Aug 022011

The Linux desktop took great strides as GNOME and KDE migrated through versions 1 and 2 (and even 3 in the case of KDE). They literally caught up with the competition starting from the likes of fvwm2 and windowmaker in an incredibly short period of time.

Since then though, things have been sluggish at best. GNOME put a lot of work into the nuts and bolts which is a good thing, but didn’t do much to improve the user experience. KDE continued to blaze ahead with new technologies like Plasma and their white-screen-of-death… errr, maybe that wasn’t a feature. So GNOME 2 grew stale, while KDE became shiny and unusable.

While this was going on the GNOME Shell sprang into existence with lots of radical paradigm shifts in the desktop usage model. Not to be outdone, well not without trying anyway, Mark Shuttleworth began pushing Unity onto unsuspecting faithful Ubuntu users. Both of these have been met with significant resistance. While GNOME’s new desktop appears to have lovers and haters, Unity had haters and… well… sheep, but no lovers.

So no that Fedora 15 is out and ships with GNOME3 by default, I figured it’s time I gave it a fair shake as I did unity some time back. I grabbed the x86_64 Fedora 15 live installer and stuck it on a USB key using unetbootin.

So, first things first. Before evaluating GNOME3 I had to make some modifications so that I could do something other than complain about the defaults:

  1. Edit /usr/share/themes/Adwaita/metacity-1/metacity-theme-3.xml and replace all title_vertical_pad values with “0” (from the absolutely nucking futs default of 13).
  2. Alt-tab between “different windows” is broken by Gnome3’s window grouping. To switch back and forth between two windows of the same application (say two consoles for instance) use alt+~ instead of alt-tab. There are extensions to restore the by-window behavior, but this is simple enough and provides some added functionality.
  3. Install gnome-tweak-tool to be able to setup some decent fonts and font sizes, or alternatively just use the gnome-shell profile editor to select a console font manually. The rest of the fonts seem relatively sane.

This is just what I did to be able to tolerate the live-image from Fedora.

The Good:

  • The death of the folders and files on the Desktop. I hate them – and yet I am simply not diciplined enough not to put them there. In this one case, I appreciate the system forcing better behavior on me :-)
  • Better use of the Desktop. I like the full screen menu, especially with groups and a search function. It’s easy, intuitive, and attractive. Having the panel and the workspace switcher all integrated into that view works well for my workflow.

The Bad:

  • Constant Accessibility icon. If I don’t need this now, I probably am not going to need it tomorrow (crossing my fingers).
  • The panel calendar opens evolution, and only evolution. Evolution sucks (and so does Coke, Casio algebraic calculators, the Chrome browser, and Emacs), we need a calendar service that other applications can provide. Having the address book, mail, and calendar all assumed to be evolution is annoying.
  • The current window icon in the panel… wtf is that all about? It serves no useful purpose that I can determine.
  • The categories list in the Activities->Applications view is very small in relation to the application icons, detracting from the very easy course mouse control required to select applications when you have to revert to careful precise control to select a category.

All the said, Gnome 3 is hands-down a much better integrated and implemented desktop environment than unity. Someone needs to take the developers rose colored shades away, and then I think we’ll have a nice Desktop solution.

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