Point of GNOME Return

I don’t know why people hate on GNOME Shell so much:

I am convinced that Gnome has no future. It will soon be pushed into obsolescence by its own suicidal design. For those who want traditional, there’s Cinnamon or KDE. For those who want, pseudo-touch, there’s Unity. For those who want touch, there’s Android. Which leaves Gnome 3 nowhere and with nothing. An idea that came to solve world hunger. On planet Mars.

Ouch. Just…ouch. I understand that GNOME 3 is still new and funny-looking and trying to make friends out on the playground and all, but to say that its design is suicidal, well, that’s just silly.

The real problem here isn’t with GNOME’s core design or usability. It’s designed well, and it’s quite usable as of version 3.6, even though there are an awkward number of works-in-progress to be finished. I use it for my day-to-day, thank you very much, Ubuntu GNOME Remix, and I’m convinced, personal preferences aside, the main obstacle facing GNOME 3 is the unnecessary nature of its inception (and not a total lack of usefulness). There was no good reason to throw out the GNOME 2 desktop paradigm. GNOME 3′s “overview” metaphor isn’t necessarily better or more efficient than the tried-and-true taskbar method. It’s merely…different. It works just fine (and I think GNOME Shell does it better than Ubuntu’s Unity, at the moment), but I suspect the drastic change was more for the sake of change than it was a response to droves of longtime GNOME users demanding desktop ascension.

Nevertheless, here we are. GNOME has undergone puberty, and its younger siblings, MATE and Cinnamon, aren’t being mature about it. They’re too busy laughing and pointing fingers at the zits, the newfound body hair to notice the inner beauty…or the sexy new Tay Zonday voice. Apples and oranges, haters and fanboys.

Why the haters are wrong:

  • Organization. GNOME Shell is well laid-out and, in my opinion, better organized than Unity. Unity’s developers took a good idea, lenses, and allowed it to proliferate to the point where clicking the Ubuntu button or hitting the Windows key now brings up a barrage of icons. Overkill.
  • Overview mode. Clean. Organized. Faster than Unity’s laggy dash.
  • Application menu. A work-in-progress, woefully useless in most current apps—but when this sucker’s short and curlies start to come in (in other words, once it’s more fully implemented across more apps), it’s going to rawk. I’ve never liked menu bars, as much as they’re needed; this is a way to free up screen real estate without cluttering up the top bar. Me likie.
  • The lock screen. It really is beautiful and useful. Don’t listen to anyone who tells you it’s more of a pain to use than the previous GNOME lock screen because of having to swipe / click and drag with your mouse to get to the login box. Simply hit ESC or ENTER. Duh.
  • Click and drag into the overview. The ability to click and drag from, say, Files to an app open in the overview is pretty sweet. To be fair, Unity includes similar functionality with its launcher, though it can sometimes take a moment to scroll through the list if you have a lot of favorites and / or open apps.
  • Adwaita theme. A much-needed upgrade from the default, icky Clearlooks of yesteryear, and my new favorite GTK3 theme, hands down.

Why the GNOME fanboys are wrong:

  • Necessity wasn’t this invention’s mother. GNOME Shell didn’t need to happen. The previous desktop metaphor (think the GNOME 2.x series, Windows 95 – Windows 7, KDE, etc.) was and still is perfectly relevant, functional, and stylish. No user ever, ever posted to a message board asking, “Why the hell hasn’t anyone designed a UI that’s optimized for both desktop computers and tablets, simultaneously, all at once?”
  • Neurotic simplificosis. There’s a such thing as oversimplification. The removal of all but the close button from GNOME’s window manager, for example. Yes, you can maximize a window by dragging it up to the top bar, you can unmaximize by dragging back down off the top bar, but as of GNOME 3.6 there’s no handy way to minimize a window without using Tweak Tool to restore the window manager’s minimize button. As GNOME Shell doesn’t allow icons on the desktop, GNOME developers are no doubt wondering why anyone would want to minimize their windows in the first place. It’s simple: to unwind during snack breaks by appreciating that naked volleyball chick desktop background your ex-girlfriend used to hate. My question is, can you really call something a window manager if all it does is close windows?
  • Application menu. One of GNOME 3′s most promising new features also happens to be one of its pubertal blemishes. Nautilus / Files is one of the first few apps to take advantage of the app menu, though full functionality across all apps remains to be seen. And it’s not all peaches and cream. For example, when you have multiple maximized Files windows open, there’s no way to close the currently active window from the app menu without quitting Files entirely—because the window manager discards Files’ close button when it’s maximized. Yes, you can switch to overview mode and close the window that way, but it seems there should be a “close” as well as “quit” option in the app menu.

I’m not that big a fan of UI developers’ deciding to apply tablet interfaces to traditional desktops / laptops. Ideally, a desktop should have a desktop-specific UI, and a tablet should have a tablet-specific UI. But if this is how it’s going to be, if this is our point of GNOME return, then GNOME 3 seems to be a comfortable middle ground. And, in light of the massive train wreck that is Windows 8, I suspect there’s more love for GNOME 3 than the haters will let on, because even Cinnamon, designed to thumb its nose at GNOME’s sexy new body, has recently implemented its own “expo” and “scale” overview modes. ;)

About jesse

Fiction writer / geek. Sci-fi fanboy and general Internet addict.
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