GNOME maintainers: here’s how to keep your issue tracker in good shape

One of the goals of the new GNOME project handbook is to provide effective guidelines for contributors. Most of the guidelines are based on recommendations that GNOME already had, which were then improved and updated. These improvements were based on input from others in the project, as well as by drawing on recommendations from elsewhere.

The best example of this effort was around issue management. Before the handbook, GNOME’s issue management guidelines were seriously out of date, and were incomplete in a number of areas. Now we have shiny new issue management guidelines which are full of good advice and wisdom!

The state of our issue trackers matters. An issue tracker with thousands of open issues is intimidating to a new contributor. Likewise, lots of issues without a clear status or resolution makes it difficult for potential contributors to know what to do. My hope is that, with effective issue management guidelines, GNOME can improve the overall state of its issue trackers.

So what magic sauce does the handbook recommend to turn an out of control and burdensome issue tracker into a source of calm and delight, I hear you ask? The formula is fairly simple:

  • Review all incoming issues, and regularly conduct reviews of old issues, in order to weed out reports which are ambiguous, obsolete, duplicates, and so on
  • Close issues which haven’t seen activity in over a year
  • Apply the “needs design” and “needs info” labels as needed
  • Close issues that have been labelled “need info” for 6 weeks
  • Issues labelled “needs design” get closed after 1 year of inactivity, like any other
  • Recruit contributors to help with issue management

To some readers this is probably controversial advice, and likely conflicts with their existing practice. However, there’s nothing new about these issue management procedures. The current incarnation has been in place since 2009, and some aspects of them are even older. Also, personally speaking, I’m of the view that effective issue management requires taking a strong line (being strong doesn’t mean being impolite, I should add – quite the opposite). From a project perspective, it is more important to keep the issue tracker focused than it is to maintain a database of every single tiny flaw in its software.

The guidelines definitely need some more work. There will undoubtedly be some cases where an issue needs to be kept open despite it being untouched for a year, for example, and we should figure out how to reflect that in the guidelines. I also feel that the existing guidelines could be simplified, to make them easier to read and consume.

I’d be really interested to hear what changes people think are necessary. It is important for the guidelines to be something that maintainers feel that they can realistically implement. The guidelines are not set in stone.

That said, it would also be awesome if more maintainers were to put the current issue management guidelines into practice in their modules. I do think that they represent a good way to get control of an issue tracker, and this could be a really powerful way for us to make GNOME more approachable to new contributors.

Announcing the GNOME Project Handbook

I’m a firm believer in the importance of documentation for open source projects, particularly when it comes to onboarding new contributors. To attract and retain contributors, you need good docs.

Those docs aren’t just important for practical information on how to contribute (though that is important). They’re also important when it comes to understanding the more general aspects of a project, like how decisions are made, who the stakeholders are, what the history is, and so on. For new contributors, understanding these aspects of a project is essential to being able to participate. (They are also the aspects of a project that established contributors often take for granted.)

Of course, ensuring that you always have up to date project documentation isn’t easy. This is particularly true for large, long-running projects, where the tendency is for large amounts of documentation to get written and then eventually left to rot. As redundant and inaccurate docs accumulate, they increasingly misdirect and impede contributors.

This characterization has unfortunately has been true for GNOME for some time. For many years, the main source of project documentation has been the wiki and, for a long time, the vast majority of that wiki content has been either inaccurate or redundant. We can only assume that, with so much out of date information floating around, countless hours of have been lost, with existing contributors struggling to find the information they need, and new potential contributors being put off before they have even gotten started.

Enough with the preamble

The poor state of GNOME’s documentation has been something that I’ve wanted to tackle for some time, so it’s with great excitement that I’m happy to announce a new, completely rewritten documentation resource for the project: the GNOME Project Handbook (otherwise known as

The handbook is a new website whose goal is to provide accessible, well-maintained documentation about how to get stuff done within GNOME. It has a specific scope: it does not provide technical documentation for those using GNOME technologies, nor does it contain user documentation, nor does it attempt to provide public-facing home pages for apps and libraries. What it does contain is the information required to operate as a GNOME contributor.

The fact that is able to have this relatively tight focus is thanks to a collection of other GNOME sites, each of which replaces a role previously played by the wiki. This includes,, and Thank you to the creators of those resources!

