Jumping over the wall

Quite a few people have been saying we need to break major versions for GNOME, and create something new and exciting to increase our userbase for 3.0. Nonsense. There’s nothing saying you have to develop big new features in one release cycle. Something large like the new gdm2 rewrite can be done over a couple of release cycles, fixing the other broken bits along the way. The only slight problem is the deprecated (and broken) code in GTK, but that’s an argument for another day.

People don’t use GNOME because they can see cool OpenGL widgets whoosh around a screen. People use GNOME to actually do things. People use GNOME to write letters, edit photos, surf the net and read some news. For instance, I run without compiz turned on, as I find I work faster without any of the wizzy visual effects. The 0.1% of uber geeks (I’m not sure if I include myself in that number) that want to write cool new stuff need to remember that just because it’s possible, doesn’t always mean it’s a good idea.

I see this effect a lot with the new KDE, with it’s abstractions on abstractions and also visual widgets that can be spun, twisted and shaped. For example, I saw a preview of KDE 4.1 where there was a circular analogue clock widget. Hover over it, and you can rotate the analogue clock to any arbitrary angle. Just because it can be done, don’t mean it should be done.

So, all those of you who say we need radically new designs in GNOME 3.0, keep that moto in mind.

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Richard has over 10 years of experience developing open source software. He is the maintainer of GNOME Software, PackageKit, GNOME Packagekit, GNOME Power Manager, GNOME Color Manager, colord, and UPower and also contributes to many other projects and opensource standards. Richard has three main areas of interest on the free desktop, color management, package management, and power management. Richard graduated a few years ago from the University of Surrey with a Masters in Electronics Engineering. He now works for Red Hat in the desktop group, and also manages a company selling open source calibration equipment. Richard's outside interests include taking photos and eating good food.

19 thoughts on “Jumping over the wall”

  1. I think it’s also “0.1% of uber geeks” that do not run Compiz. Most people do want to run Compiz.

    I’m not saying a clock that can be rotated it a good idea, but trying new things isn’t per definition a bad thing. (Though this arguably does not need a major version bump)

  2. Yes, we use Gnome to do thing. But the Gnome desktop is far from to be perfect. But I agree with you when you speak about thoose “special” effects.

    Thinking again about Gnome and desktop do not mean, add effect everywhere but a more document/user-centered approch is may be needed and can bring more efficienty to do thing. Don’t you think ?

  3. I don’t run compiz either, and it’s for the reasons you mention: it doesn’t help me do anything. But f-spot doesn’t help me do things either as it uses a scroll bar (!) to navigate through my photo collection.

    Besides that, I’m a bit surprised at the idea the the existing software might somehow break if people decide they are bored and spend their time on something new, something that assuredly would not find its way into “GNOME for grandma” for at least a couple of release cycles, if ever.

  4. I remember a time when this kind of thinking kept people in Windows…

    Choice is good, people! What if a user wants to spin clocks to arbitrary angles?? Not worthy of finding what he wants in Gnome?

    Holy elitism, Batman!

  5. I’m glad that you think this way. Although some people seem to be mortally offended at not having enough options and useless special effects in gnome, I’m happy there is at least one desktop environment that tries not to get in the way of its users. Rather then completely rewriting everything each version to make gnome grab one’s attention, it is a much better idea to slowly perfect everything until it isn’t even necessary for the user to notice it at all.

  6. Re-writes can be visible or invisible. Having worked on non-GUI embedded stuff for a few years now, I’m inclined to think that the visible kind is a lot more appealing to work on.

    And in defence of the poor analogue clock.. it would probably take more effort to disable the rotatability than to leave it there, due to the nature of inheritance.

