Status update of GNOME 3 in Debian experimental

Last week’s post generated a lot of interest so I will make a small update to keep you posted on the status of GNOME 3 in Debian experimental.

Experimental is not for everybody

But first let me reiterate this: GNOME 3 is in Debian experimental because it’s a work in progress. You should not install it if you can’t live with problems and glitches. Beware: once you upgraded to GNOME 3 it will be next to impossible to go back to GNOME 2.32 (you can try it, but it’s not officially supported by Debian). Even with the fallback mode, you won’t get the same experience than what you had with GNOME 2.32. Many applets are not yet ported to the newest gnome-panel API.

So do not upgrade to it if you’re not ready to deal with the consequences. It will come to Debian unstable and to Debian testing over time and it should be in a better shape at this point.

Good progress made

Most of the important modules have been updated to 3.0. You can see the progress here.

The exception is gdm, it still needs to be updated, the login screen looks quite ugly right now when using GNOME 3.

Frequently Asked Questions and Common Problems

Why do links always open in epiphany instead of iceweasel? You need to upgrade to the latest version on libglib2.0-0, gvfs and gnome-control-center in experimental. Then you can customize the default application used in the control center (under “System Information” > “Default applications”).

You might need to switch to iceweasel 4.0 in experimental to have iceweasel appear in the list of browsers. Or you can edit ~/.local/share/applications/mimeapps.list and put x-scheme-handler/http=iceweasel.desktop;epiphany.desktop; in the “Added Associations” section (replace the corresponding line if it already exists and lists epiphany only).

The theme looks ugly, and various icons are missing. Ensure that you have installed the latest version of gnome-themes-standard, gnome-icon-theme and gnome-icon-theme-symbolic.

The network icon in the Shell does not work. Ensure you have upgraded both network-manager-gnome and network-manager to the experimental version.

Some applications do not start at all. If an application loads GTK2 and GTK3, it exits immediately with a clear message on the standard error output (Gtk-ERROR **: GTK+ 2.x symbols detected. Using GTK+ 2.x and GTK+ 3 in the same process is not supported.). It usually means that one of the library used by that application uses a different version of GTK+ than the application itself. You should report those problems to the Debian bug tracking system if you find any.

Some people also reported failures of all GTK+ applications while using the Oxygen themes. Switching to another theme should help. BTW, the default theme in GNOME 3 is called Adwaita.

Where are my icons on the desktop? They are gone, it’s by design. But you can reenable them with gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.background show-desktop-icons true and starting nautilus (if it’s not already running). (Thanks to bronte for the information)

Why do I see all applications twice in the shell? The package menu-xdg generates a desktop file from the Debian menu information, those are in a menu entry that is hidden by default in the old GNOME menu. Gnome Shell doesn’t respect those settings and displays all .desktop files. Remove menu-xdg and you will get a cleaner list of applications.

APT pinning file for the brave

Since last week, we got APT 0.8.14 in unstable and it supports pattern matching for package name in pinning files. So I can give you a shorter and more complete pinning file thanks to this:

Package: *gnome* libglib2.0* *vte* *pulse* *peas* libgtk* *gjs* *gconf* *gstreamer* alacarte *brasero* cheese ekiga empathy* gdm3 gcalctool baobab *gucharmap* gvfs* hamster-applet *nautilus* seahorse* sound-juicer *totem* remmina vino gksu xdg-user-dirs-gtk dmz-cursor-theme eog epiphany* evince* *evolution* file-roller gedit* metacity *mutter* yelp* rhythmbox* banshee* system-config-printer transmission-* tomboy network-manager* libnm-* update-notifier shotwell liferea *software-properties* libunique-3.0-0 libseed-gtk3-0 libnotify* libpanel-applet-4-0 libgdata11 libcamel* libcanberra* libchamplain* libebackend* libebook* libecal* libedata* libegroupwise* libevent* gir1.2-* libxklavier16 python-gmenu libgdict-1.0-6 libgdu-gtk0
Pin: release experimental
Pin-Priority: 500

Package: *
Pin: release experimental
Pin-Priority: 150

Putting the file above in /etc/apt/preferences.d/gnome and having experimental enabled in /etc/apt/sources.list should be enough to enable “apt-get dist-upgrade” to upgrade to GNOME 3 in experimental.