The handbook site itself is managed like any other GNOME project. There’s a repository that generates the site, issues can be reported, and changes can be proposed through merge requests. The hope is that this will avoid many of the maintenance issues that we previously had with the wiki.

Notable content

The handbook is composed of pages from the wiki, which have largely been rewritten, plus a decent amount of original content. There are some sections which I’m particularly excited about, and want to highlight.

Issue tracker guidelines

GNOME has had issue reporting and triage guidelines for almost two decades. However, it has been many years since they were actively maintained, and they were never updated when GNOME migrated from Bugzilla to GitLab. I think that a lot of contributors have forgotten that they even exist.

The handbook includes a fresh set of issue tracking guidelines, which have been updated for the modern era. They’re based on the old ones from many years ago, but have been substantially revised and expanded. The new guidelines cover how to report an issue, how to review issues for quality and relevance, and policies and best practices for maintainers. One exciting new aspect is guidelines for those who want to get started with issue review as a new contributor.

I’m hopeful that having clear processes and guidelines around issue tracking will have an enabling effect for contributors and maintainers, so they can be more forthright when it comes to issue management, and in so doing get our issues trackers into a better state.


The handbook has a page on governance! It describes how decisions are made in GNOME, the various roles in the project, who has authority, and how the project works. Us old hands tend to assume this stuff, but for new contributors it’s essential information, and we never documented it before.

How to submit a code change

Amazingly — incredibly! — until this day, GNOME has not documented how to submit a code change to the project. We just left people to figure it out by themselves. This is something that the handbook covers. If you’ve ever wanted to submit a change to GNOME and haven’t known how, give it a read over.


The infrastructure pages aren’t new, but they were previously causing some confusion and so have been substantially rewritten. The new pages aim to make it really clear which services are available, how developer permissions are managed, and how to get access when you need it.

What next?

It’s still early days for the handbook. Most of the core content is in, but there will be issues and missing pieces. If you spot any problems, there’s an issue tracker. You can also submit merge requests or make suggestions (the project README has more information on this).

The plan is to retire the wiki. An exact time line for this has yet to be set (there will be an announcement when that happens). However, it’s encouraged to consult the handbook rather than the wiki from this point forward and, if you’re continuing to use the wiki for anything, to move that content elsewhere. There’s a migration guide with details about how to do this.

Many thanks to those who have helped with this project, including but not limited to: Jakub Steiner, Andrea Veri, Emmanuele Bassi, Michael Catanzaro, Brage Fuglseth, Florian Muellner, Alexandre Franke, Sebastian Wick, and Kolja Lampe.

Recent GNOME design work

The GNOME 46 development cycle started around October last year, and it has been a busy one for my GNOME user experience design work (as they all are). I wanted to share some details of what I’ve been working on, both to provide some insight into what I get up to day to day, and because some of the design work might be interesting to the wider community. This is by no means everything that I’ve been involved with, but rather covers the bigger chunks of work that I’ve spent time on.


GNOME’s video player has yet to port to GTK 4, and it’s been a long time since it’s received major UX attention. This development cycle I worked on a set of designs for what a refreshed default GNOME video player might look like. These built on previous work from Tobias Bernard and myself.

The new Videos designs don’t have a particular development effort in mind, and are instead intended to provide inspiration and guidance for anyone who might want to work on modernising GNOME’s video playback experience.

A mockup of a video player app, with a video playing in the background and playback controls overlaid on top

The designs themselves aim to be clean and unobtrusive, while retaining the essential features you need from a video player. There’s a familial resemblance to GNOME’s new image viewer and camera apps, particularly with regards to the minimal window chrome.

Two mockups of the videos app, showing the window at different sizes and aspect ratios

One feature of the design that I’m particularly happy with is how it manages to scale to different form factors. On a large display the playback controls are constrained, which avoids long pointer travel on super wide displays. When the window size is reduced, the layout updates to optimize for the smaller space. That this is possible is of course thanks to the amazing break points work in libadwaita last cycle.

These designs aren’t 100% complete and we’d need to talk through some issues as part of the development process, but they provide enough guidance for development work to begin.

System Monitor

Another app modernisation effort that I’ve been working on this cycle is for GNOME’s System Monitor app. This was recently ported to GTK 4, which meant that it was a good time to think about where to take the user experience next.

