Archive for October, 2010

On Launchpad and Mission Control

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

So for all my joking about Steve Jobs, a guilty pleasure of mine is watching those slick and over-produced presentations he does from time to time (“one more thing…”). Today, I saw the latest “Back to the Mac”, which shows some pretty cool stuff. Amongst the talk though, came a sneak peak at Mac OS X Lion, which features two things called “Launchpad” (yeah…) and “Mission Control”.

These new “innovations” are obvious extensions of current trends in UI design, and as Steve says are inspired by mobile computing. More importantly, they show where I would have liked GNOME 3’s Shell to go – complimenting the panel without killing it off. Users who want to use the panels, desktop, and existing capabilities can do so, while those who want to see top level Applications launchers and clustered window management capabilities get those, too. I don’t want GNOME to do things exactly Mac-like, but I would hope there is still time to see how OSX was able to combine changing UI trends and find a way to preserve the existing panels in the mix. That would allow users like myself to keep things old school, and give newcomers and netbook users the glitzy gloss treatment.


On GNOME Shell

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

So I started using the GNOME Desktop last millennium, and over the last more than a decade have overall been quite impressed with the level of polish. It made a nice change in some ways from Enlightenment, and CDE, which were my previous desktop environments, and I coul live with the RAM footprint (after all, enlightenment is using 1.3GB of RAM now).

The last few years in particular have seen a growing trend to be more (but not quite) Mac-like, with lots of advanced features being buried over time, and over-simplification (for example, with sound controls). These are minor frustrations, but they can typically be worked around without much hassle and the experience remains overall quite good on GNOME 2.0. Things that used to be a hassle – like notifications, events, etc. and lot of plumbing have been worked out nicely by now. I love the work David Zeuthen and co. have done in particular, but many others have done good things.

Fast forward to today. I recently bought a new Netbook computer (an ASUS Eee PC 1015PEM – yea, I know, it’s not heavy on the OpenGL, but I don’t care enough about that) to run Fedora’s rawhide distribution fulltime as a desktop, and decided to try GNOME Shell. I had heard things and seen screenshots, but hadn’t really used it. Switching to GNOME Shell is easy enough on Fedora, simply using the “gnome-effects” application, which is in the menu. This switches the session from using a panel with metacity to gnome-shell with mutter, etc. But the mechanics are hidden behind a single button. That’s a nice touch, and anyone reading this who cares can easily try it out for themselves.

The GNONE Shell takes your current desktop and tries to simplify it down into something akin to the other Web-ish UIs we’ve seen in recent times. It uses a modified metacity window manager (which apparently will eventually be merged into the shell itself) and has some nicities, like built-in Javascript. You also get typical stuff like shortcut keys to run commands. It’s heavy on the gloss, but light on the complexity, prefering to present a “clean” interface to the user. The problem is that in this attempt to be so “clean”, it’s extremely off-putting to those of us who don’t want to use our computers like we might use a TV interface.

Overall, I am very unimpressed with the GNOME Shell experience. In an effort to target the UI at simplistic netbook users, it removes a lot of the features that I previously enjoyed, while being very Apple-like in prescribing how I will and will not use the UI. It has an “Activities” button that I need to click to do anything – akin to Microsoft deciding the Windows “start” button was a good idea to drive everything – while simultaneously removing panels, applets, and even doing away with Nautilus driving the desktop icons :( Now, it might be that things will improve, and I know they postponed the release once already, but I really feel this is still missing a lot of functionality I want in a desktop, and if it truly is to deprecate everything else will be a reason I migrate to XFCE, KDE, or cling onto somehow still running GNOME2 for a few years.

For now, my advice is to run “desktop-effects” and switch back to regular panels, then fire up gconf-editor and make sure nautilus is displaying desktop icons by manually creating the boolean “show_desktop” property under /apps/nautilus/preferences. I’m sorry I can’t be more enthusiastic about GNOME Shell. I don’t mean to be offensive, but I just think it’s gone too far this time.