GNOME 44’s Background Apps: A Step Forward or a Step Too Far?

One of the highlights of the upcoming GNOME 44 release is the new Background Apps feature. But is it for good?

GNOME and KDE are the most popular desktop environments in Linux, so the open-source community eagerly anticipates each new release. With just over three weeks until GNOME 44, scheduled to be released on March 22, the race to hype its new features has continued.

One of them, however, caught our attention: the new Background Apps functionality. So first, let’s briefly explain what it is all about.

What Are GNOME Background Apps?

GNOME 44 Desktop Environment
GNOME 44 Desktop Environment

Let me be honest: I was sure hell had begun to freeze over when this new feature appeared on GNOME GitLab a few weeks ago with the first sample screen.

Why? Because, too naively, at first, I thought GNOME was bringing back the thing that all GNOME fans had been praying for – the removed system tray functionality. However, after a few minutes, I realized how naive I was. So here’s what it is all about.

GNOME Background Apps is a new feature that will debut in GNOME 44, representing the ability to stop desktop applications running in the background via Quick Settings.

In other words, you can’t open the app by clicking on its name, which would imply system tray functionality. No, that would be too nice. So instead, you only have an “X” button that immediately terminates the app running in the background. So now, let’s ponder this “awesome” new GNOME feature.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The good – there is none. I couldn’t make sense of the option that GNOME developers gave me to instantly terminate my desktop applications running in the background, such as Discord, Skype, Telegram, Dropbox, mail client, torrent client, and so on.

At the same time, imagine how one of the first extensions every GNOME user installs, one to restore system tray functionality to get things back to normal, shows a list of applications that GNOME suggests you terminate a little further down. Isn’t it an odd situation?

Moreover, what is the difference in the result between the two approaches shown in the image below if I want to stop the application running in the background?

GNOME System Monitor
GNOME System Monitor

Let me tell you – none. But, of course, it is still quite another to show these apps like a wall of shame in a prominent place with only one option for them – stop it.

I almost forgot to mention GNOME developers’ great humor in picking the icon for this functionality – ghost. There couldn’t be a more positive comparison.

I’m trying to say that GNOME isn’t offering us another “amazing” feature; instead, it shows its open intolerance of us having applications running in the background and indirectly recommends we stop them. And GNOME goes too far in this crusade.

So, for those desperate dreamers like me who believe that common sense will prevail and the day will come when the native system tray functionality will be brought back to GNOME – only in our dreams.

Running desktop apps in the background is one of the few concepts that has been a cornerstone of every desktop operating system for the past two decades. They are a constant, a must-have component for a complete user experience, the lack of which is unthinkable for virtually every computer user.

Companies such as Microsoft and Apple are heavily investing in departments of highly skilled professionals who study and deal with UI interfaces and user behaviors.

In addition, KDE, MATE, Cinnamon, Budgie, or every other free desktop environment, rely on desktop applications running in the background and displaying them in the system tray.

GNOME, however, despite everything and everyone, thinks differently. But while another company, betting on the same, emphasizes the “think,” GNOME instead relies on “differently.” Sadly, without the first word, the result is unacceptable, to say the least.

Conclusion

GNOME Background Apps is a feature that can be met with mixed feelings. It duplicates things that can be done via System Monitor for a long time.

At the same time, it demonstrates GNOME developers’ strong intolerance to the desktop applications running in the background – a foundational functionality in all desktop environments and operating systems for the last 20+ years. We leave it to our readers to decide which points of view are right here.

At the same time, GNOME is a full-fledged desktop environment in every meaning of the word. You can clearly see the developers’ attention and focus in every detail, as well as the enormous amount of work they put into it.

The paradox is that it is only a few changes away to transform the vanilla GNOME experience from hard-to-use to the best. But, unfortunately, its developers continue to dig in the wrong direction, with little regard for user expectations and needs. So, go, GNOME, go!

Bobby Borisov

Bobby Borisov

Bobby, an editor-in-chief at Linuxiac, is a Linux professional with over 20 years of experience. With a strong focus on Linux and open-source software, he has worked as a Senior Linux System Administrator, Software Developer, and DevOps Engineer for small and large multinational companies.

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4 Comments

  1. I question the assertion that “every GNOME user” installs an extension to add system tray functionality. I have never done that and never felt the need to.

    • I like System Tray Functionality. But it’s quite alright as an extension. I don’t feel like Gnome is sensibly useable without at least some extensions, it’s just another one.

  2. What an overexaggerative article. You’re complaining that Gnome developed one feature instead of this other feature that you really wanted? What?!
    Being able to easily close background apps without searching through a list of a bunch of processes is very useful to me. A feature doesn’t have to be amazing to be useful.
    Lastly, you gave no reason to the assertion that Gnome hates users running background apps. This might be true considering they removed the system tray, but adding a feature to close background apps doesn’t necessarily necessarily imply this.

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