Ubuntu Gnome 14.04 Trusty - initial review

I've used Ubuntu on all my desktops and laptops for over a decade. I used to chase the 6 month releases, but I soon learnt that there are better ones and worse ones, so recently I've been trying to stick to Long Term Support (LTS) editions.

I tried to like Unity, but I found it ugly, found it difficult to see all my windows, and once or twice it caused me to lose work (bugs that have long since been fixed). So for a long while I've been using Gnome Shell. In Precise (Ubuntu 12.04) I had this working beautifully, thanks to half a dozen or so extensions. I've now moved on to Ubuntu Gnome 14.04, but am yet unconvinced that it was the right thing to do...


Well it's 2 May 2014, not long after release, but I regularly encounter lock-ups and crashes of gnome-shell itself. I certainly won't be rolling this out to replace 12.04 on all the desktops I manage at People & Planet.

There's also a bug with keyboard layouts - my UK keyboard keeps thinking it's American until I change the keyboard layout to US, and then back to GB. If you remove the US layout completely then its stuck on US with no way to get to the GB layout you've got selected. After a Gnome-Shell restart (something that is needed with annoying frequency) you're also stuck on US keyboard, although the indicator will say UK - you need to change to US and back to UK again, as comment #1 below says (thanks!). I've submitted a bug report for this.

Immediate observations, look and feel

The display manager (log in screen) now requires a user to be selected before you can type your password. Slightly better for systems which are regularly used by different people; one more click for me on my own laptop. It looks nice though (albeit in a dull and neutral businessy sort of way).

The lock screen is also changed - a full screen graphic greets you when you wake it up again, which you can either drag up out of the way (why?), or you can just start typing your password and it will automatically lift itself.

The overlay scrollbars have gone and been replaced by very standard subtle and narrow ones. The overlay sidebars caused quite a few problems, ranging from the awkward e.g. if you wanted to resize a window from its right edge, it was difficult to grab it because the scrollbar would keep appearing to the broken, e.g. you needed to disable them for Inkscape or inkscape would not be able to detect graphics table pressure(?!).

The notifications bar along the bottom of the screen has completely changed. If you have a non-relative pointing device (touch or graphics tablet) then you won't be able to get to it any more (but you can press Super+M, or use the less accessible accessibility option of holding Ctrl+Shift then pressing Tab four times) because it relies on the concept of mouse "pressure" where by you have to go to the edge (or corner in the case of Activities), then try to go further to trigger it. When you get there, it's massive and modal (it greys out the rest of the screen). But that's where all that stuff went.

Title bars

The title bars have got even bigger. They're even bigger than the top bar. And on a laptop screen they're a nightmare. What's more worrying is that it seems the Gnome team just don't get it.

In Precise, I got around this issue thanks to two exentsions, Maximus and Window Buttons. Maximus removes the titlebars when a window is maximised, and the Window Buttons extension adds close, minimise, maximise buttons to the top bar so they're available for maximised windows without their titlebars. Sadly these exensions have not been updated for 3.10 at the time of writing.

You can hack the UI yourself, by editing /usr/share/themes/Adwaita/metacity-1/metacity-theme-3.xml as many blogs detail. But it results in slightly odd behaviour and the only pointer-based way to get a window closed is to drag it down off the top bar, to cause the titlebars to appear again, then move to the Close button. And of course your tweaks will be overwritten on the next update.

I said the Gnome team "just don't get it" based on this developer's blog post. This explains the title bar challenge really well, and of course as a user I had not appreciated all these complexities. However, what saddened me was the last part of the post where the author gives the example of problematic vertical space used in default apps like Calculator. I thought Yes! The are looking out for vertical space! but then I looked closely at their proposed solution (for 3.12, so forward from where I'm at now) and found that the vertical space used by their new design was exactly the same as that identified as problematic! See screenshot from that blog, with original design overlayed atop the proposed. You'll also notice that the proposed calculator layout takes up more vertical space in total, too.

The network manager, log out, volume controls have been merged. This is a great improvement because it's easier to click (bigger target) and has all the things you need. I think Gnome are saying "we are listening to users" by replacing the user name with a power off symbol - the previous Gnome didn't even have a Power Off option in the menu (unless you held down a secret modifier key at the same time, or installed an extension to fix it).

Edit: for the time being, I've reduced the titlebar size like this:

Edit: Fixed problem for maximised windows

I previously used Maximus and Window Buttons extensions to remove the titlebar and add close, minimise, maximise buttons to the top bar. But I tried fudging Maximus to get it to work in 3.10 and it didn't. Then I came across pixel-saver, an extension that does both these things in one go. While this isn't available for 3.10 from extensions.gnome.org is is available from the author's Github repo, and it works a treat. Download it from github.com/deadalnix/pixel-saver/

Nautilus ("Files")

is the biggest change. This has gone its own way to solve the titlebars problem by integrating more stuff into it. Of course this breaks your other preferences such as minimise and maximise buttons.

