Sunday, 3 March 2013

Fedora Desktops – Quick Look

Hello to all.

Yesterday and today I've been working on packaging the wallpapers for Fedora 19. Since we have a couple of new desktops in Fedora, I thought it would be good to expand our coverage to them as well. In short – since Fedora 19, new wallpapers will be visible in backgrounds selectors of Gnome, KDE, Mate and Xfce. LXDE does not show any pictures and has a plain file chooser for that, Cinnamon uses Gnome stack, but has a bug in its backgrounds selector (read on), so the background is usable but not visible.

I've had various experiences with testing the packages in the desktops and as a couple of these were driving me mad, I thought I'd write a quick showcase. I needed precisely two things – terminal to install/remove the WIP packages and means to set the background. So, up to some initial word or two, this will be about how to run a terminal and how to change a background in these desktops. Also, even though I did it in new user account, widget themes might not reflect fedora defaults as I changed them at one point and I also didn't reset configuration between switching the DEs. Maybe someday I'll test default config and do a quick review of look'n'feel.

For convenience I'll review the desktops alphabetically.

Cinnamon

On first look I thought this might be good – it had panel, menu and looked almost fine. First problem was the symbolic icons in system-tray. I had no idea what half of them meant, but at least there were bubbles popping out that clarified things a bit. Desktop wasn't clickable. Menu got me mad the more I tried to work with it. I could say, from my point of view (POV), this desktop is a wasted effort. If I wanted Gnome 3 I would use Gnome Shell, if not, I don't see the point of choosing this over Mate or XFCE. For me this was even more painful experience than Gnome Shell. It was like choosing the worst features from all the desktops I tried and putting them together.

So let's look how I start terminal. First I open a menu. Ugh. A bunch of icons, three columns, the first one without any text. Huge padding. The third column changes contents on hoover in the second column. I always hated dynamic menus on web and this is not an exception. Scrollbars everywhere because of the padding and fixed height. As I rarely start apps by typing their names, actually rather dislike doing it that way, this is absolute pain for me.

Now for the desktop background. As I noted earlier, desktop is not clickable. So I had to figure out how to change it. So, let's find settings. Oh, it's one of those icons without text…

This gets me into a common interface that I know from other desktops as well. This is good. No big issue here. One tiny complaint might be that theme, desktop and background are three separate tools. Also I wonder, why it uses different icons than the rest of the desktop?

So, let's click background.

Huge. What a huge waste of space. The images are neatly small, probably the ideal size, with a nice shading to boost, but that huge white-space totally kills it. Plus point for showing image name, minus for not showing image author. Furthermore, our background is missing. Because it's XML. It's supported (as evident by it being actually used as background), but not selectable. Someone who actually uses Cinnamon should fill bug about it. The background changes on click. Space waste is common with Gnome. The All Settings button could have been on the same row with the Close one. There is no single reason why one should be at the top and the other at the bottom.

GNOME

First impression terrible. Black theme, grey washed-out symbolic icons, no pop-up bubbles, no menu. Animation everywhere. Second impression better than Cinnamon, still not usable for me. Inexplicable removing/hiding of useful features, re-adding some of them three releases later, sometimes adding unneeded steps in-between (read on for more info on this). However it's actually usable desktop. It would be a pain for me, but it would probably be easy to use for my grandma, for kids used to touch interfaces on iPads, for game console or for browsing the internet (after all, it basically behaves like something between the web and modern Android-powered phones and it uses web technologies like javascript and css *ugh*).

Now on to the terminal. First go to top-left to open activities. Empty. As its primary task is probably switching between windows, I haven't entered any menu yet. First I have to click on the icon that looks like grid nodes (what's the idea? It does not even remotely suggest that this will get me app list).

Huge. So I finally got into the menu. With huge icons and (when compared to the icon size) small text. Weird looking scroll-bars everywhere. So next step is select category (you don't expect me to find Terminal among zillions of uncategorized apps, right?) and find terminal. Animations everywhere.

