Hating Gnome 3

I’ve been using Linux as my desktop operating system for about fifteen years. For most of that time I’ve used GNOME as my desktop environment. That’s longer than I ever used Windows so it’s become ingrained into the way I work. I’d guess that I’m at least 50% more efficient using GNOME than I am using any other desktop environment.

Then, a couple of months ago I upgraded to Fedora 15 which included the new GNOME 3. And everything changed.

And I really mean everything. GNOME 2 would be recognisable to someone used to using Windows or Apples’ OSX. It had menus which opened windows and those windows could be minimised into icons. Your most frequently used icons could be dropped onto your desktop for easy access. It’s the way that graphical user interfaces have worked for decades.

But the GNOME developers decided that this de facto standard was no longer what they wanted. Menus, they decided, were old-fashioned. What people really needed was to search for the name of the program they wanted to run but activating a hot-spot in the top-left corner of the screen and then typing. And no-one really needs icons all over their desktop. That just looks untidy. Oh, and minimising programs, who uses that? They’ve removed the minimise button from all windows. And if you manage to work out how to minimise a window (by right-clicking in the title bar to get a menu) the window minimises into nowhere rather into the icon dock that we’re used to.

As I say, pretty much everything changed. My first impressions were that hated it.

But I decided to give it a fair chance and I’ve been using it on three computers for six or eight weeks to see if I’d get used to it.

And I still hate it.

I’ve found out that there are ways to bend it back to approaching usability. Various extensions can be installed to fiddle with the minimal default set of icons in the top panel. Things like adding a drive menu and removing the accessibility icon. There’s a ‘tweak advanced settings’ tool that you need to install. That allowed me to put icons back on my desktop and return the missing minimise and maximise buttons to all windows. Oh, and somehow I managed to get a permanent Mac-style program launcher on the right-hand side of the screen. It’s not menus, but it’s better than the standard approach for the most common programs I use.

But it’s still not right. I can’t find a way to get my menus back. And, probably most importantly to me, I can’t find a way to put iconised windows anywhere useful (or, indeed, anywhere visible).

I’m sure that the GNOME developers thought they had good reasons for all of the individual changes that they made. But together they make for a completely different experience for the user. I’d probably be more productive in Windows than I am in GNOME 3. Windows is certainly far more like GNOME 2 than GNOME 3 is.

I don’t know who I’m more angry with. The GNOME developers for deciding to release a product that is so completely different to the previous version. Or the Fedora team for including it as the standard desktop in their latest version.

Some of you are probably thinking – ah, but surely GNOME is Open Source; why not just fork GNOME 2 and use that on Fedora. I really hope that someone does that, but I’m sure that a project like that is well beyond my expertise.

If that doesn’t happen, I’m probably going to have to look for an alternative desktop environment. I think that KDE still looks like a standard GUI. Perhaps I’ll give that a go. Or people have been trying to convince me to use a Mac for several years. I never seriously considered it because I didn’t want to learn a new desktop environment.

But if I’m being forced to learn a new environment anyway, then I should probably consider a Mac too.


    1. Well, switching to a Mac would entail not using Fedora.

      But, yes, I’ve started using Ubuntu in my current client’s office. And their new default interface, Unity, is no better than GNOME 3.

      And I’m loathe to give up Fedora. Fifteen years of experience in Red Hat based distributions is a lot to give up.

  1. At least with Ubuntu, you can easily switch to Gnome Classic on the login screen (and that’s sticky).

    I tried Unity for a couple of hours, but it doesn’t fit me at all. I will probably like Gnome 3 as much as you do…

  2. Don’t worry about GNOME 3. Just switch over the XFCE. It’s broadly similar to GNOME 2 and actively maintained.

    yum install @XFCE

    Then log out, and on the login screen select “XFCE 4 Session”.

  3. As someone who made the jump from a Dell Laptop running Ubuntu to a Macbook Pro in 2008, I honestly haven’t been happier or more productive. YMMV of course, and every desktop OS sucks in its own special way. I’ve just found OS X sucks a little less.

    1. I’ll second this comment (or should that be “+1” as I believe the kids are saying ;-). Much as I enjoyed tweaking stuff in Linux (Mandrake was my distribution of choice), since switching to OS X I’ve spent a lot less time maintaining the system and a lot more time getting on with everything else. And if you do enjoy fiddling with the gubbins there are at least two projects (Fink and Darwin Ports) which make lots of open source software readily available :-)

      And I’ll give one tip for OS X which would have helped me no end. When installing native Mac apps they come on a disk image. When you open this you see the contents in Finder, often as the icon for the new app with an arrow pointing to the icon for the Mac Applications folder. What this means is so simple that it took a seasoned IT veteran like myself a couple of days to find out: you’re supposed to drag the new icon onto the Applications icon, which will copy it there and thus install it.

