GNOME Shell Preview

I’ve been unwell the last couple of days, and with a muzzy head programming isn’t that easy. So I decided to try out gnome-shell and document some of my initial findings. The following finds are purely subjective and my own opinions only. Comments are welcome telling me I’m being a moron, or that an issue is fixed in a newer release. I’m currently using the newest packages in Fedora rawhide.

  • In general, everything seems slower. The animations are a nice touch initially, but I find they actually slow down my workflow. I’m not the sort of person that likes compiz for this reason either.
  • I’ve not got a window list anywhere, so I find I’ve got about 40 nautilus “Home” windows open at any one time.
  • I use a dual screen, and quite a lot of the UI appears centered in the virtual screen, which is not that nice when one panel is slightly different size to the other, with about 2 inches between them. For instance for  the time, one panel has “Wed 10” in the top right, and the other panel has “22 AM” in the top left. Also, totem when watching a movie seems to be put halfway between each workspace in the preview screen, but appears on neither side of the workspace if you click on it. There are 4 or 5 different UI bugs that I need to research and file.
  • I really don’t see the point in having a giant top bar with only the current running application on it, and the time. Seems a giant waste of space. I also don’t think it needs to be on across all screens on a multi-monitor display.
  • I often use the dual screen to display two documents at once, if I’m comparing photographs or looking at code and a debugger. Every time I go back to the preview menu screen I’m forced to choose a single window, and other windows get arranged and stacked seemingly randomly.
  • I can’t seem to click on the status area icons when in the sidebar mode. This seems an artificial limitation.
  • There isn’t a way to clear the recent documents list, so if I’m working on a confidential document with a sensitive filename, I can’t show anyone my menu or take a screenshot (which I wanted to do for this blog entry…)
  • I can’t find any way of getting access to the preferences menu items (e.g. to change my mouse acceleration), other than typing in “mouse” into the search bar, which didn’t exactly seem intuitive.
  • Black menus and notifications are not really my colour, and I couldn’t find a way to chose anything else.
  • There appears to be no configuration at all. I know tweaking things is the devils work, but no configuration allowed at all?

So, it’s certainly very different to what we’ve had before, but you can clearly see it’s a preview, not a final release. It’s certainly not useful to me as a production desktop just yet.

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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.

41 thoughts on “GNOME Shell Preview”

  1. >> I can’t find any way of getting access to the preferences menu items

    You can open a control center shell from the user menu (see username, top right)

  2. “There appears to be no configuration at all. I know tweaking things is the devils work, but no configuration allowed at all?”

    Are you asking for comparability for the sake of having it?
    It would be cool to get the defaults just great instead. I mean, really do it, the hard way. No prisoners allowed.
    – Andreas

    1. >No prisoners allowed.

      But I find white text on a blank background very hard to read. I don’t want to change the animation speed or insane things like that, just to make the menu quicker to use.

      1. it could be that you’re not the only one with those issues, so maybe it’s something that makes sense to change for everyone (these colors are also the default for gnome-terminal, so maybe we should change those too)?

        1. I’m taking this to the extreme of course, but I think not allowing any preferences for a application could be a interesting design experiment (and maybe it does make sense to be able to change the colors in gnome-shell).

          1. @ Jeff –
            Who gives a crap about flames..
            Black background with white text is a very common usability issue for people with bad eye sight.
            Whats usable for you is not necessarily usable for someone else.
            Telling people configuration will not be needed because we have made the most usable interface of all time is just dumb in my view.
            Its like saying a piece of software contains no bugs.
            This approach will never help get gnome to the masses.

    2. I agree that great default settings are key. Some configurability is also key, however.

      First, not all Gnome’s users are the same. Tweaking their interface to some degree will make Gnome feel more like home to them and make them happier users, no matter how great the default settings are. If we remove configurability (especially almost all configurability), the user may feel disempowered. That is not the feeling we want to engender. It may seem silly to concentrate on the color of the panel or the menu (bikeshedding, anyone?), but people actually get upset if they can’t control something so basic in the interface. Those negative feelings can easily overwhelm all the innovation and good things that the new interface brings to the table. Why risk that?

