News, tips, partners, and perspectives for the Oracle Solaris operating system

Using GNOME 3 in Oracle Solaris 11.4

Alan Coopersmith
Senior Principal Software Engineer

When we first updated the GNOME desktop in our Solaris development builds from 2.30 to 3.18, we started a wiki page for our internal test users and developers to share tips, tricks, and troubleshooting info with each other.  We kept it up as we moved to GNOME 3.24 for the Oracle Solaris 11.4 release.

Now that our customers have been using it for a while, we've seen some of the same issues come up, so I've published many of the items from that page to Oracle Support Document 2541799.1 and have listed them below as well.  The version in My Oracle Support is likely to stay more up to date as all our support engineers can update it, but for now, most of the content is the same.

Oracle Solaris 11.4 provides the GNOME 3 desktop, an upgrade from the GNOME 2.30 desktop provided in Oracle Solaris 11.0 through 11.3. The initial Oracle Solaris 11.4 releases include GNOME 3.24, and this may be upgraded to new releases in future Solaris 11.4 Support Repository Updates (SRUs).


GNOME has extensive online help integrated into the product, though you may need to install the documentation/gnome/* packages to get all of it.

Upstream docs include:

Oracle has also provided documentation of the accessibility features in the Oracle® Solaris 11.4 Desktop Accessibility Guide.


  • Many additional "power user" settings beyond what's in the base settings panel are available by starting the "Tweak Tool" application, either by selecting "Tweak Tool" in the application selector or running /usr/bin/gnome-tweak-tool directly.
  • On the new login screen, if you want to choose your session type (the default modern GNOME Shell, GNOME Classic, or xterm), you must first enter your username, hit enter, and then before entering your password, click the gear icon next to the login button.
  • If you're using remote display (VNC, ILOM KVMS, etc.) or a less powerful graphics device, you may get better performance by going into Tweak Tool, selecting the "Appearance" tab and turning off animations.
  • GNOME Terminal has hidden the new tab option. Use shift-ctrl-t to open a new tab (or shift-ctrl-n for a new window). For the new GNOME3 method of opening tabs, see http://worldofgnome.org/opening-a-new-terminal-tabwindow-in-gnome-3-12/
  • If you prefer having simple minimize and maximize buttons on window title bars instead of having to right click on them to bring up a menu, start Tweak Tool, go to the "Windows" tab and turn on the "Maximize" and "Minimize" buttons under "Titlebar Buttons".
  • To change the image used on the gdm login screen, see: https://wiki.archlinux.org/index.php/GDM#Log-in_screen_background_image
  • To change the background image on the desktop, run Tweak Tool, go to Desktop --> Background Location. Specify a graphic file (jpg, png, gif, etc.) or, for special transition effects, a XML file. It can be in any directory. Also specify the mode ("Spanned" mode stretches the image to fit the screen).
  • To prevent the screen-saver from locking the screen, run:
    gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.screensaver lock-enabled false
    gsettings get org.gnome.desktop.screensaver lock-enabled
  • To prevent gnome-shell from dimming and then turning off the display, run:
    gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.session idle-delay 0
    gsettings get org.gnome.desktop.session idle-delay
  • If you want a lock screen button/icon in the top panel, install the Lock Screen extension.
  • gnome-terminal does not include ":" in the default list of word separator characters, which means double-clicking on a full URL does not work; you have to click and drag. To fix this, run:
    PROFILE_ID=$(gsettings get org.gnome.Terminal.ProfilesList list | awk -F\' '{print $2}')
    dconf write /org/gnome/terminal/legacy/profiles:/:${PROFILE_ID}/word-char-exceptions '@ms "-,.;/?%&#_=+@~·:"'
  • If you have a Sun keyboard and can't get keys like Copy and Paste to work, then:
    • run Tweak Tool
    • click on the Typing tab
    • click on the triangle next to Maintain key compatibility with old Solaris keycodes
    • click on the Sun Key compatibility button
  • If gnome-terminal isn't starting (e.g., "Terminal exited with status 8"), then it probably means your locale isn't set to what gnome-terminal wants. gnome-terminal-server won't exec unless LANG is set to a UTF-8 locale, such as en_US.UTF-8. Ditto for LC_ALL if it is set. (See GNOME bug 732127 - CLOSED WONTFIX, and the GNOME FAQ entry.)
  • If you want to set up your desktop :0 display for remote access (aka vino), you may need to first set up the network interface for it. The GUI "Sharing" app under system tools does not function correctly on Solaris.
    gsettings set org.gnome.Vino network-interface net0
    /usr/lib/vino-server &
  • If windows are all black when running inside VirtualBox, disable 3D acceleration in the VirtualBox Display settings for the VM.
  • To set Emacs mode for various apps (e.g., Firefox):
    gsettings set org.gnome.desktop.interface gtk-key-theme Emacs
  • ALT-TAB now switches between applications rather than between windows.
    • If you want to embrace this you note you can use ALT-' to switch between instances of an application.
    • If you want to return to the more familiar then you can switch it back. Activities -> Show Applications -> Settings -> Keyboard -> Shortcuts -> Navigation. Clear 'Switch Applications' and add 'ALT-TAB' to 'Switch Windows'
  • To reduce the GIANT size of desktop icons, go to Applications -> Favorites ->Files. Click on the array of dots icon on the upper right. Click on the "Size" radio button. Then scroll a size slider to the left (or scroll to the right to make the icons even BIGGER!).
  • To allow detach of VIM-ATTENTION dialog window that pops up when two gvim sessions are trying to edit the same file run /usr/bin/dconf-editor, go to org->gnome->shell->overrides and disable "attach-modal-dialogs".
  • To disable the auto-maximize window when you drag a window to the top of the workspace, disable "edge-tiling" in the same config panel.
  • To install additional fonts, see How to Install a New Font on Oracle Solaris 11 (Doc ID 2484242.1).


