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.