Monday, 28 February 2011

Why I Think Gnome 3 Is a Dead End

In short because it's cat-dog. What I mean is – what is the new gnome target audience? To me it seems like it tries to satisfy everyone which obviously cannot work. Let's look at the potential users who might want to use it.

Newcomers. Imagine a computer virgin. He buys a computer (like he would buy say a television) already preconfigured and pushes the power button. Now what should he do when it is fully booted? How to present the workspace to him? I think "start" button from windows wasn't a totally wrong idea – the user sees it and thinks: "oh, I'm probably supposed to start here". The menu itself however was always badly executed. Too many applications with strange names, sometimes even in categories.

Gnome shell uses activities button instead of start button which is probably a little bit less suggestive but should give away pretty easily what it does. And instead of menu you're presented with table. Again filled with zillions of icons and non-familiar names like firefox. What the hell is that? And the user is lost. Now one thing that I don't completely understand is the need for activities button at all if there was made a decision to keep desktop clean of icons. The desktop could be well used for presenting the user with what he can do. However the main point is how to present him the apps. Surely a big globe labeled "browse the web", two heads seemingly chatting labelled "chat with friends" or notebook with pen writing something on it labeled "write a document" would give the user much better idea what to do than firefox wrapped around globe labeled "firefox", blue connected heads labeled "empathy" and stylized oo-writer icon labeled " Writer".

Furthermore, the less options the user is presented with, the better. He does not need to be presented on his workspace with 10 different apps doing the same thing. The maximum that could be presented to him is some sort of artsy icon labeled "personalise your workspace" with all the settings. The settings would, as its label suggest, let him stylize his desktop look and for slightly more knowledgeable users let them choose whether they want to browse the internet with firefox or chrome (for example) or how early they want screensaver to kick in in case of inactivity.

Also, since people use their notebooks increasingly also for presenting, setting up dual head should be almost one of the easiest things on the world. User plugs in an external projector/monitor, dialog pops up that he did so and how he wants to set it up – clone or extend his current workspace. Nothing more, nothing less.

He is also the type of user that will probably not work on multiple things at once, however e.g. when writing a document he'll switch to and fro between the composer window and one or other window with a reference he uses. This needs to be done also suggestively and ideally without zooming out/in. Probably some sort of semi-intelligent sliding.

As you can guess, gnome-shell tries a bit to appeal to these users but it's stuck up half way because of the following groups.

Windows/Mac Escapee. This kind of users already know how to use a computer, have some favourite apps and are expecting to be more or less able to keep their current work-flow. Gnome shell breaks that and will probably scare them away.

Power users. Working with many apps at the same time, relying a lot on terminal, customizing their desktop to best fit their needs. These will be annoyed with how gnome shell works. It slows their workflow, shuts them off of some settings they've been using for ages (like turn off display on laptop lid close) presents them with unnecessary animations. I don't know how for others, but for me gnome-shell makes e.g. writing a code (which in my case requires switching to and fro between terminal, file manager, gedit and web browser) pain it the butt.

Still from the design it seems like these people were thought of as well when making gnome shell. But that's the problem. It stopped halfway. It tries to be both for power users and newbies and ends up neither. Sorry, but I really can't see a way to satisfy both camps and that's why I think gnome 3 is bound to fail. And it's going to drag Fedora 15 down with it (being the default DE). But only time will show whether I'm right or wrong.

Disclaimer. This post contains only my personal opinions and it does not represent any usability studies or interest groups' positions and as such it might be utterly wrong, so the best you can do is to disagree with me and wait a few months/years to see who was actually wrong :D

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Keeping up with Fedora 15 and XFCE

Since my last blog post about xfce (to which I switched because gnome 3 is broken by design for me) I've been able to get more comfortable there and even fixed some of the issues as you can see on the next screenshot.

I have to say that I "adjusted" to xfce much faster than I thought I would and I'm even not looking back. Yes, there are still some gnome apps (like the gnome volume control or evince) that I keep using but overall my desktop is pretty much "degnomiffied" now. I especially like how quick things work in xfce when compared to gnome. But here and there I still run by a problem, especially given that I'm on pre-alpha release of fedora ;-) So let's remind ourselves what the current set of problems is.

Thunar lacks tabs. Ok, I can live without two-panel layout (drag-n-drop between windows saves the day), but living without tabs is really pain in the butt. Someone should explain the thunar devs that this is a killer feature that must be present in all modern browsers, be it web browsers, ftp browsers or file browsers. Furthemore, thunar does not seem to be on friendly terms with archive mounter. How the hell am I supposed to access the mounted archive after I mount it?

Window Buttons lacks ability to manually sort the buttons. It surprisingly annoys me a lot when the buttons are ordered differently than I'd like them to be…

Setting up dual head sucks. Not only it somehow refuses to set-up a manually added (but supported) mode, it also does not offer any other layouts than clone.