  7. One could argue that resizing an icon on the gnome desktop is a similarly stupid feature.. Not that I’d be offended about it… :)

  8. i think you’re missing the point a little…

    as I see it there are 2 sides to this call for evolution 1) make everything integrated and “just work” and 2) bring the desktop to life

    1) is the non-pretty underside and although some integration is possible through DBUS and components like telepathy exist. Using these interactions has been extremely slow on the uptake. People interaction is the most important part of this and is why i mention telepathy. Understandably this isn’t mature yet, but why aren’t we fiddling with inclusion to work out the bugs as its developed?
    – Although I can enter my contacts AIM name into Evolution theres no way to actually IM them from there and if i receive an IM from someone and want to save them as a contact or add to an existing contact, theres no fast easy way to do that.
    – smart drag-n-drop – should be easier for applications to add this and all gtk+ widgets should be supported (which i understand is a constant headache for application developers)

    2) There are a lot of dumb effects out there in the compiz world don’t get me wrong. But adding fluidity and dynamicism to the desktop does not have to be useless. On the contrary, making things react in ways that the human brain is more accustomed actually increases work flow. OSX has been doing this extensibly… ex: simple fades and transitions that visually let the user know whats happening or what they just chose and sometimes how to get back.

    This is the type of visuals GNOME is capable of harnessing correctly to enhance the user experience by making GNOME more fluid and a more productive environment. Let the Aquariums and spinning windows stay with the people playing at compiz-fusion.

  9. If work on Gnome 3 is really starting, I hope it at least avoids the mistake of KDE4: leaving the users with an old system for long time and finishing the all-pretty, all-new system essentially in hiding… Gnome’s 6-month release cycle with evolutionary changes is much more exciting for the users, rather than having to wait for years for the “all-new” revolution.

    Btw. regarding Compiz: IMHO the toy plugins are nice but can be annoying soon; but some features like virtual-desktop-sliding, window shadows, and smooth minimize animations really improve the desktop, even for “normal” working users. It’s much more than just a toy then.

  10. On the other hand: that it can be done, does not mean it do not have to be done, either. It’s a rather shallow motto, I think. Bug fixes will not win a lot users from Windows.

    (Praying HTML markup works)

  11. I agree with a few of the statements made about Compiz not just being useless eye candy. I used to have all the blingy things like wobbly windows turned on, but now I mostly just use shadows, subtle animations which are set to be very fast, and I have Scale set to a keyboard shortcut and the upper left corner of my screen (I only use a bottom panel).

  12. I think you’d be surprised to see how for many of the not typical Unix users, the feature they mention first is the cool visual effects. It’s a great contrast to Vista with its tacky theme and limited use of the feature set of the video stack (which really is stunningly disappointing, considering that the cheesy 3d application switcher shows that it can do so much more). This way it is a great chance to get these users to try the Linux desktop.

    “Can be used to write letters and read the news” isn’t that much of a draw, they can do that on their Windows desktop, and even if they can write letters and read the news in a better or easier way using a Gnome desktop than they can do that on the system they have, it’s really hard to make that clear to them without them trying it out for themselves.

  13. With that kind of saying I think I should then argue that people should just stick with XP. It works, if you have protection in place your good, so why switch? See, people often don’t think of the reasons for development, If I’m a user who tired of Windows and wants to use something free, why should I switch to Gnome??? My XP install works fine and I never have a problem with it. I see nothing that Gnome offers that XP doesn’t offer. Wait, now your telling me I might have to use CL, oh and some hardware doesn’t work. and even if I customize it I might still not get the full functionailty I want. ok, no thanks I’ll stick to what works for me right now.

    Now, try again, this time with something like KDE 4. So what would be the point of an adjustable clock, well everything can be adjusted, so once more widgets are put out you can tune them to work for you, Anything can be adjusted, added to your panel and themed to your liking. This are just the base sets of things you can place on your desktop, lets say you have 4-5 powerpoints that your working on, put this folderview app right here, shrink it down and point to this location. You can now work on all you powerpoints and when your done, get rid of the app or switch it to a different folder. KDE is a change, it’s some users want, good eyecandy, good productivity and it’s fun. They see a reason to switch over to Linux. I agree, adding new features every 6 months is asking for trouble. But 4.1 is going to be a stable release for the rest of the KDE4 series. Hence why so much had to get done. KDE4 is getting the new users, and I feel that if Gnome doesn’t come out with something that can mature into a really great feature, the new install base is going to leave.

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