GNOME: Can this Linux desktop be saved?

GNOME: Can this Linux desktop be saved?

Summary: After taking a design path that sent many of its users running to other desktops, GNOME seems to be giving its users what they want: a GNOME 2.x style desktop. But, is it too late? Will GNOME fans come back?

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Is GNOME really trying to make a comeback? Can it make a comeback?

Once upon a time, GNOME, along with KDE, ruled the Linux desktop. Then, in 2010, GNOME's designers decided to ignore their users' wishes and introduced a radically new desktop interface: GNOME 3.

Many users hated it. Not even two years later, even GNOME's programmers were wondering if their interface was "staring into the abyss?" Now, GNOME developers have woken up and are offering a way for GNOME users to go back to a GNOME 2.x style interface.

But is it too little, too late? Will GNOME actually be offering a real, return-to-the-past desktop interface?

Earlier, it appeared that GNOME was going to leave its disgruntled 2.x interface fans entirely in the lurch. The GNOME developers had announced it was dropping its "fallback mode" from the forthcoming GNOME 3.8 release. This mode was meant for user without the graphics hardware or CPU power to support GNOME 3.x Shell's 3D desktop. While far from perfect, many users used fallback mode by choice because it looked a lot like the old, familiar GNOME 2.x interface. This decision did not go over well.

Even before this programmers and users alike had been quickly moving away from GNOME 3.x. Canonical, Ubuntu's parent company lead the way with its Unity shell, a GNOME 3.x fork. Others, such as Mint with Cinnamon and Arch with MATE have their own takes on the classic GNOME 2.x interface. Other users, such as Linus Torvalds, Linux's creator, turned to XFCE and other older interfaces.

The result has been that all these desktops have gained fans at GNOME's expense and GNOME has finally decided to do something about it. GNOME developer Matthias Clasen wrote, "We certainly hope that many users will find the new (GNOME 3.x) ways comfortable and refreshing after a short learning phase, we should not fault people who prefer the old way. After all, these features were a selling point of GNOME 2 for ten years!"

Therefore, since GNOME has "a pretty awesome extension mechanism in gnome-shell... We've decided that we will compile a list of supported gnome-shell extensions. This will be a small list, focused on just bringing back some central 'classic' UX elements: classic alt tab, task bar, min/max buttons, main menu."

Exactly how GNOME will let users easily access this? That's a question that remains unanswered. Clasen wrote, "We haven't made a final decision yet on how to let users turn on this 'classic mode' -- it may be a switch in gnome-tweak-tool or something else."

In addition, GNOME will not be making the GNOME shell "itself more tweakable," adding: "We still believe that there should be a single, well-defined UX [user experience] for GNOME 3, and extensions provide a great mechanism to allow tweaks without giving up on this vision. That being said, there are examples like the a11y menu[2] or search[3], where the shell will become more configurable in the future."

That's not exactly the kind of news that I think will bring GNOME fans flocking back. I, for one, would like a firmer statement on how they'll be enabling users to control their desktop. After all, the real reason why so many programmers and users left GNOME was its "my way or the highway" approach to the user interface. If GNOME ends up not making it simple for its users to switch to a GNOME 2.x style desktop, they're not going to come back. 

Besides, many, if not most, users have already switched to the GNOME 2.x style Cinnamon or MATE interfaces. Still, at least one user, who really hated GNOME 3's UX. is back in the GNOME fold: Torvalds, Mind you, Torvalds isn't crazy about GNOME but he recently said “It has been getting less painful. They have extensions that are still too hard to find. You can make your desktop look almost as good as it did two years ago."

And, if nothing else as Bruce Byfield put it in Linux Magazine, GNOME has proven it can listen. It's been a long, long time since they've done that.

Personally? I'm not going back. Cinnamon is now my user interface of choice. Still, it's nice to see GNOME paying some attention to its user-base. And, who knows, GNOME may yet make a comeback.

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Topics: Linux, Open Source, Software, Software Development, Ubuntu, PCs

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47 comments
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  • It will take time.