      Second, we may not get the default settings right the first (or second) time around. Allowing some configurability or, even better, an extension system like Firefox’s Add-Ins, helps developers and users experiment with the interface and, potentially, make it even better than it was in the first place. Just look at Gnome 2. It started, by default, with a bottom panel with the foot menu next to a windows list. By the end, the default was a top panel with three top-level menus and a bottom panel devoted mostly to the windows list. It was Gnome 2’s configurability that allowed users and developers to experiment with what might work best and, based on that experience, change the default settings. The absence of any defined Add-In system or even applet APIs in the gnome-shell troubles me the most in this regard.

      Third, the ability to configure things, even in a crazy, crack-laden way, tends to create excitement in potential developers. Software developers are hackers, and hackers, by and large, like to hack on things: i.e. to tweak them to find out how they work. Making it difficult for potential developers to tweak the system by exposing few settings to change or not having a well-defined Add-In system will disappoint and turn away potential new developers.

      There’s a middle ground between no (or almost no) configurability and the super-configurability exposed in the interface (such as found in KDE 3). I think Gnome 2 in recent times has gotten this about right. Some configurability is in the interface. Some configurability is in gconf-editor. Some configurability is in other places, like Devil’s Pie.

      Let’s not disempower our users by withdrawing even more configurability, and let’s create extension mechanisms that allow users and evelopers to experiment and innovate even further. In that way, Gnome will keep evolving into a better and better interface.

  3. “It is also the single biggest flame about gnome by the trolls. Why do you want to feed them more fodder to chew on?”

    It might be that I don’t want to design for those people today. :)

  4. Why is everybody commenting on the most irrelevant part of the article? That you can’t (right now) change your favorite color?

  5. You have 40 different folders open? Spatial should ensure only one window per folder. Or are you using browse mode?

    Did you use the window list at the bottom to close them by right click, or did you just use it as a notification that you had a lot of windows, and then you closed them by some other means (Ctrl-Shift-W, close button on each one…)?

  6. I seriously thought GNOME3 was going in the direction of slapping compiz, gnome-do and awn (avant-window-manager) into obedience and some mad polish so they work well together. Or maybe a totally new desktop UI/metaphor designed around search (something like gnome-do but on steroids) as opposed point and click hierarchal based navigation. Imagine my shock and horror when I see this thing called GNOME-shell. I’m not in the least impressed by it. I’m seriously considering a fork. (GNOME3.5- Now if only we can get the compiz, gnome-do and awn to sit down together).

  7. >> I’ve not got a window list anywhere, so I find I’ve got about 40 nautilus “Home” windows open at any one time.

    I guess the developers assume people are using Nautilus in spatial mode. I’ve gotten used to clickign on Activities for a full-window tiled view of active windows, though. And Alt-Tab on mutter is scarily fast, compared to metacity + compositing.

    >> I really don’t see the point in having a giant top bar with only the current running application on it, and the time. Seems a giant waste of space. I also don’t think it needs to be on across all screens on a multi-monitor display.

    Try installing maximus (on Rawhide, or F-10/1 updates-testing). You’d need to configure it using gconf-editor to not maximize by default, esp. on large screens, and you can blacklist apps that cause problems (Netbeans, last I checked). When a window is maximized, Maximus will hide the title bar, reducing the space wastage.

  8. I personally miss all the applets I’m using all the time: System monitor, netspeed, brightness and inhibit suspend (last two written by you!).

  9. “I really don’t see the point in having a giant top bar with only the current running application on it, and the time. ”

    Me neither but I thought that it was going to become, in the future, a place like the current gnome-panel where you could put “applets” of your choice.

    If this is not the case, then, you are right : there’s something very wrong !

    I also want to have some kind of pager and I reported the bug :

    Is there any document about the vision and the intended developement of GNOME-shell ? I mean, there should be mockup and stuffs like that.

  10. I only found about Gnome-Shell today, and I like how it’s going. But the things that bug me the most are the lack of a window list in each virtual desktop, and the big useless bar on the top.

    I think, like me, most people spend more time switching between windows on the same virtual desktop than switching between those desktops, so having a window list makes more sense, don’t it?

  11. @mtj

    Because people have pointed out a flaw.
    The response, which seems typical of the GNOME developers, hasn’t been “you’ll be able to change colors later,” but along the lines of “you don’t need to.”

    Yes, I do. The same way I needed to turn spatial off in GNOME 2.0. The same way that accesibility requires the ability to change colors, which IIRC is the position of the GNOME accessibility team (not affiliated with them in any way or form, my opinions are my own).

