After working for a few months with GNOME 3.2 on Fedora 16, on both my desktop and notebook, I think it’s time to give my informed opinion about it. To summarize, I like GNOME 3. Unlike KDE 4, the GNOME developers decided to think outside the box and to live with the criticism they received for their unconventional choices. I don’t intend that as criticism of KDE 4, I still like using that too, but right now GNOME 3 impresses me more. Some of the most important changes include removing the taskbar and removing the minimize button for windows. My experience was that regardless of these fundamental changes, it was relatively easy to adapt. Not only for me, but also for my mother who used KDE 4 and Windows previously.
If you want to switch windows, it’s easy to move the mouse pointer over to the Activities menu in the top left corner. This is a relatively small change, but very smart: you don’t even need to click (but you still can if you want) and you require almost no accuracy to reach the top left corner. Of course, it’s even easier to use the Windows key to show the Activities menu instantly, or to use the Alt + Tab key combination to switch windows. This and more advice to make working with GNOME Shell more productive can be read in the GNOME Shell Cheat Sheet. With GNOME Shell I never use the minimize button because it makes no sense without a task bar, so I don’t miss it at all. I either have my windows maximized or tiled (see the Cheat Sheet) and in the rare case I do want to maximize or return windows to their previous size I double click the title bar.
The visual design of GNOME 3 is minimalistic yet beautiful. I guess GNOME 3 has also cut down on the amount of options and simplified them. When GNOME 3’s System Settings is compared to KDE’s System Settings you see they are as different as night is from day. KDE offers a lot more options which is nice if you want to control everything I guess, but there’s only very few options I miss in the GNOME System Settings. I only used GNOME Tweak Tool for two things: slightly decreasing the font size and changing the font. I didn’t install a different theme, but I imagine that if options for changing fonts and themes are added to System Settings nothing would be missing. As far as I know that is probably going to happen in the future because the designers didn’t have time for it yet.
Another interesting thing to note is that the designers and developers have a concept of core applications through which they intend to integrate important functionality into GNOME 3 itself. Most of these ideas are still work in progress, but we can already see how well instant messaging is integrated in GNOME 3. Personally I haven’t been using instant messaging for a long time because it doesn’t really interest me any more, but the impression I have of the design is that it’s very ingenious, something which hasn’t been done by other operating systems and desktop environments as far as I know. I especially look forward to the Music core application because Rhythmbox could use some improvement. It’s also very encouraging to see the amount of work going into Web, the former Epiphany. What is great that they intend to save as much vertical space as possible, so they moved the Application Menu and display the options contained in that menu through other means. This change is also on the menu for other applications. For me it’s essential to have as much vertical space as possible in this age of widescreen monitors.
To finish, what are my most important problems with GNOME 3? The problem with the first priority to fix should be the omission of the Power Off option in the user menu. It took me a while to find it, but you can read all about it in bug #643457, which has over 100 comments. It surprises me that the developers and designers haven’t returned the Power Off option after all the outrage of the users. I’m not sure what their motivation is, maybe a desire to fix it properly? But all that doesn’t matter when the end result was that I had to use Google to figure out how I could shut down my PC with GNOME 3. Let alone my mother who wouldn’t have any clue without the extension to place the option back in the menu. Breaking with conventions can be a good idea, but breaking with this convention was a bridge too far. The fact that distributions such as openSUSE install such an extension by default shows there is a consensus against this decision. I hope this will be fixed in GNOME 3.4, the fact that it remains missing in GNOME 3.2 was something I didn’t expect. Another issue is that searching for applications after having opened the Activities menu gives a lag of a few seconds before it returns the search results, for example if I search for the Terminal application. As far as I know this has something to do with icon caching, but I can’t find a bug report or other explanations for this yet.
I’ll be using GNOME 3 as my primary desktop environment as much as possible from now on. I’m still having serious problems with Evolution, but I’ll save that for another post. At least Evolution does a better job than KMail at this moment. I’ll probably still check out KDE now and then. With all these upcoming improvements to GNOME 3 exciting times are ahead.