It’s true that there are other resource monitoring apps out there, like Usage, Mission Center, or Resources. However, I thought that it was important for the existing core app to have input from the design team. I also thought that it was important to put time into considering what a modern GNOME resource monitor might look like from a design perspective.

While the designs were created in conversation with the system monitor developers (thank you Robert and Harry!) and I’d love to take them forward in that context, the ideas in the mockups are free for anyone to use and it would be great if any of the other available apps wanted to pick them up.

A mockup of the system monitor app, showing a CPU usage figures and a list of apps

One of the tricky aspects of the system monitor design is how to accommodate different types of usage. Many users just need a simple way to track down and stop runaway apps and processes. At the same time, the system monitor can also be used by developers in very specific or nuanced ways, such as to look in close detail at a particular process, or to examine multithreading behaviour.

A mockup of the system monitor app, showing CPU usage figures and a list of processes

Rather than designing several different apps, the design attempts to reconcile these differing requirements by using disclosure. It starts of simply by default, with a series of small graphs give a high-level overview and allows quickly drilling down to a problem app. However, if you want more fine-grained information, it isn’t hard to get to. For example, to keep a close eye on a particular type of resource, you can expand its chart to get a big view with more detail, or to see how multi-threading is working in a particular process, you can switch to the process view.


A gallery of mockups for the Settings app, including app settings, power settings, keyboard settings, and mouse & touchpad settings

If my work on Videos and System Monitor has largely been speculative, my time on Settings has been anything but. As Felipe recently reported, there has been a lot of great activity around Settings recently, and I’ve been kept busy supporting that work from the design side. A lot of that has involved reviewing merge requests and responding to design questions from developers. However, I’ve also been active in developing and updating various settings designs. This has included:

  • Keyboard settings:
  • Region and language settings:
    • Updated the panel mockups
    • Modernised language dialog design (#202)
  • Apps settings:
    • Designed banners for when an app isn’t sandboxed (done)
    • Reorganised some of the list rows (#2829)
    • Designs for how to handle the flatpak-spawn permission (!949)
  • Mouse & touchpad settings:
    • New click areas setting (done)
    • Updated designs for the test area (almost done)
  • Power
    • Updated the style of the charge history chart (#1419)
    • Reorganised the battery charge theshold setting (#2553)
    • Prettier battery level display (#2707)

Another settings area where I particularly concentrated this cycle was location services. This was prompted by a collection of issues that I discovered where people experience their location being determined incorrectly. I was also keen to ensure that location discovery is a good fit for devices that don’t have many ways to detect the location (say if it’s a desktop machine with no Wi-Fi).

A mockup of the Settings app, showing the location settings with an embedded map

This led to a round of design which proposed various things, such as adding a location preview to the panel (#2815) and portal dialog (#115), and some other polish fixes (#2816, #2817). As part of these changes, we’re also moving to rename “Location Services” to “Automatic Device Location”. I’d be interested to hear if anyone has any opinions on that, one way or another.


I hope this post has provided some insight into the kind of work that happens in GNOME design. It needs to be stressed that many of the designs that I’ve shared here are not being actively worked on, and may even never be implemented. That is part of what we do in GNOME design – we chart potential directions which the community may or may not decide to travel down. However, if you would like to help make any of these designs a reality, get in touch – I’d love to talk to you!

What to do with the GNOME wiki?

At this year’s GUADEC, I made a proposal: that the GNOME project should migrate its documentation from to other locations, and then disable its wiki. This blog post describes the proposal in more detail, in order to receive feedback from the wider community.


For many years, the GNOME wiki (a MoinMoin instance) has been the main source of internal project documentation. It contains key project information, including guidance for newcomers, the release schedule, pages for the various teams, and much more.

Today, much of the content on the wiki is out of date, and a large portion of it isn’t actively updated. Many activities have moved from the wiki to other platforms (particularly Gitlab), leaving the related wiki content to rot. There have also been problems with spam, which have meant that edit rights have to be manually granted.

This situation inevitably causes issues, particularly for new contributors who are trying to learn how to get involved.

The proposal

The proposal is for us to replace the wiki with a combination of alternative platforms. The main alternatives would be:

  •, for small amounts of important high-level information
  •, for technical documentation
  •, for application home pages
  • In-tree documentation, for individual project docs
  • Gitlab issues in special-purpose projects, for more transient documentation
  • A new project handbook site, for general project documentation (contribution guide, code of conduct, governance, release process, and so on)

The new handbook site would be hosted using Gitlab pages and generated with Sphinx. We already do this for and the HIG, so the new site would not be unique in GNOME.