It's better than cinnamon, but the two steps to get into menu are strange and ineffective. Gnome Shell isn't optimized for using mouse. But lets continue to background selection. This is the worst background selection I've ever seen. I think the following four pictures speak for themselves, but let's explain a little bit first. So again, desktop is not clickable so I need to go through control center. Let's skip for now the fact that I don't see Theme or Appearance there (maybe I forgot to install something), the control center is categorized (like in XFCE) and Background is there. No issue from me. Kudos for the categorization. But then, after selecting Background, a completely useless window appears. It just shows the desktop. Whoa. Does that mean there are no pictures to select from? No. The desktop is actually clickable. I don't understand why this single step is included. It obviously extraneous, unneeded, confusing. Then the selection itself normal. I can select from installed backgrounds, pictures from XDG_PICTURES or plain color. The UI could be better, it could be worse, but it serves its purpose. The pictures are big, but there isn't too much of white space in between them, so no issue. However. Neither picture name, nor its author is present. Fail. The background does not change until I click Select.

One common thing about gnome and cinnamon is it's use of awful flat grey everywhere. No single hint of colour or shaded gradient. In sheer contrast to the next DE.

KDE

This takes a lot of time to actually start, but then you are finally welcomed by a desktop that looks like designed by an artist. Yes. This is the only Fedora desktop that looks great and consistent. It can be clearly seen the theme has been designed by professionals and lots of time has been invested in it. For my taste it has too much animations, but knowing KDE it can be probably turned off. UI is another story though. Not my cup of tea, but about half of linux users like this, so I'll say it's good and detailed but for me it offers too much detail, it easily becomes overwhelming. It does not usually waste space. This is a desktop I could use after a bit of customizing.

Now let's start terminal. Like many people are used to from file managers, right-click on desktop offers you to start terminal in KDE. So +1 from me.

Another way is through menu. The design is similar to cinnamon, but works better. It looks like cinnamon took the idea from KDE, kept its worst parts (fixed size, scrollbars anywhere, change menus on hoover) and made it even worse by adding gnome-like bits. While it behaves menu like, it's still in the same place, things get replaced, and due to fixed size, scrollbar is not uncommon. This is one of the worst parts of KDE, from my POV, but unlike Cinnamon or GNOME it does not get on my nerves.

To change desktop wallpaper, right-click on it and select Default Desktop Settings. I don't fathom the word Default in the name, but other then then all cool. What comes up is finally something that has done things right.

The image sizes are reasonable, white space is neither too big nor too small and most importantly, it shows both name and author of the wallpaper. Let's repeat it because it's important. KDE is the only Fedora desktop environment that shows both wallpaper name and its author in its Desktop Background selection app. This is how it should be done. The only thing that would make it even better would be to also show the license. You need to click Apply to change the background.

LXDE

Lightweight desktop with all it takes. It's fast, it works, but it's simple. Configuration might take longer than in other DEs but it looks like highly usable desktop if you don't mind less features. Now let's start terminal. Finally a sensible categorized menu without scroll-bars. As expected, terminal is quickly found.

Changing the wallpaper is also standard. Right-click on desktop and select Desktop Preferences.

The selector itself is light weight. No previews, just a file chooser and a few more options. Cannot probably expect much more from a lightweight desktop, right? And it does it's work without any unnecessary steps.

Mate

A direct continuation of a desktop I used to use. This is fork of Gnome 2 with the intention to provide and upgrade Gnome 2 experience and as such it behaves. Nothing unexpected. Menus work as usual, icons have colour, things are usually efficient. I still could use this, but nowadays I prefer XFCE. So let's start terminal. It's almost the same as in LXDE.

Nothing really wrong here, but too big icons and too much padding. If you have small screen or many apps, scrollbars appear. There's an option to start it from desktop context menu like in KDE as well.

Same goes with desktop settings. Directly accessible from desktop context menu. This is what we get.

Image size good, padding could be smaller, but just like with GNOME – no name, no author. Fail. Wallpaper changes on click.

Xfce

I'm not sure in which category this falls. It's not lightweight like LXDE, it's similar to gnome 2, but it's not gnome 2 ;-) Currently my desktop of choice so I skip on praising this time, only one note – the default config looks "bleh", but its actually highly tweakable and after some time it can be made look really good (although partly due to the lack of really professional looking GTK2/3 themes not as good as KDE). Starting terminal in XFCE is quickest of all the DEs I've tried thanks to special launchers to "Preferred Applications" that are also included in default bottom panel.

