04 March, 2011

criticism towards GNOME Shell

Reading all the controversy around the decision by the GNOME Shell designers to remove the minimize and maximize buttons from GNOME shell reminds me quite a bit of the discussions around Plasma. Especially for stuff like the brilliant yet controversial Folderview widget.


It also makes me wonder if those complaining have ever tried GNOME Shell... As is adequately explained in this rationale, minimizing simply has no place in the concepts behind GNOME Shell. Period. And if you've tried GNOME Shell you would realize that.
GNOME Shell in openSUSE 11.4
Yes, Shell takes getting used to, it does enforce certain habits. If you want to customize your environment for maximum 'getting-work-done' then maybe GNOME Shell is (currently) not for you. But that's the crowd KDE has always appeased to anyway. There is after all a trade-off between efficiency and ease of use (or rather, discoverability) - it is why most seasoned sysadmins use a command line.


But the power of GNOME Shell lies somewhere else. Put a newbie in front of it. Observe - in 5 minutes they've figured out how to use it, really. It is very simple and intuitive. I find that very impressive. Especially on a touch screen, it all makes a lot of sense. And it also works on very small screens. And yes, you'll see, the minimize button DOES NOT make sense in GNOME Shell. Really.

If you want to criticize GNOME Shell, talk about technology. I would've advocated to not build a new tech platform but build Shell on something like Plasma which is designed to make interfaces like GNOME Shell, or do like Ubuntu did with Unity 2D). But I kind'a get why they didn't, it's software 'from the other camp'. A more harmful thing is that they didn't get involved with the fd.o systray/notification rework done by KDE and Ubuntu, I see it as a big miss for GNOME Shell, and I'll consider it narrow-minded until I see or hear a good rationale somewhere ;-)

Plasma 4.6 and KDE Apps in openSUSE 11.4
But don't balk at the design until you've tried it with your grandmother... And in the end, Shell is innovative and new and will need maturing. I always have a soft spot for innovative and new things, it's why I like Plasma despite the issues it still has. So I do look forward to the final release of GNOME 3 and I'm happy that we (openSUSE/Novell) decided to press GNOME 3/Shell LiveDVDs as soon as the release of GNOME 3 is out. Yes, we'll also make KDE ones, 4.6 on openSUSE 11.4 really rocks and deserves it ;-)


  1. I find the "if it works for you grandmother" idea really misleading. It might say something about really basic stuff, but if I had to use a computer, and someone made it exactly so that it's perfect for my granny, it probably would fall short for me.

    I've seen no grandmother complaining, either. ;-)

    Note: I haven't tried GNOME Shell, so I can't comment on certain choices made, and I won't. I do commend the developers for making bold choices, like removing functionality people have come to expect from their desktop systems for ages, and I'm interested how it will be picked up by a broader user base.

  2. What I don't understand is that the Gnome folks were usually the ones that didn't changed much, while the KDE users were used to more change. Now it's the complete opposite.

    Do you remember what happpened when KDE 4 was released:
    -Theme was too dark
    -Icons couldn't be placed on the desktop
    -The cashew wasn't removable

    So everyone grabbed their torches and pitchforks. Now Gnome does similar things, but it seems to be more accepted (so far).

  3. Actually tried out Gnome 3 today, and must say it looks and feels good. Though, I still prefer KDE; my 4 year old daughter found Gnome 3 to be quite easy to use.

    As for the controversy around the removal of the minimize and maximize buttons, I had already done that on one of my KDE machines a long while back before I even knew what Gnome 3 would be like.

    On the left of any window is only a shade and a close button. Don't seem to really need the shade button, but the close button by itself looked rather lonely. ;)


  4. Actually tried out Gnome 3 today, and must say it looks and feels good. Though, I still prefer KDE; my 4 year old daughter found Gnome 3 to be quite easy to use.

    As for the controversy around the removal of the minimize and maximize buttons, I had already done that on one of my KDE machines a long while back before I even knew what Gnome 3 would be like.

