Now that Canonical has adopted Unity for its next Ubuntu release, it seems likely that no desktop environment in history has ever launched to as much scrutiny as the new GNOME 3.
Indeed, the GNOME project’s latest contender made its long-awaited debut last week, and the reviews have been coming fast and furious ever since.
“The new desktop will likely appeal to users who share GNOME’s philosophy of debris-free computing, but there are parts that seem to have been pared down too aggressively,” wrote Ars Technica’s Ryan Paul, for instance. “The whole environment is significantly less configurable than its predecessor and is missing a handful of important features.”
On the other hand, while “even seasoned GNOME users will find many aspects that are very unfamiliar,” The H acknowledged, “some aspects of GNOME 3.0 that seemed awkward at first have turned out to be well-crafted on closer inspection.”
‘Ubuntu Should Stick with Unity’
The software’s pros and cons have been enumerated and detailed at considerable length throughout the blogosphere — and with widely diverging opinions — leaving the innocent bystander to simply wonder what all the variable fuss is about.
Is GNOME 3 the best ever? Is it the worst? Should Canonical be rethinking its plans? Linux Girl hit the streets of the Linux blogosphere to find out.
“If I am any indication, Ubuntu should stick with its Unity plans to the end,” Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza opined. “After what I’ve heard about GNOME 3, I have little to no desire to go down that road.”
While he does see the need to create a more “simplified and streamlined” user experience, “I don’t want it,” Espinoza added. “Unfortunately for me, I’m not a big KDE fan, either. Unity it is, until something better comes along.”
‘That Is Why I’m an Xfce User’
More speed was what consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack was yearning for.
“I wish they would quit rearranging things and concentrate on making things faster,” Mack told Linux Girl. “But that is exactly why I’m an Xfce user.”
Slashdot blogger hairyfeet took a more extreme view.
“Wow! I thought KDE 4 sucked!” hairyfeet exclaimed. “Congrats Gnome, for being even more condescending to users than I thought possible! Did you even ASK the users if they wanted ‘minimize’ and ‘maximize’ gone?”
‘Our Users Are Dumb As Bricks’
Indeed, “some of the design decisions for GNOME 3 just don’t make sense,” agreed Barbara Hudson, a blogger on Slashdot who goes by “Tom” on the site.
One example, for instance, is not grouping applications by type, Hudson noted.
“This, and a lot of other decisions, look like they were made with the view of a user only using one of any kind of application,” she opined.
“The ‘we’re removing the minimize and maximize buttons’ decision also comes off as another ‘change because our users are dumb as bricks,'” she added, echoing hairyfeet.
In fact, the ability to toggle different windows between maximized and normal is “needed for efficient workflow in many tasks,” Hudson pointed out.
“I can just see the future according to GNOME,” she mused. “‘GNOME 4: One Desktop to Rule Them All… eliminating multitasking as ‘too confusing’ and multiple desktops as ‘no longer needed since you can only run one application in one window at a time.’ What could be simpler?”
The Minimalism Trend
Chris Travers, a GNOME user and Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project, likes GNOME 3’s new notifications structure, he said, but isn’t impressed by the software’s minimalism, either.
“There is a trend right now in the web browser market to make menus minimalistic,” Travers explained. “Microsoft is going this way in all their software, and from the screenshots, GMOME 3 seems to be going this way too.”
Whether that minimalism works well for a desktop environment, however, isn’t so clear.
Traditionally, “one thing I think that GNOME does better than Microsoft Windows or Apple is the fact that instead of a single menu, you have three well-partitioned menus to choose from,” Travers explained. “This leads to less user confusion than Windows or Mac does, where everything is jumbled together under one menu.”
GNOME may be sufficiently customizable to make this happen again on individual computers, but “if the screenshots are any indication, this will not be a default choice,” he pointed out.
‘The UI Treadmill’
It’s possible that, just as Windows users face “the wintel treadmill and ‘the ribbon,’ perhaps we in the FLOSS community have the UI treadmill,” blogger Robert Pogson suggested. “It just never stops that new ways of accessing IT come along.”
The fact is, however, “I don’t need or want ever-newer user-interfaces,” Pogson added.
“I have several display managers and several window managers in Debian,” he said. “I don’t need more, just as I am satisfied with one head. One of something is pretty useful; a bunch just get in the way.”
‘It’s a Good Thing We Have Options’
In short, it’s no wonder Canonical has adopted Unity, hairyfeet said.
“Unity may not be great, but at least Shuttleworth might be able to have a little control over it and keep the thing from getting torched by the developers every time stability sets in,” he opined.
On the other hand, “how appealing is a Unity desktop shell after ‘removing screen elements that are rarely used in mobile and netbook computing,’ but that desktop and regular laptop users are accustomed to?” Hudson asked, quoting the project’s description.
“Some people like to complain about there being too many distros and too many desktop environments, but Unity shows that it’s a good thing we have options,” she concluded. “The sad part is that people will continue to try Ubuntu, see it doesn’t work for them, and conclude that ‘linux sucks!'”
Maybe what’s needed instead for Linux newcomers is “what the EU mandated for browsers: an install window that offered five choices, randomly shuffled,” Hudson suggested. “Maybe we could call it ‘Project Canterbury’?”