    And the gnome developers will have to pay attention to the complaints and bugs submitted rather than ignore them.
    jessepollard
  • Cinnamon for me

    I'm not going back to Gnome either. I switched to Cinnamon and will stay with it. I believe Clem and the entire Mint team have always listened carefully to their users and made sure they were doing their best to provide what is actually wanted and used.
    kwatson703
    • That's Funny

      "I'm not going back to Gnome either. I switched to Cinnamon and will stay with it."

      Uh, news flash: you're still using Gnome. Cinnamon replaces Gnome-Shell as the UI, but it still runs on Gnome. So, you don't count as someone who has "gone away" from Gnome because you're still using it.
      SciFiDude79
      • There is some confusion over names, Gnome Shell v Gnome 3

        "Gnome Shell" is the somewhat confusing name given to the "official" Gnome 3 GUI Desktop Environment, which was designed by the Gnome 3 devs to run on Gnome 3.

        When people bitch about the Gnome 3 (the UI) they are generally actually referring to "Gnome Shell", the Gnome 3 "official" Desktop GUI, not Gnome 3 itself.

        Technically, almost any Linux GUI environment is a "shell" for the OS, and alternatives (like Cinnamon) has just as much right to be called a Gnome 3 shell as Gnome Shell does.

        I personally think that it's yet another indication of the Gnome devs attitude -- this was essentially a way of asserting their exclusive "vision" on how a Gnome-based Desktop Environment should work.

        This is the real problem with Gnome 3 -- the Gnome devs decided that they know better than not only other devs, but also the users who had already chosen Gnome over other alternatives. If they had expressed their wonderous vision as a seperate branch of the Gnome desktop, and encouraged the user community to switch over to it, we would be debating the relative merits of the design, rather than focused on both the "flaws" of the new DE and the heavy-handed attempt to push user into their vision through unilaterally withdrawing the familiar DE that users were used to, relyed on, and found appropriate to their real-worl work-flow.
        bswiss
      • ?

        "you don't count as someone who has "gone away" from Gnome"
        Are you one of the knome devs? :p
        PuZZleDucK
  • Gnome is a big name if they listen to users and don't do what

    MS did with their own Desktop -they didn't listen to their users and want to change their way of computing- then they may have a chance but for me i'm sticking with Mate until AMD fixes its crash driver problems then i'll switch to Cinnamon!
    L3thargic
  • Seems "too late" to me...

    I am switching my systems from Ubuntu 10.04 LTS to Xubuntu 12.04 LTS. It does not appear Ubuntu would consider a "Gubuntu" flavor, I dislike what Ubuntu did with Unity, so in my mind making the most of what Ubuntu offers, namely Xubuntu, seems the logical direction to retain Ubuntu.
    mdlueck
    • nope

      You are not switching anything else than desktop environment when you swap from Ubuntu to xubuntu.
      You should say you switch Unity to XFCE. As xubuntu is Ubuntu with it and Ubuntu comes by default with a Unity.

      That is one problem what canonical did by using Ubuntu, xubuntu, kubuntu etc names instead logical "Ubuntu XFCE edition" style.
      Fri13
      • RE: nope

        Xubuntu is designed to use less system resources than Ubuntu and also includes different default applications. For example, Ubuntu ships with LibreOffice whereas Xubuntu ships with Abiword and Gnumeric from Gnome (see! i'm on topic, sort of ...) office.
        Rabid Howler Monkey
        • nope

          Very few changes what can not be counted as "changes". And preinstalled applications are just that.... pre-installed apps, not a valid argument point. If you want Linux system to low end computer, then Ubuntu (any edition) is too bloated and only choices are from arch Linux to slitaz and other kind like it.

          Ubuntu editions are same, only wrapped to different paper.
          Fri13
          • Fri13 when you say low end computers ...how far back are you going?

            Are you suggesting using Arch on recicled computerrs? that are 10/12 years hardware? Isnn't Xfce light enough for most older hardware? and would Xfce be easier to learn than Arch would be for most users?
            Over and Out
          • Double-nope

            Xubuntu and Lubuntu are both usable (and rather comfortable) on 10+ year old hardware with old Athlon XP processors (or worse...) and 256-512 MB of RAM. That's pretty low-end by most users' standards.

