Gnome 3.8 – a brief review

I currently have installed both Gnome 3.8.1 (as part of the pre-release opensuse 13.1M1 system), and 3.8.2 (as part of opensuse Tumbleweed).  I am not noticing a lot of difference between 3.8.1 and 3.8.2, so I’ll just refer to both as 3.8.

I have been clear that I am a KDE user, not a Gnome user.  So this review won’t get into the details that only a regular Gnome user would notice.


Gnome 3 is running very smoothly here on three systems with decent graphic support.  Of those, the older is using an Nvidia card with the Nvidia drivers, and the other two are using Intel graphics with the i915 driver.  I also have opensuse 13.1M1 installed on an older system with radeon graphics.  Gnome 3 has never worked well on that machine, and Gnome 3.8.1 is pretty much unusable on it.

Whether you will like Gnome 3.8 is, of course, partly a matter of personal taste and a matter of how you use the computer.  It happens to not fit my style of use very well, though I could use it if other more congenial desktops were not available.

Changes since 3.6

The most significant change from 3.6 appears to be with the menu system.  On 3.6, if I wanted to see the list of applications, then a bunch of icons would show up on the main screen.  And, on the right hand side, I would find a list of sub-menus.  I could select the “Office” sub-menu for example, to see only the icons for office applications.  That made it easier to find a specific application.

With 3.8, there is only the “all” list, the set of all icons.  That makes it harder to find what I am looking for.  So, while playing with 3.8, I have found myself more likely to use search to narrow down the list.  Since search is available, this is not actually a serious problem.  But it is what I noticed.

Fallback and older systems

With 3.8, fallback mode is gone.  With earlier versions of Gnome 3, using fallback mode avoided the desktop effects.  The menus were word based (application names), and the desktop worked in a way more similar to KDE or to the older Gnome 2.  For me, and probably for several other people, that was a more congenial way of using Gnome 3.

The option to force fallback mode is gone.  If I upgrade a system that was set for fallback mode, and try using it with Gnome 3.8, then Gnome startup fails (“Oh no, something has gone wrong”).  However, if I delete the various gnome settings files (those files and directories with names that begin with “.” (mostly with “.g”), then it will take me into the full non-fallback mode.

My older system, a 2004 computer with radeon graphics, never worked with full Gnome 3.  If I tried, it would automatically switch to fallback, or it would crash (depended on the Gnome version).  It worked quite well in fallback mode.  I installed opensuse 13.1M1 on that older box, mostly to see what Gnome 3.8 would do with that older graphics card.

There was no drop back to fallback mode.  Instead, I got the full Gnome 3 experience.  This was obviously being handled by software.  The result was that performance was unusably poor.  I was able to manage with the menu system (though slowly), and open an xterm.  Then I tried to drag the xterm to the bottom right.  Dragging the window was painful, as the software attempted to emulate compositing effects.  I had to drag with the mouse, then watch the window slowly move to catch up.  And I had to repeat that several times to get the window to the position that I wanted.  And then, even typing simple commands in the xterm, the characters that I typed were slow to appear, presumably also due to the software overhead.

Practically speaking this makes Gnome 3.8 useless for older graphics cards.  Personally, I think the Gnome developers have made a mistake here.  Linux has long been recognized as working well on older hardware, but with Gnome 3.8 that will no longer be true.

Gnome Classic

There is a classic mode available with Gnome 3.8.  This is implemented with Gnome shell extensions.  I had to separately install Gnome Classic.  It was in the repos for both 13.1M1 and for Tumbleweed, so installing was simple enough.

With Gnome classic, the menus now appear with lists of application names.  I personally find that far easier to negotiate.  Additionally, there is now a minimize button on windows.  And minimizing an application leaves its icon in the panel at the bottom.  My main reservation with classic mode, is the screen space taken up by that second panel.

There appear to be 4 workspaces allocated, and a pager allows switching between them.  The workspaces are arranged as if vertically one above the other.  I did not find a setting to change the number of workspaces.  For my own use, 4 would be adequate.

I did notice some bugs, but these are probably due to the opensuse implementation:

  • If using KDM as the login manager, then selecting “Gnome classic” from the menu does not work.  It gets you only into standard Gnome 3.
  • With GDM as login manager, Gnome classic can be selected.  However, when using Gnome classic, seahorse is not started and thus the Gnome keyring is not opened during login.


I see the removal of fallback mode as a mistake.  However, in most other respects, Gnome 3 users will probably like 3.8.




About Neil Rickert

Retired mathematician and computer scientist who dabbles in cognitive science.

3 responses to “Gnome 3.8 – a brief review”

  1. Daniel says :

    Do you think Gnome 3.8 is stable enough for a daily use?


  2. Daniel says :

    OK thank you! I’ll give it a try eventually! 🙂


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