    On the left of any window is only a shade and a close button. Don't seem to really need the shade button, but the close button by itself looked rather lonely. ;)


  5. P.S. Sorry about the double post... click "Preview" the first time, but it Posted. :/

  6. Hi there, Jos. It's my understanding that Qt is behind Gtk when it comes to accessibility. That may be one of the only areas in which Qt is lacking, but it's a pretty significant one for FLOSS projects.

    Here Neil Patel provides some info on a11y in Unity 2d: http://twitter.com/#!/njpatel/status/43627182169407488

    Is the plasma desktop good with a11y tools? I really don't know...

  7. Jos, what my feeling has been over the past couple of years is that GNOME is becoming more and more accessible (not in accessibility sense) but more approachable to newbies -- who, let's face it, outnumber others by a large factor.

    This, unfortunately, is making KDE an elitist desktop -- not unlike something like OpenStep.

    Point is, more and more developers and pseudo-geeks like me ;) are using KDE but everyday users want and take to GNOME more easily than KDE (yes, even with 4.x series)

    The fallout is that due to pressure from newbies -- wife, kids etc -- more desktops at home are GNOME-based than KDE. This is a pity because just a pretty face is winning against solid (pun intended) technology!

    Lastly, and this is my personal peeve against KDE, GNOME and GTK based apps are more business friendly too. It is nigh impossible to integrate KDE is work-related networks which are Microsoft centric. KDE desktop today, does not offer any real integration into Microsoft technologies whereas "the other camp" does :)

    All in all, GNOME seems to have cornered the right eyeballs (newbies as well as offices) whereas KDE is fast becoming a desktop by the devs, for the devs and of the devs.

    Sad as the above comment is, I continue to use KDE because I really do believe it can do better but only if the devs start concentrating on the 'form' and not just the 'function' which, KDE has in plenty.

  8. I hope this (and another one with suspend/hibernation) stupid change will make users realize gnome is driven by some idiots who don't care about their needs. Ubuntu decided to not use gnome shell (me and many people found it to suck a lot), but to use unity which is made using Qt4. Sooner or later they'll probably switch to KDE - they're planning to ship Qt4 applications in the future Ubuntu releases. This is smart move, because gnome lacks a good media player (so Amarok or few other Qt4 players are here). Btw. I don't want to read such gnome biased articles at KDE planet. I know you're from novel, you ximians don't like KDE and want to make gnome to be dependent on M$ technology.

  9. I think GNOME Shell is awesome, I've tried and I get the idea, it still have some problems but for a .0 release is damn good.

    I also tried Unity in Ubuntu, is not bad but GNOME Shell wins hands down.

    I'd recommend to anyone to try it out as soon as possible.

  10. @Jim: About accessibility: Yes, Qt is behind in that area. Jeremy and some others are however working on it: http://jpwhiting.blogspot.com/2011/03/its-alive.html

    Plasma and QML are an even more complicated issue - solvable but somebody needs to put in the work :D

    @Anonymous: about GNOME being friendlier to newbies: depends on what you expect there. If someone uses a computer say 1-2 days per week for a few hours then GNOME is much ahead of KDE. If you work at it all day, the steeper learning curve is worth it as you get more done in less time. Esp children surely have no problem with a learning curve, they pick things up much faster than older ppl. I think in the long run extreme focus on usability bites you in the behind.

    About being more business friendly, absolutely. GNOME simply has a much larger corporate influence - companies like Red Hat and my own Novell focus most of their corporate development on GNOME to ensure it works good for businesses. KDE, being mostly volunteer based, simply works less good... This situation is changing however. Not really sure if it goes in the right direction - I think KDE doesn't as much get new resources as GNOME is loosing them - Red Hat and Novell have figured out there is no money to be made on the desktop, Canonical never contributed much, Nokia is bailing out (and what they have left goes to Qt). So there is an issue there for the Free Desktop in General, biting both KDE and GNOME.

