Monday, August 22, 2011

Gnome users are revolting II

I currently have Debian Squeeze installed on my computer, and Fedora 15 on a Live USB, and I'm booting into both from time to time. This gives me a good idea of how Gnome 3 in Fedora compares to Gnome 2 in Debian in terms of ease and pleasure of use as a desktop environment.
I have to say, when I boot into Debian now I feel disappointment that I won't be using Gnome 3. I miss the modern environment of Gnome 3, and not the Windows 95 paradigm of Gnome 2. Now there are some modern inventions that are just a trend, a fashion, and don't make our lives easier. We might get exited about them at the time, but a decade or so later we might be back to using whatever we were using before, because the fashion has come round again, or the novelty has worn off the new invention and we realised what we were missing in the old.
I don't believe that's true with Gnome 3. I think it really is a step forward in ease of use, but I've seen some strong claims to the opposite, for example, this from Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols on ZDNet:
The idea of GNOME 3 was to get rid of clutter OK, I can see that, but in doing it GNOME’s designers had made GNOME less usable For example, in shifting from one project to another in your workspace you need to use the dashboard as a window management interface For me, this is like having to stop my car to shift gears That by itself is so annoying that I quickly stopped using GNOME 3.0.
I decided to do a comparison between Gnome 2 and Gnome 3. This a screen shot of my bottom panel in Gnome 2 on a particularly busy "workspace":

OK one click will shift from one "project" to another, but it's quite difficult to see what window each button will open. Quite often I maximise the wrong window and it takes several clicks till I find the one I'm looking for.

Here's a screen shot of my workspace in Fedora with the same number of windows open.

Yes, I have to push the mouse cursor into the top right of the screen to see it, or click the Activities button, or hit the Windows button on my keyboard, but once I've done that, it's easy to read the description for each window, and even with 13 windows, the thumbnails give me a pretty good idea of what each window is- it's easy to recognise an image file I'm working on, for example.

I could move windows to separate workspaces in Gnome 2, but I have never got into the habit. Gnome 3 certainly makes it a lot easier to do:

To my mind, Gnome 3 is easier to use. Of course, when we get used to a way of doing something, it becomes easy to do, and when we move to a new way of doing something it's hard to do. The difficulty of just doing something different can stop us seeing that we're actually doing something easier. Of course the ultimate judgement is personal, but I think I'll be using Gnome 3 more and more in the future.
I'm not sure that it is ultimately the easiest way of organising windows- I think that docks like Docky and Avant Window Navigator do things better in some ways, grouping open windows under the icon of their common program. Now what I'd really like to see in Gnome 3 would be the quick launch bar having some of the functionality of a dock, with icons indicating which programs have windows open, and hovering over the icon producing a pop up list- something like this Docky Screen shot.

Update: I just realised that Gnome does have this functionality- icons that have windows open are indicated by a very subtle down glow (so subtle I'd missed it) and right click brings up the menu.


  1. You like the expose' look? Don't blame you. But that exact same effect (plus many others!) has been available for years in Gnome 2 with Compiz.

  2. I like Compiz, but it's too buggy to use:

  3. Great rundown of what makes Gnome 3 great, I love it, once you get it customised with themes etc its a really great place to work and live. I far prefer the OpenSUSE 11.4 implementation than the poor distro that is Fedora 15, I had nothing but problems on fairly common machine.

    I too used to use fun and useful plugins under Compiz back in the day, but I find that Gnome 3 and it's shell tie everything nicely together.

  4. Yes, Gnome 3 really is a job well done and serves up a genuinely classy and businesslike environment. But workspace switching is a pain - it takes minimum 3 keypresses / clicks to achieve what you could do just by dragging with Compiz. And the dock is no better than Awn or Cairo except in the less is better sense. Still, it beats Unity by a mile.