Clean up and improve Ubuntu / Gnome (Overview)

Hello and good Monday to all!

I need to talk about some obvious problems in Ubuntu/Gnome and maybe solutions. And of course I know that some of them are already discussed, but till now they are still present. In addition, other distributions are far ahead in usability. So lets at least talk through some possible points, because an LTS release is in front of us and I have the feeling we have a lot of motivated people these days!

Since Ubuntu uses Gnome as the base, the Ubuntu/Canonical team is also on the Gnome board - so maybe we CAN also change some of the points coming from Gnome. And I hope this will not just bring us more discussions, but a to-do list followed by actions. Because the deeper I dive into the matter, the more I understand why the Linux desktop has not made it to this day. And that is also because nobody feels obliged to repair or improve some things (for years sometimes). This is often annoying and unpleasant work, but should not it still be worth it?

There is no particular rank, I simply collected them over time from personal use, but also from research and third-party testing. Quick info about me: I’m working on the 18.04 Communitytheme and I’m also experienced in design, usability and bringing the two things together in my work life.

Clean up the apps/programs:

Core message here is, that the ordinary user is confused by the apps delivered.
Having a look at the apps launcher is presenting a lot of apps/programs no user should see in the front row. And there is a folder named “Utilities”, so why not having another folder like “System”?

What to include in the “System” app folder?

  • Input Method (move it into the settings and rework it? how important is that app overall?)
  • Language Support (move it into the settings!)
  • Power Statistics (move it into the settings!)
  • Software and Updates (why is that still here anyway and not in settings?)
  • Startup Applications (or into settings?)
  • maybe even more…

What to include in the “Utilities” app folder?

  • Terminal
  • Make Startup Disk
  • Remmina (why is that pre-installed?)

Or at least throw all of them into the “Utilities” app folder. And rethink if everything is really necessary (what is it about that “Image Magick” app? Please go away…). Thanks!


Gnome has system-wide gestures and multitouch for touchscreens and touchpads. But on my Acer V3 laptop from 2016 only two finger gestures work (Synaptics or ELANTECH with 4 points minimum in Win10). This is probably a manufacturer driver problem, but it is also a big usability problem on laptops and similar devices/inputs and throws the Linux Desktop even further backward, especially against the mighty competition. So, solutions?

Google Drive / Backup and Sync:

I, like a lot of people and companies, use Google in my daily life on my phone and my pc for work and private stuff. I collaborate a lot with other people via Google Drive and sync a lot of files with it. This is a common way of working for millions and it grows and grows.
The integration of Drive in Gnome Files is not working at all (only for me?), it just shows a blank loading page till I close it. So, why is Google using Linux, but is not contributing a “Backup and Sync” client? Since everything is heading into the web, this is and should be a big opportunity for Ubuntu.
So, solutions?

  • Maybe just one: One of the heads of Canonical / Ubuntu should get in touch directly with those responsible at Google. Maybe that’s really the only way. Take Linux seriously as a productive system! If even Chrome OS can do it better …

Files and NAS/Network folder:

As a professional user, I have to handle a lot of files and I separate them in different places. There is the internal hard drive, Google Drive, FTP folders and NAS folders. I can easy set them up to be in the bookmarks in the “Files” app, but one thing always destroys my workflow: That the connection must first be established. Start the pc and load the last file in LibreOffice on the NAS? No, first go to “Files” and click on the bookmark. Listen to music? No, first go to “Files” and click on the bookmark. A problem no Windows user has for a decade…
So, solutions?

  • Maybe separate network from web/FTP services and always connect network drives.
  • Don’t handle it like a real drive. It is not. It is an always there network/web folder. There is no need anymore to handle this like back in 2005. Do we really have to mount/unmount them manually every time? Why?
  • Suggestions?

Root Copy/Paste and open files with root:

Every time I have to paste something into a root only folder, I wonder why I just can’t do it and then be asked for the password. I have to use the terminal, or? And when I want to edit something in a root only folder? Open it via terminal… There ARE better ways. And maybe “Open in terminal” on right click in folders should only be visible when for example pressing “strong” or “alt” or “shift”. At least this is a problem just for a few people… and if there is a way to handle that without terminal, then he is obviously not obvious.


