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Gnome Shell consists of two big parts: the panel and overlay. The panel part is pretty much obvious - system tray, user name, and clock stuff and the activities button which activates the overlay -, and about the "overlay", well, take a look at this screenshot:

gnome shell overlay

Basically, it allows the user to concentrate on switching to a new activity by opening new applications, documents, or both. It displays all the current user workspaces and open windows and facilitates organizing them.

Here is also a video with Gnome Shell in action:

So far, the Gnome Shell installation was quite time-consuming, so most people didn't try it until now. With time, however, this has changed, and you can install it by running a script. Here is how:

We must install jhbuild so that we can compile Gnome Shell from SVN (don't worry, a script will do this for you). For Debian-based distributions (Ubuntu, etc), open a terminal and paste this:
sudo apt-get install jhbuild

Other Linux distributions: Please note that the script below should work on other Linux distributions too (some of them anyway). All you have to do is install jhbuild from your distro repository and then follow the steps below. Please note that looking at the script code, I can tell you for sure that these Linux distributions are supported: Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE and Mandriva.

Now that we installed jhbuild, we run the following commands to start the set-up:
wget http://git.gnome.org/cgit/gnome-shell/plain/tools/build/gnome-shell-build-setup.sh
bash gnome-shell-build-setup.sh
jhbuild build

Despite the simplification of the Gnome Shell installation process, the part of compiling it is not skipped - which will take a while, even for new computers.

After the installation is completed, we must run the following command to use Gnome Shell:
~/gnome-shell/source/gnome-shell/src/gnome-shell --replace

To update Gnome Shell to the latest version, open a terminal and paste this::

~/bin/jhbuild build --force --clean

[via UbuCentrum, Image credits: live.gnome.org]