Linus Torvalds finds GNOME 3.4 to be a "total user experience design failure"

Summary:I only dislike the latest version of the GNOME Linux desktop, Linus Torvalds, Linux's primary inventor, hates it.

Linus Torvalds still really, really dislikes the GNOME 3 Linux desktop

Linus Torvalds still really, really dislikes the GNOME 3 Linux desktop

When Fedora 17 released GNOME 3.4, I found I could deal with it. I still didn't like it much, and I prefer both Ubuntu 12.04's Unity and Linux Mint 13's Cinnamon interfaces, but if I had to, I could live with the GNOME 3.4 desktop.

But for Linus Torvalds, Linux's primary creator, GNOME 3.4 is ”a total UX (user experience design) failure."

Torvalds has long disliked the GNOME 3.x family. But, as Torvalds explained in his Google+ posting on GNOME 3.4:

I broke down, and upgraded my old aging Fedora install on my desktop. Simply because my old F14 comes with ancient X versions that don't contain all the fixes to make Intel 3D really work well. And yes, things really do work better on the graphical side.

But with F17 comes gnome3. And I knew I'd have trouble, but also knew that most of the worst crap could be fixed with extensions, and I'd used 3.4 on my laptop enough to know it should be all somewhat usable.

Alas, his hopes were soon crushed. “Christ, it's a one step forward, one step back kind of thing,” he wrote.

Still Torvalds bravely soldiered on. He went to the beta GNOME Shell Extensions to “install the panel favorites extension that not only obviates the need for the stupid dual 'first go to activities, then go to favorites,' but also fixes it so that I can get multiple terminals without doing the whole 'three times widdershins and left-click' dance. That gets things usable.”

Finding your way through Fedora 17 (Gallery)

Or does it make things usable? “And then I want auto-hide. But now extensions.gnome.org says 'You do not appear to have an up to date version of GNOME3.” Oh? So 3.4.1 (current F17 as of today) isn't up-to-date enough? Oh wait, no, it's actually just that the chrome plug-in seems broken. Fire up Firefox instead - now it works. And I can get panel settings and enable auto-hide so that I don't need to look at that butt-ugly thing that has clearly been designed by some goth teenager that thinks that black is cool.”

And on and on it goes, “where did the "Lock Screen" button go? I can still find+Sriram Ramkrishna's extension by searching for it, but it's grayed out - and apparently for a reason. It doesn't seem to work any more.

And how do I add --enable-webgl --ignore-gpu-blacklist to the google chrome favorites entry? I'm pretty sure I was able to edit the startup details for the favorites in some version of gnome3 with some random installed extensions (probably the frippery set), but it's impossible to find now.”

Torvalds had had enough with the GNOME Shell Extensions way of “fixing” GNOME.

I have to say, I used to think that the "extensions.gnome.org" approach to fixing the deficiencies in gnome3 was really cool. It made me go "Ahh, now I can fix the problems I had".

But it turns out to be a major pain, when it basically ends up as a really magical way to customize your desktop, which breaks randomly and has no sane way to do across machines. And the extensions seem to randomly break when you update the system, so they don't work as well as they would if they just came with the base system.

End result: extensions.gnome.org may be a really cool idea, but it seems to have some serious usability problems in practice. And the whole gnome3 approach of "by default we don't give you even the most basic tools to fix things, but you can hack around things with unofficial extensions" seems to be a total UX (user experience design) failure.

What really ticked off Torvalds the most was that GNOME makes it so hard to control font sizes. As he notes after Calvin Walton shows him the way to adjust fonts in GNOME 3 You'll find it under the Universal Access" (aka Accessibility) settings panel, where there's a rough font size control with such options Small, Normal, Large, and Larger, "Changing the font sizes in that one actually seems to deadlock gnome-shell, I needed to go the the VC (virtual console) and do a "killall -9 gnome-shell" to get things back. Fine, bugs I don't mind, they'll get fixed. It's not the level of font control I want, and it's not under a "Fonts" setting, but it's better than nothing."

?Later on in the resulting discussion, several people suggest that Torvalds just use the GNOME 3.4 keyboard shortcuts. Torvalds was not amused.

I'm really tired of the f*cking old "just use the keyboard shortcuts" crap. Sure, if you're a keyboarding person, then gnome3 is a big improvement. But dammit, if you're like me, and you write using the keyboard, and then use mousing for other operations, gnome3 is just not doing the right thing.

And what irritates me is how the gnome3 fanboys (and more importantly, developers), seem to never acknowledge that different people have different tastes. The whole "we know best" thing is a disease.

I'm really not that odd. I want a few things:

    - smaller fonts (especially window decorations) - sane "start new terminal" without multiple steps from the panel - auto-hide the panel so that I don't have to feel "all emo all the time" - focus-follows-mouse - the ability to use a few default flags for certain programs

and the fact is that none of the above are "odd" requests, but for some unknown reasons gnome makes these fundamental things really inconvenient and hard to find.

And christ people - stop telling me about gnome-tweak-tool. I know . I mentioned the damn thing in the post, for chissake! Telling me about the tweak tool just shows that you didn't even bother to read what I wrote.

I have found how to do all of the above things - except for the "flags for favorite applications" - but the fact is, the gnome extensions are not reliable and the UX sucks.

Will Linus ever be happy with GNOME 3.x? I'd say something trite like "Stay tuned." But, you I don't think he ever will be happy with the GNOME 3.x desktop. The GNOME 3 developers have their vision of what they want from the Linux desktop and it's not the one Torvalds wants.

Other users don't want GNOME 3.x either. The latest LinuxQuestions Linux survey showed that KDE was the most popular interface with 33% of the vote. GNOME came in second with 19.14% of the vote. Doesn't sound too bad does it? Think again, GNOME had 45% of the vote in the last survey. GNOME's old users are fleeing to such one unfashionable desktops as Xfce. At the same time, new desktop interface spins like Cinnamon, Unity, and the GNOME 2.x fork MATE are gaining supporters.

For many years the Linux desktop rate was between GNOME and KDE and everyone else was far in the back. Now, KDE has become the desktop of choice—but not Torvalds' choice—and I wouldn't even venture a guess at which interface will be in second place come the next LinuxQuestions survey.

Related Stories:

Fedora 17 & GNOME 3.4: Return to a useful Linux desktop (Review)

5 reasons everyone will be using Chrome OS in 3 years

2012's Best Linux desktop: Linux Mint 13

There's trouble with three major Linux desktop application developers

Linus Torvalds would like to see a GNOME fork

Topics: Open Source

About

Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, aka sjvn, has been writing about technology and the business of technology since CP/M-80 was the cutting edge, PC operating system; 300bps was a fast Internet connection; WordStar was the state of the art word processor; and we liked it.His work has been published in everything from highly technical publications... Full Bio

zdnet_core.socialButton.googleLabel Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.