They've also removed the split pane view, which I found very useful when copying selective files between two locations.

Bookmarked locations are still listed separately from Places, which causes me delay every time I look for something I know is in that list - for a regularly used directory I first have to work out "oh yeah, is that one of the directories that Gnome thinks is special? If so, look aphabetically in the first list (unless it's the Recycle bin, in which case look at the end of that first list). If not, scan down to the second list and look for it there. It's a real productivity drag.

In the old Nautilus, typing with the main pane selected highlighted the file with what you typed at the start of its name. In new Nautilus, it begins a recursive search of folders, and shows only matches. I have mixed feelings about this. When you have no sub directories, it's handy because you can quickly see which files exist and select the right one, although its less handy if you have carefully named your files such that their order is important (e.g. I name my invoices with a backwards date so that they naturally group that way without needing to rely on the mtime sort). But when you do this from your home directory, it begins scanning tens of thousands of files, which is not helpful and to be honest, stresses me out a bit - a simple shortcut has become an arduous job and with results flying in live it's hard to know you've found what you were looking for.

One plus, though is that MTP support is now built in to Trusty 14.04, so I can plug in my phone and get to the files. Although there appears to be a bug if you want to move a sub folder up a level (I have reported this).

For me, these changes are not helpful and I'm glad that Nemo has now been included in the Ubuntu archives.

Not all bad

As you can tell, I'm not impressed with most of the changes I've noticed, but other people might like some of the things I don't. But there's some good stuff, too:

  • Tweak tool is installed by default and has been expanded to include a lot more features, including exposing the option to use the Super (probably has a "Windows" logo on it) key for dragging/resizing windows (far better than default of Alt, which is used in several graphics apps for other functions). There's a global dark theme which works for certain apps (so more 'national' than 'global'?!).
  • The overview searches apps much faster - I think they are cached at boot time. The previous version took a while to wake up when you first accessed the overview and started typing. It also searches something else, too, but I haven't worked out what. It seems to be some subset of files and folders, but it's not all the files.
  • Gnome snapshot seems to have a few more options, which is great, although until it has annotations I'll be sticking with shutter or hotshots.

There are lots of other changes that I've not detailed because as a long term user, I have my favourite apps (Firefox, Thunderbird, Inkscape, Darktable, DigiKam) and so I don't notice things like changes to Evolution, Shotwell etc.

Would I recommend upgrading from Precise to Trusty?


I upgraded my laptop to 14.04 from 12.04 and for now I'm sticking with it on this machine. But I'm not upgrading my other 12.04 desktops yet - and I'm glad that 12.04 still has 3 years' support left. I'll update this post if I give up and go back, or if I find things get better.

As a massive proponant of open source free software, I don't like writing negative posts - what if people make the giant leap from this post to thinking that all open source software is bad?! But I think that pretending something's good when it's not is not going to help anyone. Open source is a great model and produces great software - Ubuntu Gnome 14.04 is not as good as 12.04 in my opinion, but switching to something like Windows is a laughable idea to me. And the great thing is that all my gripes and problems have a way to be fed in to the future development, something I'm doing on the apropriate channels.

What do you think?

Have you upgraded? What are your impressions?



"Nice" to notice I'm not alone with the "changing keyboard layout" -issue. Mine boots OK, but Gnome crashes and relaunces itself with the US keyboard layout. So need to tick it to US and then back to my local. First time noticed when the computer was locked, so had difficulties to log in before figured it out. Happens several times a day, sometimes within few minutes.

A couple of extensions had not been updated to 3.10, but including the version number solved that. Otherwise, I got the extensions working I'm pretty happy about the set up. I was especially happy that the support to Exchange server got somehow better. Can even send emails from Evolution using that account.

morko replied on

Thanks for sharing! I've submitted a bug report for this . I'll give the adding 3.10 hack a try for my fave extensions.

Rich replied on

First of all, thanks to morko for pointing out the UK keyboard workaround.
I have installed gnome 14.04 too. As I was using Unity 12.04, my first reaction was too much wasted space on the screen, same as Rich's reaction.
Decided to checked it further just in case. Using Tweak Tool, I seleced a desktop theme with a narrower window frame, thus releasing real-estate. Then switch on Application Menu via extensions, and added various extensions that put commonly used application short-cuts onto the tool bar at the top, including the favourites.
Now I have a system that is more compact then 12.04 Unity, stable, and with all my essential development tools installed.

chor replied on

Thanks for sharing your tips to make Gnome more compact ; I struggled with the same issue but couldn't solved them by myself.

Deevad replied on

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