4 Must-Have Extensions for a More Complete GNOME Experience

For some people, GNOME extensions have a reputation for being necessary to change or un-do the design choices the GNOME team has made over the past decade. But if you love the default GNOME experience, does that mean extensions aren’t for you?

Hardly! There are some areas where GNOME remains a work in progress. Here’s how you can get an ideal GNOME experience without waiting for the current software to catch up!

Version 40 brought a major redesign to the GNOME desktop, but it also made a subtle change to the way you initially encounter the interface. When you first log in, GNOME now defaults to the Activities Overview rather than a blank desktop.

Why? There’s nothing for you to do when presented with an empty GNOME desktop. The first step is to open the overview and launch an app. Having the Activities Overview already open saves you a click or button press.

Auto Activities goes a step further. With this extension, whenever the desktop is empty, the Activities Overview automatically opens. So when you close your last open window, you don’t need to manually pull up the overview to begin your next task. The overview will already be there, saving you the effort.

Auto Activities also kicks in when you switch between workspaces using keyboard shortcuts or touchpad gestures. So if you swap from one to another, before you find yourself looking at a blank desktop, the Activities Overview will appear.

This extension makes the kind of change that you may not have thought about beforehand, but now you’ll miss it if it’s gone.

GNOME quick settings menu with expanded Bluetooth options

GNOME 43 introduced a new quick settings menu that appears whenever you click on the notification area. This enables you to toggle settings that used to require opening the full System Settings app to access. You can switch power modes, enable dark mode, switch to airplane mode, and the like.

One nice touch is that you can change Wi-Fi networks inside the menu, replacing a pop-up window listing networks that appeared in the past. You can also click on an icon near the volume indicator to switch between headphones and speakers. But the Bluetooth toggle doesn’t let you do the same. You can enable or disable Bluetooth, but that’s it.

With the Bluetooth Quick Connect extension, you can view and toggle Bluetooth devices inside the menu. Like with Auto Activities, this extension is so seamless, it doesn’t feel like you’ve added anything extra.

At the time of version 43’s debut, GNOME developers were already aware of this gap in the quick menu’s functionality. So if you’re running a version of GNOME newer than 43, this extension may be obsolete.

Firefox with GNOME theme and rounded corners

Rounded corners are in. Whether you’re using macOS or Windows, newer versions have rounded window corners. And GNOME has them too.

But GNOME’s transition to rounded window corners is a work in process. Most of the default apps and many apps that have transitioned to GTK4 have this look. But many older apps haven’t yet made the transition. It can take years for the full catalog of GNOME apps to get rounded corners, and some older apps will simply be left behind.

Then there are the leagues of non-GNOME apps that don’t have rounded corners and possibly never will. What do you do about those?

The Rounded Window Corners extension brings rounded corners to these apps as well. Apps like Mozilla Firefox and LibreOffice may be the most prominent, since these come preinstalled on many Linux distributions. But the same applies to any app that wasn’t designed specifically for GNOME. You can also smooth the corners of those older GNOME apps that still have pointy bottoms.

With this extension installed, you won’t have any anxiety while you wait for developers to go about the task of updating all of their apps. That’s great for you, and your patience is great for them.

Rounded panel corners in GNOME

GNOME 3.0 was a big release that introduced the GNOME Shell interface, doing away with the traditional desktop metaphor. No more taskbar. Nor app menu. And, a shocker for many Linux users, no customizable panels!

The panel at the top of the screen was now static, like the black bar at the top in a smartphone. So GNOME added a visual touch to complement the new look: rounded panel corners.

These panel corners were small, but in version 42 GNOME did away with these corners. They apparently caused a slight performance penalty and some other issues. But this change happened not long after GNOME began adding rounded window corners to the bottom of apps. So you now get rounded windows but a flat panel.

If you find this jarring, you have the option to bring the rounded corners back. That’s where the Panel Corners extension comes in. And since this is an extension, you have extra options. You can change the radius and opacity of corners, as well as their color. But if you’re just looking to bring back the previous look to complement your rounded windows, the defaults will likely serve you just fine.

Ready for the Finishing Touches?

These extensions help smooth out some edges to fulfill the GNOME vision, but they can’t complete the look alone. For that, you need a few themes.

The adw-gtk3 theme brings the newer GNOME theme to older apps. It also impacts the theme of non-GNOME apps that utilize GTK3. This covers the majority of software, but wait, there’s more! If you download the Firefox GNOME theme, you can make the web browser that many distros use by default feel like a native GNOME app.

You’ve Tweaked GNOME, but Not Really

Yes, you’ve technically modified the default GNOME experience, but you haven’t modified what the GNOME desktop is trying to be. If anything, you’re leaning into it just a bit harder. With a few extra touches, you can have the future of GNOME today.

But what if you like GNOME apps, just not the interface? Don’t worry, as teased earlier, the majority of GNOME extensions are for you. There is plenty to explore at extensions.gnome.org or using the Extension Manager app.

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