If you’ve recently stepped into the Linux world, you may have heard the term GNOME thrown around a lot. But what exactly is it? In this article, we’ll take a look at this popular desktop environment and what it offers.
A Forward-Looking Desktop Experience
GNOME stands for GNU Object Model Environment. Properly pronounced “guh-nome,” it is one of the most popular free and open-source desktop environments used in some of the major Linux operating systems like Ubuntu, Pop!_OS, Fedora, etc.
In simple terms, a Linux desktop environment is everything you see on your screen. From lock screen to home screen, as well as individual elements like app launchers and app icons, when tied together, form a desktop environment.
For example, the standard desktop edition of the popular Linux distribution Ubuntu uses GNOME. However, the Ubuntu developers have customized GNOME’s user interface to fit their purposes, so it doesn’t look exactly like you see on the GNOME website and in other Linux distributions. They’re able to do this because GNOME is open-source software.
However, GNOME isn’t the only desktop environment in existence. Just within the world of Ubuntu, there are variations with different desktops, each appealing to a specific type of audience.
GNOME was created in 1997 as free software and a direct competitor to the K desktop environment, which was gaining quite some traction back then. The first version of GNOME was a massive success as the project soon beat the K desktop environment in terms of popularity.
Later in 2002, the second iteration of GNOME, GNOME 2, was released. The release brought a massive set of customizations, features, and quality of life improvements to the desktop environment.
It took six years for the GNOME team to bring out GNOME 3.0, which streamlined things like header bars, maximize and minimize buttons, etc. However, it soon faced heavy criticism from the community for a few design changes. In the end, GNOME 3.0 played a pivotal role in shaping what the desktop environment looks like today by introducing a more consistent user experience.
Released in 2021 and later, GNOME versions 40, 41, and 42 streamlined the UI’s look and feel and added many useful features. The creators continue to patch and improve the experience, and distros like Ubuntu and Fedora continue to make it their flagship DE.
How Is GNOME Different From Windows Desktop?
The availability and freedom to use whatever desktop environment you want is what makes Linux different from Windows and macOS. A “Linux OS” is a combination of the Linux kernel, a desktop environment, and lots of other tools, whereas operating systems like Windows and macOS were built from scratch as a unified structure. In other words, the Windows desktop is an integral part of Windows that cannot be replaced.
The desktop experience of GNOME is a little different from the Windows desktop, mainly in how shortcuts and application launching works. If you’re used to Windows, GNOME has only a small lear learning curve, but it also won’t overwhelm you with tweaks and options like some other DEs. That’s why most people getting started with Linux desktop start with Ubuntu or any other GNOME-based distro.
GNOME vs. Other Desktop Environments
Apart from GNOME, there are other popular alternative desktop environments like KDE, Xfce, MATE, Cinnamon, Budgie, and more. Fedora’s flagship version, for example, ships with the GNOME desktop environment; however, thanks to the open-source nature of all desktop environments, Fedora’s developer team has created alternative “Spins.” These are versions of Fedora that ship with the aforementioned desktop environments instead of GNOME.
KDE is known for its extensive customization options whereas GNOME isn’t as customizable. Xfce and MATE are great for computers with weaker system resources. GNOME in comparison is a heavier DE with higher hardware demands. Desktop environments like Cinnamon and Budgie act as a middle ground. They provide a great user experience while consuming only a moderate amount of system resources.
Then there are desktop environments that are forks of GNOME, like COSMIC. It was created by System76, a company that manufactures Linux laptops and develops the Pop!_OS distribution popular with Linux gamers. While COSMIC is based on GNOME, it brings added features like window tiling, shortcuts, and a different look overall.
When compared to all your options, GNOME is one of the most well-crafted modern-looking DEs, which makes it a good alternative to the Windows desktop. It’s polished, meaning it has a very cohesive scheme and few ways you can accidentally break it. However, if you want to try a DE that closely resembles classic Windows interfaces, Xfce or MATE are better options.
Is GNOME Easy to Use?
Yes, GNOME is as easy to use as Windows and macOS interfaces. Like Windows 11 and macOS, it comes with a dock where you can pin your favorite applications. However, you’ll have to get used to a few differences, like desktop shortcuts being unavailable by default, and the lack of a Windows-like start menu.
The top bar houses the “Activities” button, which shows you all your open applications, workspaces, and allows you to search through installed applications. Clicking on the date in the middle opens up the Calendar. Finally, you’ll find a menu on the right side with a settings app shortcut, volume controls, etc.
Try It Out Yourself
Unlike other DEs, GNOME tries to keep things simple while maintaining good functionality and features. Its clean and polished UI, combined with loads of productivity features, makes it one of the best Linux DEs and a great starting point for users switching from Windows.
To fully experience what GNOME has to offer, you can try Linux from your Windows PC using VirtualBox. Just be sure to pick a distribution that comes with GNOME. You can also live-boot Linux, or try dual-booting Linux alongside Windows, all without harming your current operating system.
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