  4. Welcome to the GNOME Hater’s Club; I’ve been in it so long, it’s hard to remember when it came into existence. (Shortly after the GNOME developers started taking arrogantly uninformed decisions, I think. Or, around five minutes after the GNOME project started.)

    The only thing I miss from switching from KDE on Gentoo Linux to OS X as my laptop operating system is focus-follows-mouse. And it’s not enough of a compelling feature to keep me away from the general just-get-stuff-done-without-fuss niceness that is a MacBook Pro.

    You’ll probably find KDE 4 to be pretty useable after GNOME 2, although it’s not as useable as KDE 3.5.10 was before they torched that boring-yet-utilitarian desktop and barged off into some Brave New World of shiny-shiny clunky-clunky, which they’re still trying to shore up with huge, awkward widgets and ill-thought-through visual crapulence.

    Basically, good luck. :-)

  5. A fork of gnome 2 is already in the works its called mate. XFCE and LXDE are also pretty good choices too. Or you could just use gnome fallback mode. Personally, I kinda like gnome 3. I’ve been a fan of full screen menus since ubuntu netbook remix and the dynamic workspaces is a pretty neat feature. You are right though, gnome 3 is pretty much unusable until you install a few extensions. Gnome 3 is still pretty new though, so I’m sure it will get better.

  6. What you are describing is that you want to adapt Gnome 3 to be able to use it like Gnome 2.
    The best way to do this is to use Gnome 3 fallback mode, which looks like Gnome 2 was, but lacks functionality.
    I get used to Gnome 3 by trying to adapt my work-flow to Gnome 3 and not adapting Gnome 3 to my work-flow, but I know this is somewhat difficult when you’ve been using it for years. Maybe in future release Gnome fallback mode will be more useable, and Gnome Shell more customizable to behave more like Gnome 2.
    It’s well-known that users don’t like changes, so it doesn’t surprise me that many people dislike Gnome 3. Gnome guys tried to create new user experience for desktop. This is a good think from my point of view, because we have been stuck in Windows 95 paradigm for years in major desktop environment. Creating a new paradigm is risky, but show that GNU/Linux desktop is innovative.

  7. You know, I’ve been eating cereal with the same basic spoon for about 50 years. So I mentioned my problem to the gnome developers, and they were nice enough to design an innovative new spoon for me, with a clean rectangular shape, They also removed the ugly and obtrusive handle.

    >>Or you could just use gnome fallback mode.

    You mean KDE?

  8. Seriously, my friend, my advice is that you do your best to roll with it. As a KDE user, I went through something like this a couple of years ago. Three years later, I’m still using the Classic KDE interface that I had three years ago. KDE has been forked, and that means that the community has more choices. It all worked out for the best.

    The power of developers is one of the challenges of free software, but I think that in the end free software will take care of you. Just consider the community. Some people like KDE4, and some people like Gnome 3, and I wouldn’t want to deprive them of their crazy choices.

  9. I’ve been a linux user for about 12 years, and I have to admit I was reluctant on upgrading to a distro that uses gnome 3 due to reviews & blogs. After about 2 weeks of using it, I must admit I couldn’t be happier!! I find it extremely efficient when it comes to using multiple work spaces, quick keyboard short-cuts, and since I love to use my keyboard for efficiency I couldn’t ask for much more.

    My workplace required me to support Macbooks so obviously I had to learn to use OS X. I love the touch interface for OS X but I must admit I find it faster STILL to do things in GNOME 3 than on Mac with slick touch gestures once you get used to it. Once you train your brain to accept efficient change it is amazing how quickly you can adapt. (Tip is to try to put any your human emotion to deny change. I know this is difficult for most linux folk.)

    My experience has been great but that doesn’t mean it is perfect for everyone. Now when I use OS X or Windoze it feels like I’m working on a Fisher Price wanna be computer. GNOME 3 does need some improvements, but it definitely changes the way an interface should be and I applaud the developers for what they have given me for free.

    Thank you to the GNOME team and to all those that allow me to continue to use great open source software without having to take out a second mortgage. :)

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