    Anonymous calling me a Ximian: do your homework before saying that, LOL ;-)

    In general on the work on GNOME Shell:
    If you really want to innovate, you have to change things. You can do that in two ways: Build a new architecture which still allows for 'ye olde ways' and start from there (Plasma); or one big fell swoop, really re-designing everything and inventing a new, improved workflow (what GNOME Shell is doing).

    Plasma got so much criticism I guess the designers of GNOME Shell decided not to bother trying to keep things at least basically familiar - Plasma proved that even if you are 90% the same ppl still want that last 10 % and you can't change anything that way. So just make the jump and develop a vision and execute it. Takes balls, sure, but I think it'll work out in the end :D

    Might take a while - KDE's new direction took time to take shape and it took even longer for ppl to see it and accept it. But it's getting there and I bet GNOME Shell won't take that long...

  11. @Jim and @Jos
    That is not exactly correct. Fact is that Qt is far more advanced if it comes to accessibility. For example Qt works very well together with the IBM Blindread screen-reader on Windows. Also from my experience it is far easier to write e.g. a screenreader or other a11y-tools for QAccessible then for atspi2. So, what you probably where meaning is that Qt does not integrate as good as GTK with atspi2 yet an that is correct and there is indeed work going on there what is fantastic and hopefully will finally result in a common usable a11y-infrastructure on Linux (an BSD?). But then as long as the atspi2-quality is not in a same state QAccessible is in (I am refering here to the qtatspi-bridge which provides an atspi2-backend for QAccessible) using QAccessible direct is the better choice imho.

    KDE 4.6 does btw ship with KAccessible which brings a11y-tools to KDE using QAccessible. So, we have working alternates already but just like atspi2 they are atm island-noncrossesktop-solutions.

    One more thing I like to add is that for KDE we have the great Simon a11y-application. That is something atspi2 does not offer at all atm. See http://techbase.kde.org/Development/Tutorials/Accessibility for more details.

  12. At the end of the day there is no point in ranting at people who do not wish to change the way they work. And that is after all what this whole open source malarky is all about right? Letting people get on with stuff they way they want to rather than being dictated to by the establishment. Right?

    Early versions of Gnome Shell aggravated seasoned Gnome users because it was far too much a radical departure from what they are used to. PCs are tools to get work done. Period. If you can't get your work done then what the hell are you doing with your time? Messing with widgets trying to figure out how to get something done? Sounds a bit too much Like Microsoft Exchange to me.

    My final judgement on Gnome Shell will be reserved for the final release. But frankly I don't like what I've seen thus far and I'm getting really sick and tired of this constant bitch fest between Gnome and KDE.

  13. Jos, thanks for the link to the work being done on Qt a11y. It's great to see some progress there. :)

  14. Yeah, I don't get most the criticism of GNOME Shell, but then it's set up in a way that lets me work the way I like to work. :-D There's something slick about an interface that just stays out of your way, but works in a way that immediately makes sense to both slightly-experienced OS X and Windows 7 users. That's pretty darned impressive, imho.

    Having said that, although I tend to flip-flop between KDE and GNOME quite a bit, I'm currently running GNOME on Ubuntu and eschewed both GNOME Shell (not ready yet) and Unity (ditto, which is why it's a shame they ship it already) and went with the regular panel and AWN.

  15. Two things when comparing desktops that is almost always forgotten:

    1. The desktop is just a workspace for apps. The apps is really the most interesting thing to debate. Do the work well and in a good way?

    2. Open Source = A playground for developers that will try out new things that the cannot at their workplace. I see no other motivation for developers with good jobs to participate in open source projects. Dont forget that. I personally think that makes open source interesting, booth as a user and developer.

    Open source = Freedom of choice.
    Open source != I get what I want for free.

  16. I have a question for those who think that GNOME is easier and more user friendly to newbies. How long it is going to take a newbie to become a veteran and get sick of GNOME repetitive simplicity? At some point, a newbie is going to graduate, right!

