Five Things To Fix In Gnome Shell
A few days ago, I installed the release candidate for Gnome 2.30, which provides an overview of what Gnome 3 will look like when it appears next fall. Since I’ve begun using Gnome 2.30, I’ve become more disappointed by the hour with the way it works. Here’s a list of the top five flaws in Gnome 2.30 that will make me an LXDE user if they are not addressed before the Gnome 3 release.
Before delving into the criticism, I should be clear that I’m not fundamentally opposed to the new ideas present in Gnome 2.30. Some of the concepts it incorporates–in particular Gnome Activity Journal, which saves users from having to remember where their files are stored–are highly valuable, while I see potential for Gnome Shell being a useful window manager. And some of the complaints below may be more properly categorized as bugs than fundamental design flaws.
All the same, the build of Gnome that I’ve been using represents a major step down from the intuitive and responsive desktop environment to which I grew accustomed when I adopted Ubuntu years ago. I’m shocked that this is a release candidate for any stable version of Gnome, because I can’t see it being usable at all for many people.
In particular, the following things should change:
1. Laggy interface
Admittedly, the Dell Latitude 2100 netbook on which I’m running Gnome 3 is no Hercules of CPU or GPU power. But it is only a few months old. Boasting two gigabytes of memory and a decent Intel graphics chipset, it handles normal compiz effects without issue.
My experience with Gnome Shell on this machine, in contrast, has been less than impressive. There’s a sharply noticeable delay when clicking buttons in the Activity overlay, and switching between workspaces and normal/overlay mode is choppy. The video below illustrates some of these issues:
Some of that choppiness is due to dropped frames in the screencast, but most of it is in Gnome itself.
2. No taskbar
As it exists in the RC for Gnome 2.30, Gnome Shell has a panel that contains a notification area, but no taskbar for switching between windows. Even when multiple windows are open on the same desktop, the panel displays the title only of the application that has focus. The only way to know which windows exist on which desktop is to switch to overlay mode.
This is just plain silly. Even if Gnome developers want to discourage users from managing windows via a taskbar, they should make it clear which windows are open on which workspace at which time without necessitating a switch to overlay mode.
3. No support for compiz
Unlike traditional Gnome, Gnome Shell is its own window manager–which means that, at least as it stands currently, users can no longer choose between window managers like Compiz, Metacity or Enlightenment according to their needs. It also means the extensive additional functionality offered by some of these window managers is unavailable under Gnome 3.
The lack of support for Compiz is particularly troublesome to me. Not being able to wobble my windows or rotate my cube is one thing, but other Compiz plugins–such as Scale and Zoom–provide vital functionality that’s sorely lacking in Gnome Shell.
Maybe Gnome Shell and Compiz will find a way to play nicely together by the time of the 3.0 release. But as of now, the lack of support for basic Compiz functionality is a serious problem.
Applications can’t be categorized
Gnome Shell’s application menu, available from the Activities overlay, doesn’t provide any way to categorize programs. It just lobs them all together in alphabetical order, rather than sorting them according to genre, as the Gnome <2.30 menu does.
This decision presumably reflects Gnome’s newfound focus on moving away from organizational hierarchies, which I applaud when it’s implemented properly. But not being able to file applications under categories takes things too far.
Last but not least, Gnome 2.30 is just plain ugly. In particular, the black, borderless panel with pixelated white text is less than appealing to the eye, and doesn’t respond to changes to the desktop theme. The Activities panel is a bit more aesthetically pleasing, but still nothing to write home about.
To be sure, there’s no right or wrong when it comes to deciding what’s “pretty.” But I’m confident that I’d have a hard time finding many people who would call the current interface gorgeous. Moreover, the lack of customizability is troubling, since it makes it impossible to fit Gnome’s look to one’s preferences, whatever they happen to me. And free software is all about customization, right?
Gnome 3 or not Gnome 3?
Succinctly, those are the five things that I think are most wrong with Gnome 3, if the 2.30 release candidate can be taken as any indication of what it will look like.
The ideas behind the new desktop environment are mostly admirable, but their implementation is poor. From general lagginess to lack of compatibility with other window managers to an ugly, static interface, Gnome 3 will leave a lot to be desired unless major inadequacies are addressed before the fall.