It can be also started from menu. It's similar to Mate, but it's all-in-one solution. There isn't separate menu for Settings and Administration. The icons are smaller, there's less padding so it takes much longer for scrollbars to appear. This is what I like the most.

Terminal can also be stared from desktop context menu.

Background selector can be run from the same place as well. This is what it looks like.

No waste of space, preview included, simple selector. No name, no author, but filename is present, so while it isn't fail, there's still lots of room to improve. Wallpaper changes on select.

Conclusion

While I was writing this, I realized that even though I write it alphabetically, it also reflects how I like the DE I write about – the first one least, the last one most. Interesting coincidence. If I had to draw some conclusion I'd say that traditional desktops are very good for starting applications, terminal especially, KDE is midway and GNOME and Cinnamon lag behind. I think the change from menu to something else is making things worse rather than better (this counts for Windows 7 as well, I find it very hard to find an app I want to start there without using keyboard). When selecting background, KDE is the obvious winner with both being quick and easy and providing most of important information. Gnome and Cinnamon both fail tremendously in this. Last, when it comes to design, KDE is the obvious winner with a very professional polished look, traditional GTK2 based desktops are so-so with lots of room for improvement, Cinnamon and GNOME are terrible and very amateurish from my POV.

So in short, while I use Xfce, and will continue doing so, from this short comparison, KDE comes out as the winner.

13 comments:

Mickael said...

Seems Gnome people anticipated your blog post on the background, as it now support a menu on the desktop ( http://blogs.gnome.org/mclasen/2013/03/01/recent-gnome-3-7-sightings/ )

Martin said...

@Mickael: Sure took them long enough... Four releases if I count right.

sumbur76 said...

You don't need mouse to start things in Gnome 3.
For terminal - press super (windows) key, type 'ter' or even 'te' and press enter.
Much easier than browsing menus.

Martin said...

@sumbur76: That's your opinion. I specifically wrote I don't like starting apps by writing their name on keyboard. I can do that more or less everywhere and I don't do that. It's less effective for me than running it with mouse as it usually involves removing the hand from mouse and then writing the name (and I tend to remember apps by icons rather than names).

Nicu Buculei said...

thanks for the time to go trough each of those desktops, it was an insightful read!

@sumbur76: is not faster if your hand is already on the mouse and will return there.

Anonymous said...

In my Opinion KDE ist ugly; the theme, the icons the spacing, he padding of buttons ...

Anonymous said...

Please post link to wallpaper.

Martin said...

@Anonymous 20:23 CET: When ready, I'll post the link.

Anonymous said...

I guess how you start apps best is a topic where everyone has a different opinion.

I work mainly with the keyboard. I don't have my hand at the mouse, so everything that involves the mouse forces me to remove my hand from the keyboard. I hate that.

However, for someone who works with the mouse mainly GNOME 3 might not work. Displaying all apps without any categorization by default is a real mess. Also I am missing a "Shutdown" button. However, I do like the design. Another point where everyone has a different opinion.

I have never worked with KDE. That was because when I installed it, I ended up with a desktop where nothing happened. I couldn't figure out how to start anything, so I de-installed it as soon as I found out how to do it. I am still not sure whether I just didn't get the trick or my install was buggy somehow. XFCE left my machine when I discovered GNOME, for the sole reason that I felt comfortable with GNOME right away. I had the feeling that this was not a DE from the nineties, but a super modern UI.

Anonymous said...

Good Info! Agreed with most of it.

Kevin Kofler said...

> KDE
> This takes a lot of time to actually start, but then you are finally welcomed
> by a desktop that looks like designed by an artist. Yes. This is the only
> Fedora desktop that looks great and consistent. It can be clearly seen the
> theme has been designed by professionals and lots of time has been invested in
> it.

So will you support making it the default desktop in Fedora? :-)

> For my taste it has too much animations, but knowing KDE it can be probably
> turned off.

