Friday, 18 November 2011

What's Wrong With Gnome 3

In a word: EVERYTHING*!

Oh, I know full that Gnome 3 is better from the point of view of  software development practices.

Of course it is.

But that is not - and should not - be the point. It is also not - and should not - be the point that it is somehow more approachable for new users. Which is not to say it should be outright hostile, either - of course. But surely it should also be sensible in the way it presents the common tasks and addresses the common needs - past the first five minutes one spends in front of it?

The case in point here is the new Activities view which replaces the old (and tried and tested, I'd say as well) way of having quick, easy, and obvious access to various things you are working with. What's wrong with having a string of buttons in a taskbar telling you which applications and/or windows you have open, all just a click away from being presented right before your eyes? On the other hand, I can tell you exactly what's wrong with the Activities view, which requires you to click on the Activities button to get the following view of the same set of things:

Can you already guess? No? Let me tell you:

I tend to already know, roughly, what I have going on in various windows. I do not have any need to have them all presented rudely into my face to be able to pick one I want to work with right now. There is no need to spend time and effort scanning the whole screen - which may be quite large - in order to pick out the desired window. Not to mention the content of the desired window may have changed in the background making it all the harder to recognise when presented as above. Also, what happens when there's a lot more windows to show than the five in the screenshot above? Do they overlap or are they reduced in size? I don't know as I gave up on Gnome 3 before I could try, but I can tell you that in both cases it becomes even harder to pick the one you want.

No, sorry. I would much rather stick with the taskbar and a list of buttons on it for each window I have open, with an option to have related windows stacked onto a single button. In practice it takes much less time and mental overhead.

And then, we have very iLike application menu:

Sure, it looks very cool. Very much like what you have on your (i)phone. But I'll bet you it is actually something you hate on your phone - the way in which you have to scroll and try to figure out which icon does what (a lot of them look very similar, don't you think?). Oh, there are application names there, too. But look how small and hard to notice they are? What on Earth was wrong with a nice hierarchical menu with small icons (to help you make out various applications visually) alongside relatively same sized application names (to help you ensure you're selecting the right thing)? 

Sure, these days you can have hierarchies and folders in phone-style menus, but there's a crucial difference: once you entered the sub-folder in such a menu you have lost the view of the level above. In a typical Gnome 2 - or even if you want Windows XP - style start menu, while you're browsing the sub-folder with apps you have the view of all the folders in a level above so if you make a mistake - and you will - you can move over to a different one in a single click. In a phone-like menu, you need to click a special button to go back, then hunt again for a different sub-folder. If that's not wasteful of your time I don't know what is.

So, the two things I am (and you are!) likely to do - a lot, are much more of a pain in Gnome 3. Yes, they look nice and modern, but, frankly, I value my time and effort much more than I value eye candy. And that is why I played around with Gnome 3 - and also with it's much improved variant in Linux Mint 12 - and promptly gave up.

My advice: XFCE is the way to go!

I will continue to support Linux Mint in the hope of them either making good progress on LXDE and/or XFCE editions, or managing to wrestle Gnome 3 into submission and efficient way of working.

*EVERYTHING = things that really matter, stuff that you use day in and day out, most of the time you look at your screen.