26 12 | 2011

GNOME 3 killing interface consistency

Written by Tanguy

Classified in : Homepage, Debian, Grumble

I used to recommend the GNOME desktop for simple users for two main advantages over Windows:

  • the logical, automatically filled and translated applications menu (compare that to the messy Windows Programs menu…);
  • the general interface consistency (compare that with Windows Explorer, Windows Media Player, Avast! and each piece of crap^Wsoftware whose author believed developing yet another custom interface was the way to go).

Both points are what I call calm advantages, because users will usually enjoy them without noticing. Instead, they will enhance their experience so that they will miss them when they come back to a system which does not provide these features. In fact, being used to that, I do not really consider these points as actual advantages, but rather as a bare minimum for any decent desktop and as very important lacks of some competitors.

Well, GNOME 3 already reduced the first point by replacing the menu by a single loooong list of all the available software, although there are still categories at least.

Now, with a recent upgrade, it appears that they destroyed the second one, the interface consistency. There used to be a thing called the GTK theme, that the user could choose according to his taste and needs, and all the GTK-based graphical software, including GNOME programs, used to follow that theme. This is no longer the case: now, for instance, Nautilus will look clear, while for some reason Eye of GNOME and Totem will look dark, with no option to make them look like the others.


Eye of GNOME

I used to be a GNOME user, but it has been some time since I stopped using a desktop at all and switched to a window manager that was more efficient according to my usage. However I kept using GNOME software, and I recommended GNOME to new users. Now it seems my arguments for that have reduced to a point where I should really consider recommending Xfce instead.


monday 26 december 2011 à 12:56 Emmanuele Bassi said : #1

this has nothing to do with GNOME 3.

totem and eog have a dark UI because they are media viewers; darker controls avoid changing the perceived hue and saturation of media content, unlike white controls - which, instead, are correct when used with high contrast content like text.

interface consistency doesn't mean "everything looks the same in every circumstance, ever". up until gtk 2.x, applications had to invent their own way to create a dark variant of their UI, with a loss of consistency across the board. thanks to the introduction of the dark theme variant in the toolkit, now applications that work on the same type of content can achieve a better integration - and consistent look.

tl;dr - those applications are dark because there's a technical reason for them to be, and it has nothing to do with GNOME 3.

monday 26 december 2011 à 13:06 bluebirch said : #2

Totem and EOG being dark can be changed by using a different theme. Gtk3 offers themes to provide dark themes for apps that request them.

There is also an extension to add Gnome2 style application menu

That being said I think the standard Gnome3 way is in both cases superior to Gnome2.

monday 26 december 2011 à 13:07 Emmanuele Bassi said : #3

oh, and by the way: the menu for selecting applications is just wrong on various levels.

a menu is a smaller target, requiring a specific input device (a pointer device, if we discount the keyboard for a second) and a degree of pointer control that can only be achieved by a limited amount of people. not everyone can use a mouse, and not everyone can use it as proficiently as us geeks. accessibility in software does not mean just high contrast theme, screen readers, and other AT: it means allowing everyone to use your software. plus, there's the overall issue of touchscreens, which don't work very well with menus.

if we reintroduce the keyboard, then finding and launching an application in GNOME 3 is even simpler than in GNOME 2: press the Super key (the Windows logo, by default) and just type part of its name, or search a few characters of its description or use - instead of navigating through a hierarchy, with small icons and small text, with the hierarchy itself changing each time something is installed because it's sorted alphabetically, both in categories and in name. plus, the categories are totally artificial and don't usually mean anything to anyone, or mean different things to different people.

in short: everything that has been done in this area has taken into account a whole set of data, user feedback, and studies - it hasn't been done just because we hate everyone.

I'd really like for you to read the Shell design document, as well as the wiki, so that you can do an informed critique of the UI; there are lots of things to be fixed still, and an informed position helps us help you.

if, on the other hand, you feel more productive with XFCE, then by all means: use XFCE. it's a cool project, and they need people helping out as well.

monday 26 december 2011 à 14:24 Bob said : #4

I mildly agree about the app menu. I appreciate the new method available with the keyboard, but the old style app menu should have been retained. How will I know if my admin has already installed a graphics app? I may not know the name, but at least if there were a categorical menu, I could see if there was one in the system. AIUI, the new method requires you to know the name of the app. So if I'm looking for f-spot, and the admin only has shotwell .. I might just think the system has no picture manager. Perhaps I've missed the method to do that, and if so, my mistake.

monday 26 december 2011 à 15:47 ssam said : #5

Gnome2 had a keyboard accessible application launching. It was bound to alt-F2, and was not quite a smart. but it was much faster to use. So gnome3 has just removed menu.

A menu is great for browsing, so you can see what is available.