But if you have packages depending on libimobiledevice1, you might have to wait until #620065 is properly fixed so that libimobiledevice2 is co-installable with libimobiledevice1.

Update: integrated the explanation to reenable the desktop icons thanks to bronte’s comment.

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  1. Thanks for progress report. Looking forward to test it, but not before you push it to SID. When you expected it’s ready for SID?

  2. Desktop icons can be turned on with
    gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.background show-desktop-icons true
    and starting nautilus (if it’s not already running).

  3. Anonymous says:

    For those of us with heavy panel customizations in GNOME 2, would you consider writing a post on how to edit GNOME 3 themes (since customizing the GNOME 3 “panel” requires a custom theme)?

    (You might also consider adding a note about customizing the fallback panel.)

  4. Thanks to all responsible for the APT pinning pattern matching, that is a useful feature that I have wished for more than once.

  5. Can i enable fallback mode if gnome-shell is not working? In text config?

    • If the GSettings command line tool works without a running GNOME session,
      gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.session session-name ‘gnome-fallback’
      should enable fallback mode.

  6. I am preparing right Gnome 3 from experimental running on qemu-kvm (if not working I will give a chance to VBox as well. The thing is I don’t know how all the 3D stuffs will be covered in virtual) and if succeed I would like to help with some testing at least! I am using Wheezy on a daily basis as desktop system, but I prefer install experimental on virtual to be on the safe side. I already started visiting #debian-gnome so tell me please what documentation should I start with if I would like to help. I don’t think I will have much time to go deep and involve in packaging (for now) so I would prefer to step in with functionality testing bug tracking etc.

    All the best!

    P.S. I completely agree with you that we can’t just take the packages form Ubuntu PPA, at least Ubuntu spouse to be Debian based so for such major branch of packages we can’t do it, we must actually be a good example to Debian based distributions.

    • Hello Martian, I don’t know what to suggest… it’s a bit early to file bugs when Gnome 3 has not been entirely packaged yet (unless you can do most of the investigation yourself). And I don’t know of any documentation that could be relevant for you.

  7. Gary van der Merwe says:

    I needed to add libevolution to the apt pinning.

  8. I am trying Gnome 3 (in fallback) on Debian and it is very light and fast. Just fantastic. I have the shell compiled on my Debian 6 install with my Gnome 2 apps for day to day use.

    I am glad that you have taken such and interest in getting Gnome 3 going Mr. Hertzog. Thank you!

  9. Hello Raphaël!

    please, do you know when Gnome 3 will be entirely ported do debian?

    On the status page we can see that many components are already outdated….


    • Hello Fenor, you will never see a list entirely green unless the number of Debian Gnome contributors doubles or more… the migration of Gnome 3 to unstable will happen even if not all package are up-to-date. But I don’t know yet when it will happen…

  10. Your pinning-list misses two things. First it doesn’t include libevolution, so I think evolution* should be changed to *evolution* and second there are problems because it misses libxklavier16 so you should add libxklavier* to the list.

    Thanks for that! You were a great help.

  11. Hi Raphael, this site is unusable in Midori. Maybe there’s something you can do to make it more compatible (I suspect some plugin is causing trouble as some blogspot sites behave the same way because of some plugins)?

    • Hi Sergio, I’ve installed midori from sid and it seems to work. It seems slow compared to iceweasel but it does work. What problem do you have?

      • I have Midori built from source in Debain sid (I update it constantly as I translate it). It has trouble in sites with many plugins and such but I suspect there are some specific things that put it on its knees. Unfortunately I can’t identify what as I’m not a web developer nor a programmer and even less a webkit specialist.
        At least in my old Athlon XP it takes veery long to load, the CPU keeps in 100% and it’s almost impossible to scroll (then I have to close otherwise this poor CPU would overheat ;-)
        Chrome works just fine (I’m posting from it now) as does Firefox.
        I may tell that to its developer as he works with webkit too, I think. He may be well aware of those limitations but maybe there’s something he can do.

  12. I’m posting this again as it got lost the first time (noscript, maybe).
    I installed GNOME 3 but had to remove *pulse* from the pinning because libpulse0 from experimental depends on a package not present in i386/amd64 repositories.
    Today I installed gnome-core and had to get libgdict-1.0-6, libgdu-gtk0 and python-gmenu from experimental.
    Just a feedback in case it helps.

