Off to Desktop Summit!

I’m leaving this afternoon to fly overnight to Berlin for the Desktop Summit! I’m really excited to meet everybody I haven’t already met, and I’m thinking of the conference as my real orientation. So please come and say hi (and feel free to give me any advice you may have)!

As I was finishing packing and getting ready to run out the door, I noticed the recent news around Linus Torvalds’ negative discussion of GNOME 3, so I’m taking an extra few minutes to think out loud here. As I said in my OSCON keynote, our software must be easy to use by all. As I understand it, the GNOME 3 redesign was largely based on usability studies on ordinary people. Folks that are deeply entrenched in what we had before can’t be the target of something new like this, and we must take risks in order to succeed. We won’t be able to make everyone happy, but all of the reports I’ve heard from people who switched to GNOME 3 and stuck with it for a little while had pretty positive responses, given how new it is. I think it takes a while to get used to but more importantly, we have to think about the changes needed for our software to be relevant to more than just hard core hackers. What GNOME 3 is trying to accomplish is really big.

I think it’s important to remember that it’s still early days. Lots of people are using GNOME 3 and loving it, lots of people haven’t really tried it because they don’t want to switch distros, and lots of people haven’t really given it enough use to see whether they will like it once they’ve gotten over their first reactions and adjusted to the change. I myself have one computer running fedora with GNOME 3 and another running debian and GNOME 2 (which is the one I’ll travel with as it’s lighter). I look forward to trying out other distros too.

All of that said, feedback on GNOME 3 is essential, and I think it’s going to be one of the hot topics of discussion at the Summit.

This is probably all too quickly written, and I hope some GNOME developers can respond too. I look forward to talking to you in Berlin!

9 thoughts on “Off to Desktop Summit!

  1. “What GNOME 3 is trying to accomplish is really big.”

    So what is GNOME trying to accomplish? What *is* the direction for GNOME in 2011? 3.2 is on the horizon. But is GNOME a PC desktop or a tablet desktop or both? This is not clearly communicated (by following Planet Gnome).

  2. There’s usually a lot of complaining whenever a huge UI change comes around, since old habits are no longer executed in the same manner. When Microsoft released Office 2007, people decried the ribbon for a long time. I worked at the helpdesk of my school when that happened, and had to support Office; it only took a few months for the school’s staff to transition to the ribbon design after being forced to upgrade and use the new version. And, while this may be considered blasphemy as most Linux office suites emulate the behavior of older editions of Office, I like the ribbon a lot and would love to see it in more applications (if legally feasible).

    While I will not say that Gnome 3 is perfect, it is not as terrible as everyone says it is. It forces established users of Gnome 2 to think about their desktop in a new way, which is work for a brain that is well-tuned to Gnome 2′s interface. In a well-publicized comment, Linus didn’t seem to be aware that middle clicking on an icon in the activities dock (or whatever the term is for the dock) would open up a new terminal instance if terminal is already open, which frustrated him. Perhaps there could be a less painful way than trial-and-error or reading articles for users to transition to Gnome 3.

  3. Berlin is my favourite place!
    GNOME3 must target regular users, but should be customisable, easily, for those “expert” users who want to change the details of how it works.
    Keep up the good work :)
    s.

  4. You should not dismiss Torvalds’ criticism so easily. A platform that is less usable to software developers means less software development on that platform, as experienced contributors are driven away. Furthermore, it’s a mistake to rely too heavily on usability studies that target naive users. Should they adopt Gnome, they will soon become experienced users, and they will run into the kinds of issues Torvalds has been flagging. If they learn to develop code, for example, they will quickly understand why one might want two terminal windows open; Gnome 3 broke the behavior (clicking “terminal” raises the existing terminal to the top instead of creating a new one) based on some ideal of consistency, not based on what users might actually want and expect.

    You might also consider whether the decreased configurability of Gnome 3 makes life difficult for users with visual or motor impairments.

    All that said, there’s plenty to like about Gnome 3, but if you build a platform that major contributors to the GNU/Linux platform find unusable, you’re going to have a problem going forward and you may find an increasingly hostile reception when you need kernel help to solve a problem.

    Gnome defenders answer almost all criticisms with “we have usability studies” or “you’re not in our target market” or “old-school programmers don’t matter”. Not all criticisms of Gnome are valid, but ignoring all criticism is what Gnome is becoming known for.

  5. I think part of the problem might be that the Gnome developers are confused about who their users really are. Whilst the vast majority of current users are technically focused, Gnome is being developed for a target audience of casual users.

    Whilst it does not hurt to bare the average user in mind, simply removing options does not make usable interface.

  6. Anyone who reads the developer blogs and documentation about the design of GNOME 3 will have a basic understanding of the reasoning behind the design. It is early days, but we did take quite some time to get the design right. This aspect of GNOME 3 shines brilliantly, aside from its relative stability as a new product.

    I think the fact that GNOME 3 has alienated some of the more technical users is a sign of how ready it is for normal users. I only hope these developers can find other ways of embracing GNOME 3 and the platform its built on if they can’t come to terms with the design. Being technical users, I’m sure they’ll find a way. ;)

  7. Success? If you really want things to be different, perhaps you should try changing the way you do things? For example, why isn’t anyone reconsidering seriously the old upstream/distribution model that has obviously failed on the desktop?

  8. As of August 10/11, this blog post has been the only one to even passingly mention the widespread and increasingly vocal dislike of the new GNOME 3.

    Sure, it’s technically open source but it doesn’t mean the project controllers are at all open to listening to what the (past) GNOME userbase needed or wished.

    I suppose Darwinistic selection will eventually sort out the competing UIs.

    And I’m starting to wonder if some OEM – maybe even at some third party’s behest – funded GNOME’s blind, premature, irreversible headlong jump into the simpleton tablet UI.

    Still, there are options to recommend for the hordes of XP exiles and also recovering long-time Gnomers. Sometimes leaving is the lesser of inconveniences.

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