  • "Oh No! Something has gone wrong." full screen dialog: What can trigger it and tips to get rid of it
  • Files to check for log messages on Solaris:
    • /var/svc/log/application-graphical-login-gdm:default.log
    • /var/log/gdm/:0-greeter.log
    • /var/log/Xorg.0.log
  • Places you can enable more debugging info:
    • Edit /usr/bin/gnome-session and add --debug to the /usr/lib/gnome-session-binary flags, then look in /var/adm/messages
    • Edit /etc/gdm/custom.conf and uncomment Enable=true under [debug], then restart gdm (this enables more debug messages in both the gdm logs and the Xorg logs)
  • If gdm is not displaying the login screen, besides checking the above log files, check your PAM configuration. How to use the pam_debug file (Oracle Support Doc ID 1007720.1) may help with this.
  • If there is an error in /var/svc/log/application-graphical-login-gdm:default.log that suggests that gdm didn't start because of not finding the gnome-initial-setup user, add InitialSetupEnable=False to the daemon section in /etc/gdm/custom.conf and restart the gdm service.
  • gdm will hang if there are multiple users in /etc/passwd having the same uid. This is a known outstanding issue in the community: https://bugzilla.redhat.com/show_bug.cgi?id=1354075
  • Various failures can be caused by corruption or mismatches in files in $HOME/.cache – logging out, moving that directory aside or removing it, and then logging back in can help in some situations. For problems on the login screen, you may need to do this in /var/lib/gdm/.cache as well, since that screen runs as the gdm user. $HOME/.pulse contents have also caused gnome-shell issues that resulted in an unusable desktop (black screens).
  • Debugging application icon and .desktop file usage in GNOME shell
  • GTK+ widget/style inspector

Sites with more information

Additional reference sites

Useful gnome-shell extensions

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Comments ( 7 )
  • David Stes Wednesday, May 15, 2019
    Nice document. I like the Shift+Ctrl+T for tabs in the Terminal app ...
  • baba booey Wednesday, May 15, 2019
    If I had to choose my least favorite desktop environment in the world it would probably be gnome 3. Who in the world thought that not allowing multiple apps on the task bar was a good idea?
  • Krum Saturday, May 18, 2019
    My 3 yrs old devil is watching his YouTube clips at Solaris 11.4 Gnome. Somehow hi is able to mess every OS pressing random keys . VMs including. Solaris BE is the ultimate cure:)
  • RC Friday, June 14, 2019
    Solaris is great,
    public software included does have a much lower quality.
    Is there a way to install GNOME V2.30 including the same OS integration as given with 11.3 but based on Solaris 11.4 GA ?
  • Alan Coopersmith Friday, June 14, 2019
    RC: Sorry, but not from Oracle - if you want GNOME 2.30 on Solaris 11.4 you'll have to build it yourself. We are only providing one version of GNOME at a time for Solaris, and for Solaris 11.4, that's GNOME 3.
  • Jean-Christophe DELAYE Tuesday, February 11, 2020
    Thanks for all the tips, very useful.
    I have an issue with Gnome 3 on Solaris 11.4.
    Local accounts are working fine, but I can't login with Ldap accounts. I'm looking for pam settings in order to use gdm session, but can't find them !
  • Alan Coopersmith Tuesday, February 11, 2020
    PAM settings for LDAP in gdm should be the same as in other programs - I don't know the details though. You'll be better off opening a support request or posting on https://community.oracle.com/community/groundbreakers/server_&_storage_systems/solaris/places than asking a particular blog author in hopes they know.
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