Fist Impressions of Gnome 3

1 June 2011
Fedora 15 recently launched with the addition of Gnome 3 (or Gnome Shell) as the standard desktop environment. So far you can color me less than impressed. Gnome 3 has some wonderful additions in terms of appearance. The fonts are smoother, there is window shading, and there are lots of neat improvements to window management (snap two windows side by side). However, Gnome 3 made some major changes that are serious issues for me since I suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome and strive to reduce the number of clicks I have to make or the times I need to switch between the keyboard and the mouse. The biggest annoyance for me is the loss of the "minimize" button. I've read a lot of the defences for this, but they all sound ineffectual to me. I minimize things so I can have several applications open to easily toggle between them without having them clutter up my screens. I minimize stuff, then Alt+Tab to it when I need it, then minimize again. Not having the minimize button is a pain because the functionality is still there, it just takes more clicks now. The idea is that Gnome 3 doesn't have a status bar to minimize applications to, so they're trying to discourage use. Strangely, the lower right hand corner of the screen contains a hidden menu of minimized applications. This obscures buttons on applications windows in the lower right hand corner if the application is maximized, and is non-obvious. It does save some screen real estate, but again, it allows for minimizing so why not allow it without users having to re-enable the Alt+F9 shortcut or right click on the application title bar and select minimize (two clicks). Luckily you can put your minimize button back quite easily by following these instructions - Another annoyance is the lack of application shortcuts on the Gnome menu bar. The menu bar is still there, but you can't put extra icons in it. It irritates me that I have to click on Activities, then search for or type the application I want. Again, this is two clicks for something that I repetitively do, that used to only take me one click. To overcome this shortcut I've enabled desktop icons and put shortcuts to my favorite applications on the desktop, cluttering up the space that Gnome 3 developers obviously took a lot of time and effort to keep clear. I will say that the integration with calendars and IM is nice. I'm using Thunderbird so I can't take full advantage of the Evolution integration, which is disappointing, but the latest version of Empathy is quite nice and I can easily switch from Pidgen without looking back. All in all the look and feel of Gnome 3 is great, but the fact that I'm forced to live with design decisions made by someone else is disappointing. One of Linux's greatest strengths is its flexibility. In Gnome 2 you could add, customize, move and delete menu bars at will. Being forced to deal with menu bar locations, configurations, and content that I can't change is more than an imposition, it's irritating. Ultimately I've found a way around most of the problems with Gnome 3, but none of the solutions are elegant. Trying to break my habitual workflow is a laudable goal, but hey, I didn't ask for it. I left KDE when they made radical UI decisions that made doing my work a pain in my butt, and Gnome 3 seems to be following the same path. Ultimately my desktop environment is just there to help me get to my applications and use them, trying to force me to do things in a certain way is a sure fire way to lose my loyalty.