Gnome3 usability

I have been, and still am, quite a fan of Gnome. I followed the development of Gnome3 and was relatively pleased when it came out, despite all the bashing. I even find some workflows sorely lacking when switching to other desktops, which is a good sign (for Gnome). It has its rough edges of course, and I hoped they would be ironed out, but I get to think that this might never happen, because some of the things seem to be intentional. Let me list a few of the things that I am most concerned about:
– The timezone-aware clock. I loved this thingy in Gnome2, I would add any location I want, and the clock would show me the time in those places in the popup view. Since I am working with heavily distributed team, this is an extremely useful feature. The clock in Gnome3 instead is very basic. I have seen a discussion somewhere to re-introduce the timezone aware clock back into Gnome3, but apparently it never happened. And doesn’t have anything like that either.
– The hopping notification icons. Unless you are very good with the mouse, it becomes a little bit of a chase to click one of those notification icons in the lower right corner. Why the hell do the need to show a name in the taskbar, and move around while you hover over them??? This is so usability-backwards! Moving things are always a bit of a double edged sword in any GUI. Yes, movements *can* be a very useful visual cue to something happening, but needs to be implemented with great care to not end up being totally confusing. In this particular case I simply don’t get it: why not simply show the icons and only show the ‘name’ (or whatever, sometimes it’s really just some crappy variable name or such) in a tooltip when hovering over it?? There is completely no good reason to shuffle those icons around!
– Epiphany’s new fullscreen mode. The idea is SO good!! But the implementation is so far off, I cannot believe it. First: once maximized there is *NO* way to unmaximize it. I mean, yeah, ALT+F5. After having looked it up in the *web*. Similar for *CLOSING* the frakking browser window. It requires to do 2 mouse moves and 2 clicks. Not to speak of the initial confusion of the close button being replaces by a menu, that simply should not be there. Yeah, CTRL+W. I know. It seems like one half of Gnome devs target idiots who need huge title bars in order to not miss them, and the other half targets superusers who never use the mouse and know gazillions of shortcuts. This is just wrong.
– Since Gnome 3.4 some applications seem to use a new theme with slick scrollbars and stuff, while the other half uses a different theme. I guess it’s because of GTK2 vs. GTK3 dichotomy, but why?? Why not make them look the same until every major app is switched to GTK3?? Now the whole experience is totally inconsistent. I hated this when it happened with Ubuntu’s new scrollbar (and the new Gnome3.4 scrollbar is only slightly better… requires mouse-superskills) now Gnome upstream repeats the same mess.
– For some unknown reason, Evolution becomes more and more broken with every release. In Gnome3.2, it would freeze every now and then when I enabled spam filtering. Now it freezes whenever the computer comes back from suspend, which is the new OFF. (Ok, it doesn’t strictly freeze, it just doesn’t seem to be able to connect to any network.) Fail. Ah, and it manages to always come up on the wrong screen.

I find the state of Gnome quite sad. On one side I really like many of the ideas. On the other side, it really feels a bit like 1998 in many respects. And this is not because of needing to re-learn new concepts, I actually like to try and learn new ways of work. It is really because some things are made unnecessarily hard, for no apparent reason. Or buggy. Or both. I really wish the that those issues get ironed out over time, because I do like Gnome and the underlying ideas.


About Roman Kennke
JVM Hacker, Principal Software Engineer at Red Hat's OpenJDK team, Shenandoah GC project lead, Java Champion

7 Responses to Gnome3 usability

  1. Try Kubuntu.
    It is so nice and human as a desktop environment can be. I’ve switched to KDE 4.8 from Gnome 2 without even trying to fix all Gnome 3 oddities and I don’t look back since. Even Gnome 2/3 applications looks nicer under KDE. *You* can set how thin/thick scrollbars should be, pixel-wise. Decent notifications. Tons of customizations but also usable default settings too. And you have your clock with timezones (as many as you like *per default*) 🙂

    • DoofusOfDeath says:

      I’ve tried Kubuntu, and it’s been a real source of frustration.

      I have a Dell M6500 laptop, with a custom GPU, the AMD 7740. It’s actually a pretty solid graphics chip by 2010 standards.

      Even with AMD’s fglrx drivers seemingly in effect, the Kubuntu desktop absolutely crawls for me. The Mint and Windows desktops work just fine on this computer.

      So even though I think Kubuntu would probably be far superior for me than Gnome, I simply can’t use it.

  2. Robin says:

    The rough edges will be sorted out, and some work is already in progress:

    – Clock:

    – Notifications:

    – Scroll bars: Yes, it’s a Gtk 2 vs 3 issue. There are other differences in the theme, the scroll bar are maybe just the most visible. I guess it would be quite an effort to make Gtk 2 look like Gtk 3 (and sometimes not possible due to new features). So I prefer that the manpower goes into other stuff, like improving Gtk 3 theming possibilities, e.g.:

  3. Mario Torre says:

    Robin, do you realize that those design attempts are all based on mobile devices and that Gnome 3 most common mobile device is a 15 inc huge lenovo laptop?

    • Robin says:

      How do you know that? I’m using Gnome 3 on a desktop and the designs are also usable there so far. I think the designers are targetting mobile devices as well as desktops and big laptops.

      With my comment I just wanted to show that some things are being worked on, that’s all.

      • Mario Torre says:

        “I think the designers are targetting mobile devices as well as desktops and big laptops.”

        That’s exactly where Gnome 3 is a complete failure. Two different world that share so little needs specific solutions, not a one size fits all. Gnome 3 fails in usability even the simplest checkpoints in the most recognized usability books. That’s not to say that there should be no experimenting, quite the opposite! However, one should recognize what fails and what not. Gnome 3 developers are simply enjoying their own microuniverse without caring for anybody that disagree. They always talk about how cool are those new designs, without listening to any critcs whatsoever. This is the wrong attitude. If it weren’t the big part of most major distribution, without any reasonable alternative left, I would not care at all, but Gnome 3 is the major Linux Desktop, so we can’t simply ignore it.

  4. Michael says:

    For the evolution issue, there is a bug report opened ( )

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