Anyway, there is Mate desktop for people who like old gnome.

monday 26 december 2011 à 16:40 Emmanuele Bassi said : #6

@Bob: just search for pictures, photos, or f-spot, or shotwell. if it's been properly installed following the whole XDG specifications, it's going to be there. the applications list and search uses the same underlying library that gnome-panel used to build the applications menu. we didn't rewrite everything from scratch. ;-)

@ssam - you haven't even used GNOME 3 - or GNOME 2, for that matter - and it's obvious from your comment.

gnome-panel's "run command" dialog could only run a binary, with tab completion. good luck doing that in /usr/bin, btw.

the run dialog exists in GNOME 3 as well - same key binding - but the application launcher that pops up in the overview can search for keywords, names, and descriptions, not paths. far, far different results, and far more useful.

a menu is "great for browsing"? how about a nice grid of applications with large icons and names, with categories (though they should just go away and be replaced by a usage-sorted grid)? obviously, browsing all works out if your operating system came installed with 10 different editors, 5 web browsers, 2 office automation suites, and 30 email clients - but I'd like to think we can do better than that, because, frankly: installing *by default* more than one editor, more than one web browser, and more than one office suite is just plain stupid.

monday 26 december 2011 à 16:49 Adam said : #7

@Emmanuele Bassi: So in your GNOME 3 world all computers are single user?

You can't imagine the same computer being used by multiple persons with different preferences in, say, editors, office suites, email clients and web browsers?

monday 26 december 2011 à 16:58 Tanguy said : #8

@Emmanuele Bassi : So applications categories should just “go away” and be replaced by a messy big list? I hope this is not an official position of GNOME, but if it is, then this is just the final reason I needed, not to drop GNOME since I already do not use it, but to cease recommending it.

monday 26 december 2011 à 18:12 Adam said : #9

@Emmanuele Bassi: ssam knows the difference between GNOME 2's Run Command dialog and GNOME 3's launcher. Your assumptive jibe is another example of GNOME3'ers hostile defensiveness.

It's absurd to expect average, non-handicapped, PC users to use aninterface designed to be used by visually or physically handicappedusers, or to be used on touchscreens. These are each special caseswith special requirements. Some vehicles have special controls forhandicapped drivers--but you don't see Toyota removing pedals from alltheir cars and putting all the controls on the wheel. You don't seeAmazon selling nothing but extra-large-print books. A non-handicappeduser will be as frustrated using an interface designed for handicappedusers as a handicapped user will be using a non-accessible interface.

It's like the ADA has forced its way into GNOME: businesses beingforced to go out of their way--and nearly broke--putting ramps andhandrails on everything to accommodate a few people, rather than justhelping those people when they happen to come by. But GNOME is underno compulsion to make such poor decisions--it just does.

I don't understand how touchscreens are even slightly relevant: theyare a special case with different requirements--they require aseparate UI. The only shared components should be libraries. Thisshould be obvious.

Finally, a one-dimensional menu is much quicker and easier to scanthan a grid. Grids were what Windows 3.1 used, and then Microsoft putthe Start menu in Windows 95 (although, sadly, installers persisted indumping icons into the desktop grid, where poor, ignorant users wastedtime minimizing windows and searching through--MS should haveprevented that--but they didn't enforce order in the start menueither, so it was all bad). Why is GNOME regressing? I can see itnow: GNOME 4's "innovative, intuitive" app menu, suspiciouslyreminiscent of GNOME 2.

Here's a little exercise for you: export the names in your addressbook into an 8-column spreadsheet, and then see how quickly you canvisually locate random names. Then export them to a one-column listand repeat the test. (Spoiler: grids are bad UI, and find-as-you-typedoesn't make it ok.)

The bottom line is that GNOME 3 represents a change in purpose andidentity: it's no longer intended to be useful, but an experimentalplayground for theoretical ideas--but more than that, it's a politicalplayground where those with the power of mindshare pull the strings toorchestrate their visions of grandeur at the expense of formerly-loyalusers--and of FOSS's potential to unseat Microsoft and Apple and freethe rest of the world from their shackles. In a way, we all lose,even non-GNOME users, because it hurts FOSS's image. The movementbehind GNOME 3 should have been a fork with a new name, rather thanthrowing away the established user- and code-bases GNOME 2 enjoyed. Itwas very selfish to alienate what so many people relied upon--and veryarrogant to tell those people their needs, desires, and methods arewrong. "The Party knows best" is simply evil. But rather than humblyrecanting for the sake of others, GNOME blindly, deafly charges ahead;it's not even "damn the torpedoes," because GNOME 3 *is* thetorpedoes.

Time will tell.

tuesday 27 december 2011 à 00:07 Gares said : #10

Never heard of `vocal minorities'? Every change is characterized by few people screming it's bad... Are you one of these? I guess so. Why don't you fork gnome-2? If you are not alone you will find plenty of manpower...

tuesday 27 december 2011 à 14:07 ssam said : #11

actually i have used gnome 1, 2 and 3. (aswell as KDE 2, 3 and 4), xfce, openbox and several others. Currently using Mate, and is suspect the desktops at work will have gnome2 for the next decade (they run scientific linux 5).

