Exploring the GNOME Shell
At a quick glance, GNOME Shell and Unity look like very similar projects. Both have some of their start in a 2008 GNOME user experience hackfest in Canonical's office. Like Unity, there is only a single pane at the top of the screen. 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 (Figure 9-1).
Figure 9-1 The main GNOME shell window
It is in the upper right that you will see the most difference. Because GNOME Shell completely replaces Unity, 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. However, like Unity, GNOME Shell does integrate with Empathy to set a user's online/offline status.
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.
In the middle of the screen you will see any open windows in this workspace. In the case of the screenshot below, you can see that there are three workspaces, each with a single window open. GNOME Shell will automatically add workspaces as you drag windows to and from them, so at the end of the list there will always be an empty workspace.
Above the open windows are two buttons: Windows & Applications. The Windows button is activated by default, and shows you the currently open windows. Click on the Applications button to change to the launcher view. A giant list of all the applications listed on your system will show up. On the right-hand side are the various categories, which are identical to the old menu system and Unity.
One powerful piece of GNOME Shell is the built-in search. Type your search term to bring up any application, preference control, or place & device on your system. If you don't find what you want, the Wikipedia and Google buttons at the bottom will open Firefox (or a tab in an already-opened Firefox) and start a search for that term (Figure 9-3).
Figure 9-3 Searching through GNOME Shell
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.
Like Ubuntu, GNOME Shell has been doing some thinking around messaging the user, although they have taken a slightly different design path than Unity has. Rather than remove all the actions from the notifications, GNOME Shell has moved them to a bar along the the bottom of the screen, which can be brought up by running your mouse into the lower left corner.
In the messaging bar, the latest applications to display messages are shown and you can either show the last message by clicking on the name or bring up a menu by right-clicking. This is one difference from Unity and the Ubuntu notification system, because GNOME Shell allows buttons on their notifications, as can be seen in Figure 9-4 where two of the authors message each other.
Figure 9-4 The message bar with a message from Matthew