GNOME 43 beta desktop
Dave McKay / How-To Geek

GNOME 43 was released on September 21, 2022, bringing with it several changes and improvements. Here’s what’s new in this popular Linux desktop environment preinstalled on many Linux distributions.

GNOME 43

GNOME is one of the most popular graphical desktop environments on Linux. Practically every distribution has a release featuring GNOME. Imagine the impact then, when the GNOME developers shook things up—to put it mildly—with GNOME 40. It changed the desktop paradigm from a vertical one to a horizontal one and changed the look, feel, and functionality of, amongst other things, the dock, the activities view, and workplaces.

Releases 41 and 42 were much smaller in impact, concentrating on polishing the interface and ironing out wrinkles that remained after the iconoclastic changes to GNOME 40. GNOME 43 is more of the same. Don’t expect major changes this time round.

That’s not to say it is inconsequential. There are the expected subtle cosmetic touches, with more applications adopting a deeper integration with the libadwaita theming engine. But there’s also new functionality, including the Files file browser being enhanced. It is now adaptive and will give a better user experience on mobile devices.

GNOME 43 rolled out to the public on the expected launch date of September 21, 2022. Fedora 37 is slated to use GNOME 43, and so will Ubuntu 22.10. Rolling distributions based on Arch such as Garuda Linux, Manjaro Linux, and EndeavourOS are picking it up as well.

If you want to have a look at GNOME 43 without changing or upgrading your operating system, you can download it from the GNOME website and run it in GNOME Boxes. Note that it’ll only work in the version of Boxes you can install from Flathub. To be clear, this isn’t a distribution, it’s just the minimum operating system you need to have a working GNOME desktop environment for evaluation purposes.

Files File Browser (Nautilus)

There are cosmetic tweaks throughout GNOME 43. They bring a more cohesive and unified look to the desktop and applications and, although some of them might even go unnoticed by the casual user, they give a consistent look to the user interface.

GNOME 43 File browser with close button and address bar highlighted

Rounded corners are applied to more interface elements than before, and the spacing between the text elements has been increased slightly. The close button has a more defined circle around it.

The changes to the Files file browser are more than simply cosmetic. It now adapts its interface to the dimensions of its window. This is similar to the way well-behaved websites adjust themselves seamlessly when they detect they’re on a mobile device or a full-sized computer.

Dragging the window into a narrower shape eventually triggers the removal of the sidebar.

GNOME 43 File browser with the sidebar auto-removed

The sidebar can be accessed by clicking the “Show Sidebar” toolbar icon.

GNOME 43 File browser with the sidebar recalled by using the "Show Sidebar" button

When you’ve finished with the sidebar you can dismiss it by clicking anywhere in the main application window.

Right-click a file or directory and select “Star” from the context menu to star, or favorite, it. Clicking on the “Starred” option in the sidebar shows all of your starred entries.

GNOME 43 File browser showing "starred" files and directories

“Floating” badges or emblems are used to indicate properties or characteristics of the files and directories.

Accents Colors and the Recoloring API

It was the intention to include user-definable accent colors, similar to the way that they were introduced in Ubuntu 22.04. This would let the user pick the color they want menu highlight selection bars and other color-based visual feedback motifs to use. We couldn’t find it in either of the beta versions we tested, though it may appear in a later build.

Another color-based initiative that might make the cut is the “Recoloring API.” Similar to the way that the global light mode or dark mode setting was exposed to application developers so that they could write their applications to respect a single global setting, the recoloring API will let developers write their applications to respect the color choices of the user. They’ll be able to do things like detect the selected accent color and ensure the text in menu selections has a suitable contrast so that it can still be read.

To see this in action we’ll need the application developers to have access to, and become familiar with, the API. So although this might make the cut and be included in the final release, it’s unlikely we’ll see applications taking advantage of this for some while.

GNOME Web Browser (Epiphany)

The GNOME web browser, Epiphany, has had some attention too. An option has been added to the right-click context menu that allows you to view the source code for the webpage you’re viewing.

A more significant enhancement to the web browser is the ability to use Firefox extensions. After a little human intervention, an “Extensions” option appeared in the hamburger menu.

The "Extensions" option in the hamburger menu in the Web browser

To get this working in the beta version required downloading a specific flatpak build and using the terminal to tell Web to use extensions. It was a clunky process. Presumably, in the final release, these manual steps won’t be required.

Even then, because the Firefox extension webpage knows you’re not really using Firefox, it doesn’t allow you to install an extension directly from the site. You have to download the extension file, navigate to it in your Files browser, right-click it, and select “Open With Web (Epiphany)” from the context menu.

Again, it was a little clunky, but it worked. We could install and use FIrefox extensions.

A Firefox extension installed in the GNOME 43 Web browser

RELATED:How to Install Extensions (Add-ons) in Mozilla Firefox

Another Step in a Worthwhile Direction

While there are plenty of small refinements in the interface, and some additional functionality in some of the applications, the bulk of what makes GNOME 43 interesting is hidden under the hood.

The ongoing work to allow application developers to tap into the libadwaita engine through such initiatives as the recoloring API will eventually yield a more unified look and feel to applications designed for GNOME, and a better experience for the GNOME user. Well-behaved applications will sensibly follow global color-related settings, and light and dark mode settings.

If GNOME 43 was this year’s model of an automobile, you’d see some small tweaks and changes to the dashboard when you climbed in. That might leave you feeling a little underwhelmed. You wouldn’t see the improvements unless you checked out the enhancements to the engine and drive train.

GNOME 43 won’t blow you away with new eye candy or toys. Rather, it should be viewed as another well-engineered step along the path toward the GNOME project’s vision for its clean, functional, and multiplatform desktop environment.

RELATED:How to Install and Use Another Desktop Environment on Linux

Profile Photo for Dave McKayDave McKay
Dave McKay first used computers when punched paper tape was in vogue, and he has been programming ever since. After over 30 years in the IT industry, he is now a full-time technology journalist. During his career, he has worked as a freelance programmer, manager of an international software development team, an IT services project manager, and, most recently, as a Data Protection Officer. His writing has been published by  howtogeek.com, cloudsavvyit.com, itenterpriser.com, and opensource.com. Dave is a Linux evangelist and open source advocate.
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