Gnome 3 and unity are effectively brand new interfaces. there is no good reason that they can co-exists with traditional desktops, just as the traditional ones have co-existed with the minimal ones for many years. forcing everyone to gnome3, is like forcing everyone to using BTRFS. luckily open source means there is no forcing.

I really hope that in a few years Gnome3 becomes a bit more flexible and stable. Until then I'll use something i am comfortable with.

wednesday 28 december 2011 à 04:24 afanen01 said : #12

I assume tanguy is a Debian Developer? Or at least his contributions are important enough that he appears on Planet Debian.

Seeing so much bile coming from someone like you makes it doubly painful.

Just to balance out the tone of voices, I am expressing my own positive support of Gnome 3 and its current direction.

I haven't used a Linux Desktop as enjoyable as Gnome 3 makes it, since when Ubuntu came along and made driver worries history.

This is a not so average user speaking.

wednesday 28 december 2011 à 08:38 Tanguy said : #13

@afanen01 : I am a Debian contributor, but not DD just yet. And this is just a personal opinion of course. Although I did not use it — as I said, I switched to not using a desktop at all but only an efficient window manager — I supported GNOME 3 so far. Unfortunately that introduction of applications with mismatching color themes was just enough to prevent me from recommending GNOME anymore.

Note that I do not say that GNOME is bad, only that I do not like it, that I think they have made some wrong choices, and that I shall not recommend it the way I did before. I still think that GNOME is useful to some people, otherwise they would not have done that which I criticize!

wednesday 28 december 2011 à 21:39 Bob said : #14

@emmanuele: I think you missed what I was trying to say. I'm looking for f-spot, and if it's not installed I don't know the other apps that might be installed. Typing "f-s" or scrolling to look for shotwell only works if you know the names of those applications. If you do not, you know nothing about what application you might use to manage photos, other than you'd like to manage photos. Yeah, you know the *category* of application you'd like to use, the same category that worked in a menu system, but is no longer available in the default gnome-shell on a Debian system.

thursday 29 december 2011 à 08:26 Tanguy said : #15

Categories are still available for now. It sounds like they want to get rid of them for some reason I fail to understand, but right now they are still there.

friday 30 december 2011 à 08:27 Juanjo Marin said : #16

Reading this post, it seems like the categories from the GNOME 2 has been removed. AFAIK, the categories showed in the applications mode is the same that the categories showed in the old days, you can even change them with alacarte.

However, this categories section is not used too much. The typical usage is in the first days after the installation of a new distro to know what you have installed. When you set your favorite apps in the dash, or you know the name of the other less frequently used apps, you rarely needs to navegate in the apps categories.

sunday 12 february 2012 à 08:31 Jack said : #17

You know, I'm starting to agree with this. Until know GNOME (and Linux as a whole) had a very consistent application design, so you could easily identify with and learn dozens of applications just from one. Given, traditional menus have their faults, but it feels like we'll have inconsistency for a very long time before everyone adopts the new menu layouts, and the vision for this is very much in its adolescence.

So it may be worth it in the end, but I can see that we're making a few unnecessary mistakes along the way, and I'm not sure if some of the designers plan on fixing them. I'm talking about things that are obviously inhibiting that Joe consumer notices- not the stuff hardcore Linux users whine about with naivety.

Of course, if you use any other DE, you'll have the fallback menus, which are somewhat more consistent with the traditional layout. So if all else fails, you can depend on KDE for consistency, although they need a few more layout designers helping them figure out when white space is necessary.

This will all come in time, but I fear we're taking so many simultaneous directions (elementaryOS, Unity, GNOME 3, mobile apps on Tizen, etc.) that we're going to end up with extremely varying HIGs that simply won't look good together.

I won't lie, it's starting to make me a little sad, although I'm on the side of the changes GNOME 3 proposes.

saturday 19 january 2013 à 22:23 Ted said : #18

Personally, I LOVE the new GNOME Shell! People don't like change in general, so it's not surprising that there's so much controversy & flame wars about GNOME Shell & Unity. But both projects have come a long way & are very stable, & after you give them both a serious shot, you find that they really do get out of your way & allow you to be more productive as they were originally intended. I've tried both Unity, Cinnamon, & GNOME Shell. I've spent more time with Unity & Cinnamon, but just recently discovered that they now have an Ubuntu GNOME Shell Remix, which will hopefully become an officially supported Ubuntu distro, like Kubuntu & Xubuntu are.

saturday 19 january 2013 à 23:01 Tanguy said : #19

@Ted : Do not misinterpret my writing, I have nothing against GNOME Shell (only I do not use it, I switched to simple tiling window managers years ago). What I disapprove is the fact that, depending on his hardware, one will end with GNOME Shell or GNOME Classic (or whatever it is called) which do not have much in common, conceptually speaking, which is to me a significant design mistake.

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