Planning for change

This sort of thing always worries me. I really wish we had a more formal way of alerting users that functionality was going to go away, rather than just pulling the rug from under their feet when they install a new release.

At Sun, and I’m sure at most other companies that support software products, we have to tell our customers in advance when (certain) features are going away. We can’t just drop them from one release to the next because we’ve gone off the idea.

Personally, I’d like to see GNOME manage this a lot better, perhaps (from the end user’s perspective) via a section in the GNOME release notes that said which features we intended to remove from the next release. The impact of such changes would then have to be thought through well in advance, and there’d be plenty of time to remove the feature, fix any related issues, and properly update the documentation prior to its actual disappearance. And users would have time to prepare for the change, and have the opportunity to raise any sensible objections before the fact, rather than after it.

(This thought isn’t especially new, nor directly aimed at the proposed Windows capplet removal… although I do know that’s a decision that would generate support calls for Sun users and customers, who always scream when anything related to their sloppy focus settings breaks, changes or goes away. Many of them have been using sloppy focus on UNIX desktops since before GNOME or even Linux were first thought of, so it’s not a feature we like to mess with…)

12 Responses to “Planning for change”

  1. Anders says:

    Funnny. The only preference window I use in GNOME is the Windows one :)

    Enabling “focus follows mouse” and changing the windows-move key to the Windows(tm)-key. Everything else in the GNOME preferences I don’t touch.

    Btw, “provides no real value for the overwhelming majority of people.” – do they measure this in some way?

    (I know your post wasn’t about this particular decision)

  2. ulrik says:

    GNOME is in deconstruction. Gnome-session was lobotomized, later it was necessary to think about replacement. And it continues on like that, it’s an anarchy under the maintainers.

  3. Something that slightly worries me with the thread is that any interface additions are welcomed with open arms, while removals are met with skepticism, even though both scenarios open up to increased support calls. (“What is this?” “I can’t find X because there are too many things in here”) Do we have a culture of “More is more” that we fail to recognize?

  4. Shaun McCance says:

    Thanks, Calum. Vendor support costs are exactly the kinds of issues I was trying to get at when I was talking about the documentation impact, since the big business case for documentation is that it can reduce support costs. It’s nice to have this kind of input.

  5. Rui says:

    Well, GNOME is upstream. Downstreams are free to patch or even not ship the latest version if it doesn’t meet their requirements.

    GNOME itself *must* move forward or risk becoming obsolete as, arguably, those “UNIX desktops” have become by modern standards.

  6. Adam Tauno Williasm says:

    ARGH! You touch my sloppy focus and I’ll burn your village! Sloppy focus is the correct mechanism not that incessant clicky focus. And yes I’ve been using X since before LINUX; I guess that makes me a remnant, a keeper of the one true focus, bringing its wise an ancient message to younger generations.

    But I’m okay with cleaning up the dialog; I’ve got no problem skipping over into gconf-tool or whatever to make it work. I’ll be able to do that in several less clicks than you. :)

    Removing infrequently used UI elements is a virtuous act; continue lest we be mistaken for our wayward [and so darn ugly!] brother KDE.

  7. calum says:

    Just to be clear, I have NO problem at all with GNOME moving forward, and removing things we don’t think are necessary any more.

    But doing it at the last minute before a release, so that (at best) most users will never notice until the next time they go to look for that feature, is a very unsatisfactory and unprofessional approach to change management, IMHO.

  8. Benjamin Otte says:

    My problem with this is growing bigger, because everythime it’s Jon McCann announcing that it’s not worthy anymore and then removing it. Without a lot of reasoning.
    I’d like to have a solid understanding of why the things he proposes are a bad idea and I’d like to have those grounded in research, so that when someone asks I don’t have to tell them “Jon thought it’s bad” but “99% of our users don’t use it, but 20% get confused by it”, which is a much better metric.

    Otherwise I’d like Jon’s powers, too so I can change the default panel layout to vertical, as it’s obviously better.

  9. Stu says:

    @Adam Tauno Williasm, @Anders Gah! You’ll can pry my sloppy focus from my cold dead hands!

    I hope this preference is moving to another caplet, just living in gconf is not enough.

    [+ Saying this will be in some future 'advance options' is not great either, this also hasn't come to pass ]

  10. Stu says:

    Sometimes I get the feeling that options are removed by people that don’t understand them so assume they are not used.

    For instance (Disclaimer: This is a bug I’m cc’d on)

    ‘Option “Show minimized windows on all desktops” missed ‘
    http://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=128535

  11. ulrik says:

    @Stu: Brilliant suggestion of yours in that linked bug report. What a shame to see that it is so old!

  12. Stu says:

    @ulrik seeing this thing about sloppy focus made me want to have a look at it again, but jhbuild stopped working when it couldn’t find a modern version of pyrex :(
    [even then might be a bit of a mission for me as I don't know my way round the gnome source, if I could find the actual patch that removed the original functionality though that would be a good start]