Saturday, September 17, 2011

Something Gnome3 and Unity could Stand to Learn from Windows 8

I've mentioned a few times now that I don't understand this touch infatuation technology has developed in recent years. What ever the reason, there is no doubting this technology is going to be around for some time. In the Linux world the releases of the Gnome 3 and Unity desktops have been pushing a touch-geared interface not only to touch-screen devices, but also the large screen of your home PC! Mac's OSX followed this line of thinking and it appears Microsoft's Window 8 will be no different:

Windows 8 Default Interface

It is still early, but there appears to be one important detail that Microsoft is getting correct that Gnome 3, Unity, and OSX all seem to have failed at.

They are making it easy to switch to a classic desktop.

If Microsoft's choke hold on the market still is any indication we should all know end users are very resistant to change. Up and redesigning the entire desktop experience because you think it is "for the best" is not about to win you any awards. 

Sure Ubuntu 11.04 has a "classic desktop" login, but this will be removed in the 11.10 release. Sure Gnome 3 has a "fall back" mode, but you have to dig through settings to get to it and calling it "fall back" makes it sound like something is wrong with your computer if you are using it (which is half true as it is intended for use on systems that lack 3D acceleration). Not to mention this fall back mode supports far less options than Gnome 2 had, but then Gnome 2 also had less customization than Gnome 1, smell a pattern anyone?

So please, Gnome 3 and Unity developers (heck even OSX) take a hint from Windows 8 (because you sure as heck haven't taken any hints from Enlightenment) and make a stand desktop configuration option a priority - not an after thought.

~Jeff Hoogland


  1. Was the lack of any mention of KDE intentional? The lead developers of KDE have made clear that they intend to keep the desktop, netbook, and touchscreen interfaces separate for these reasons. Also, I believe that the "classic" Microsoft Windows interface still has pretty big issues, because clicking the Start Menu takes the user back to the new Metro interface, meaning the user will then have to do the same thing as before to get to the "classic" interface.
    a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

  2. Hi Jeff, wanted to let you know that I really enjoy your blog and I'm planning to give Bodhi a test drive soon. If I like it, it will replace Mint 9 Gnome on my very slow Dell netbook.

    I checked out Enlightenment a while back and was disappointed. It's not intuitive to use, in my opinion, and it looks dated like something from the 90's. But I'm open-minded enough to give it another look, especially since you've talked it up so much. :)

    I'm wondering though why you think Linux is the OS of the future? Linux servers do deliver most of the Internet, but the Desktop market is very small and always has been. Linux just has too many "ease of use" shortcomings to ever win a very large share of the market.

    I don't know if that's a conversation you want to get into, but I am curious.

    In any case, hope you are having a great day!

  3. PV - As you said, KDE seems to be staying sane and not jumping off the touch screen deep end. I did not mention them because they appear to be doing things right now (guess they learned from their 4.0 release).

    Jeff - I'd be happy to talk about that. Might be worth a post of it's own (or at the very least a long comment) when I get to a desktop computer :)

  4. Windows redesign makes switching to a classic desktop a reqirment.In many ways gnome shell isn't as radical, your old programs will still run. At risk of sounding arrogant I do believe once the minor issues are resolved the only reason to stay on fallback other than hardware will be familiarity and reluctance to change. Nothing wrong with those reasons but its unrealistic to expect gnome devs not to want to progress because some people don't like change.

  5. @Nev3rtime: Gnome 3 and Unity are making the same mistake Microsoft did with Windows Vi$ta, ie., requiring an updated computer to run the new interface while the old interface pre-update worked fine on the computer.

  6. I think Unity does retain just enough of old fashioned desktop functionality. Alt-tab works normally, desktop icons if you want, and Launcher has all essential features of a Windows Taskbar and Quick-launcher combined in auto-hide by default.

    I speak as a power-user accountant heavy on office productivity, using 1/2 dozen+ open apps and files at a time, not a programmer or developer. So whether any of these work well with touch screens, I'll never know or care.

    As has been true since before X11 or even the Mac II, the most productive people will always be those who know and use keyboard shortcuts more than a mouse or touch screen. Fortunately even Unity & Gnome-shell recognize this. They are still relatively useful for people like my wife too. We were married for 10 years before I discovered she didn't even know the alt-tab command.

    I like Enlightenment a lot too, but until it gets a global menu/title bar like Unity, it won't be as screen efficient and useful for me.

  7. IMHO the KDE 4.X + applications are suffering a tiny bit from their hard work with other formfactors. No real biggies. They are doing the right thing.

    I don't believe Apple really has worked out how to approach the "unification across formfactors" yet. They still got quite a job ahead.

    KDE on the other hand has been working on their strategy/concept for quite a while now. Not done yet, but I strongly believe they have nailed it.

    Still a lot of work to do and visually it's still off, but conceptually it's a winner.

    None of the others have concepts that can be optimised for each formfactor to the same extent.

    I've tested W8 on a laptop (don't care about glitches, only concept), and it just doesn't work well when the screens are big (14"-27").

    If I could force something upon devs within the KDE ecosystem: I would have locked up the application devs (Amarok, Kontact, Caligra, System Settings +++) together and kept them there until they had unified their UX concepts. Because that's a drawback within KDE right now. Consistency is suffering due to the fantastic creativity.

    If Linux really want access to the OEM's it is now time (quite overdue) for each distro to pick one DE and get rid of most of the server related packages. If distros want a piece of the laptop/pad/phone/desktop market they have to do something.

    I also belive it's time for the deb and rpm guys to merge their efforts.