    People are so different you can not find a default which works for everybody.
    Having an easy to configure program is good. Having an impossible to configure program is very very bad.

    And developers need to stop treating a “no-configuration” program like a good thing, since this attitude just pisses people off.

    1. Yes, I must agree with you. A lot of people should have some control over the aesthetic feel of their desktop such that they are at home. That said, Andreas did say that he was taking an extreme position on purpose.

      As for trolls, GNOME is good because we took the position of removing “features” (otherwise known as extraneous features that only suit a small subset of people like app swallowing in the panel for instance) and even KDE is following in that pattern.

      I tried GNOME shell too, and I agree with most of Hughsie’s observations. Accessing preferences from your name seems counter intuitive, it’s not where I would look for prefernces. I would look for it in activities.

      One big thing is that the calendar at the top of the menu bar on top is lame, it doesn’t give me a calendar when I click on it. It also doesn’t give me the full date. For GNOME I always found that clicking on the date and getting the calendar was one of the big features of GNOME believe it or not.

      Anyways, work in progress, file bugs :-)


  12. I’ve not got a window list anywhere, so I find I’ve got about 40 nautilus “Home” windows open at any one time.

    I wish someone would try to implement Clever Windows. This would solve the issue without needing a window list. On the other hand, perhaps it would make more sense to use each workspace as one tabbed window.

  13. Is it possible to disable all the animations in GNOME 3.0?

    If yes, is GNOME 3.0 without animations still much less snappy than gnome 2.8?

    If yes, then I switch to icewm :)

  14. Not seeing the window list is a major flaw. Dont fool yourself. Clever windows would not work on my small netbook screen.

    And working with it seems smooth, but also slow.

    And I second that the top bar without extentions is a waste of space.

  15. Oh and the empathy integration is non-existant.

    And get some SVG-icons .. those bitmap things look super hideous. I dont think anyone will accept those in 2010.

  16. Oh, one more thing. Just try it on a 1024×600. Wasnt it supposed to work better on smaller screens? Pfft

  17. There is obviously a lot to know about this. I think you made some good points in Features also.

  18. One thing that bugs me about the top-bar is that so much space is spend on telling me what my name is. Really, I think I’ve learned my own name by now, so I don’t need for the computer to tell me all the time…

  19. Can please someone drive a big usability truck over what is called “gnome-shell” before it’s too late and one has to abandon the ship.

  20. Am I the only one finding a lot to like about Gnome-shell? It’s not feature complete at the moment, but I already find it preferable to the direction that KDE4 took. So far the main configuration option I want is to be able to display the full date at the top instead of just the day and time. Everything else I find to be intuitive and beautiful.

    Perhaps I won’t feel that way over time, but right now I find it comfortable and intuitive. I do like the clever windows design someone showed before. I see no reason that this couldn’t be used along with the Gnome Shell.

    I say good work to the Gnome team; I’m excited about 3.0.

    1. Michael:
      I agree fully with you, gnome-shell is simply put one of the best UI’s I have tried in a long time.
      Sure there are some quirks but not more than in any other UI I tried.

      I also love that there is no-configuration!
      I can agree with all of you out there that says that we all have different needs and preferences.
      However the configuration possibility in Linux programs is usually, in my opinion, also why Linux software often lacks in usability with commercial systems.
      The open source programmers spend too much time to implement clever theming/config options instead of using good default options that at least 80% of the userbase wants.
      Priority one is as always stability but close are good default settings. Good job Gnome team, keep your head high.

  21. Just to set some poeple straight.

    No one has hidden the fact that Gnome-Sheel is still very young and imature. What now seems as a waste of space, or stupid this stupid that feature is in fact a place holder of sorts.

    Take for instance the window title in the top panel. It’s just a place holder for gnome global menu.

    Be patient and submit bugs sugestions.

    Don’t hate what is still to come.

    I recall in the beginning of KDE4, even KDE followers hated it, now they all praise it. (I don’t of course speak for all KDE fans lol)

    Personally I love 2.28 and am rather curios to see where 3.0 is going.

    I have faith…

  22. I agree with mystilleef, in that my preconception of gnome-shell would be to have a ‘super’ version of gnome-do that could manage things, coupled with compiz and something like avant windows manager all rolled into one.

    Lets hope its not too late for them to listen to this feedback and change things before its too late.

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