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.)


Comments on this page:

From 77.183.88.196 at 2011-08-06 03:53:00:

I had good success with awsome so far. It's a very usable tiling WM, the Lua based configuration is friendly enough and the defaults are quite sane. Super-RET starts a new terminal, Super-[1-9] switches desktops, Suoer-R gives an input line to launch shell commands. The rest follows a vi-like pattern mostly.

My "Desktop" consists of a 16px high bar containing a desktop-switcher, 5 Buttons for most-used apps, a taskbar, tray and clock, nothing more. A few conditionals ensure I can just copy my config to any host where i need it.

If you prefer floating WMs, you could take a serious look at fvwm-crystal. It brings all the fancyness of things like gnome/enlightenment/etc. to fvwm while still remaining a quite readable config (for fvwm levels of readable of course ;)). Since you are already quite familiar with fvwm it should be easy to bend this to your needs. (This might provide the "generic" part to your fvwm config since it relies on scripts to detect system-specific stuff.)

Both WMs have the unbeatable advantage of being configured through simple text files instead of a registry-like XML behemoth and whatever KDE uses now. I'd have no idea how to transplant a Gnome or KDE config from one host to another.

From 90.168.118.112 at 2011-08-06 05:01:52:

I just installed SL 6 (was fed up waiting for centos 6 to come out) and have a nice gnome 2 environment for the next 6 years, I guess.

From 115.70.79.176 at 2011-08-06 05:26:07:

What about all those press-shortcut-to-open-run-dialog things, like OSX's command-space, or Windows' winkey?

By cks at 2011-08-06 13:52:40:

The important thing for me in a casual usage machine (including my laptop) is that I do not have to take much effort to configure the environment; thus, I want the desktop environment to come stock with the operating system and make all sorts of things just work (like wired and wireless network access, suspending a laptop when I close the screen, and so on). Anything that is not a 'yum install @whatever' fails this criteria. (I wrote about this at more length in MyThreeDesktops.)

If I abandon this criteria I would build a version of my usual desktop environment, since I am already extremely familiar with it and like it a lot.

If I ever wind up using Gnome 3, I'll remember to look for shortcut keys. But my cynicism says that the Gnome 3 developers do not consider 'start a terminal' to be sufficiently important to make accessible; instead, I rather expect that they feel that needing a terminal is an evidence of failure in their desktop environment.

From 70.95.102.101 at 2011-08-06 14:05:48:

Try unity for even more ugliness and increased effort at simple tasks. To launch a program from the menu bar in Gnome 2 it was just "click the 'start' button, move to program group, click the icon". Under Unity it's now "click the 'start' button, click the name of the group, click 'all items', scroll down through rows of ludicrously large buttons to find the app you want, then click". Gnome 3 was interesting, I think I share similar frustrations to you with it. It works well, but it doesn't work in anything approaching a productive way for me.

I'm now running Xubuntu on my workstation and netbook for productivity reasons. Yes XFCE is fairly raw in comparison to Gnome 2, but it really does 'just work' and does virtually everything I need it to. About the only thing I miss is being able to click the date in the panel and get a simple month view pop up. On the netbook I've got it running really minimal so the system is barely pushing 100Mb of footprint fully loaded. With the netbook being as relatively underpowered as it is, small footprint helps a lot.

From 76.113.53.175 at 2011-08-06 16:36:23:

"Run Command" is Alt-F2 in GNOME 3.

From 90.168.118.112 at 2011-08-06 18:10:29:

my laptop suspends/hibernates great with SL 6.x and everything is a yum command away. NetworkManager just works (wifi, 3G, vpn). I really do not see the benefit of running fedora on this one (F12 was great, F13 and F14 were buggy). I no longer bother with F15, to be honest.

From 166.216.194.83 at 2011-08-07 16:24:42:

I've been running gnome 3 for a while on ubuntu and overall I like it. What I like most is how much it stays out if my way. I always use a launcher like gnome do, or synapse though. Ctrl + space start typing what you want, like "terminal", after a letter or two its autocompleting and pores enter to launch a new instance of the program. Like you I spend the majority of my days in one of many console sessions. I never use any dock shortcuts so having all of those menus hidden I like, I could do it with gnome2 also, but the notifications in. gnome 3 are less obtrusive.

-- Nick Anderson Http://wwe.cmdln.org

From 195.26.247.141 at 2011-08-08 05:21:42:

(This may or may not be helpful, but...)

I gave up with Gnome a while back, and "desktop environments" in general as they tended to be too heavyweight and at random points in their development they would add things I didn't like or remove things I did.