Did you find it? It is there, but well hidden. Like you need to be worthy to find it. This is one really obvious user experience flaw in Gnome, because most people will never find out on their own how this is working. Seems like a compromise to have three, not four buttons. Because it doesn’t look so neat.
So, solutions?

  • EDIT: Maybe this is because of the hardware manufacturer driver?
  • Include at least a hibernate button to the “shutdown” window (when clicking on shutdown in status menu).
  • Include a fourth button in the status menu next to settings, lock and shut down (and destroy the holy trinity, I know, or just put the settings somewhere else).
  • FINALLY upgrade the status menu to be more helpful and offer more functions. Like making the user more present, having switches for example nightlight and maybe include the multi-monitor and so on and separate the “logout” button. And by the way, also put the language switch from the top panel in here.

Teach the system:

Like in other distributions and also like it was in Unity, maybe we could bring up a “First Start” screen with a quick visual (just pictures and text) introduction to the new system.
Just to explain the main points quickly:

  • EDIT: Maye will come back as fork from other systems?
  • How to open an app?
  • How to use the “Activities”?
  • How to use the status menu (and of course how to hibernate…)?
  • How to make a screenshot?
  • How to use touchpad gestures?
  • Useful shortcuts
  • Some more useful stuff…

Just a few pages to click thru and will show the user a certain maturity and teach some shortcuts. I can contribute input and help here.

Updates and Driver:

“Software Update” or “Ubuntu Software Center” for updates? Choose, don’t confuse. And rework the “Software Center” sometime. And what is it with “Software and Updates”? Why not implementing that into the settings and/or the software center? And of course: Nvidia. !?!?

Open images:

Why open them with “Image Viewer”? The “Shotwell Image Viewer” is quite the same AND you can edit them. The “Image Viewer” is a nicer way to show you pictures, but as long as you can’t edit them it is just confusing and people have to click and search more to edit pictures.

Application menu in top bar:

Often just don’t make sense and confuses, should maybe be included in the settings/options button most apps have and/or into the right-click menu on the dock. This is an obvious Gnome 2 compromise we finally should get rid of.

Apps launcher:

Confusing at first, because you’re right in the “Frequent” and you need to click on “All” for all apps. That separation is too strict and so not very helpful. I would suggest something like the first line is always the “Frequent” apps and after a separation line, you find “All” apps. And if the app launcher is open in Ubuntu and you then press Esc, you end up in Activities.


Since having an Ubuntu Dock, I want a single important function: when an app is open and I left click on the icon in the Dock, the app should minimize. Please!

And: Can it be possible to have a trash icon (like an app) in the Dock - and it also works like the trash? And so get rid of the trash on the desktop. Yes, like macOS does it.
How / Yes / No??

And some people get upset because there is no “show desktop” button anymore.

Installing Apps/Programs:

This is just still not good at all. Copy with terminal and then what… NO regular user can or will do that. Maybe this problem will go away with the snap system, at least I hope. Also something we can learn from mac…

Like many others (~40%!) I use Chrome as my standard browser, but can you find it in the software center? This may is a Google problem, but why not taking care of that to be helpful…

I guess there are more points and problems and if it were up to me, I would like to work on every single point until we catch up to other major OS and distributions and then go further and improve the system more and more. I’m often tired of seeing others do it better, but the maybe biggest distribution can not? This can’t be right. So let’s start cleaning up and then we can start to improve.

Much has happened the last few months and new motivation has grown. Please let us use that and work together to go more than one step further. The first steps can be read above. And if someone just wants to scold or give useless comments, please go somewhere else. I’m serious and I want to make the system look nicer, be easier, and work better.

It’s hard to keep working on something that the community has sometimes spurned after all those years. But it is Ubuntu that forms the base for a lot of systems and that is precisely why the system should be further and further improved. And of course for us all!

