Working With Extensions in the Gnome Shell
Nearly Perfect Out of the Box
Gnome Shell is great out of the box. Most users don't even know there are extensions to install. Once they see some the configuration and flexibility of Gnome extensions, they quickly become curious.
Gnome Shell extensions, function much the same way as browser plug-ins or extensions. They take the already constructed framework, in this case the graphical desktop interface, and extend its functionality. There are many extensions for Gnome Shell that cover various aspects of the graphical interface, however most extensions focus on the panel, applets, or Activities menu.
Many Linux distributions offer no ready way to inform users of available extensions, or direct users to the extensions. In order to view the available Gnome Shell extensions, log into your machine using the Gnome interface and fire up your favorite browser. Head over to https://extensions.gnome.org. You should returned with an interface similar to what is shown here.
Your browser will need a plug-in to handle the links at the Gnome extensions site. If you have Gnome Shell installed, it is likely you already have the right plug-ins.
The initial landing page lists the extensions compatible with your current running version of Gnome Shell, sorted by popularity.
Select an extension you'd like based upon the short description of each. After clicking the link, you'll be taken to a page with more detailed information, along with user reviews. If you decide you'd like to install the extension, click the icon. You will be prompted by confirmation (See screenshots to the right).
Upon confirmation, the extension will be downloaded and installed. After a successful install the “on/off” icon changes letting you know the changes have been applied (See screenshots to the right).
Removing an extension however requires a couple extra steps. Don't worry, It's easy enough. Just go to the top of the extensions page and look for the link that says “Installed Extensions”. This will take you to a page where you have the option to enable/disable, configure, or remove extensions. To remove an extension, click the "X" button. This will disable and remove the installed extension from your computer.
Popular and Useful Extensions
A review of each and every extension is beyond the scope of this article. However, we'll take a look at a few of them.
Replacement of Alt-Tab, iterates through windows in a cover-flow manner.
This is a neat extension that takes Gnome Shell's currently cool Alt-Tab switcher and gives it an iTunes makeover. This extension doesn't seem to be a resource hog, and runs nicely. It is not surprising then that this is at the top of the list.
Frippery Applications Menu
Replace Activities button with an Applications menu
This extension turns your “Activities” button into a more useful menu. I enjoy the hot corner and its abilities, however it is sometimes faster and easier if there were a menu. This extension takes care of that beautifully.
The menu items are categorized the same way they are in the generic Gnome menu, and can be edited the same way. This seems like a beautiful marriage between Windows' Start Menu and Gnome Shell's beauty.
Remove the accessibility button from the top panel.
This extension is for the people who don't need an accessibility button on their panel. I applaud the developers who decided to put it the button there by default. This theme was developed for anyone who wants a cleaner panel, with as little clutter as possible.
Replace user name and status icon with a quit button.
Like the “Remove Accessibility” extension mentioned above, the “Quit Button” also clears up panel space by replacing your user name with a small, compact quit button. The functionality stays the same, the appearance is all that is changed.
Frippery Shutdown Menu
Replace Suspend menu with Shut Down... and add Suspend/Hibernate to Power Off dialog
Like the other Frippery menu listed above, this extension gives more useful options to the normal logout/power down menu. It is useful for laptop and desktop users as well. All in all, a useful extension that is unobtrusive.
Do You Use Extensions In Gnome Shell?
There are many extensions available, and most of them are in active development. It is wise to keep checking back as new extensions are added all the time.
Using extensions with Gnome Shell makes a great graphical desktop environment even more beautiful and useful. Gnome is pushing the limits on user interface design and these extensions propel them even further.
© 2013 davidwhoward