Instead I've found that a plain window manager (stumpwm in my case) with just enough config to allow for some hotkeys (browser, emacs, terminal) and `wicd' for wireless/wired connections is much more palatable. (I never got on with NetworkManager, it seems to die or get angry with particular networks too often for my liking)

Both are an apt-get away for me (not sure about yum, but I assume so), and my wm config (and various others) slurp from version control quickly enough.

From 82.69.60.196 at 2011-08-09 19:27:24:

There's a mild risk you're going to come across like http://twitter.com/#!/1990sLinuxUser :-) Rumour has it there are extensions that provide may provide what you are looking for (e.g. http://www.fpmurphy.com/gnome-shell-extensions/ , http://git.gnome.org/browse/gnome-shell-extensions and http://intgat.tigress.co.uk/rmy/extensions/index.html ) but it does seem unlikely that they will go into default GNOME 3...

(Don't you remember people complaining about things when GNOME 1 switched to GNOME 2? The screams about metacity versus sawfish versus Enlightenment and so on? Plus ├ža change...)

From 98.245.155.174 at 2011-08-10 16:32:22:

I also really like Gnome 3. One thing I don't think most people realize is that there is a keyboard launcher like Gnome-Do built in already. if you want a mouse-driven experience most of the time, then yeah I don't think Gnome Shell is going to be the best choice. I use the keyboard as much as possible though, and Gnome Shell works great.

For me to launch a terminal I do <super>ter<enter>

what this does:

  1. <super>: Shortcut key for the Activities screen
  2. ter: In the Activities screen, typing starts searching for things in Applications, Settings, and in Recent Items. ter is what i need to type to pull terminator to be the auto-selected item.
  3. <enter>: launch the currently selected item.

<super>chr<enter> launches chrome.
<super>na<enter> launches nautilus

Some extra work for this mode, is definatly still needed, but I really like the workflow. Especially as after, everything gets back out of my way. I don't have to worry about a dock taking up screen real estate, I don't have to worry about an open windows panel or a workspace switcher.

By cks at 2011-08-18 11:31:44:

A belated note: the shortcut key for Activities and searching there doesn't really help, because it has general Activities problem. If I already have a terminal window running, it's a special menu entry to start another one; just hitting return only pops up the existing one.

(Alt-F2 is worse, since it needs enough of the program name to autocomplete it and 'Terminal' is actually 'gnome-terminal'.)

From 82.228.149.26 at 2011-08-28 08:52:20:

What about just using the Ctrl+N shortcut of gnome-terminal (or xterm or whatever) ?

From 50.73.126.69 at 2011-08-28 16:31:40:

By the way, you can set custom shortcuts to custom commands very easily in the keyboard settings window. I use alt+F3 for a terminal, for example.

Sure, it lacks in certain areas and the settings utilities are incomplete, but nothing else I've seen is as good looking and easy to setup/use as gnome 3.

From 67.167.81.145 at 2011-08-28 18:03:02:

I switched to XFCE too. I love it.

From 98.193.92.209 at 2011-08-28 22:32:44:

If you're still using Xfce, check out the theming work done by the Shimmer Project. They are the artwork team that has done the Xubuntu artwork, but their stuff of course works on other Xfce distros.

From 85.226.50.203 at 2011-08-29 06:50:09:

Yet another one who fail to do his homework... what is it with people? You could get your functionality with extensions. Extensions will soon be as easy to install as a Firefox add-ons. Gnome3 and shell are in many ways a lot better than Gnome2.

I guess people are just lazy... The funny part is that people like this are the same who redirect others to google when they ask for help.

By cks at 2011-08-29 14:50:55:

The information about custom shortcuts is useful. Note that at least the Fedora 15 version of Gnome 3 doesn't come with a 'launch terminal' shortcut defined; you have to know that this is possible (and where to find it, which is now in Keyboard). It also turns out that you can control-click an Activities thing to always launch a new instance instead of just switching to its window, which addresses one large irritation (I found this out from the reddit discussion of this entry.)

As for shell extensions, well, the news is mixed as I wrote in Gnome3ExtensionFail and as a commentator pointed out. The current state is immature (to put it one way), the extensions are lacking, and at least some of the Gnome 3 developers seem significantly hostile to having a really healthy, featureful extension system. Since the Gnome developers have a long history of acting on what they feel is best instead of what users want, I am at this point not optimistic about the ability of extensions to significantly change the Gnome 3 environment into something that I really like and find particularly useable.

(One of my strong feelings is that the Gnome 3 developers are targeting people who use their computer in a significantly different way than I do. This probably really calls for a full entry, so I'm going to wave my hands for now.)

Written on 06 August 2011.
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