Low Res Gnome

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…

19 thoughts on “Low Res Gnome”

  1. Text size and general padding in widgets is also a factor.
    This might be a GNOME goal ? :)

    OSX does much more in less space. So it’s not entirely about resolution independent icons. Stuff like treeview is a big sinner.

    A question of defaults i guess?

  2. Actually, I’ve been thinking of this since the GNOME 1.x days, but I’ve ended up liking it.. although I should say I have a 1920×1600 screen.

  3. I like the big icons, but at lower resolutions perhaps the default size should be smaller…
    Also padding should get smaller at resolutions < 1024×768

  4. You can reduce the toolbar icon size to 16×16 in your theme: I did this when my work laptop was 1024×768. 6.5pt fonts and 16×16 toolbar icons rocked.

  5. As for font sizes: if you set correct DPI settings (ie horizontal resolution in pixels divided by horizontal screen size in inches) in the GNOME font config, all fonts based on pt will automatically be scaled for proper display on your screen. This won’t help for web-pages who use pixel sizes for fonts though.

    Would be cool if we could get the whole UI to scale like this, should be possible by using svg-icons and em/pt for sizes.

  6. I’m using ubuntu 5.10 on a 1024×768 px monitor, and i have no qualms about the icon sizes. in fact, my topmost panel is 48px, and my lower panel is 32px. i use svg based icon themes, and i even have an additional 48px panel on the left hand side, which is in autohide mode.

    suits me just fine.

    ps: i’ve never seen a screen higher than 1152x(what_was_it_again?).. so i guess i don’t know any better. as far as i’m concerned, 1024 is hi res, and yep, that’s why you can tweak the sizes of most screen elements (screenels ™ ;)).
    my vision is also perfectly ok. -I’d rather see big icons and text than squint, vertical scrolling isn’t a big deal when you’ve got a wheel mouse, plus f11 will put you in fullscreen mode in my most commonly used apps… epiphany, openoffice, evince.

  7. I thought the whole idea of going to cairo was that we can use sbg in themes, and that the while idead of svg is that they are scalable vector graphics. So in theory we should be able to say I want 16×16 or 13×13 icons and have the icons scale automagically to that size and still look cool hence only needing to have one set of icons for any theme.

  8. Right on! Talk about hitting the nail on the head – I hate that about Gnome. In Windows, I can get x number of icons on a toolbar, but in Gnome, I can only have x * .6… Those are often critical functions tat are not available.

    It also relates to the stupid simple interface ideas that Gnome is trying to do. It doesn’t work for everyone! Some people want or need more space. They want or need more screen real estate and cannot get resolution beyond what the hardware allows. Sure, you can achieve “prettier” icons at 24px (Gnome) than you can at 16px (Windows), but…

    And a default font of 10pt? That’s crazy big for most people in the general user interface stuff. That also causes everything to take up a lot more space. That’s the first thing I change. Maybe there should be some sort of setting for this at first login – something that asks about usability. But…

    That gets into another point – how about a desktop-wide setting for user-level. Novices are only exposed to x functionality while medium users get access to x * 1.3 functionality and experts are exposed to x * 1.9 stuff. That’s very easy to code and maintain and anyone who says it isn’t is lazy and/or lying.

    Oooh… But what if my grandma accidentally chooses Expert mode? Well, duh, then she’s in a world that has a little more functionality (like Windows or KDE) and she can either use a control panel setting to change it back or live with it. Not a show-stopper.

    See? You open up a can of worms when you say the perfect world of Gnome isn’t as perfect as the interface freaks think it is. One little nit-pick leads to more and suddenly all the holes in the stupid simple interface ideas are exposed. I love Gnome, but I miss the 1.0 and earlier days when it was a real interface for real people. Sane defaults aren’t always enough.

  9. The default size of the toolbars has always annoyed me, even though I do use a pretty high resolution screen. More space for whatever work I’m doing is always a good thing. For the most part I’ve found the most useful change to make is to turn off the text below icons.

    For someone who is completely new to computing they are probably helpful, but I can usually sort out what they do at a glance. If I can there’s always the mouse over label a few times before I remember it.

  10. I certainly don’t think GNOME is using too much space for artwork. In fact, I’d increase the defaults for both icon size and padding, although only slightly. I’m using a 1280×1024 screen for the most part (and at times 1024×768 when I resort to my small-form laptop’s internal screen only), so this is not as if I have a lot of space to “waste”. I also generally use fairly small font sizes in many text-focused applications (but a relatively large font size in browsers, because small font there means too wide columns in most web layouts).

    I simply think that using some padding makes the desktop and applications look less visually cluttered, and thus more pleasant and usable.

    At the same time, I do think that most GNOME applications still have *too many* icons in their toolbars by default. And that’s not even including OpenOffice, which is truly horrible in this respect. It’s not how much you use space – it’s what you use it for. This is why Mac OS is so efficient despite its large icons.

    However, despite which direction you lean to, resolution independence is important. I believe the GNOME HIG still states padding in terms of pixels – it certainly should do so in relation to icon and font sizes. The next Mac OS release is going to shift things a lot in this respect, btw.

  11. please :)

    I like, love, the actual size of gnome icons. it’s readable, easy for my eyes (my eyes, my eyes! even in 1280×1024)

    and sure, Os X use even bigger icons in toolbar

    but os X gives a fast way to have little icons in sizebar
    and it seems os X has better padding love in many core applications.
    something gnome can try to improve

    but little icons as windows ? ho no. I cannot stress enough how much the windows icons are not readable.

    in office 12 , you can see even Microsoft is moving toward bigger icons
    of course they try to put only _relevant_ icons.

    in os X, the icons on the toolbars are _strictly_ selected
    apple hig tells developper to put ONLY very common used functions on the toolbar.

    it helps to be readable and to not clutter the interface.

  12. Erik: “And a default font of 10pt? That’s crazy big for most people in the general user interface stuff.”

    I think you’re confusing “most people” with “3l33t h4x0rz.” I hear people complaining about unreadably small fonts on their computers all the time – a lot of people I know won’t switch their resolution above 800×600 because the fonts get too small. Obviously, that’s Windows’s fault for not scaling the fonts properly, but it makes the point that a lot of people want nice, large, fonts. 8pt is crazy small.

  13. I’ve always found the excess use of whitespace in Gnome a major shortcoming. It’s like a 1600×1200 desktop in Gnome is equivalent to a 1280×1024 in WinXP.

    I can tell because I use the same monitor shared between a Linux and a Windows PC running the same resolution and refresh, switched using a KVM switch.

    If anyone has such a setup they can try a experiment for an example of what I mean:

    Set the resolution of Gnome and WinXP the same. Then open Firefox with the same visual configuration on both. Try adding a long bookmark menu on both and open the menu. On WinXP, you will see a LOT more entries and its completely readeble.
    The extra use of padding and whitespace in Gnome menus and icons does NOT make it readeble.

  14. “That gets into another point – how about a desktop-wide setting for user-level. Novices are only exposed to x functionality while medium users get access to x * 1.3 functionality and experts are exposed to x * 1.9 stuff. That’s very easy to code and maintain and anyone who says it isn’t is lazy and/or lying.”

    No one is expert or novice at everything. Sure it would be easy to code and maintain, but it would be useless. In the end everyone would have to set their level to expert to get access to the that one piece of functionality someone determined is only needed by experts. And that one piece of functionality is different for everyone.

    This should be in a FAQ somewhere.

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