Searching the GNOME 3.6 Desktop

A stated goal of the GNOME project is to make finding and accessing our files easier than ever before. The long-term plan is to allow users to access their documents using Documents, music using Music, and photos using Photos, all without having to deal with the nasty business of manually creating file directories in a file manager. This ambitious goal is still a ways off, but below you will find a hands-on look at the current state of searching for data on the GNOME 3.6 desktop.


In GNOME 3.6, the search bar within the shell has been moved to the center of the screen. You can click in this search bar to start a search, but it is entirely unnecessary. Typing at any time while the shell is open will automatically begin a search.


The GNOME shell displays various types of results. Notice how typing in “sound” in the screenshot above displays relevant applications first, followed by relevant system settings and relevant documents. You could also scroll down to see images containing those characters as well.

Clicking on a document ignores your default application preferences and opens up the document within the Documents app. Clicking on an image, however, displays the image in your default image viewer. Clicking on the relevant system settings option goes straight to that section of the System Settings application, making it easier to adjust GNOME settings without knowing where those settings may be buried.


While the GNOME 3.5 desktop intends to have dedicated applications for managing documents, music, and photos, Documents is currently the only stable release available. Documents is the first of the new GNOME applications that search your hard drive without being obvious about it. The current release of Documents is functional, albeit limited in functionality.

When you first open Documents, it displays all the document files visible in your Home folder. It detects ODT and PDF with no problem and displays thumbnails previewing the content inside of the file. I’ve noticed that Documents can also detect DOC, DOCX, and ABW files, but it only displays a document icon instead of a thumbnail.


Search works as expected, searching the list of documents for one document in particular. However, if Documents doesn’t detect the document automatically, searching isn’t going to help. There’s no user-visible way to add documents that Documents doesn’t detect on its own.

Clicking on a document opens up the document within Documents. This is convenient for viewing files, but there is no editing functionality built-in. Instead, you must click on the cog button and click “Open,” which will open the document in whatever your default word processor or PDF viewer is.


The Contacts application consolidates all of the contacts from your online accounts as well as your local address book, meaning contacts found within Empathy and Evolution. A search bar is immediately visible in the top left, again emphasizing GNOME’s focus on having your data be easily accessible.


Contacts are filtered in the sidebar. Contact details are provided in the larger space to the right, where there are also buttons to email, chat, or call a contact from within the app.


Opening up Files defaults to either your Home folder or your recent files list. Either way, simply typing will begin a search of your Home folder within the file manager. While there is a search icon in the toolbar, clicking on the search button is again entirely unnecessary.


System Settings

The GNOME System Settings window also has built-in search functionality. Unlike the other applications, the search bar has to be clicked before a search can be performed. Search results appear in a clean list, and a basic summary of each result is provided.



Searching within an application or even for applications is not a new concept overall, but is for the GNOME 3.6 desktop. Mac OS X has long featured a search button on its taskbar for searching for applications and files, and Microsoft also introduced this functionality back in Windows Vista. However, the GNOME approach now puts search front and center, rather than treating it as an add-on. The shell is made to be searched, not browsed, along with the next generation of GNOME applications.

Bertel King, Jr.

Bertel is a tech blogger and independent novelist who puts perhaps a tad too much trust in Google. He’s loved Android since the moment he got his eager hands on his first device -- if not sooner -- and has understood the Chromebook Pixel from day one.You can follow his work at

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