  8. I like the Bohdi 1.1 release and the Enlightenment desktop. Easy to use and light weight, I use it on 2 of my older systems. However, the 1.2 release does not boot on the same hardware, stopping at a blinking cursor on each of them. try the live boot before you install.

  9. @cwsnyder Its a bit unfair to compare the hard ware requirements of gnome shell to vista. I'm running gnome-shell with opensuse 12.1 m5 on my old 1.6 ghz netbook with a gig of ram and intel gma 950 graphics and it runs great. I doubt that vista, despite being years old, would run well on this system.

  10. @JeffHoogland: It's funny that you mention learning from KDE 4.0, because as far as I've seen (and I wanted to write about this too, but I sat on it for too long, and then I scrapped it when I saw a blog post elsewhere that was far better and more thorough than anything I could have written), the attitude of the developers in response to the KDE 4.0 backlash was, "Yeah, we know there are a lot of features missing and bugs present, and this wasn't supposed to be considered a final release, but we will have this stuff fixed soon", whereas the attitude of the GNOME developers in response to the GNOME 3/Shell backlash has been, "Those are features, not bugs, and if you think otherwise, get outta here!"
    a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

  11. Hi Jeff, I'm looking forward to your post or long comment on the subject. Thanks!

  12. It's funny. When KDE 4.0 came out, it looked like their hubris in releasing a beta as a milestone release was going to doom them. Now, in the face of GNOME 3 and Unity, KDE doesn't look so bad and Kubuntu has won converts from the Ubuntu main edition. If KDE didn't still tend to freeze or crash on me several versions later, I might actually use it.

  13. The problem that Microsoft will have with Windows 8 is that the experience is not consistent between the Metro and Desktop interfaces. Some examples are:

    1) the start menu is always the new metro interface;

    2) the redesigned (again) control panel settings only has part of the settings in the metro (default) interface and a "more settings" that takes you to the old interface;

    3) the "charms" for search, settings, start, etc. are all in the metro UI;

    4) internet explorer is different between the metro interface (no plugins, html5 only) and the desktop interface (plugins allowed).

    What I find exciting now is that all the desktop experiences are diverging and striking out on their own path, be it the Linux desktops (Gnome+Shell, Gnome+Unity, KDE, Xfce, Enlightenment) or the Apple and Microsoft desktops.

  14. There is already a one registry change that makes the Win8 menu a normal menu. Since this is still a developer preview release I would doubt this becoming a toggleable feature.

  15. That's not a great lesson to learn at all. In fact, it's Microsoft repeating its old failures all over again.

    They're essentially forking their own desktop; they'll need two product teams to develop for it. People who use the system won't have a single, nice, cohesive interface to work with but will inevitably be forced to keep switching modes, because software developers will know mode switching is possible and develop for it: the lack of Flash in Metro would be a bold move if they didn't hedge it by providing the 'classic' desktop, which will cause websites to simply write 'switch to Classic mode to view the video!' or some such. Ditto with all sorts of other apps.

    Microsoft seems to be organizationally incapable of saying 'we're going to do something new' without also saying '...but we'll keep supporting the old thing for 15 years just in case it inconveniences any'. Which is kind of a fine sentiment, but ultimately sabotages the new thing, because it's more convenient for people to just go ahead and use the old thing. That's why they're still stuck supporting APIs from the 1990s in Windows 7, and the source of a lot of Windows' unnecessary complexity, bugs, and security issues.

    Compound this with the fact that Microsoft has piles of money and developers to throw at maintaining two desktops at once, while the GNOME project and Canonical certainly don't, and I really can't fathom why you think this is a good idea in the long run.

  16. Seriously guys, we know that you don't like Gnome 3 or Unity, get over it. So don't use it. Use Gnome 2, Mint and Debian still ship that. Or go with Xfce, which has come a long way to be just as useable as Gnome 2.

    I personally love Gnome 3, because I hardly ever reach for my mouse again and I launch applications a lot faster than I used to.

    No one is forcing you to update so don't complain because you did.

  17. Dirk - Piles of distros will no longer be supplying Gnome2 within the next year

    To paraphrase Linux Trovalds:

    Xfce doesn't compare to Gnome 2, but it is a hell of a lot better than that mess Gnome 3 is.

  18. gnome 3 is a joke, kde is a joke, xcfe is the best, unity is coming along.

    I just want my gnome 2 working as before. I don't see why it all has to change with no going back.

  19. it's all a mather of getting used to it...
    I was a windows user since I can remmind myself.

    but one day I tryed linux and LOVED IT!!!
    I started with mandriva 2008 (KDE) because it was very similar to the desktop windows had.

    but the I tryed ubuntu 10.10 with GNOME 2 and it was kind of hard to get used but hey, I got used to it and it started to be easyer for me to work in GNOME than in KDE or windows...

    Now when I saw Unity I didn't wanted to change to it but tryed it and after a week i was working with unity like i worked with gnome 2, or even faster...

    Then I wanted to try GNOME 3 and I just have to say HELL IT'S GREAT,FAST AND I LOOOOVEEEE IT!!!

    You can costumize a lot (the gnome-shell config is in CSS so if you know CSS like I do you can change everything). I'm only using it for 1 week now and I work even faster than in unity, faster than gnome 2, faster than KDE, faster then Windows!!!

    Resuming, it's just a mather of getting used to it and accept the new ideas...
    And for me GNOME 3 beats the crap out of Win 8... Let's be real, Win 8 it's just win 7 with a fancy start menu and touch optimized interface...

    Gnome 3 and Unity is optimized for touch interface but still familiar to mouse+keyboard users...