To see what the new handbook site might look like, you can visit a prototype that I’ve quickly created, by copying content from the wiki to a new Sphinx project.

About Sphinx

We started using Sphinx for docs in GNOME after evaluating a variety of alternative solutions. It’s not the newest or trendiest docs tool, but it has some key features which made it a good choice for us:

  • It’s a drop in tool which is both mature and well-maintained
  • It generates static HTML, which makes deployment and hosting easy with CI and Gitlab pages
  • Docs content is written using a light weight markup language
  • We can easily restyle the docs sites to match GNOME branding

Our experience so far has been positive: Sphnix-based sites are easy to set up, deploy, host and edit.

Sphinx’s primary markup language is restructured text, which leads to the obvious question: can’t we use Markdown? Markdown is supported, so we could decide to use that. However, with the HIG, we found that restructured text gave a better experience overall ¹, and was light weight enough to not be burdensome ².

In terms of editing experience, you can make quick changes using Gitlab’s web-based editing tools or, for a richer experience, VS Code will give you live previews and error checking.

Transition process

My suggestion for retiring the wiki would be to have a managed transition, which would look something like this:

  1. Create a migration guide for how and where to move existing wiki content
  2. Announce the transition period (including an end date)
  3. Transition! I’d finish the handbook, and other teams and individuals would be responsible for migrating their own content
  4. Finish the transition: archive the wiki, and update any links to point to the new docs locations

Archiving the wiki could take various forms depending on what is most practical. We could put it in read-only mode and add a banner, like we did with Bugzilla, or we could create a static archive and take it offline completely. I’ll leave that question to our sysadmins.

Pros and cons

I’m definitely not suggesting that this proposal is perfect. Nor am I suggesting that there aren’t other alternatives to consider (it would be great to hear any other ideas)! So, in the interests of transparency, here are the main pros and cons of the proposal.

Advantages of the new handbook site:

  • It’s a nice website with good styling, clear navigation, and search
  • Having a clear scope and purpose as the “GNOME Project Handbook” is very helpful for both documentation users and authors
  • Having the content be maintained would (hopefully) result in higher overall quality
  • The site would use a contribution workflow that is consistent with other GNOME Gitlab projects

And the disadvantages of the general proposal:

  • There is more overhead required to make changes to docs stored in Git, compared to a wiki
  • Making changes via Git requires more technical knowledge (though we can potentially minimize this with the Gitlab web IDE and good documentation)
  • The new handbook site would run into problems if it were to become unmaintained
  • Docs that aren’t hosted on the handbook site could be fragmented and hard to find

Feedback wanted!

This proposal is just that: a proposal. We can and should consider alternatives. It also needs to be elaborated to cover all the requirements GNOME has today. If you have any concerns, suggestions, or uncertainties, please let me know.


¹ With restructured text, you get more powerful linking features, as well as internal link validation.

² All you really need to know is the format for an internal and external link, and you’re good to go.

gnome-info-collect: What we learned

Last August, we ran a research exercise using a small tool called gnome-info-collect. The tool allowed GNOME users to anonymously send us non-sensitive data about how their systems were configured. The plan was to use that data to inform our design and development decisions. We got a fantastic response to our call for participation, with over 2,500 people uploading their data to the GNOME servers.

We’ve just finished the final parts of the analysis, so it’s time to share what we’ve learned. This post is on the long side, so you might want to get a brew on before you start reading!

Research limitations

The people who provided their data with gnome-info-collect were primarily recruited via GNOME’s media channels, including Discourse and Twitter. This means that the data we collected was on a fairly particular subset of GNOME’s users: namely, people who follow our social media channels, are interested enough to respond to our call for help, and are confident installing and running a command line tool.

The analysis in this post should therefore not be treated as being representative of the entire GNOME user base. This doesn’t mean that it’s invalid – just that it has limited validity to the group we collected data from.

It should also be noted that the data from gnome-info-collect is by no means perfect. We collected information on GNOME systems rather than individual users. While there were some basic measures to avoid double counting, they weren’t foolproof, and there was nothing to stop the same person from submitting multiple reports using different accounts or systems. We also have no way to know if the systems which we got data on were the main desktops used by the reporters.

