New Desktop Interface Flops

New Desktop Interface Flops

Summary: It's not just Windows 8 Metro, other new interfaces, like Linux's GNOME 3.2, stink just as much.


If GNOME 3.2 is the future of desktops, you can keep it.

If GNOME 3.2 is the future of desktops, you can keep it.

If you follow my work, you won't be surprised to know that I really dislike Windows 8's proposed new interface, Metro. That's not because I hate everything from Microsoft. It's because I hate anything that's a bad design, and it's not just Microsoft that's guilty of that. So are open-source groups such as GNOME.

Unlike my colleague Ken Hess who hates just about all the newest interfaces, I do like some of the new ones... in their place.

For example, he really dislikes Ubuntu's Unity desktop. I don't. In fact, I rather like Unity/... in its place. Mind you, I don't like it that much for me, but at least I can see what Ubuntu is trying to do with their interface and I think they're successful in reaching that goal.

What I mean by that is I'm a power user. I want a graphical user interface (GUI) to either help me reach deep into a system so that I can tune it just the way I like or, at the least, to get out of the way so I can get to a command line interface or shell so I can easily adjust the system. Unity doesn't do that. But, then Unity isn't meant for power users. It's mean for new PC or tablet users who want to easily do a relatively few tasks: get on the Web, play music, and so on. For them, Unity is great. For me, or Ken, not so much.

Welcome to Ubuntu 11.10: Oneiric Ocelot (Photo Gallery)

My problem with Metro and GNOME 3.2 is that not only can I not figure out what audience they are meant for, neither one does a good job of delivering the goods to any user I can imagine.

Let's get down to brass tacks. An interface is meant to make it easy for you to get work done. Pretty simple right? So, why does Microsoft feel the need to dump decades of design work on a perfectly usable system that almost everyone on the planet can use for one that seems designed for use by mildly concussed kindergarteners?

Yes, I know Metro is meant to be a touch interface, but guess what; most of us are still going to be running Windows on PCs for years still to come. And, besides while touch is indeed great for tablets and smartphones, I find it a heck of a lot easier to do work with a keyboard and a mouse than I do with a keyboard and a screen I need to smudge up with my fingerprints every minute or two.

What's even more annoying is that Metro requires me to relearn how to use Windows for no real gain in ease of use, flexibility, or power. It's not quite change for the sake of change. Microsoft wants Metro to be its universal interface. But, I do think Microsoft is throwing out the baby of its hundreds of millions of Windows desktop user for the very small chance that Metro is going to matter on tablets and smartphones.

GNOME 3.2 is, if anything, even more annoying. GNOME was always the 'simple' Linux desktop interface. That was fine. We learned how to work around it, and what GNOME 2.x did well, it did very well indeed. But, GNOME 3 made simple into stupid. I'm not the only one who looked at GNOME 3 and say this that GNOME 3.x sucks dead gophers through rusty tailpipes, Linus Torvalds agrees that GNOME 3.x is a flop.

We're not the only ones. I find it noteworthy that Mint Linux, my own current favorite desktop Linux distribution is only reluctantly abandoning the no-longer in development GNOME 2.32 for GNOME 3.2, They're not doing it though by forcing users to move to GNOME 3.2 though. They're too smart for that/ Instead they're retrofitting GNOME 3.2 with Mint Gnome Shell Extensions (MGSE), "which is a desktop layer on top of Gnome 3 that makes it possible for you to use Gnome 3 in a traditional way."

Wow. Just wow. The interface is so annoying that at least one major Linux distributor, perhaps the second most popular after Ubuntu, feels the only way they can get people to use is to twist it in looking and acting like classic GNOME.

Why do I say this? Well, for starters, I liked the GNOME 2.task bar and application launcher. If I wanted icons that run down one side of the display, I'd be using Unity, which at least includes other tools to make them more useful.

I also like to be able to turn off my PC without any fuss or muss. On GNOME 3.2, and I'm not making this up, I have to:

  1. Click on My Name at the Top Right Hand Corner
  2. Press and Hold the ALT key, which makes the Power Off appears over the Suspend menu option.
  3. Click on the Power Off, which triggers a Pop-up Menu.
  4. Click on the Power Off option from the "Hibernate | Reboot | Power Off"

It's enough to make me want to just jerk the power-cord right out of the wall.

When I look at Metro and GNOME 3.x I see two fundamental design mistakes. First, their creators are no longer listening to their audience. Did anyone outside of Microsoft ask for big tiles in place of icons? I don't think so. Was there a memo that people didn't want menu-bars anymore? If so, I never saw it.

Second, both groups seem to have forgotten that it's not about creating new interfaces for the sake of being novel, creating interfaces is all about making life easier for users. These new interfaces get in the way of users.

Here's what's going to happen. Windows 8 will be a non-starter. Windows users will stick with Windows 7 they way they stuck with XP when Vista first smelled up the joint. Linux users will use programs like MSGE; switch to more desktops such as LXDE that can be customized to look and act like GNOME 2.x; or switch to GNOME's long-time rival, KDE. If GNOME's developers don't rethink their basic design, their interface will be just interesting bit of open-source history.

