Archive for March, 2011

On switching to KDE/Xfce

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

So call me old fashioned, but I don’t like the direction being taken by modern “User Experience” design. To me, GNOME Shell provides an experience that I am supposed to love, but it doesn’t empower me to make changes to that experience according to my existing use practices when that given experience inevitably falls short of my own personal preference. Perhaps I’m just “wrong” and I should be doing everything differently, but I suspect like some other users, my reaction to this enforced pattern of use (a trend that has been a long time coming with GNOME) is to be driven away from GNOME as a desktop environment of choice, and toward something else. What “something else” is a very good question.

Unlike with the panel, in GNOME 3, I can no longer choose to have the clock where I want it, remove some of the unnecessary icons, or even add weather applets and information to the screen. At the same time, I am supposed to believe everything is now an “Activity” with a single menu button being used to drive everything I do, rather than various shortcuts and icons around the screen. I can’t even have desktop icons or launch a terminal via the right click menu (which now doesn’t exist in the default setup). I’m also not at all fond of the effects, or the new window manager. In fact, where GNOME 2.x did almost everything I wanted, it seems that GNOME 3 does the opposite. Where it used to be about productivity, it’s now about appearance and effects, at the cost of more experienced users.

So I find myself being a reluctant “convert” to KDE and Xfce in the past few days. I don’t want to switch, but I can’t stick with the new GNOME 3 desktop either. I like a lot of the GNOME applications, I like the libraries, and I plan to continue to use them. But at the same time, KDE and Xfce give me a more familiar look and feel (after a lot of tweaking to be made to look just like the GNOME 2 desktop it replaces). I’m going to give Xfce a go on my rawhide netbook for a while and see if it can be my upgrade path elsewhere, too. If not, I shall try KDE some more, etc. I did try xmonad but I do actually want a “desktop” environment. I just don’t want an environment that seems tailored for netbooks and novices rather than experienced veterans of UNIX and Linux.

Don’t think I’m happy with this, because I’m not. But I have tried the alphas, the betas, the test images, and I have watched things head in a direction I just can’t agree with on a personal use level. It’s a sad day for me because I’ve been using GNOME for a decade. I still have GNOME 2.x installed on many other systems, but it seems that its days are numbered, and it, too, will need to be replaced.


Don’t buy an Apple TV 2

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

So I had a $100 gift card, and applied my usual logic: buy something random to play with. In this case, since the Apple TV 2 is $99, it seemed like a worthwhile experiment. I say experiment, because I fully expected to be ripping it apart and poking at its innards anyway, so whether or not it actually worked well wasn’t really an issue for me. But let me share some impressions, anyway.

The hardware is typically Apple. It’s very well done. Cheap, but rugged ARM based system with 8GB of flash, 256MB RAM, lots of other goodies. This is certainly the main reason I bought it – to rip it open and poke at the innards and not really care because I got it as a gift and it was cheap enough anyway. There’s enough hardware in there to make a reasonable Linux set-top-box, or perhaps (more likely) break without really feeling much was lost (see software below).

Unfortunately, the software is typically Apple, too. Not only is it so locked down as to be useless out of the box (though you can fix some of it by jailbreaking, adding XBMC, etc.), but it doesn’t even live up to Apple’s traditional standards. This is true especially considering that they have tried twice to do this right now. The latest attempt fails because there is no integration. Rather than a boxee-style home screen with the latest bits of media you might be interested in, this facebook generation is greeted with a 1980s style menu system that might have been designed on the back of a napkin (were it wide enough to do so), in about ten minutes. Here are some of the ways the software fails to be useful:

  • The remote use is horrific. No scroll wheel (iPod style), only a limited number of non-useful buttons. I’m sure if you own an iPhone it’s slightly better, but the out of the box experience is that you have a shiny remote control (lovely hardware), with a bad software experience.
  • The home screen presents nothing other than simplistic drop-down, non-customizable (until you install “Overflow”, not supplied by Apple) menus. Very 1980s, not very 1990s, and certainly not the 2011 “facebook” generation wherein home screens are supposed to pull in all the latest bits of media, recommendations, etc.
  • The integration with services like Netflix is an afterthought. Interested in browsing through your instant queue? Every time you go into a title and leave, it’ll take you back to the start of – if you’re like me – several hundred items that have to be clicked through to get back to the item you were on. Not very Apple.
  • The Podcast subscription service is utterly painful, and rather than showing you the latest podcasts, you have to individually navigate to items in your “favorites”. Again, it’s an afterthought, added so it seems useful, but you wouldn’t want to use it every day (or all all).
  • Media sharing with your existing Apple system kinda works, but doesn’t include Audiobooks (a jab at Amazon?), and is very clunky.
  • Radio doesn’t do favorites, etc. Again, looks like an afterthought.

Really, the only thing this is good for out of the box is as a means to give Apple more money to watch iTunes content. So, if you’re planning to rent movies, maybe it’s useful. But it is a secondary set-top-box that might be useful for watching iTunes. It does not, and will not, be something you want to use if you live in the modern world.