If you’ve ever used the GNOME Shell on your Linux system, you’ve probably noticed that there are some ways it works that don’t make sense right away. The workspaces are arranged vertically, and there’s no dock, panel, or desktop icons to get to your applications easily. That’s where GNOME Shell Extensions come into play. Let’s check out some Gnome extensions that make the desktop easier to use.
What are extensions?
GNOME Shell extensions are little pieces of code that add features and functionality to GNOME Shell. Seeing as they become part of the system, there is always the potential for system instability, but the GNOME project carefully reviews all code submitted for extensions and does its best to prevent issues and provide a bug tracker for any issues filed. They can do all kinds of things, like add desktop icons, create a macOS-like dock, and allow you to control your Android Phone from your desktop.
To install GNOME Shell extensions, you’ll need to install the GNOME Shell Integrations extension in either Chrome or Firefox. Once installed, you can literally just flip a switch on the GNOME Shell extensions website and the extension will install and turn on in moments.
1. Dash to Dock (or Panel)
If you’ve ever used Windows or macOS, you’ve probably gotten used to the paradigm of a dock or taskbar with your most-used applications that are visible on your desktop the majority of the time. GNOME Shell doesn’t have anything like that by default. The Overview is a great way to see your whole system at a glance, but sometimes it’s helpful to have some easy applications for access. That’s where Dash to Dock (or Panel) comes in.
Either of these extensions will take the GNOME dash normally visible from the Overview and make it persistently visible on your desktop, either as a Windows-style panel or a macOS-style dock. They also come with a button to quickly access your app drawer, making them hugely useful for getting into applications not on your panel or dock.
2. Horizontal Workspaces
As a longtime Mac user, it was difficult to get used to the vertical workspaces in stock GNOME. If you’re struggling with it the same way I did, I’d recommend the Horizontal Workspaces extension. This will allow you to use a more common virtual desktop layout and keep things the way you like them.
Note: you can still get around Workspaces using the default keyboard shortcuts.
3. Workspaces to Dock
The Workspaces to Dock extension pairs nicely with Horizontal Workspaces, as it lets you create the same workspace picker that GNOME has by default and put it wherever you want. Like your panel or dock on the top of the screen? Put your Workspace dock on the bottom. It’s modular and can fit a huge variety of wants and needs.
One tip is that under “Behavior,” I like to turn off “Intellihide.” Otherwise, the dock is always visible with no windows open, and pressure reveals it when windows are open. Without Intellihide, it becomes like the workspace picker from default GNOME.
4. Extended Gestures
The Extended Gestures extension allows you to add some additional gestures to GNOME that can give it unparalleled usability on a Linux laptop.
This one will be especially important for anybody coming from a Mac. Because macOS is so tuned to the amazing trackpads that Apple produces, they have created a system that allows you to maneuver much of the desktop environment with just the touchpad and make it feel very natural.
GNOME on Wayland has one touchpad gesture by default: a four-finger swipe to switch workspaces, up and down or left and right. Personally, I have three fingers left and right as “Back” and “Forward” in a web browser, “Up” as “Toggle Overview,” and “Down” as “Show App Drawer”.
This, along with the default four-finger gesture in Wayland, makes me feel like I’m using a system that is designed for the modern user on a laptop or a user with a trackpad attached to their desktop. It would be a great way to make use of an Apple Magic Trackpad on Linux, as it would allow you to work with one of the best trackpads in the world and use it for more than just clicking and scrolling.
Now that you’ve taken your Linux laptop to the next level with GNOME Shell Extensions, make sure you learn how to get notified of updates for your extensions, check out some of the best laptops for Linux, and fix your touchpad that is not working in Linux.