You can get rid of most animations with the following 2 steps:
1. disable (or customize) "desktop effects":
...1) Start KDE System Settings
...2) Go to "Desktop Appearance and Behavior" / "Desktop Effects"
...3) Uncheck "Enable desktop effects at startup" (Alternatively, you can also keep desktop effects enabled as a whole and disable selected effects (or even all, keeping only the compositing) in the second tab. There's also an option on the first tab to disable the animation-related effects in one step.)
...4) Apply
2. disable (or reduce) "graphical effects":
...1) Start KDE System Settings
...2) Go to "General Appearance and Behavior" / "Application Appearance" / "Theme" / "Advanced"
...3) Set the "Graphical Effects" dropdown to the lowest setting "Low resolution and slow CPU" (or an intermediate setting if you want to keep some but fewer animations)
...4) Apply
(Note: The actual names might be slightly different, I use the German translation. In case you can't find the option, System Settings also offers a search box.)

> UI is another story though. Not my cup of tea, but about half of linux users
> like this, so I'll say it's good and detailed but for me it offers too much
> detail, it easily becomes overwhelming. It does not usually waste space. This
> is a desktop I could use after a bit of customizing.

The details are all either in settings dialogs, where they don't disturb your daily work, or can be customized away.

> Now let's start terminal. Like many people are used to from file managers,
> right-click on desktop offers you to start terminal in KDE. So +1 from me.

To be fair, that entry in the context menu is added by a Fedora patch. (It used to be there in KDE 3, but not in vanilla Plasma.)

> Another way is through menu. The design is similar to cinnamon, but works
> better. It looks like cinnamon took the idea from KDE, kept its worst parts
> (fixed size, scrollbars anywhere, change menus on hoover) and made it even
> worse by adding gnome-like bits. While it behaves menu like, it's still in the
> same place, things get replaced, and due to fixed size, scrollbar is not
> uncommon. This is one of the worst parts of KDE, from my POV, but unlike
> Cinnamon or GNOME it does not get on my nerves.

Right-click, "Switch to Classic menu style", enjoy! :-) It takes literally 2 clicks to fix this. (And if it were up to me, we'd default to Classic, but the majority of KDE SIG prefers Kickoff as the default, also because it is what upstream defaults to.)

> To change desktop wallpaper, right-click on it and select Default Desktop
> Settings. I don't fathom the word Default in the name, but other then then all
> cool. What comes up is finally something that has done things right.

The name of that menu entry is (name of the plasmoid) + " Settings", and the default desktop plasmoid is called "Default Desktop" to distinguish it from the other options (e.g. the folder view plasmoid, which can not only be put on the default desktop as we do by default, but also be used as a desktop in its own right). (Note that "plasmoid" is just a fancy name developers use for "Plasma widget/applet", and IMHO less confusing than just using the overloaded term "widget". The UI avoids using that term though, using "widget" or the name of the specific plasmoid instead.)

kevin-kofler said...

(followup because of the silly 4096 character limit)

> The image sizes are reasonable, white space is neither too big nor too small
> and most importantly, it shows both name and author of the wallpaper. Let's
> repeat it because it's important. KDE is the only Fedora desktop environment
> that shows both wallpaper name and its author in its Desktop Background
> selection app. This is how it should be done.

That's because KDE gets things right. :-)

> The only thing that would make it even better would be to also show the
> license.

You could file an RFE (priority=wishlist) at bugs.kde.org. ;-) But there's always a tradeoff there, showing too much information wastes space.

> You need to click Apply to change the background.

Thankfully, KDE never went with that dangerous "instant apply" nonsense which even GNOME seems to have abandoned at least in this case.

And finally, about Xfce, you wrote:
> the default config looks "bleh", but its actually highly tweakable and after
> some time it can be made look really good (although partly due to the lack of
> really professional looking GTK2/3 themes not as good as KDE).
Try oxygen-gtk. :-) It is what KDE uses for GTK+ apps and it's a GTK+ port of the Oxygen style KDE uses by default. So it should make your Xfce look just as professional as KDE. :-)

Martin said...

Hi Kevin.

Yes, before Gnome 3 my answer would be probably no, but given what Fedora offers now, KDE is the most professional looking desktop right now and I would support it being the default one.

I know about oxygen-gtk and tried it a couple of times, but it is always missing something. Some tiny detail. It looks wonderful in KDE, but it looks a little strange in GTK based world. One can see that oxygen theme was optimized for KDE/QT ;-)