Related Stories:

Can Ubuntu Linux win on smartphones and tablets?

Ubuntu Linux 11.10: Unity comes of age (Review)

Welcome to Ubuntu 11.10: Oneiric Ocelot (Photo Gallery)

Windows 8: A bad bet

I hate Unity. I hate GNOME. I hate Windows 8. The ultimate desktop search continues.

Topics: Hardware, Open Source

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  • Mate

    Not quite accurate Steve. I believe Clem has designs on a fork of Gnome 2.32 for Mint--MATE--a work in progress and no small undertaking, it will take some time to wrap his team of developers around that project.

    I tested 12 today and see I can revert to Gnome classic from the login menu. That's fine for now, but I didn't find Gnome 3 for Mint at all usable--flows differently, looks similar but way different and kludgey.
    Dietrich T. Schmitz *Your
    • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate
      look at what's happened to facebook, it was simple and intuitive, yet that seemed not to be enough for them, so they made it challenging to decypher, and are slowly backpedaling to the original. Choice is nice, but no-one wants to support it. Lemmings have taken over the planet, and all the leaders are jumping off of a cliff.
      sparkle farkle
      • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops

        @sparkle farkle
        But what is the problem of the Linux power users, as Steven described himself (his words): "I want a graphical user interface (GUI) to either help me reach deep into a system so that I can tune it just the way I like or, at the least, to get out of the way so I can get to a command line interface or shell so I can easily adjust the system."
        Windows and Apple power user just want to get work done as fast and at the best rate they can. They are not looking all the time to get into the innards of the OS, etc. Are you guys ever happy with anything, do you break down your car on weekends and lay all the parts on your driveway? Or is it that you guys are just a bunch of bores with nothing better to do?
        I mean, I have use Ubuntu and Open Suse. They seem to me pretty ready and usable software that can be used out of the box without all the tinkering that you referred to. How many times have you read in forums about Linux guys having bricked their PC with all their tinkering. I supppose if that is how they get to enjoy life, more power to them, but for regular folks and the non-Linux power users, to say that our time is more valuable than yours, it's a statement of a proven fact!
    • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops

      @Dietrich T. Schmitz * Your Linux Advocate Frankly, this article is pointless. When you know who the author is (and it's conclusions) by merely reading the title in the email-shot, you realise that spending time reading anything by this blog-troll is a waste of time. Life is precious, don't waste yours ingesting this diatribe.
      • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops

        Yeah and you've added so much with your drivel. Why did you even bother to post?
        Nathan A Smith
  • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops

    stating something is flop before its release is too arogant, Metro interface is the best one on the phone and will do well on tablets as well. The standard desktop will still be available, so not sure what is the issue. This is just Microsoft hatred showing
    • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops

      @ninjacut <br>Uhh, have you used Windows 8 yet? It is not too early to say the current version of Metro is a flop for the desktop. That doesn't mean that it is not OK on other devices though. Kinda like Unity - great on Netbooks with small screens, but not great on desktops with BIG screens.<br><br>KDE already has it down with an excellent separate interface for netbooks, and a separate one for desktops/laptops. Currently they've got the best full featured UI going. But Win7 and LXDE are pretty good as well, and LXDE runs on less well powered desktops/laptops.
      • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops


        I use Windows 8 as my main OS. Metro barely touches the desktop, so how is it in any way a flop? If you use your PC as a desktop the only differences from Windows 7 are a Start screen instead of a menu (and if you're using Windows as intended you shouldn't need to access applications from Start very often anyway) and a few little touches here and there, such as overlays that replace some old-style popups and notifications.

        People talk as if Microsoft expects desktop users to be in a tiled interface all day long running fullscreen apps. Except for the handful of times in any given day (totalling maybe 30 secods) that you're opening apps you would not even notice any difference between Windows 7 and Windows 8.

        Saying Metro is a flop on the desktop is a bit like saying steak makes a terrible dessert.
      • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops


        1. It is too early to say that it is a flop for the desktop - this is a pre-beta build.
        2. One click and you are in a perfectly recognisable desktop UI.
        3. Until we see the beta or better still the RC on touch devices we are in no position to evaluate Win8 properly.

        All in all it is way to early to say that "Windows 8 will be a non-starter" (from the article). Those kinds of categorical statements simply make those who utter them look foolish. I have Win8 dual booted with Win7 on my lappie and the os looks very interesting. Whether it will be a success or not however is another issue - I am not arrogant enough to claim that my crystal ball is that reliable.
      • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops


        "It is not too early to say the current version of Metro is a flop for the desktop."

        But who is to say the current version is going to be the released version??
      • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops

        @admiraljkb I think everyone needs to relax on making judgments based on the developer preview.. The goal of the developer preview is to allow developers to begin creating apps and widgets for the metro interface.