Who responded?

In total, we received 2,560 responses to gnome-info-collect. Of the 2,560 responses, 43 were removed from the dataset, due to not being GNOME installations, or being a virtual machine.

Distro used

A little over half of the responses came from a Fedora installation. The other main distros were Arch and Ubuntu.

Distro Number of responses % of responses
Fedora 1376 54.69%
Arch 469 18.64%
Ubuntu 267 10.61%
Manjaro 140 5.56%
Other 78 3.10%
EndeavourOS 66 2.62%
Debian 44 1.75%
openSUSE 38 1.51%
Pop! 38 1.51%
Total 2516 100.00%

Hardware manufacturer
The data we got on the hardware manufacturer of each system was poor quality. Many systems didn’t accurately report their manufacturer, and the names were often inconsistently written. Of the manufacturers that we could identify, Lenovo was the most common, with Dell, ASUS, HP, MSI and Gigabyte making up the bulk of the other systems.

Manufacturer Responses % Valid Responses
Lenovo 516 23.54%
Dell 329 15.01%
ASUS 261 11.91%
HP 223 10.17%
MSI 213 9.72%
Gigabyte 211 9.63%
Acer 86 3.92%
Other 353 16.10%
Total valid responses 2192 100.00%

Desktop configuration

We collected data on a number of different aspects of desktop configuration. Each of these areas are relevant to ongoing areas of design and development work.


We collected data on both the “workspaces on primary” and “dynamic workspaces” settings. The former controls whether each workspace is only on the primary display, or whether it spans all displays, and the latter controls whether workspaces are automatically added and removed, or whether there is a fixed number of workspaces.

In both cases, the default setting was used by the vast majority of systems, though the number of systems where the default was changed was not insignificant either. It was more common for people to change workspaces on primary, as opposed to the dynamic workspaces option.

Enabled Disabled % Enabled % Disabled Total
Workspaces on primary 2078 439 82.56% 17.44% 2517
Dynamic workspaces 2262 255 89.87% 10.13% 2517

Sharing features

GNOME’s sharing settings include a variety of features, and we collected information on which ones were enabled. When looking at this, it is important to remember that an enabled feature is not necessarily actively used.

Remote login (SSH login) was enabled more than any other sharing feature, which suggests that the gnome-info-collect respondents were relatively technical users.

Activation of the other features was relatively low, with multimedia sharing being the lowest.

Sharing Feature Systems Enabled % Enabled
Remote login 527 20.95%
Remote desktop 248 9.85%
File sharing 160 6.36%
Multimedia sharing 108 4.29%

Online accounts

Around 55% of the responses had one or more online accounts set up. (Again, an enabled feature is not necessarily used.)

Number of Online Accounts Responses % Responses
0 1115 44.30%
≥1 1402 55.70%
Total responses 2517 100.00%

Google was the most common account type, followed by Nextcloud and Microsoft. Some of the account types had very little usage at all, with Foursquare, Facebook, Media Server, Flickr and all being active on less than 1% of systems.

Account type Responses % Responses % Responses With ≥1 Accounts
Google 1056 41.95% 75.32%
Nextcloud 398 15.81% 28.39%
Microsoft 268 10.65% 19.12%
IMAP and SMTP 153 6.08% 10.91%
Fedora 114 4.53% 8.13%
Ubuntu Single Sign-On 70 2.78% 4.99%
Microsoft Exchange 55 2.19% 3.92%
Enterprise Login (Kerberos) 50 1.99% 3.57% 20 0.79% 1.43%
Flickr 15 0.60% 1.07%
Media Server 9 0.36% 0.64%
Facebook 4 0.16% 0.29%
Foursquare 2 0.08% 0.14%


Flatpak and Flathub

Flatpak and Flathub are both important to GNOME’s strategic direction, so it is useful to know the extent of their adoption. This adoption level is also relevant to the design of GNOME’s Software app.

Over 90% of systems had Flatpak installed.

Flatpak status Responses % Responses
Installed 2344 93.13%
Not installed 173 6.87%
Total 2517 100.00%

In total, 2102 systems had Flathub fully enabled, which is 84% of all reporting systems, and 97% of systems which had flatpak installed. (The Flathub filtered status refers to Fedora’s filtered version of Flathub. This contains very few apps, so it is more like having Flathub disabled than having it enabled.)