    • gir1.2-* and libcanberra* have moved to unstable so they have to be removed from the pinning to experimental.

  13. guillermo says:

    Where is the place to report erros with packaging of gnome 3? I had some errors with this installation (packages trying to overwrite other content packages)

  14. Guillermo says:

    I made the upgrade today. After reboot, gdm3 screen appear, but I couldn’t login. I don’t have any text area to write password and I couldn’t see user list

  15. I’m currently using GNOME3 from experimental on my home machine, while using GNOME2 in the office. I’m wondering how or when GNOME3 can enter Debian sid/wheezy. The main problem is, that many Debian users use testing or even unstable on their desktop and expect it to work. GNOME3 is an interesting design study, but IMHO it is far from being usable for most people at this moment. As long as GNOME3 just replaces GNOME2 (no parallel install possible), Debian should not (yet) replace GNOME2 with GNOME3 before at least GNOME 3.2. Debian experimental gives us, however, a good testing ground that people can use to make their first steps on the slippery GNOME3 ground.

    • GNOME 3 enters sid piecewise alrdeady when possible. When all the packages that can be moved individually have been integrated in sid, then the rest will be uploaded in block.

      I think it’s going to be ok, the fallback mode is close enough to what you could get in 2.32 so even if you don’t like the shell, you can still keep using the fallback mode.

      • Well, in cases where it’s a matter of taste and when it’s about insufficient hardware, the fallback mode might be OK (I didn’t yet try it, I confess).

        But currently, GNOME3/gnome-shell is, at least the version currently in experimental, a huge step back in terms of funcionality. E.g. many standard features of GNOME2 are not yet available in GNOME3 or they are in extensions not yet packaged for Debian. While typical things, like hibernating the PC or changing an icon or changing the colour of the panel, where one, two mouse clicks away in GNOME2, one has now to edit config files, install extensions from git repositories etc.

        It would be more in line with DSC#4 to let GNOME3 go to testing, when the most annoying problems of GNOME3 are fixed (these fixes are on the GNOME roadmap for 3.2), and important extensions are available as Debian package.

        • Hi Martin,

          Actually I don’t think that anybody who loves the old GNOME2 look and feel, and features would do any upgrades at all. I mean everybody is free to use as much as older software he likes even if it’s not maintained as a package then can be compiled from source. :) You know that you can even compile your own distributions those days.

  16. Fernandos says:

    Only one wish that I have is that you make telepathy optional.
    I hate it. I use pidgin since 2007 and it has not bugged me since then, that’s why I don’t want to replace it.

    I don’t know if that’s already possible, you probably know how the awesome wm is tiling windows and that you have full keyboard control. I like the idea but not the keyboard combos. Maybe you’ve a better idea on howto tile consoles :P hehe

  17. I was first introduced to GNOME 3 when our systems at work were upgraded to Fedora 15. I found it to be a shock and wrote a blog posting about how to restore my old, familiar desktop called Why I hate GNOME 3.0 at Many of you will find things to love about this article.

    But then I gave GNOME 3 a shot and wrote Why I love GNOME 3.0 at Reading this article before your GNOME 3 upgrade will soften the experience.

    Finally, I wrote So what replaces the desktop metaphor? at If you have a better or authoritative answer, please let me know!

    Hope these help!

  18. Gnome 3.2 is out, hope to see it soon in experimental.
    I’ve been able to install gnome-shell over a testing installation thanks to your indication. My preferences are currently

    Package: *cogl* *glx* gir1* gnome* gstreamer0.10* gvfs* python-gmenu libclutter* libgdu-gtk0 libgl* nautilus* network-manager* telepathy*
    Pin: release a=experimental
    Pin-Priority: 992

    Package: *cogl* *glx* gir1* gnome* gstreamer0.10* gvfs* python-gmenu libclutter* libgdu-gtk0 libgl* nautilus* network-manager* telepathy*
    Pin: release a=unstable
    Pin-Priority: 991

    Package: *
    Pin: release a=testing
    Pin-Priority: 990

    Package: *
    Pin: release a=unstable
    Pin-Priority: 501

    Package: *
    Pin: release a=experimental
    Pin-Priority: 100


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