What Is Gnome 3?

2 Jun

I’ve been trying out Fedora 15 to give Gnome 3 a good run-through, and let me tell you guys, it’s a vast improvement over the last time I reviewed it. However, one question keeps running through my mind: why?

I don’t really understand what was, “wrong” or, “broken” about Gnome 2 that warrants the existence of Gnome 3, or the design of Gnome Shell. Do the Gnome developers think the work-flow was somehow flawed in the default Gnome 2 experience, and if so, what made them think that? What caused them to consider Gnome Shell as a good replacement in the first place?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very impressed with Gnome 3 – almost all the problems I have with it are the looks (seriously, the default GTK theme looks like ass and the icons are in serious need of replacing). You can quickly get used to the workflow, the menu has been fixed (it now uses the sensible catagory view that has existed in desktop Linux since forever) and the overlay is quite sensible in terms of work-flow.

The problem – the over-arching problem, the elephant in the room, not a problem in terms of the software or its design or missing features – is that it’s different. It’s very impressive, but after a while of using it, it doesn’t feel particularly better or worse than the default Gnome 2 experience. Gnome 2 had a very simple and very fast work-flow, and Gnome 3 now has a very simple and, arguably, fast work-flow, but it doesn’t feel like an improvement. It’s different, but that’s all it really is.

After a lot of thought, I think I have an answer: the difference is touch. It’s no secret the industry is moving towards portable devices, and touch-screen devices have become wildly popular. Which is ironic, because Microsoft have been trying to push Windows tablet devices since the turn of the century. Gnome 3 seems to want to be a touch-device-ready environment: everything’s big and chunky for fingers, and making everything click-accessible from the dashboard (open windows, the menu, virtual desktops etc.) seems specifically catered to our finger-prodding buddies of the future.

The thing is: pretty much everyone knows that a mouse-pointer-keyboard-driven interface is unappealing on a touch-screen device – the question Gnome 3 represents is, is putting a touch-screen interface on a desktop computer more sensible, or sensible in general?

I’m not convinced.

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