April 7, 2011

Anthony's tentative thoughts on GNOME 3, Unity and XFCE

Anthony's tentative thoughts on GNOME 3, Unity and XFCE

Ars Technica has just published its review of GNOME 3, the newest version of the popular Linux desktop environment (including the one I use with Ubuntu 10.10). Read the details of GNOME 3 here:

http://arstechnica.com/open-source/reviews/2011/04/ars-reviews-gnome-30-a-shiny-new-ornament-for-your-linux-lawn.ars

After reading Ars’ review of GNOME 3 (as well as elsewhere about the new GNOME release), I’m not left feeling enthusiastic…

No maximize and minimize buttons on windows?! Yes, you can double-click the title bar to do so (or use the Windows 7-like maximizing feature they’ve apparently added), but still seems to fly in the face of the past 20-25 years’ worth of desktop GUI design. Also, some of us (such as myself) prefer to use the windowshade feature when double-clicking on title bars; a convenient feature I enjoyed even back in my 90s-era Mac days. I assume with this change also comes the elimination of windowshading?

Speaking of GUI changes, there’s apparently also no way to customize the desktop beyond wallpaper choice—to quote the Ars review:

As I have previously stated, the general configurability of the desktop has been broadly crippled. You can’t change your widget or window manager theme, set a screensaver, or adjust any of the interface colors. Shockingly, even font configuration appears to have been removed. I couldn’t find a way to change the default interface font sizes in GNOME 3.0. It’s not really clear yet how many of the missing features are gone forever and how many are just temporarily absent because they weren’t complete in time for GNOME 3.0. It seems like widget theming, at the very least, is going to make an eventual comeback.

I fail to see how *less* configurability of the interface than what I had on said 90s-era Mac (I assume we still won’t be allowed to set our own custom system beep noise, something my Performa 636 offered 16 years ago!) is “making things simpler” or an improvement. If they didn’t want to confuse newer users or wanted to “simplify” things, putting said features behind an “advanced” tab or something (as seen in some programs’ preference settings) would be better than simply removing them outright. Also, contrary to the Ars article’s remarks, I do make use of the panel widgets—a timer applet for chores such as timing my laundry, a weather applet, etc. Which brings me to…

The general interface. It looks like they’re either trying to (poorly) integrate aspects of OS X or (like Unity in Ubuntu) focusing too much on making it compatible with tablets/netbooks instead of desktops/laptops. Overall, it comes off looking confusing/unintuitive instead. And as the article notes, the default (only?) theme looks rather lackluster/space-wasting.

Meanwhile, the change to Unity with Ubuntu starting with this month’s 11.04 release doesn’t excite me much either. I’m not a fan of OS X’s Dock, so seeing something Dock-like become a part of the OS doesn’t thrill me. That, and I have a 15″ laptop, *not* a netbook or tablet… I don’t need a netbook-oriented interface

Despite that I’ll be giving both Ubuntu 11.04 (with Unity) and GNOME 3 a shot, I’m not overly excited about either one. Given this, I’m thinking of giving XFCE another try. XFCE is a lighter-weight desktop environment that keeps many of the current GNOME aspects I like (and is compatible with GNOME applications). The two XFCE versions I’m planning to look at are Linux Mint XFCE (the newest version was released yesterday) and Xubuntu 11.04, the XFCE version of Ubuntu, due to be released at the same time as Ubuntu 11.04. While I’d tried it before and thought it was OK (but felt a bit redundant compared to my existing GNOME/Ubuntu setup), I plan to give it another look.

Tags: GNOMELinuxLinux MintTechUbuntuXfceXubuntu