Thanks, Stefan


Not a good way of working with upstream by calling things you don’t like about their design, flaws! I doubt if you’re going to get such wide-scale changes made. Gnome as a project, has decided on the basics of their design philosophies.
IF you dislike GnomeShell/GTK3 defaults so much, why not make your own DE or Theme engine?

1 Like

I hope they cleanup Ubuntu like you mentioned. I agree that these FLAWS need to be addressed.


Main feedback: Remember that the Ubuntu team is tiny compared to competitors. The entirety of Canonical is <500 people and most of those are working on server and iot. This means it’s very important to use the resources we have strategically.

Sidenote: That’s why it’s important to not fork and to fix stuff upstream because Ubuntu doesn’t have the resources to do everything themselves.

teach the system

This is actually an Ubuntu issue, not a Gnome one, Gnome has a “new user” tutorial, but Ubuntu disables it because it duplicates some of the functionality of the Ubuntu installer. System76 and elementary are working on a new installer, maybe they are fixing this? The best course of action here seems to be to watch that project and make sure Ubuntu can switch to their installer when it’s ready.


Does your laptop support 3+ finger gestures on windows? But I honestly believe that we shouldn’t focus on hardware support too much because this is very labour intensive with very little gain (few weeks of work for support of one additional touchpad) There are enough vendors who support Linux like Dell, entroware and system76. Nobody complains that OSX doesn’t run well on Windows laptops.


Lots of UX research has shown that hibernate confuses users. + There are no good standards for the OS to put the laptop in hibernate. Because of that, it works badly on many laptops and this will be the case until laptop manufacturers write Linux drivers. So hiding hibernate is actually good in my opinion.

File management as root

+1, this is an issue. Get in touch with the nautilus/files developer of upstream Gnome project if you want to see this fixed.

Updates and Ubuntu software

Yes, many issues here. I think these are most pressing because this is what every new user comes in contact with the most. I know many people personally who have been put off by the state of software installation/update

Software availability is a hard one (putting chrome in the software store) but it’s being worked on by the snappy team, and you’re already seeing some effect. The biggest issue I see there is that the documentation is HORRIBLE. Many people are put off creating a snap package because the docs are so bad/nonexistent. A discourse forum is not an alternative for docs. Of they can fix that, we might have a solution there.

Left click minimize app


Open images

Yes! Yes! Yes!

I thought for a while Ubuntu just couldn’t crop images. However, shotwell is buggy and unmaintained. I think the solution here is to switch to Gnome Photos. The biggest issue here is that Gnome photos uses tracker, and tracker caused bad battery life and performance issues in the past. This might be fixed in the latest release though, there is a discussion on this forum about that.


apps launcher “frequent” issues

Good suggestion!


My only bug bite is that the app grid isn’t very “responsive” and It’s very strict with truncating program names. On my laptop (1280x720) it looks compressed and the app icons being so close together makes it hard to quickly and clearly distinguish each one and names get shortened instead of being continued on another line (like Unity :upside_down_face:). On a large monitor there’s the same number of columns which leads to a lot more space between columns but there’s still the problem of program names being cut off so it just feels like wasted space. Thankfully, I’m not the only one who’s noticed this as there’s been bug reports over the years and this one is the most recently active.

It looks like the only thing missing is a design for how the solution to the problem would work.


I agree that Remmina and xterm/uxterm needs to be removed from the ISO.


They are no longer installed by default as of Ubuntu 17.10. If you upgraded from a previous release (or even an earlier preview of 17.10), they are probably still installed, but you can uninstall it if you want.

sudo apt remove xterm


Some elements you are talking about are worked on.

For instance, your “teach upstream” tutorial was one of the subject of the GNOME UX Hackfest some days ago ( you can read about it in the blog of system76, as Cassidy James was a part of this hackfest) . The App Launcher is also being reworked, you can see some of the ideas in the hackfest special github repository. They have some interesting ideas about the App Launcher, like for instance using a more spacial metaphor.

For the Application menu in top bar, it was one of the topics they wanted to talk in the same UX2017 hackfest, but they didn’t (as they had several larger topics). So maybe it’ll become a large topic, but killing an important part of the design isn’t something that happen like that, so there will be discussions and stuff. But it’s an idea that exist inside the GNOME community, there are many different opinions inside the community.

