Never mind that other desktop environments like XFCE would find such a thing useful. Now I'm forced to go back to the old school "Mixer" applet in XFCE, which is nowhere near as elegant as the GNOME volume control applet used to be.

I'm tired of this "the whole universe revolves around GNOME" mentality that the GNOME developers exhibit. Most other desktop environments play nice with each other, most try to follow standards, but GNOME... GNOME wants to be your desktop environment; it wants to be your entire operating system.


It seems GNOME 3 does still have a Notification Area based volume control... they renamed the command from gnome-volume-control-applet to gnome-sound-applet, provided by the package control-center rather than gnome-media. Right-clicking the icon to go to the Sound Preferences brings up a GTK-3 GUI that includes a volume slider that goes to 150%.

So all hope is not lost, yet.



There are 12 comments on this page. Add yours.

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Cam posted on May 28, 2011 @ 16:10 UTC

I find it odd that you reject Gnome as a desktop yet still want to use the odd bit of it because it's more elegant than XFCE. Maybe just run the old version of Gnome

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snerd posted on May 29, 2011 @ 02:23 UTC

'kool-aid' seriously give it a rest, mate.

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Anonymous posted on May 29, 2011 @ 16:39 UTC

XFCE team has announced that 4.10 would still use GTK2+ :(

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Martin posted on May 30, 2011 @ 20:38 UTC

@Anonymous: IMHO it's more wise to stick to gtk2 for 4.10, simply because it's gtk3 that lacks themes, not gtk2, and IIRC gtk3's api isn't fully stabilized yet (but I might be wrong on this one).

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Joe posted on June 9, 2011 @ 04:22 UTC

Use Elegant Brit. It is now available for GTK3 as well. Or you can just install Scientific Linux and stay there until everything is ported to GTK3.

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Anonymous posted on October 15, 2011 @ 13:24 UTC

Big thanks for this. This brings back the excellent Gnome Volume Control (with multiple settings for Hardware/Input/Output) to XFCE. Works great in Ubuntu 11.10 (Oneiric Ocelot) with XFCE.

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Austin posted on October 21, 2011 @ 04:06 UTC

GTK3 is an improvement and natural progression from GTK2. Would you prefer they never stopped using GTK1? Of course there are less themes and apps using it, its brand new. Same thing happened with gtk1->2. But when they come around they will be much better than GTK2. I don't get why everyone hates on all the new stuff the hard working gnome devs have put out.

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Mono posted on December 20, 2011 @ 07:47 UTC

"I don't get why everyone hates on all the new stuff the hard working gnome devs have put out"

Maybe because the gnome devs' ambitions break a lot of stuff that others came to depend upon, even for those that aren't using gnome as their DE ?

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TempesT posted on January 3, 2012 @ 14:07 UTC

Migrated to Debian wheezy, Xfce 4.8 as a DE, Lightdm, Compiz for compositing with Emerald as the wm decorator. My UI looks and feels just like Gnome 2.32 now. Gnome3 is a damn sad joke. Even lightdm is "drinking that HCN Kool-aid" ... so sad.

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richard posted on April 20, 2012 @ 19:41 UTC

don't think it's anything to do with red hat/fedora.

just that a lot of programs have moved to gtk3, for instance, network-applet

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F posted on November 5, 2012 @ 23:24 UTC

I know this is old but, a response to the first post which said:

"I find it odd that you reject Gnome as a desktop yet still want to use the odd bit of it because it's more elegant than XFCE. Maybe just run the old version of Gnome "

What's the point of a binary distro if you have to compile things and also have potential for all sorts of clashes (as the least of the problems!)? The fact that fedora's EOL is (think 2 years?) does not help either (after that no updates). Then you have the problem of different linker versions, different libraries, and that is a real problem. In short: it's not as simple as installing the old version and that's that. More so, gnome developers are absolutely bonkers to do what they did. Some have even called them software Nazis, it's that bad.

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Ryan posted on April 12, 2013 @ 16:40 UTC

You're worried about Firefox looking ugly? looool. It's already effing hideous. WTF is that separate search box all about?

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