Gnome 3: I'm out

August 6, 2011

I've now had the chance to run Fedora 15 with Gnome 3 on a machine that could actually handle it, and I have to say: I'm out. It's clear that Gnome 3 is not going to be what I consider a usable environment, now or in the future, not unless the Gnome developers have a drastic change of heart and orientation. Gnome 3 is full of decisions that work exactly opposite to what I want, decisions that make things I do all the time harder, more annoying, and more time-consuming. There's no point in waiting a version or two for Gnome 3 to mature, because maturity won't change these.

(This is entirely apart from the crippling lack of my panel applet based ssh environment. This is at a more fundamental level.)

(Also, I've now tried Fedora 15 on my laptop and determined that its graphics are nowhere near good enough to run Gnome 3's normal interface and the Gnome 3 fallback interface is only a bad, crippled imitation of Gnome 2. So no matter what I'd need an alternative on my laptop.)

I find this quite frustrating for two reasons. First, I have a quite nice and productive Gnome 2 environment that I'm going to lose in the name of desktop 'progress', with basically no prospect of getting something as nice back. Second, because I actually need relatively little from an environment in order to be acceptably productive, yet Gnome 3 can't even provide that little accommodation.

This means that I need a new interface for my laptop and any other machine that I use more than very briefly. I tried out the Fedora 15 version of KDE and wasn't terribly impressed; it's better than Gnome 3, but that's not saying very much. Then I gave XFCE a test (based on Linus Torvalds mentioning that he'd switched to it) and so far it's, well, acceptable. Just as Linus said, XFCE is brutally minimal and not very attractive and not as good as Gnome 2 was, but it works and does what I need and I can probably customize it sufficiently. In the grand new world of Fedora 15+, this is evidently going to have to do.

(And it's packaged in Fedora 15, and Fedora might even accept 'this doesn't work under XFCE' bugs, which matters a lot to me for this kind of machine; if I wanted to do all of the work myself, I could try to build a generic version of my fvwm environment.)

I don't know if this changes my plans to skip Fedora 15. I'm still thinking about that.

Sidebar: what I need out of a desktop environment

On a basic machine (including my laptop) I spend most of my time running ssh interactively and using a web browser. To be acceptably productive, I need a fast way to start a new terminal window and a a fast way to start a new browser window (ideally for both Firefox and Chrome). In Gnome 2, parking icons for both of these somewhere is good enough; I can click on one of them to get a new copy of the appropriate thing. And yes, I really do want a new window in each case.

This is not as productive and useful as my nice ssh environment, but it's enough to get by. If I can associate fixed commands to some convenient button-like objects (panel launchers, for example), so much the better, because then I can make certain commonly used things be easily accessible.

Gnome 3 may someday get launchers and convenient addition of 'launch this thing' to the panel and a setting so that when you click on the terminal icon it doesn't default to 'helpfully' showing you your existing terminal window but instead starts a new one (and I may someday get a laptop that can run this interface). However, if it has them today they are the usual undocumented Gnome settings crud that advanced people are supposed to just know or spend a bunch of time to web-search up, and frankly I am tired of all of that.

(Okay, maybe they're in the documentation and I'm a bit too disgruntled here. But launchers are certainly not done the way that they used to be.)

Written on 06 August 2011.
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Last modified: Sat Aug 6 01:32:36 2011
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