About opening images, I think that an image viewer and editor don’t have to be the same (and as it’s how it works in Windows, I think that many user won’t have many problem). A long term goal of GNOME is adding some file opening capacities to Photos (that already can handle some simple non-destructive edits).

I think that maybe connecting a bit with the GNOME design community could be interesting for you, with diplomacy of course because for discussing it’s always better :stuck_out_tongue:

And about your talk about the “biggest distributions” : most of the open source community projects are understaffed. Even GNOME would need more people for doing several work (code-wise and non-code-wise), and they have paid work support from Endless, Red Hat, Canonical, System76, SuSE and more. Making a desktop is really big task, and I feel that for what we have, we (as the open-source community, I’m not (yet ?) a member of the GNOME Project) are already doing a great work. We can do better, of course, but it’s important to remember with what constraint we all work on.


Another suggestion: In the overview/window spread, the location of the windows relative to each other should mimic the location of the windows on the desktop itself. That will make it a lot easier to switch between similar-looking windows.

There used to be an extension that mimicked this behavior, but I can’t find it anymore.


Sorry if this is the wrong wording, English is not my native language and I don’t think of it as an error or a mistake or that I don’t appreciate the work. Gnome is for me (now) the best, easiest and well developed/stable base we have as a Linux Desktop for everyday people (also like me!).

Also, it is very close to being a standard not only for a lot of other distributions but for the Linux Desktop itself. That is why I pointed that out. A good system is good, because it improves itself by taking advantage of different influences and consider these influences. So, I thought it is easier for everybody to test and to write down what I found.

I already work on the new Communitheme with a great team to improve the 18.04 Ubuntu theme and it is NOT my intention to fork stuff (this makes it worse in my opinion). It is my intention to improve the base and the overall experience for us all.

Thanks a lot for your message, I did read all of the Hackfest and I’m happy they are working on a lot of nice stuff! It seems they will make progress, but it also seems that this will take a lot of time. Like @merlijn-sebrechts mentioned for Ubuntu and @kazhnuz did for Gnome, it seems the Gnome team is also not big enough to handle everything - and it is quite a task to compete big companies with thousands of employees.

So, maybe the question is: How to bring more developers to Gnome? :thinking:

Like said, I do understand. I really do! I appreciate and I’m very thankful, that a lot of good people take care of it. But some of my points are not that complicated but will have an impact. Like organizing the apps in the launcher. It’s not about telling the Gnome team what they have done wrong (because that’s not true at all!), it is about talking about how people work and what can be done to improve that experience. Step by step.

Even if I repeat myself: I want a great system for all of us. Not just for the developer, not just for the nerd or the gamer. Not just for the experts and the community. For all of us. The everyday people. The working people. And I just do not want to wait and hear why some things cannot be implemented.

I will also try to contact people at the Gnome project, let’s see what happens :slight_smile:
Greetings, Stefan


Agree 100%. And it’s a good idea to reach out to them. Feel free to post links here, so we can join the conversation.



As a ‘ubuntu desktop’ user,I expect the global menu come back more.In many ‘GTK+’ programs,these menus can’t be migrated to the simplified menu in the top bar.Maybe it’s a good idea to remove that.And another advice,I hardly find a mouse speed control setting.Is it possible to add to the next release?


Some other things I would like to add:

Top panel:
It does not make sense to display program shortcuts in the top panel (for example the vlc player). Since the introduction of the dock that functionality is redundant and confusing to the user. The open programs should only be displayed in the side dock.

I miss the functionality of unity to switch between open instances of a program by using scrolling when the mouse button is over the program on the dock.

Thread Closed.

Piling on gripes and complaints (and hijacking the discussion with new gripes and complaints) are not useful contributions to improve Ubuntu.

You are welcome to discuss specific problems or issues here, of course.
Such threads should work at defining the problem, discussing solutions, and organizing the effort.

If you wish to migrate a post about a specific issue to a new thread and restart discussion, happy to help: Just PM me.