        Unless MS has completely lost their collective minds, they will allow users to turn the metro interface on and off in the final version. If they are smart, they will let the user decide on the first start up how they want their system configured (for tablet or legacy desktop).
      • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops


        Hey guys, I said "current version of Metro is a flop". Key word being "current". There are still more versions to go. We'll see where it goes from here. The feedback so far is pretty clear to MS (less mobile, more desktop when used as a desktop/laptop), so I'm anxiously awaiting the next version myself since I'll have to support it eventually, like I support XP, Vista, Win7, 2003, and 2008, as well as RHEL and Ubuntu. No time for religion anymore... I do figure since KDE has figured this out successfully, it shouldn't take MS with a much bigger budget very long to figure out a dual mode interface. But good for them for experimenting and having some fun with it, and a double good on them for releasing a dev preview so they actually get outside feedback. That's awesome for MS to have done that.
      • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops


        I am running it on a 27 inch monitor, with a touch mouse. Just needs some time to get used but then it is more natural and effective. The regular desktop is just a click away, but the dynamic tiles really bring the key info upfront without digging or entering the application itself.

        I am also using the Windows phone 7/7.5 for some time and have used both iPhone and Android, the UI is simply better, dynamic and efficient than other phones. Metro is well thought interface, it needs minor changes on desktop but overall is a winner. Will move to WIndows 8 on all of my 5 machine in a heartbeat, once released.

        big challenge is to overcome the fact that it is coming from Microsoft, if the same was thought by Apple this would be "revolutionary"
      • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops

        @admiraljkb I have Win 8 Pre beta build, and the metro is fine for my touch screen tablet, and works like it should. As a desktop OS, the UI I think is crap, but thankfully there is App that gives you the good old start menu. Win 8 on my desktop without Metro is prety kool thus far.
      • Win-8 start menu

        Create a new toolbar, point it at c:\Program Data\Windows\startmenu and you have the start menu as a toolbar off of the task bar. (name may not be exactly that, look and you will find.)
        They moved the start menu set of links from windows start menu to the program data directory under the Windows application. So I guess Windows is not the OS any more but an application running on ????
      • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops

        [i]Unless MS has completely lost their collective minds, they will allow users to turn the metro interface on and off in the final version.[/i]

        That's the big IF. And IF that were the case, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

        [i]If they are smart, they will let the user decide on the first start up how they want their system configured (for tablet or legacy desktop).[/i]

        Who says they're smart? ;)
      • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops

        " ...If they are smart, they will let the user decide on the first start up how they want their system configured (for tablet or legacy desktop). "

        Interesting that you show bias against desktops! Why else would you say "legacy"? Apparently, you aren't an engineer or you would think differently. I don't think anyone will be designing from a smartphone or pad!
      • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops

        After you went into the registry...
    • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops

      I hate the look of Metro. I agree with the article, Metro is the next Vista. It will not be a total flop, simply because it will be pre-installed on millions of new computers, but it will not be well accepted. If I get a computer that comes with Win 8 I will uninstall and slap Win 7 on it. <br><br>I am really not an Apple fan but I would shift to Apple rather than be forced to suffer though that ugly thing called Win 8.<br><br>Microsoft was intending to make a UI that was touch screen usable but wasn't Windows 7/Vista/XP/etc. . . already 'point and click'? Windows only needed slight modifications to take it from small mouse pointer enabled and shift it over to 'chubby finger' ready. <br><br>I currently have 70 shortcuts on my Windows screen. I like having 70 shortcuts on my screen. Also, even with 70 shortcuts on my screen I can still see the beautiful wallpaper that I have. My icons are large enough that if I had a touch screen I could easily select individual shortcuts with my chubby fingers. What was Microsoft thinking?<br><br>I do not want some big ugly blocks covering my screen.<br><br>On my Droid phone I have 16 icons on the main screen and I can still see the beautiful wallpaper on that screen. I do not want to be limited to only a few ugly blocks on my screen that obscure enough that wallpaper is pointless.

      @leopards who so kindly actually read what I wrote and then responded:
      My chubby fingers find the tiny icons on my small screen Droid phone just fine. Actually many, many millions seem to have no problem with tiny icons on tiny phone screens. That is the point. There is no need to put large unsightly green/yellow/orange blocks on a screen. Perhaps allowing the user to select the ugly blocks as an option and allowing normal icons as an alternate, but not Metro the way they are doing Metro.

      It would be interesting which side of the fence users would move if, with Win 8 Metro on phones, Microsoft gave people the choice of selecting ugly blocks or old style icons.

      As for changing for the sake of change and your reference to automobiles, innovation leading to upgrades is different than producing an Edsel. Vista was almost an Edsel and Win 8 is an Edsel.
      • RE: New Desktop Interface Flops

        @John238 Your Icons may be Chubby finger friendly on your large monitor, but no way on a phones small screen, they need honking big tiles! So it come down to one size fits all, and since it is going to be the dominant OS on the planet shortly, get used to it, or get ready to switch! Of course this same attitude is what damn near destroyed GM in the 70s and 80s and let Euorope and Japan take a large share of the US market away from them!