Pop Shell is a keyboard-driven layer for GNOME Shell which allows for quick and sensible navigation and management of windows. The core feature of Pop Shell is the addition of advanced tiling window management a feature that has been highly-sought within our community. For many ourselves included i3wm has become the leading competitor to the GNOME desktop. Tiling window management in GNOME is virtually nonexistent, which makes the desktop awkward to interact with when your needs exceed that of two windows at a given time. Luckily, GNOME Shell is an extensible desktop with the foundations that make it possible to implement a tiling window manager on top of the desktop. Therefore, we see an opportunity here to advance the usability of the GNOME desktop to better accomodate the needs of our community with Pop Shell. Advanced tiling window management is a must for the desktop, so we've merged i3-like tiling window management with the GNOME desktop for the best of both worlds.
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A proposal for integration of the tiling window management features from Pop Shell into GNOME is currently under development. It will be created as a GitLab issue on GNOME Shell for future discussion, once we have invested our time into producing a functioning prototype, and learned what does and does not work in practice. Ideally, the features explored in Pop Shell will be available for any environment using Mutter far extending the half-monitor tiling capability currently present. By starting out as a shell extension, anyone using GNOME Shell can install this onto their system, without having to install a Pop-specific fork of GNOME on their system.
So, why is this a problem for us, and why do so many of our users switch to i3wm?
Displays are large, and windows are many
GNOME currently only supports half-tiling, which tiles one window to one side of the screen, and another window to the other side of the screen. If you have more than two windows, it is expected to place them on separate workspaces, monitors, or to alternate between windows with
Tab. This tends to work fine if you only have a small handful of applications. If you need more than two windows at a time on a display, your only option is to manually drag windows into position, and resize them to fit alongside each other a very time-consuming process that could easily be automated and streamlined.
Displays are large. Very, very large
Suppose you are a lucky or perhaps unlucky owner of an ultra-wide display. A maximized window will have much of its preferences and controls dispersed across the far left and far right corners. The application may place a panel with buttons on the far left, while other buttons get shifted to either the distant center, or far right. Half-tiling in this scenario means that each window will be as large as an entire 2560x1440 or 4K display. In either scenario, at such extreme sizes, the mouse becomes completely useless and applications become unbearable to use in practice.
Fighting the window manager is futile
As you struggle with fighting the window manager, it quickly becomes clear that any attempt to manage windows in a traditional stacking manner where you need to manually move windows into place, and then manually resize them is futile. Humans are nowhere near as precise or as quick as algorithms at aligning windows alongside at each other on a display.
Why not switch to i3wm?
The GNOME desktop comes with many useful desktop integration features, which are lost when switching to an i3wm session. Although possible to connect various GNOME session services to an i3wm session, much of the GNOME desktop experience is still lost in the process. The application overview, the GNOME panel, and GNOME extensions. Even worse, many users are completely unfamiliar with tiling window managers, and may never feel comfortable switching "cold turkey" to one. By offering tiling window management as feature which can be opted into, we can empower the user to ease into gaining greater control over their desktop, so that the idea of tiling window management suddenly becomes accessible. There are additionally those who do want the traditional stacking window management experience, but they also want to be able to opt into advanced tiling window management, too. So it should be possible to opt into tiling window management as necessary. Other operating systems have successfully combined tiling window management features with the traditional stacking window management experience, and we feel that we can do this with GNOME as well..