It would be interesting to analyse Flatpak and Flathub adoption across distros.

Default browser

The default browser data referred to which browser was currently set as the default. It therefore doesn’t give us direct information about how much each browser is used.

The following table gives the results for the nine most popular default browsers. This combined the different versions of each browser, such as nightlies and development versions.

Most distros use Firefox as the default browser, so it’s unsurprising that it came out top of the list. These numbers give an interesting insight into the extent to which users are switching to one of Firefox’s competitors.

Default Browser Responses % Responses
Firefox 1797 73.14%
Google Chrome 286 11.64%
Brave 117 4.76%
Web 49 1.99%
Vivaldi 47 1.91%
LibreWolf 44 1.79%
Chromium 42 1.71%
Junction 38 1.55%
Microsoft Edge 37 1.51%
Total 2457 100.00%

Shell Extensions

gnome-info-collect gathered data on which extensions were enabled on each reporting system. This potentially points to functionality that people feel is missing from GNOME Shell.

Extension usage levels

When analyzing extension usage, we removed any pre-installed extensions from the data, so that data only included extensions that had been manually installed.

The vast majority of systems – some 83% – had at least one enabled extension. Additionally, 40% had between 1 and 5 enabled extensions, meaning that the majority (around 60%) had 5 or less enabled extensions.

At the same time, a substantial minority of systems had a relatively high number of enabled extensions, with around 25% of systems having between 6 and 10.

Number of Manually Enabled Extensions Number of Responses % Responses % Responses With Enabled Extensions
0 421 16.84%
1-5 1058 42.32% 50.89%
6-10 635 25.40% 30.54%
11-18 341 13.64% 16.40%
19+ 45 1.80% 2.16%
Total 2500 100.00% 100.00%

Extension popularity

The data included 588 individual extensions that were enabled. When analysing the popularity of each extension, we grouped the extensions which had similar or identical features. So, for example, “appindicator support” includes all the various status icon extensions as well. The table below shows the 25 most common enabled extension types, after grouping them in this way. Some of the extensions are included as part of GNOME’s classic mode, and we didn’t have a way to filter out those extensions which were enabled due to the classic session.

Extension Enabled Systems % Systems
Appindicator support 1099 43.66%
Gsconnect 672 26.70%
User theme 666 26.46%
Dash to dock / panel 579 23.00%
Sound output chooser 576 22.88%
Blur my shell 530 21.06%
Clipboard manager 510 20.26%
Caffeine 445 17.68%
System monitor 346 13.75%
Just perfection desktop 318 12.63%
Drive menu 310 12.32%
Apps menu 308 12.24%
Place menus 276 10.97%
Openweather 242 9.61%
Bluetooth quick connect 239 9.50%
Night theme switcher 208 8.26%
Tiling assistant 184 7.31%
Launch new instance 180 7.15%
Rounded window corners 158 6.28%
Game mode 146 5.80%
Alphabetical app grid 146 5.80%
Burn my windows 140 5.56%
GNOME UI tune 116 4.61%
Auto move windows 99 3.93%
Desktop icons 98 3.89%
Background logo 2 0.08%

As can be seen, appindicator support was by far the most common extension type, with 44% of all reporting systems having it enabled. Gsconnect, user theme, dash to dock/panel, sound output chooser, blur my shell and clipboard managers were all enabled in over 20% of the responses.

Installed apps

Knowing which apps are installed was one of the most interesting and valuable aspects of the data. It was also one of the most challenging aspects to analyse, and required processing to remove duplicate and spurious entries from the data set. The data set is still by no means perfect, but it is good enough to draw some initial conclusions.

In general, we are interested in which apps get used, which apps people have a strong need for, plus which apps people really like. App installation does not directly indicate any of these things directly, and is a relatively poor indicator for measuring them. We therefore need to be careful when drawing conclusions from this part of the analysis.

Frequency distribution

The frequency distribution of installed apps is really interesting. The total number of installed apps was very high. Even after processing, the data contained over 11,000 unique app names. Within this very large number of installed apps, the 400 most common apps represented 87% of all that were installed. This bulk of popular apps was followed by a very long tail.

The number of apps and the length of the frequency distribution tail has undoubtedly been inflated by issues in the data, and more processing to improve the data quality would be helpful.