    One other thing, How about starting newbies with KDE Netbook/Tablet Plasma Interface and switch to Desktop PLasma interface on the fly whenever they are ready and willing. KDE 4 Plasma has all that is necessary to emulate GNOME Shell already. May be someone might what to create such an interface.

  17. Jos
    I do not see how removing the minimize button makes any sense at all. I have found myself using it from time to time because at times it has proved convenient to minimize a window when I've needed to use an icon on my desktop.

    It might make sense to YOU, which is fine. But don't be forceful with your opinion. Let everyone make up their own minds on the matter without pressure.

    And remember. Change for the sake of change is pointless. Change for the sake of technical progress is great, but change for the sake of simplicity is a walk along a very fine line between user-friendliness and functionality degradation.

  18. This article is very disturbing. Like the Pied Piper, I've been spending the days since Gnome went Charlie Sheen promoting openSUSE as an alternative on various Gnome-based distros' blogs and forums. I promised that if they brought their love of Linux, on March 10th openSUSE was bringing the minimize and maximize buttons and lizards. :-)

    With Gnome and Ubuntu in a competition to see who can radically redefine the desktop the most by arbitrarily moving things or taking them away, now is the time for openSUSE to pick up converts as many frightened people will begin testing other distributions. In the best interests of openSUSE, please amend your blog to spread more fear, uncertainty and doubt. :-) :-) :-)

  19. @anonymous and jgm: as I said, unless you've tried GNOME Shell, why bother saying you miss the minimize button? There is no taskbar in GNOME Shell, so where to minimize to? switching apps goes via the 'activities' overview, dragging or via alt-tab (which is more efficient than anything anyway)...

  20. @jos: I have tried the GNOME Shell. I tried it on PCLinuxOS and I rather liked it. As far as I recall, GNOME Shell does have a taskbar or some equivalent. Maybe you call it the activities overview.

    But my point is I still used the minimize button. I suppose I find it easier to use because I don't have to look down from the screen to locate the alt and tab buttons, when all I have to do is point the cursor at a button on the screen and click once.

  21. Ok, I understand the point about minimize being unnecessary, but what is the reason behind removing it? I just don't understand the thought process. Are they really worried about that tiny amount of space one little button take up? There may be little advantage to keeping it, but there seems to be no advantage to removing it.

  22. @Patrick: any user interface element which serves no purpose makes the interface more cluttered and harder to use. So removing them has surely a benefit :D

  23. Hi.
    I've been compiling/using gnome shell for more than 1.5 years so I think I can say that I'm familiar with it.
    The loss of the min button simply makes no sense. It's like saying, "since you autohide the taskbar you should also hide the minimize button". Min'd windows are still running, and isn't a bad way to get things quickly out of the way without losing program state or going to overview.
    Simply a bad decision but I also understand that ALL the buttons on windows are remnants of years ago when windows were fairly new and window management hadn't been thought about a great deal. So the Gnome developers actually wanted to get rid of some of them and fix the problem. The problem, however, is that they haven't done a great job of it.

  24. I find this thing a bit funny.
    Since my grandmother likes it then I must like it.
    I ride a motorbike to commute to work, not a wheelchair.

  25. Doing things that limit the options of the user (newbie or dev) will make him run away, much like Ubuntu guys!

  26. GNOME 3 is made for end-users. End of story. I, as a power-user, need days to make it close to what GNOME 2 offered... I tried really hard to use GNOMT 3 for couple of days after Fedora 15 has been released, and gave up.

    Switched to LXDE and feel good now! Will give XFCE a chance again, when I have time... KDE 4 suffers the same problem as GNOME 3, but is now a much polished product...

  27. Thanks, now all linux users are "grandmothers" that doesn't turn off their pcs... lol. Show Gnome 3 to a power windows users, they will laugh a lot.

  28. if you don't like gnome shell (yet) use gnome2 it still works so whats the problem really.

    And btw kde4 isn't hard to use for newbies it looks just exactly the same as windows7


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