Thursday 27th October 2016

Gnome 3

So I finally moved to the new version of Gnome. It's taken a long while for me to make this move because I feel that Gnome 3 is a worse user experience than Gnome 2 in terms of productivity.

The move was not without it's difficulty, however, I have managed to make the move only because of a few awesome plug-ins provided by the community. Without further ado, here's how I'm getting an awesome user experience using Gnome 3 and a few cool plug-ins.

Ubuntu

I installed my new workstation using Ubuntu Gnome 16.04 LTS. This gives me the familiarity of a Debian-based Linux without the oddball policies you get with regular Debian (a great distro to be sure, but it's self-restraint with regard to licensing makes it hard to do some things out-of-the-box that Ubuntu does not struggle with). I don't have time to waste, so Ubuntu it is.

Once installed make sure you have the Gnome Tweak tool. This will let you easily enable and disable extensions as well as change the behaviour of gnome a little.

Problems to overcome

Gnome looks great, but in my humble opinion has some usability issues for busy computer users. To be fair, I don't think these issues apply to the casual computer user as much but when you make me perform an extra click or button press you need to consider how many times a day I do that click or press before you hide it behind another unneeded click or press. In Gnome 2 I have a quick launch bar just to the right of the applications and places menus on the desktop. This little launch bar contains around twelve icons for the things I use every day. Terminal, pgAdmin, my IDE, email, browser, text editor, calculator, files, zim personal wiki, yEd etc. I dip in and out of these tools regularly. I have a policy of closing applications when I'm done with them to avoid clutter building up on my machine as I move from one job to the next. Gnome 3 removed this feature as well as application menus and places menus on the desktop. To launch an application, I'm expected to press the windows key in order to get into overlay mode, where a dock appears on the left containing my favourite applications. Let's compare the old way tot he new way in terms of actions taken to launch an application that is not currently open in order to copy something from it to paste into a currently running application. This could be a snippet of configuration from your personal wiki or similar.

Gnome 2

Gnome 3

The Gnome 2 way was (in my opinion) less jarring because it did not involve two full screen transitions. This transition to overlay mode and back is significant because your eye/mind struggles to keep track of objects that are hidden from view for no good reason (that I am aware of).

In addition to this, the Gnome 3 team seem to have forgotten about the system tray or notification area if you prefer. This is an afterthought that appears off-screen in the bottom left of the display and overlays your open windows if it made visible. The overall trend with Gnome and other operating system user interfaces is to hide things from the user even when those things are both useful and required. As a general policy this comes across as being somewhat pompous as if to say 'nothing will infringe upon the sanctity of our perfect desktop'.

Solutions & Plug-ins

So, here I am, wanting to load up the new version of Ubuntu 16.04 but not wanting to use Unity or Gnome 3, wondering if I should just force myself to adapt even though every fibre of my being screams that this 'new better way' is bloody idiotic and change for changes sake. So I give it a go... live with it for about a day... start feeling like I'm shortening my life... start looking for solutions to the new set of problems that 'progress' has placed in my way.

Enter the plug-ins...

Dash to dock

Gives you an actual dock with icons in it on your desktop that you can click. This solves having to move into and out of overlay mode. I'm using it in auto hide mode (which seems counter-intuitive given what I have said above) because I find it's smart-hide window-dodging to be distracting, easier to have a predictable hide/show when I move my mouse to the left of the screen. While this is in itself a compromise, it's a significant improvement over the default and also proved to be far more stable than a gaggle of quick-launch icon providers that I tried and promptly un-installed due to buggy behaviour.

Places status indicator

Replaces some missing functionality in Gnome 3 making navigation to commonly used locations on disk simpler and quicker.

Top Icons Plus

Returns the system tray to an always visible location and stops it from overlaying useful window content.

Final thoughts

While some bits of Gnome 3 are still new to me and feel a little jarring; I think now at least I will be able to work in Gnome 3 without many more difficulties. Amazing home much difference three plug-ins make! Why are these not part of the default Gnome offering?