I happened to try the Ubuntu live cd on my work laptop this lunch time, which makes for an interesting comparison since it normally runs Windows.
One of the most striking things is how inefficient GNOME’s use of screen space is compared to most Windows applications. The main culprit is the fact that the default icon size is 24×24, but also there is a lot more padding around interface items. I opened up OpenOffice (which is using Gnome icons and themes), and I have two toolbars taking about 20% of the screen…. The same goes for nautilus, not to mention the default icon size is huge compared to Windows. You don’t realise how much space you are wasting until you try making the icons smaller.
The other problem is the default font size on GNOME is 10pt, and one of the first things I do is turn it down to 8pt. Sure, when we have high resolution displays we will want these font sizes, but most people are still living with resolutions less than 1280×1024.
I realise the ideal solution would be to make the icon sizes resolution independant, but I doubt that is going to happen any time soon. Is it time we reduced the toolbar icon size and the amount of padding around buttons?
I understand there are good reasons for these ‘large’ sizes; accessibility and usability being two of them. However, I always get the impression that GNOME looks more ‘childlike’ because of the large icons and excessive padding. We have the large print themes for a reason…