Home > Articles > Operating Systems, Server > Linux/UNIX/Open Source

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

Exploring the Future with GNOME-shell and Zeitgeist

Right now is an exciting time to be using GNOME and Ubuntu because of all the new technology on the horizon. Red Hat and others have been working on GNOME shell, a new way of launching applications and managing programs. Coupled with that is Zeitgeist and GNOME-activity journal, the other part of GNOME 3.0. Zeitgeist is a new way of looking at how files are managed—by tags and dates modified rather than by folders. GNOME activity journal is the new user interface to the Zeitgeist daemon.

GNOME-shell is an optional replacement for both the panel and the window manager, offering new ways of manipulating windows, notifications, and other secondary functions of a desktop. Uniquely among desktop applications in GNOME, GNOME-shell is written in JavaScript and rendered with the Mozilla-based gjs. This use of JavaScript and cascading style sheets (CSS) makes adding new effects easy and lowers the barrier for Web developers coming to the GNOME desktop for the first time.

Before you install GNOME-shell on your primary account, it's a good idea to create a new user and try it out there first. This is because GNOME-shell replaces the existing window manager, Compiz, and the panels.

After you have created a new user, log out and log in to the new user. You then need to delete the existing panels and launch a terminal session. You will need to run the gnome-shell—replace command. The screen should flicker for a moment and then you will see GNOME-shell (Figure 6-22).

Figure 6-22

Figure 6-22 GNOME-shell left-hand sidebar

For starters, let's have a quick look at the desktop and see how it is different. At the top of the screen, the extreme left is now a single menu, Activities, rather than the three in the standard GNOME desktop. To the right of that is the currently open window name. In the middle of the panel, you will find the clock, and if you click on it, you will get the calendar, exactly as the old clock worked.

It is in the upper right that you will see the most difference. Because GNOME-shell completely replaces the existing GNOME panel, the new activity indicators and the Me Menu aren't there. What replaces it is a variant on the standard Network Manager menu and a basic presence and logout menu. Hopefully, the Me Menu work will find its way into the GNOME-shell work, as they are aiming for a common standard.

Now let's get into the real power of the GNOME-shell, the overlay mode. To activate that, you need to either click on the Activities menu or run your mouse right into the "hot corner" of the upper left corner of the screen.

Down the left-hand side of the screen, you will see a panel, starting with a search box. That box searches the menu for specific applications and is currently the only way to find programs you have never run before. Below that is an automatically generated list of commonly used applications and selected favorites. You will also see a little arrow beside Applications that shows all recently run applications. Below that are the places and the recent documents, exactly as in the menus of the standard GNOME desktop (Figure 6-22).

One of the core ideas of the GNOME-shell is that of grouping windows together into logical tasks in specific workspaces. By default, you only have a single workspace, but unlike the regular GNOME desktop, adding and removing workspaces is trivial: merely click the + button in the lower right. You can now drag windows to the new empty workspace or launch applications within it. If you want to remove the workspace, move all the windows to another workspace and then click the – key.

The last piece to mention is the new Alt+Tab menu for choosing different windows. As with the standard desktop, you can cycle through the various windows by holding down Alt and clicking Tab multiple times. However, visually, all windows in the current workspace are to the left of the vertical divider and the rest of the windows are to the right. Multiple windows of the same application are also grouped together, so you can select them by holding down the Alt key and using either the arrows or the mouse.

GNOME-shell can be manipulated with the keyboard as well as the mouse, so here are some common keyboard commands to get you started.

  • System (Windows) key: Switch between overview and desktop
  • Alt+F1: Switch between overview and desktop
  • Alt+F2: Pop up command dialog
  • Alt+Tab: Cycle between windows
  • Alt+Shift+Tab: Cycle in reverse direction in the window cycler
  • Alt+`: Switch between windows of the same application in Alt+Tab
  • Ctrl+Shift+Alt+R: Start and end screencast recording
  • Ctrl+Alt+D: Show desktop and raise windows back
  • Ctrl+Alt+Right/Left arrow: Switch between workspaces
  • Ctrl+Alt+Shift+Right/Left arrow: Move the current window to a different workspace

There you have it, GNOME-shell in a nutshell. Try it out, see if you like it.

Further Resources

Zeitgeist and GNOME activity journal (GAJ) (http://live.gnome.org/GnomeShell/CheatSheet) are two parts of the same system. Zeitgeist is the part that collects the information, and GAJ displays that information, which means you need Zeitgeist running in order for GAJ to actually display anything.

To install Zeitgeist and GAJ, install the gnome-activity-journal package, which will install all the Zeitgeist bits you need too.

After you have installed GNOME-activity-journal, the first thing you need to do is add the two Zeitgeist daemons to your session. Under System > Preferences > Startup Applications, select the add button. The two daemons are called zeitgeist-daemon and zeitgeist-datahub. Log out and then back in again, and the Zeitgeist daemons are now launched. You can check via the System Monitor.

Open a few files just to get some data for Zeitgeist to track and then open the Activity Journal tool under Applications > Accessories (Figure 6-23).

Figure 6-23

Figure 6-23 GNOME activity journal main window

By default, each day is represented by a column, and the various files you have used—be they images, documents or other categories—are broken down by file type. To move forward or backward along the calendar, you can either use the arrows on the right and left of the window or by sliding the calendar bar at the bottom with your mouse.

For even more information about when you used your files, you can click on the Date heading at the top of the column to see when during the day you had that file open. Clicking on the heading again will shrink it back down so you can see the three-day view again. Right-clicking on the same heading bar will show you little thumbnails of all the files, very useful if you are doing a lot of image editing. You can also view a quick thumbnail by mousing over the file name in the regular three-day view.

The calendar bar deserves a little bit of discussion. Clicking anywhere on the calendar bar moves you to that day, and you can see the columns above change to the three days around where you clicked. You can also see that the highlighting changes to show you where in the calendar you are. The height of the bar in the calendar indicates levels of file activity that day. Lastly, to quickly return to today, click the Today button in the lower right (Figure 6-24).

Figure 6-24

Figure 6-24 The calendar allows quick access to files across time.

Zeitgeist and GAJ are constantly changing, so new ideas, ways of displaying data and data providers are being added all the time. Displaying how you use and view your files in a timeline-style view is quite new, so expect change and have fun.

Further Resources

The Zeitgeist Web site is the best place to start. It can be found at http://zeitgeist-project.com. Because this is a very new project, not many other Web sites or resources have appeared yet, but by the time you read this, there should be plenty more.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account