Java does not work with webkit based browsers ! You know, seriously, there should be at least some minimal regression testing before new java is pushed. I use it a lot, in F14 it works, but in F15 it's broken again. No java in midori, no java in chrome/chromium, no java in epiphany. You know, I really hate that I have to keep firefox only to be able to use java :-(

Either no XFCE or no sound. New gdm does not let you choose session, however startxfce4 from runlevel 3 leaves me with no sound. And thanks to complex dependency chains I'm now unable to update half of my system in order to be able to both use xfce and have sound working. Help appreciated.

Is it plymouth or systemd that's half-broken? Looks like the system is able to boot within about 34 seconds (at leasts that's what systemd messages tell me), however then nothing happens (runlevel 3 without rhgb quiet). Pressing enter gives me tty login. In runlevel 5 (again without rhgb quiet) works ok, but runlevel 5 with rhgb quiet makes the boot be about 1.30 minutes long… Furthermore, boot.log is empty. Nice…

At least, after I updated kernel and xorg packages I got full colour depth displayed again. Feels like Fedora 15 Alpha is close :-D

It feels nice to be almost on the bleeding edge :-)

What's Up With Nodoka

It's been a while since I've written something about nodoka and as some questions keep flowing I decided to write up a short status update. Let's start from the beginning. When gtk3 started to get into Fedora during F14 development I updated the engine to work with it. However as time and gtk3 development progressed the themeing was completely rewritten in a way that basically warrants a complete engine rewrite to make it work properly.

So I'm afraid I have to disappoint you all as you'll have to live without nodoka for gtk3 for still some time (basically until I find enough motivation and time to port it). Of course if there'd be a volunteer(s) who would port the engine code and/or rewrite at least one of the themes to work with gtk3 that would be greatly appreciated.

However, I've not been completely stale either. Since I'll need a rewrite for the gtk3 version as well I slowly resumed on the design part of things and updated a little the glossy style. Here's what I've got so far, comments are welcome.

And here's the other style concept work (that I completed some months ago) for comparison:

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Nitpicking on XFCE

As you might have noticed together with switching to Rawhide I've also switched to XFCE recently. Now that I'm quite used to it and have set it up in a way that it looks almost like my previous gnome set up, there are still some things that I don't like (or I am just dumb enough to don't know how to get rid of them :D).

So let's start with an obligatory screen-shot of my current desktop.
And now to actual complaints ;-) Beginning with the things that are on the screen-shot. I cannot drag-n-drop window buttons between themselves. I used this a lot in gnome to resort the windows for the ordering more functional than (like keeping the mail client always on the furthest left), I does not seem to be able to do that with xfce. Next comes the clock applet. I've found three none of which is perfect (one does not show date, another one does not have transparent backgrounds) with the one displayed being best. But as you see it's a bit cramped. IMHO there should be some space between the time and date, or an option to display it along side, not one above the other…

So, that was the top panel, now for desktop. For some reason right-clicking on the desktop peaks the cpu load and takes a while before menu appears (only for the first try, subsequent tries are reasonably fast). But the main issue are the filled rounded rectangles behind icon labels and way too big grid – I don't want only the wallpaper behind the icon labels and I want the icons to be closer together (while still this big). Another problem is when clicking on an icon it always opens thunar instead of the default file manager.

Now for the things in bottom panel. As I recall the workspace switcher behaves a little bit odd when setting up – when you switch number of rows of workspaces it takes effect only after re-logging which is a bit confusing (one is led to believe that it does not works only to be confronted with a working 2-row set-up after next log in).

Next is thunar. It seems to be a nice file manager but it lacks two killing features that were added in recent gnome releases to nautilus – tabs and two-panel browsing. While tabs are just more efficient substitutions for multiple windows, two-panel browsing makes moving and/or copying files around really pleasant. I hope the devs have it on their to-do list because, as I wrote before, using nautilus in xfce is kind of suboptimal.

And probably my final complaint is about setting up dual head. At home I have plasma TV which I can connect to via VGA cable. The problem is that while it supports 1368x768 60Hz resolution via this connection, it reports only 1024x768 60Hz, so I have to add that mode manually via xrandr. So far this is OK, this way it worked before in gnome as well. However even when I add that mode, the xfce config utility stubbornly refuses to set it up. Sigh. And to top it, there does not seem to be any way, in gui, to set the two monitors (integrated display and TV in this case) to be say next to each other. They're always over themselves and again I have to use xrandr directly to set the layout correctly.

And so that's probably all. And despite these little issues, I think XFCE is a really nice desktop environment almost ready to harbour all escapees from Gnome 3 in Fedora 15 ;-) In short, fix these above mentioned issues and it would probably be fully ready ;-)

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

F15 Alpha Wallpaper — Package Review Needed

So, it's the time of year again, alpha freeze approaches and first version of wallpaper is being packaged and thus I need someone to do a quick review. I could do a swap review if desired.

And here's an obligatory screenshot (yes, it is rawhide and no, it is not gnome, it is xfce).

Comments on the wallpaper are welcome (as well as pointers on how to make it appear in xfce background chooser other than adding manually).

EDIT: Thanks to Tim Lauridsen the package is now reviewed :-)