What’s New in GNOME 40

GNOME 40 has more than one new numbering scheme. Along with the new look comes a new way of working. The old vertical metaphors have disappeared and have been replaced with horizontal themes and layouts. Let’s take a closer look.

table of contents

The way of the GNOME
Dock placement
Activity overview
Application launcher
Cosmetic optimizations
Application changes
The verdict after a week

The way of the GNOME

GNOME 40 GNOME should be 3.40, but the developers decided to leave out the main number and use the build number as the sole identifier. They were obviously in the mood to usher in the changes. GNOME 40 may still be GNOME at its core, but it’s not the GNOME you are familiar with.

Some of the changes and new defaults may sound confusing. The GNOME team carefully considered each and every one of them and formed its opinion based on a core set of project principles. Tobias Bernard, one of the GNOME developers, says in his Blog“GNOME is a very principled project.” By this he means that developers must adhere to many principles and guidelines.

The GNOME developers are not bound by standard desktop norms and conventions. They like to look at every aspect of the desktop and work through it to solve a problem. That could mean digging into the code and fixing the root of the problem, or it could mean replacing that element with something new. There are no sacred cows.

They’re also against giving too many options and preferences. This seems to contradict the Linux mantra of choice and flexibility. Tobias calls for one earlier piece by Havoc Pennington, one of the original GNOME developers and chairman of the board of directors of the GNOME Foundation for the first two years. This describes the GNOME principle “less preference is better”. You may find that some of the things you want to change are now set.


The GNOME developers say the best way to enrich the GNOME ecosystem is to write applications, not extensions. This time, GNOME 40 corrupts some of the extensions that used to work. Many of these extensions were created to replace features that were previously removed from GNOME or that could not be controlled directly from GNOME’s own settings.

I knew in advance what many of the GNOME 40 changes would be. You worried me. I’m using GNOME on my main computer, and the “Like or Lump” setting didn’t convince me of the new GNOME approach. but Fedora 34 is already shipped with GNOME 40, Manjaro is currently rolling out its GNOME 40 update and Ubuntu 21.10 “Impish Idri” will contain GNOME 40. If you’re a GNOME user, the juggernaut comes along. The best option is to be open about it and see if it fits the way you work.

The main changes

Dock placement

The dock in GNOME 40 has been moved to the bottom of the screen. It was on the left by default, but you can move it around if you’d like. It could also be set to auto-hide. It would slip out of view if the desktop real estate was required by a window. It has now been moved to the bottom of the screen with no option to move it.

The dock isn’t permanently on screen so it doesn’t take up desktop space, but it does require some action on your part to reveal it. This can be a mouse movement, a key combination or a gesture on a mouse pad. That’s not as bad as it sounds. If you set the old Dock to auto-hide, you had to click Activities at the top, hit the Super button, or move your cursor to the left edge of your monitor to get the Dock to reappear.

The difference in GNOME 40 is that you don’t just reveal the Dock. To see the dock, you need to open the activities overview.

Activity overview

The activity overview shows your work areas, arranged horizontally, with the dock at the bottom of the screen and the search field at the top. It’s the view you land in every time you log in.


In the pre-release versions of Ubuntu 21.10, the dock is still on the left. Whether the Ubuntu developers will buck the trend and go their own way or queue up before the launch date and drop the dock to the floor remains to be seen. It still has the Hirsute Hippo wallpaper, and many of the applications are still pre-GNOME 40 versions, so we’re definitely not looking at the finished article here.

The Activities View in Ubuntu 21.10, Pre-Release

Pressing the Esc key, using the super + alt + down arrow combo, or clicking on a workspace will return you to your normal desktop.

If you have an “Activities” option at the top, e.g. B. Fedora and Ubuntu, click on it to return to the activity overview. For distributions without the “Activities” option, the top left corner of your screen will act as the hot corner. If you press the mouse pointer in this corner, the activities view opens. You can also press the super key or use super + alt + up arrow. Use a three-finger upward gesture on a laptop with a touchpad.

To pan sideways through your workspaces, use your scroll wheel, the Super + Alt + Right Arrow and Super + Alt + Left Arrow buttons, or drag on the touchpad with three fingers. These work on the normal desktop too, although mouse users must hold down Super + Alt while using their scroll wheel.

Manjaro sticks to his usual Super + PageUp and Super + PgDn to switch between workspaces on the desktop.

If you want to launch multiple apps from the Dock at the same time, press Ctrl + click on it. If you click once, the activities overview – along with the dock – will be closed and you will return to your desktop.


If you work on your computer for a while and switch back to the activity overview, your open applications will be arranged so that they are all visible and displayed on the workspace on which they are running. Each application window displays the icon of the application that launched it.

Activity overview with applications in the first work area

When you click on an application, the activity overview closes and you return to the desktop. The application you clicked becomes the current, focused application.

Application launcher

The application launcher is opened by clicking on the “Application launcher” button in the dock or the key combination Super + Alt + up arrow in the activity overview.

Application Launcher in Fedora 34

Use the PgUp and PgDn buttons or your scroll wheel to move through the list of applications. You’re now sliding in from the sides, following the GNOME 40 horizontal theme.

You can use drag and drop to arrange the application icons as you wish. You can also drag and drop an application icon into one of the workspace previews to start it in this workspace.

You can also drag applications from workspace to workspace.

Cosmetic optimizations

With the standard design, many elements have a new look with rounded corners. the File browser Version 40.1 added these touches.

File browser with rounded corners


These small tweaks lead to the activity overview and the application starters. The top panel disappears when you open one of these views, but the items at the top still appear. To the example, the “Activities” option is housed on its own rounded “island”.

Upper control panel removed, the

When you launch an application that is not pinned to the Dock, its icon is temporarily added to the Dock. A separator separates these symbols from the attached symbols.

Application changes

Some of the standard applications have been updated. Tab completion has been added to the address bar of the file browser.

Tab completion in the file browser

You could always right-click in the column headings of the file list view and choose which columns to display. Now there is a column called “created” where you can sort the files according to their creation date. If you move a file to a location where a file with that name already exists, you will be prompted to rename your file. The automatic extraction of ZIP files can now also cope with password-protected archives.

When you search for a location in the Maps application, an information board from Wikipedia appears.

Information field in the Maps application

In the settings, the WLAN options are clearer and the input source has been moved from “Region and Language” to “Keyboards”.


You can define a “compose” key, which you can enter with “Put together combinations“To enter special characters and symbols.

Option to compose keys in the settings and special characters

The verdict after a week

Despite years of muscle memory, I got used to the changes very quickly. I use a Trackballso that large, quick mouse movements are easy. You just spin the ball and the swing does the rest. Sending the mouse to the top corner to reveal the dock isn’t much different from hurtling it into the left edge of the screen.

The difference is the dock that was used to appear where you moved the cursor. So the cursor was there, waiting. To use the Dock on GNOME 40, you need to go to the hot corner and come back all the way to the bottom of the screen.

Partly because of this long round trip and partly because I’m more keyboard oriented, I hit the super key more often than I hit the hot corner. It’s less of a problem on a laptop. The three-finger upward gesture feels natural. I already use this on Chromebooks so it’s a well known action.

GNOME 40 is facing a lot of headwinds online, often from people who haven’t used it and swear to boycott it. After a week in the practice, I feel somewhat settled in. I assume that in another week I won’t notice the differences anymore.

Has it made me more productive? I did not notice. But it didn’t slow me down either. GNOME 40 is the new normal so give it a decent bang and I think you’ll be amazed at how quickly you adapt.

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