Gnome Shell Review

14 Oct

OK, you all probably know about my unadulterated bias towards KDE, but I’ll keep that out of here. From henceforth, I shall not mention that other desktop environment during this review, neither for comparison of features nor stability. I’ll also kindly omit the presence of bugs in this review – there are some, but it’s beta software, and as I’ve stated before bugs are unintentional side-effects of the developers having souls, while design decisions are intentional and indicative of the direction of the project. So, I’m going to keep the discussion strictly to features and intended work-flow. Right, with all that out of the way, here we go.

What’s Stayed The Same

Most things, actually. Nautilus still draws the desktop, the same themes are used for windows and widgets, and all the programs remain the same. Whether there are massive changes on the way for the rest of Gnome as part of 3.0, I don’t know, but it should be noted that Gnome-shell will only replace your window manager and panel manager. Splended.

The Defaults

By default, you’ve got one panel at the top, which shows in this order: the Activities button, where all the interesting stuff happens; the current window’s title; the clock; the system tray (which hasn’t been ported to the new spec, as used in… erm, Ubuntu); and finally, a menu with your username on it. I don’t like that the clock has been placed smack-bang in the middle of the panel, with yarns of space on either side – it seems isolate and out-of-place. I feel like it should at least be grouped with the other applets, on either side of the panel. Clicking on it brings up the calendar which, being small as it is, only draws attention to the fact that it’s a teeny-tiny bit of information right in the middle.

The default screen

Now, onto the first feature (or lack thereof): there’s no way to change the panel at all. No right-click menu, no right-, middle- or left-click-‘n’-drag of applets, no adding or removing panels – nothing. You get what you’re given and you’ll like it, dammit!

Well, I don’t. Like I said, I don’t like that the clock is smack-bang in the middle. I’m not asking for the world here: I mean, I would be fine if I couldn’t make new panels, resize the current panel or even change where on the screen it is. All I want is to move that clock. Surely a click-‘n’-drag should be enough. I’d prefer it on the right, as I’ve always had it, but at this moment in time that requires that I hack the javascript that the panel’s written in (or something daft like that). Haha! Thanks but no thanks.

Now, this may well come in the future, but that it isn’t here already is pretty disconcerting: I know not everyone is the tweak-geek that I am, but that even the most basic amount of customisability seems a complete afterthought is quite distressing.

Anyway, as shown in the screenshot above, the theme is currently white-text-black-background. Fair enough, lets focus on getting the functionality in there and getting it working to start. However, there are actually themes available for it and, as a natural progression from that, I expect the ability to change the themes to be built-in with a nice GUI somewhere. Doing a bit of googling lead to this post, which does list some quite attractive themes – I couldn’t get one of them to work, but no biggy. I’ll try again later and make amends to this post if warrented.

What You’re Here For: Workflow

OK, so to start I’ll cover the more basic right-hand-side menu. You can go here to change your instant messenger status, to change your account or system preferences, to toggle a (currently ugly-as-sin) side-bar and to log out. It seems to me to be a strange kind of menu, with several seemingly disconnected activities going on in there (for example, I expected preferences to be part of the Activities menu), but there’s not so much in there that you forget what to go there for.

Now then… the Activities menu. The meat-and-‘taters feature of Gnome shell. First things first, I’ll show you what it looks like:

The display you’ve all seen before

There’s some pretty cool stuff here: you can mouse-wheel over windows to, "zoom in" on it until it’s the actual window size; click-‘n’-drag applications, documents and places onto a virtual desktop to open it in a window in that desktop; see all windows across all desktops and quickly switch to any of them, or close them, from this view; create and remove virtual desktops; and search for applications, documents or places to open.

I don’t like it. I’m sorry, I really don’t. It’s nothing to do with the theme, either, I just don’t like the way it works. I’m stirring up a hornet’s nest with this blog post, but I just really, really don’t like it.

First, why does this assume that I want to see everything when all I need is, say, to close my Thunderbird window? To open my home folder? To switch to my Firefox window? Why do I have to move my mouse to the top-left before I can switch back to my blog post window, just to move my mouse back to the bottom right? I get that virtual desktops needed to be made more obvious, in a way, "explained" to the user through the interface itself, but why should I need the ability to add and remove desktops when all I want is to open OpenOffice? Am I really going to be adding and removing virtual desktops often enough that it warrants going there? Isn’t there a more economical way to either launch applications or manage virtual desktops?

And why, O why, does the application menu not divide into categories as in previous versions of Gnome? You know why there wasn’t a search function in the previous menu implementations, right? Because they didn’t necessitate one. If you’re going to add a search function, make it complement the current, very nice menu structure, not replace it. Having all applications everywhere exposed all at once, in alphabetical order, is just as bad as the Windows start menu. Seriously, this menu is horrific. If my hand is already on the mouse, say, to move to the menu, then I’d like to be able to open, say, Thunderbird with one swift motion, not having to scroll through hundreds of applications to find it. Yes, I can hit Alt+F1 and search for Thunderbird, but maybe I don’t want to because maybe previous versions didn’t necessitate that behaviour to get decent results in a sensible time frame.

Why isn’t there another, more sane way of accessing minimised applications, than the Activities menu? Why is my list of open applications mixed with my list of favourite applications, and how do I tell the difference when I have, say, my favourite applications open? Why does right-click behave differently between the open/favourite applications and pretty much every other menu in there?

How am I supposed to be able to tell, at a glance, my applications apart from the Activities menu if I have more than 6 windows open? Bear in mind that this is on a huge screen: what am I going to do if I try to use this on a netbook? Doesn’t this lack of recognition defeat the entire purpose of laying your windows out on a grid Compiz-style? Why can’t I move that sodding clock?!

…*cough* Suffice to say, it’s progressed well, but is currently still quite rough around the edges, and for the first time I think I can say I’m excited about Gnome (Jesus, did I just write that?). I’m looking forward to the final 3.0 release, when hopefully the bugs are ironed out and the features are figured out and implemented, so keep up the good work!


4 Responses to “Gnome Shell Review”

  1. trashbird1240 October 14, 2010 at 16:48 #

    I’m glad to see your review — how dare you have a negative opinion! I’m excited about Gnome shell, but I’m also excited about “aint broke don’t fix it,” totally going ignored.

    • trashbird1240 October 14, 2010 at 16:48 #

      I meant to say “apprehensive” in that last sentence…

  2. John037 October 14, 2010 at 17:08 #

    Thats a very old version of the Shell!

    • the Madman October 14, 2010 at 22:37 #

      Yeah, I was told. Just what I get for sticking to the LTS.

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