            Of course, for the *really* low end machines (like the bitty boxen with 16 MB of RAM and an old Pentium I processor), other distributions are going to be more successful; Damn Small Linux works well in that realm, as do the really archaic distros like Softlanding Linux System. But unless you're a computer hoarder like me, the chances of you having such a machine are miniscule...
            northrup
  • I don't mind the new GNOME

    Mostly because I'm a KDE and LXDE user, but still. It's not that bad.

    Cinnamon, on the other hand, isn't for me. I don't know why yet, but it isn't jiving with me like other DMs/WMs do. Perhaps I just need to warm up to it. I'm running an Ubuntu/Mint dual-boot on my laptop and Cinnamon seems to be one of several things I'm disliking about Mint (the strange lack of a properly-named grub.cfg being another...).
    northrup
  • I've migrated to KDE for now

    Gnomes most recent statement just doesn't have much impact for me, after a decade of gnoming I've switched to KDE because I just can't make G3 behave and look quite how I want it to, even worse I've found extensions that bring back some of the functionality often break after an update, I may go back to it at a later date but I won't be dictated to and I'm enjoying KDEs customisation for now.
    indiebloke
    • agreed

      The gnome/gtk world is a disaster right now. Everyday I find myself thinking "kde, you rule" and its been at least 6 months now since I bailed on gnome/unity/xfce etc. Xfce and Lxde are fine but, meh. Why cripple yourself trying to be 'lightweight'.
      I have not really used cinnamon or mate but I can't imagine them being better than KDE.
      Every KDE app is typically so much better than the non-KDE equivalent and things like tabbed apps, several different desktop types, configurability, etc. Funny how I barely touched the default kubuntu installation and with gnomes supposed "simplicity" I had to constantly fight all these little annoyances that required plug ins to try to fix.
      deathjazz
      • Define "crippled"...

        If it does what you want it's clearly not crippled.

        One of the things KDE does is do a debatable, heavyweight system feature, called Nepomuk. Nepomuk does the following:

        "NEPOMUK brings together researchers, industrial software developers, and representative industrial users, to develop a comprehensive solution for extending the personal desktop into a collaboration environment which supports both the personal information management and the sharing and exchange across social and organizational relations."

        It basically ties you into a social networking context- and when you have a marketing-speak explanation of what they're doing (like the above...), you should question what the app REALLY does. It's an information leak risk. It's a portion of that "feature rich" functionality you claim using XFCE or LXDE "cripples" you by "being lightweight" through not including it. There's other debatable things in KDE4 in my professional opinion as a security researcher- but I don't typically go around commenting on the subject in public forums. Your remarks brought out this discussion.

        The fact that NEITHER camp listened, really, to their users is a disappointment- and I've had interactions with some of the KDE devs wherein they defended mixing application logic within the GUI code (which is where the bug was introduced on the app in question...) and they wouldn't budge, claiming it was "okay" the way he did it. It's why I "jumped ship" from the KDE2 era KDE to the early GNOME. Now...the same is going on with GNOME- so I jumped ship to XFCE for now- and it seems to be pretty functional to me.

        Use what suits you. Just don't claim something being "lacking" in your opinion "cripples" you- it's the same BS Microsoft throws around that we took to calling "FUD".
        mad_scientist42
    • Always been a KDE fan

      Welcome aboard to the best DT environment.
      Alan Smithie
  • Good well informing article.

    Here you seem to know of what you speak.
    Cayble
  • Linus...

    Linus is today a KDE user.... if you have followed his google+ stream...
    Fri13
  • Short comment : XFCE

    I'm tired of GNOME's developpers' " vision ". I switched to Voyager and XFCE and ... IT - JUST - WORK. I hope gnome will change : the more choices, the merrier. But for the time being, XFCE is fullfilling what I need it to do, without too much hassle.
    alkyl