Five Things I Dislike About Gnome

Christopher Tozzi, Contributing Editor

August 25, 2009

4 Min Read
Five Things I Dislike About Gnome

Gnome is a great desktop environment.  But it’s not perfect.  If I could pick five things for the Gnome developers to change or improve, here’s what they’d be.

Before I criticize Gnome, however, let me emphasize how much I like it.  I’ve been through half-a-dozen desktop environments in numerous Linux distributions, and have settled on Gnome as the best of all of them.  KDE is too unstable, XFCE‘s missing features aren’t worth the minimal resource savings, and Fluxbox is only fun if you like editing text files in order to turn your GUI on.  For me, Gnome isn’t perfect, but it’s better than the alternatives.

I should also clarify that this article discusses Gnome is its broadest sense, as both a graphical interface and a collection of applications and utilities for managing the system–so any software that falls under the auspices of the Gnome project is fair game for criticism.

1. Greedy NetworkManager

NetworkManager is a wonderful tool for managing network connections.  My biggest gripe with it, however, is that it likes to try to take over my life and decide what’s best for me, even when I disagree.

For example, if I happen to have wired and wireless connections available at the same time, NetworkManager will always prefer the wired connection, which isn’t necessarily the one I want to be connected to.  Similarly, if I’m trying to manage an interface from the command line, NetworkManager likes to keep trying to control it, invalidating my manual settings.

The only way around these problems is to kill the NetworkManager daemon and manage the network from the command line, which is hardly a practical option for non-geeks.  It would be great if there were an easy way to tell NetworkManager to prefer wireless over wired if desired–or, even better, to ignore certain interfaces altogether.

2. Filename extensions

One of the things I hate most about Windows is how it relies solely on filename extensions in order to determine the encoding of a given file and how to handle it–which means a crisis ensues when the unthinkable happens and Windows comes across a file without an extension, or with an incorrect one.

Ubuntu, in contrast, ships with a great utility called ‘file’ that can figure out what the system should do with almost any kind of data stream in the world, regardless of the name it happens to be given.  Unfortunately, Gnome suppresses this functionality by behaving just like Windows, looking at filename extensions in order to determine which applications should be used to open a file, rather than examining the file itself.  Although some might argue that this is a feature, I think it’s silly, and would love to see it changed.

3. gnome-panel musical chairs

No matter how hard I try, I can never seem to make the items in my Gnome panel stay where I put them.  Even with the ‘lock to panel’ option set, my applets occasionally end up moving around for no discernible reason when I log out and back into Gnome.  This isn’t a show stopper, but it is annoying.

4. Plain-text XDMCP

Although it’s probably rarely used by non-geeks, Gnome’s built-in support for XDMCP, which makes it trivially easy to share an X server complete with Gnome sessions over the network, is a great feature.  Unfortunately, the data transfer is not encrypted, which raises a lot of security issues.  Sure, there are ways to encrypt the sessions if you like the command line and have ssh servers available, but it’s silly that the data isn’t just protected by default.

Supposedly gdm can be compiled with a flag to enable XDMCP encryption, so perhaps the blame lies with distributions rather than the Gnome people.  But it would still seem to make more sense for XDMCP encryption to be a runtime option, or the default setting at build time rather than an extra parameter.

5. Seahorse

Gnome ships with Seahorse (otherwise known as ‘Passwords and Encryption Keys’) built-in for easy management of passwords and similar items.  I like Seahorse a lot, and if it didn’t make it so simple to manage dozens of passwords and keys, I would probably be less responsible about not using the same passwords for different services.

What I don’t like about Seahorse and its integration into Gnome is how it asks incessantly for authorization to open the keyring, no matter how many times I click the “Allow Always” option.  Connect to a wireless network, open the keyring.  Check email in Evolution, open the keyring.  Mount an SFTP share, open the keyring.  Surely this could be improved without comprising security.

None of the gripes outlined above is serious enough to cut into daily productivity or make me think about switching to a different desktop environment.  But they’re all worthy of improvement, and the Gnome developers should take note of items like these in order to continue to produce the best desktop environment around.

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About the Author(s)

Christopher Tozzi

Contributing Editor

Christopher Tozzi started covering the channel for The VAR Guy on a freelance basis in 2008, with an emphasis on open source, Linux, virtualization, SDN, containers, data storage and related topics. He also teaches history at a major university in Washington, D.C. He occasionally combines these interests by writing about the history of software. His book on this topic, “For Fun and Profit: A History of the Free and Open Source Software Revolution,” is forthcoming with MIT Press.

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