Popular apps

After removing the most obvious preinstalled apps from the data, the 20 most common installed apps were as follows:


App Installations % Systems
GIMP 1497 58.48%
VLC 1375 53.71%
Steam 1367 53.40%
htop 1184 46.25%
Dconf Editor 1108 43.28%
Extension Manager 984 38.44%
Inkscape 952 37.19%
Flatseal 942 36.80%
Discord 938 36.64%
Google Chrome 899 35.12%
Web 898 35.08%
Chromium 871 34.02%
Thunderbird 824 32.19%
GParted 795 31.05%
Wine 772 30.16%
OBS Studio 770 30.08%
Visual Studio Code 726 28.36%
Transmission 719 28.09%
Telegram 713 27.85%
Geary 672 26.25%

A longer list of the most common 110 installed apps is available separately.

Note that the removal of preinstalled apps from this lists was extremely rudimentary and the numbers in the list may represent some apps which are preinstalled by some distros.

The most common manually installed apps are a mixed bag of traditional Linux desktop apps, third-party proprietary apps, and newer GNOME apps. Examples of common apps in each of these categories include:

  • Traditional Linux desktop apps: GIMP, VLC, Inkscape, GParted, Transmission
  • Third party apps: Google Chrome, Steam, OBS Studio, NVIDIA Settings
  • Newer GNOME apps: Flatseal, To Do, Bottles, Sound Recorder, Builder


Overall, the data gives some strong hints about which features should be concentrated on by the GNOME project. It also provides evidence about which features shouldn’t be prioritised.

It needs to be remembered that, while we have evidence here about some of the decisions that some GNOME users are making, the data doesn’t give us much insight into why they are making the decisions that they are. For example, it would seem that people are installing the GIMP, but for what purpose? Likewise, while we know that people are enabling some features over others, the data doesn’t tell us how those features are working for them. Do people find online accounts to be useful? The data doesn’t tell us.

We therefore need to be very careful when making decisions based on the data that we have here. However, what we do have is a great basis for followup research which, when combined with these results, could be very powerful indeed.

The app installation picture is complex. On the one hand, it doesn’t look like things have changed very much in the past 10 years, with people continuing to install the GIMP, Wine, and GParted. On the other hand, we have 3rd party apps being widely used in a way that wasn’t possible in the past, and it’s exciting to see the popularity of new GNOME apps like Flatseal, To Do, Bottles, and Fragments.

The data on apps is also some of the most limited. We need data on which apps are being used, not just just which ones are installed. It would also be really helpful to have data on which apps people feel are essential for them, and it would be great to have demographic information as part of the dataset, so we can see whether there are different groups of users who are using different apps.

Methodological lessons

gnome-info-collect was the first data collection exercise of its kind that has been run by the GNOME project, and we learned a lot through the process. I’m hopeful that those lessons will be useful for subsequent research. I have notes on all that, which I’ll share at some point. For now, I just want to touch on some general points.

First, doing small standalone research exercises seems to be a great approach. It allowed us to ask research questions around our current interests, and then generate research questions for followup exercises. This allows an iterative learning process which is strongly connected to our day to day work, and which can combine different research methods to understand the data from different perspectives.

Second, the whole premise of gnome-info-collect was to do a quick and lean initiative. In reality, it turned out to be a lot more work than anticipated! This was largely due to it being the first exercise of its kind, and there not being a preexisting platform for gathering the data. However, I think that we also need to acknowledge that even lean research exercises can be a lot of work, particularly if you want to gather large amounts of data.

Finally, we discovered some major issues with the data that we can get from Linux systems. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a lot of inconsistency and a lack of standardisation. This required additional processing at the analysis stage, and makes automated analysis difficult. If we want to routinely collect information from GNOME systems, cleaning up the raw data would be a big help.


I’d like to take this opportunity to thank Vojtěch Staněk for all his work on gnome-info-collect. Vojtěch handled all the technical aspects of gnome-info-collect, from writing the code to processing the data, as well as helping with public outreach. He did a great job!

The gnome-info-collect data doesn’t include directly identifying information, or anything very sensitive. However, there are still privacy concerns around it. We are therefore going to be archiving the data in a restricted location, rather than publishing it in full.

However, if members of the GNOME project have a use for the data, access can be arranged, so just get in touch. We are also currently investigating options for making some of the data available in a way that mitigates any privacy risks.