Part I. A Tour of the GNOME Desktop

Chapter 2. Overview of the GNOME Desktop

This chapter introduces you to the features and main components of the GNOME Desktop. Before you start to use the GNOME Desktop read this chapter to familiarize yourself with the various features, and how the main components work. The GNOME Desktop is very configurable, so this chapter describes the typical default configuration, covering the following topics.

Introducing GNOME Desktop Components

When you start a GNOME Desktop session for the first time, you should see a default startup screen, with panels, windows, and various icons.

The major components of the GNOME Desktop are as follows:


Panels are areas in the GNOME Desktop from which you can access all of your system applications and menus. Panels are very configurable.

A particularly important panel is the top edge panel. The top edge panel includes the Menu Bar. The Menu Bar contains two special menus, as follows:

  • Applications menu: Contains all applications and configuration tools. This menu also includes the file browser and the help browser.

  • Actions menu: Contains various commands that perform various functions, for example Search for Files and Log Out.

Click on the Window Selector icon at the extreme right of the top edge panel to display a list of all open windows.


You can access all GNOME Desktop functions through menus. You can use the Applications menu to access almost all of the standard applications, commands, and configuration options. You can access the Applications menu from the Main Menu and from the Menu Bar applet. You can add the Main Menu and the Menu Bar applet to your panels.

The Menu Bar applet contains an Actions menu. The Actions menu contains commands that perform various functions, for example Search for Files and Log Out. The items in the Actions menu are at the top level of the Main Menu.


You can display many windows at the same time. You can run different applications in each window. The window manager provides frames and buttons for windows. The window manager enables you to perform standard actions such as move, close, and resize windows.


You can subdivide the GNOME Desktop into separate workspaces. A workspace is a discrete area in which you can work. You can specify the number of workspaces in the GNOME Desktop. You can switch to a different workspace, but you can only display one workspace at a time.

Nautilus file manager

The Nautilus file manager provides an integrated access point to your files and applications. You can manage the contents of folders in the file manager and open the files in the appropriate applications.


The desktop is behind all of the other components on the desktop. The desktop is an active component of the user interface. You can place objects on the desktop to access your files and directories quickly, or to start applications that you use often. You can also right-click on the desktop to open a menu.


The GNOME Desktop contains dedicated preference tools. Each tool controls a particular part of the behavior of the GNOME Desktop. To start a preference tool, choose Applications->Desktop Preferences. Choose the item that you want to configure from the submenus.

The components of the GNOME Desktop are interoperable. Usually, you can perform the same action in several different ways. For example, you can start applications from panels, from menus, or from the desktop.

Your system administrator can make configuration changes to suit your needs, so that the GNOME Desktop that you use might not be exactly the same as described in this chapter. Nevertheless, this chapter provides a useful quick guide to how to work with the GNOME Desktop.