Ade Malsasa Akbar contact
Senior author, Open Source enthusiast.
Wednesday, June 24, 2015 at 00:00

This guide will show you basically how to use GNOME 3 desktop. This guide tells GNOME 3 desktop from usability side not from technical side and not from historical side. If you are looking for an article that guide you to use GNOME for daily usage, this guide is for you. I want to help those who never use GNOME before with this basic guide. I use simple explanations and I avoid too technical terms here. I use Ubuntu GNOME 14.04 and GNOME version 3.10 here.


GNOME Desktop Anatomy

Here, I tell you GNOME desktop parts at glance. Your daily usage will not get far from this anatomy.
  1. Activities button and hot corner. It is very similar with Windows bottom-left button in Windows.
  2. Launcher panel. GNOME places default apps on this panel. You can add or remove any apps by right-click menu.
  3. Show Applications button. It is very similar with Menu button in Android.
  4. Search bar. You search apps here. You can also search document, files, audio, video, and another stuff.
  5. Top panel. It is GNOME trademark since the beginning. If Windows places all things on bottom panel, on the other hand , GNOME places all things on top panel. You find menu, clock and calendar, and system tray in top panel.
  6. System tray. It is the exactly same stuff between GNOME desktop and Windows desktop visually. Like usual, you find network manager, volume control, and logout stuff here. When a running program has a tray icon, it will appear on here.
  7. Workspaces. It is the most different thing differ Windows and Linux desktop since the beginning. Linux has multiple workspace concept since a long-long time. And this right panel is one example in GNOME. It helps you do many tasks efficiently!
  8. Message Tray. It is a notification area for GNOME desktop. Similar with Windows bottom pop-up area. You see it by pressing Win + M.


There are some concepts you find in GNOME that you never found in Windows (if you were from Windows before).
  • GNOME desktop is totally different with Windows desktop both in visual and experience.
  • GNOME desktop designed for touch screen, similar with Android visualization. You access apps by opening menu or searching by typing its name.
  • GNOME desktop has system tray but it is different with Windows in experience.
  • GNOME desktop has no bottom taskbar, same with Android, different with Windows.
  • GNOME desktop has multiple desktop (people also call it multiple workspace), same with Android, different with Windows.
  • GNOME desktop has no right-click > Refresh like Windows does. GNOME does refresh automatically.
  • You see your running applications by doing spread windows, not by seeing bottom panel like in Windows.
If I state Windows here, I mean it is Windows 7, Vista, XP, 2000, 98, and 95 (old Windows desktop style). I don't mean Windows 8 which was a little bit similar with mobile phone OS (touch screen stuff) interface and also I don't mean Windows 10 which was very similar with Linux desktop metaphors.

Launch Apps

  • Win Key - To launch apps in GNOME, tab Win key in your keyboard. It is same with Windows.
  • Hot Corner - Push your cursor into top left corner of GNOME screen. It is same with Win key. Choose what do you like more.
  • Type - Type the program name you want to launch. Or,
  • Click - Click Show Applications button at the picture above and select the program you want. Basically, both ways are still same with Windows ways.

Multiple Desktop

  • Win + W - This is spread windows technique. You make GNOME shows all active windows side by side.
  • Drag - Drag one window into the right side of screen, drop at the box on the right.
  • Multiply - Yes, a new box will automatically be added and your window will be on first box.
  • Workspace - Yes, a single box represents your workspace. It means new box are new workspace. You move your window onto new box means you move it onto a new workspace.

Work with Workspaces

This is the trick to work efficiently with workspaces. If you ware never using something like this in Windows, now is the right time for you. With a correct multiple workspaces usage, you can finish your jobs quickly.

  • Send Them! - Stay focus on a single window, send another windows to another workspace.
  • Place Them! - Send audio player to Workspace 2, game to Workspace 3, and you work with office suite in Workspace 1. 

Spread Windows

I avoid any term debate here. People may call this windows overview, activity overview, just overview, spread windows, or anything. I choose spread window term. It is a taskbar replacement in GNOME. You will see all running application windows in your desktop by this. You choose another window by click, same with seeing bottom taskbar panel in Windows.


Another way to move between active windows, is Alt+Tab. People call this window switcher. You can also do it on GNOME.

Message Tray

Message tray is a GNOME term for notification area. GNOME places all programs' notifications at the bottom panel. It is similar with notification area on bottom taskbar in Windows. GNOME places device notifier (to eject a disk) also on this panel. You can't see it by default. You reveal the bottom panel by Win + M. Click on the corresponding icon to see its notification.

System Tray

GNOME places system tray on top. It includes following.

  1. Audio volume control. You slide sound volume here. 
  2. Network manager. You connect to a wifi hotspot or LAN or USB modem (mobile broadband) here.
  3. Battery notifier. If you are using laptop, your battery present condition shows here.
  4. User switcher. You switch user here.
  5. GNOME Control Center. You change any GNOME preferences here.
  6. Logout. You logout, restart, or shut down here.
It is not an absolute schema. Your GNOME may be different (but will not be too far).