A look at GNOME’s designs

I took gnome-shell 3.6 for a spin and it looks pretty decent on the face value. It is doing fine for a product that I would consider a work in progress. But there are considerable number of designs that I would think are flawed by nature.

Yes, yes. Yet another rant against the poor designs of GNOME but I couldn’t help it. It’s been in my TODO for way too long. ;-)

Obfuscated unlock mechanism
The one that should be very obvious to most is having to slide using the mouse to unlock the screen and then type the password to unlock the screen. Why exactly is two different forms of authentication is required is beyond me. The idea of sliding to unlock is primarily for touch interfaces to prevent unlocking the phone by accident. On a traditional desktop environment, we shouldn’t have to do anything to unlock — the good ol’ way of entering the password should be sufficient. If the new shiny useless lock screen was designed with touch devices in mind, it should be implemented just on those devices.

No window controls for maximized windows
The next niggle is not showing the window controls for maximized windows. How exactly am I supposed to unmaximize windows once I maximize them? Oh yes, accessing the window menu using Alt+Space is always an option but do I really have to do all that just to unmaximize / minimize a window?

Or are we deprecating the feature of minimizing the window altogether? Actually, that seems plausible given there is no minimize button by default and I just had to put it back by tweaking the button_layout in dconf. Anyway, completely hiding the window control is even worse than Unity’s way of showing the window controls over mouseover and that is not exactly a good thing.

Lack of unobstructive notifications
The default GNOME notifications are distracting. It very much interrupts the workflow as the notifications require manual interaction to be dismissed. I currently fall back to Ubuntu’s notifyOSD as it doesn’t require immediate action but it isn’t perfect either.

Quicklists and progress bars
I really dig Unity’s minor but quite useful features like quicklists and progress bars. From having to quickly launch into a task to keeping an eye on the file transfer progress, these minor features were quite handy when I am using Unity. I am hopeful that implementing such features wouldn’t jeopardize GNOME’s long-term design plans.

Not everything that the GNOME designers have been doing seems backwards. They have made some chances that I commend.

Saving the all precious vertical space
Being a Unity user, I have been pampered with more vertical space as the window controls, title bar and the menu bar all gets rolled into the top bar and that gives ample of space when browsing the Internet and other regular activities. It is good to note that the GNOME’s current designs have similar guidelines and I would be eager to see more applications getting updated to match the designs.

In the meantime, I am using HTitle, a Firefox addon that hides the title bar when maximized as a stopgap solution.

The idea of being able to highly customize gnome-shell using the extensions is also impressive. I am afraid the various Unity lenses will never be able to match the versatility offered by the extensions.

And for some unknown reasons, flash videos have a much better performance in gnome-shell than in Unity. I am thinking it has to do with the differences in mutter and Compiz.

To bring about a closure to the semi-rant, I think gnome-shell has a bright future if the designers realize that they shouldn’t disregard all the form factors. Sure, target the tablet devices assuming they are the future but don’t forget the desktops and the laptops that are still around.

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2 thoughts on “A look at GNOME’s designs

  1. David

    My main problem with Gnome right now is that top left menu on Gnome Shell. It works just fine on Gnome Shell, but the Gnome team forgets that a lot of their software is to be used on other desktop environments. On Openbox, for example, that top left corner menu shows up as a single item on a menu bar. All that space for a single menu, it doesn’t make any sense, are they trying to make their software work only on Gnome Shell? Bad move, the AppMenu on a toolbar is a much better idea, or just good old menu bars.

  2. kelseynz

    Regarding points one and two because I think they’re the ones you take most issue with (especially considering your comment about tablets and forgetting desktops):

    1: The new lock screen is a little misunderstood. You can just as easily press Escape as slide it up with the mouse (which is actually easier than it sounds anyway). Gnome Shell is pretty keyboard-centric so unlocking with Escape makes sense.

    2: You can either double click the title bar or use the tiling features either by keyboard shortcut, or dragging the window to the top of the screen to maximize, or away from the top to unmaximize. This is consistent with the behaviour for vertically splitting windows. Anyway, I personally never even used the maximize button in Windows (prefer to just double click – so much quicker).

    I do agree on the notifications. It’s a little annoying mounting something in the terminal and having to get rid of the notification.

    Like I said, Gnome Shell is keyboard-centric. There are tablet features sure… but in my experience it most certainly doesn’t seem to be targeted at them (in the same way Windows 8 seems to be). I’ve been using Gnome Shell heavily nearly every day all year and have not once felt like the desktop experience was affected by the tablet features. I also don’t run a single extension. The only customization I’ve done is through keyboard shortcuts and a little visual tweaking (icons, fonts etc. through gsettings).

    On that note, I encourage you to look through the keyboard shortcuts!

    David: Yeah I hope they can find a better solution to that.


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