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Jenny Tidwell would not be pleased.

As many of you will already know, GNOME3 has recently been introduced into Debian Testing and it turns out that it's not very good. The main problem is that the GNOME developers seem to have forgotten that people use their computers to actually do things.

Torvalds criticized GNOME 3.0 by stating, "The developers have apparently decided that it's 'too complicated' to actually do real work on your desktop, and have decided to make it really annoying to do." - Wikipedia

For those of you who are not familiar with GNOME, allow me to present you with a comparison. By default, GNOME 2.x looked like this:

A generic GNOME 2.x desktop.
Source: Wikipedia (Click for a larger version)

Of course, if you didn't like the default layout, it was possible to make extensive customisations. For example, here's GNOME 2.x on Trisquel GNU/Linux:

GNOME 2.x on Trisquel.
Source: Wikipedia (Click for a larger version)

For GNOME 3, the developers have not only radically changed the way in which GNOME looks and works, they have also (intentionally) removed most of the customisation options - including colours, fonts, and widget placement - in the name of "simplicity". Here's a typical GNOME 3.x desktop:

Source: Wikipedia (Click for a larger version)

GNOME 3.x looks and behaves as though it were designed for an iPad, iPhone, or other portable touchscreen device. Whether or not it would suit those devices does not concern me - what concerns me is that I am supposed to be using it on a standard desktop or laptop computer.

The Solution

After trying to use XFCE (and severely breaking it) and LXDE (which didn't do everything that I wanted it to do), I invested some time in undoing the damage that the transition to GNOME 3.x had done to my laptop. Happily, it IS possible to force GNOME 3.x to act like GNOME 2.x - you just need to fiddle about with it a bit.

When you log in, set your session type to "GNOME fallback" (or "GNOME Classic" depending on which version you're using) rather than "System Default" or "GNOME". The fallback mode is supposed to be equivalent to the "Aero Basic" setting in Windows Vista and 7 - it disables any GPU-accelerated graphics and presents you with a more basic desktop instead:

GNOME 3.x fallback mode.
Source: Wikipedia (Click for a larger version)

Next, install the "GNOME Tweak Tool" - this allows you to alter most of the settings that were available in the GNOME 2.x series, such as icon themes, widget styles and font settings.

If you need to change anything that's not handled by either the standard GNOME 3 settings menu or the Tweak Tool, you can change your settings directly by opening BASH and typing "dconf-editor" to manually alter everything.

Finally, you might have noticed that you can no longer right-click on various things, such as the panel(s) on your desktop. The secret is to hold down the "ALT" key when right-clicking - this will allow you to alter your panel(s) and widget(s) in exactly the same way as you would with the GNOME 2.x series.

It's also possible to emulate the old "Clearlooks" theme - the "Clearwaita" theme aims to re-create the GNOME 2.x look for GNOME 3:

(Click for a larger version)

You can download the Clearwaita theme from - installation instructions are given in the README file.

There is a slight problem with Clearwaita - GTK2 applications use the wrong background colour for highlighted menu-bar items. It draws them as white-on-grey, making the text hard to read. Fortunately, it's easy to fix.

Open [clearwaita folder]/gtk-2.0/gtkrc in gEdit. Find the "menu_item" style and add a line to specify the background colour:

style "menu_item" {
  xthickness = 2
  ythickness = 3

  fg[PRELIGHT] = @selected_fg_color
  bg[PRELIGHT] = @selected_bg_color  # <--Add this.

Save the file and re-start any applications that were drawing menu-bar items incorrectly.
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