After six months of development, GNOME 42 is here and it’s packed with some cool new features and enhancements for fans of the GNOME desktop environment. The biggest change in this major release is the porting of almost all default GNOME apps to the latest GTK4 toolkit and the libadwaita 1.0 library for a more modern look and faster performance.
This is a very odd release. There’s tons of great, valuable new features and improvements in here, and if it wasn’t for libadwaita, I’d be quite excited to upgrade my various GNOME installations the moment Fedora 36 becomes available. A new screenshot UI, updates to all the core applications, a ton of performance improvements, and a lot more.
Sadly, libadwaita is incredibly problematic. Virtually all of GNOME’s core applications now use libadwaita, which means they cannot be themed. They will all use the default refreshed Adwaita theme, and no matter what Gtk+ theme you install, you can’t change that. What makes matters worse, is that the various applications not yet ported over to libadwaita, such as Nautilus, will still use the old, pre-libadwaita Adwaita theme, meaning that even on a default installation without any custom themes, you’re going to have to deal with a very inconsistent user interface.
Even when all of GNOME’s core applications have been ported over to libadwaita, your desktop will still make use of countless regular Gtk+ applications that will look out of place compared to all the GNOME applications. The GNOME team of course hopes that every Gtk+ developer will adopt libadwaita – Cinnamon, Xfce, Cosmic, MATE be damned – but the odds of that happening are slim.
Libadwaita knowingly and willingly makes using GNOME a far less pleasurable experience, and the fallout of this boneheaded move will take years to recover from – if at all.