Desktop despair – Gnome 3 risked too much

I've always been enthusiastic to show people the advantages of using a Linux desktop. KDE 3.5 accompanied me for many years until some ill-conceived KDE 4 ate my spare time and finally made me switch to Gnome 2 – after all we open-source people have a choice. Gnome 2 became more featureful and Ubuntu perfected the installation. There are times I deliberately toy around with my operating system. But when I needed to get work done it was Ubuntu. I could rely on it.

Then came 2011. Okay, Ubuntu had moved the window buttons to the left side already for no reason. Matter of taste. A little "gconf" magic and the buttoms were back where they belong. The came Unity with its huge buttons and turned my power-user desktop setup into something as sexy a ticket vending machine. And it killed the scrollbar in favor of some fancy user-unfriendly gadget. I finally gave up on Ubuntu because it needed too many fixes to be "my desktop" and so I was happily back to Debian with Gnome 2 on my desktop. And while I still wondered what Gnome 3 will be about it suddenly poured onto my desktop with a package upgrade (I'm not running "stable"). There I was on Gnome 3 and couldn't believe it. A useless panel that couldn't be customized any more. The right mouse button was dead. My virtual desktops were on drugs. No more icons on the desktop. My windows just had a close button. I was sure that I had made a mistake when I upgraded my system but reading other blog posts I did it all right. Who did it all wrong was the UI shamans at the Gnome project.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all in favor of trying something new every now and then. But the Gnome developers "fixed" something that was not broken. Of course they will argue that this is just a "developer release" and "not yet suited for the common user". But face it: your favorite Linux distribution will not give you Gnome 2 any more. This is not a design study – it is the future of Gnome. I don't know just one Gnome user who actually uses Gnome 3. They have either downgraded or switched to some entirely different window manager.

So what is the alternative for people feeling let down by Gnome? For me the refuge is XFCE. But XFCE is still behind Gnome 2. Docking/undocking with my laptop and two monitors does not work with XFCE (which worked perfectly with Gnome). The window manager (xfwm4) uses XRender instead of OpenGL which means that I have ugly effects when moving windows or watching movies because it doesn't sync with the vertical blank of my monitor. (Workaround: use compiz with xfwm4.) And Firefox doesn't work well with XRender either – scrolling on some pages burns my CPU. I also had to pull in parts from Gnome like the keyring manager. I'm really thankful that XFCE has evolved that much and I'm sure that it will get a lot of interest because it's the closest to Gnome 2.4. I second what Linus Torvalds said: I really hope that someone forks Gnome 2.4. But that hasn't happened with KDE 3.5 and I don't really expect that to happen with Gnome 2.4. So both KDE and Gnome are losing a relevant amount of fans.

These are wild times. Android is outgrowing IOS. Macs have become computers with a serious market share. Micro$oft is on its slow journey to insignificance. Killing the two major Linux desktops (KDE and Gnome) and seeing Ubuntu introduce changes that increasingly annoy users is a dangerous evolution. Two die-hard Linux coworkers have just recently switched to Windows 7. I'm scared. Plenty. What will I blog in two years? I'll probably be either on fvwm2 (which I used in the 1990s) or have given up and will be a happy Mac user. Who had expected that the Linux desktop would evolve backwards one day.

15 comments on “Desktop despair – Gnome 3 risked too much

  • This was exactly the kind of problem that killed KDE years ago and discouraged mere mortals like me from continuing using linux as a desktop. Sorry to hear that this zeitgeist now also affects much more advanced linux users than me 🙁

    fvwm2 is disgusting. Back then I considered switching back to AfterStep as a last refuge. Could that be an option?

    • Interesting. Thanks for the pointer – I wasn't aware of that. But arguably Trinity has fewer fans than those being disappointed by KDE 4 and who have switched to some other desktop environment. So even if a bunch of die-hard Gnome nerds kept Gnome 2.x alive I'm not sure it would have a large user base.

      • Also, when did you try kde4 for the last time? I was disappointed too and I downgraded to 3.5 at the time, but you should really try kde 4.7.3 or 4.8 beta. Really, you will not be disappointed. You will have to fix some things like enabling desktop icons or using folder view instead of course, but it's *much* better than earlier release and some stupid things like the zoomable UI are gone away.

        • Thanks for your comment. I tried Kubuntu recently on a spare hard disk and played with it for two days. I think it was KDE 4.7. What I didn't like was the instability. Some component (I think it was related to the window manager) died three times in a single day. Yes, it restarted but it made me feel bad. Then the desklets on the background didn't really do what I wanted (yes, they are even worse with Gnome and XFCE). Like I wanted to check my IP cameras that I use for house surveillance (MJPEG didn't work with that applet) and RSS feeds that required authentication (somehow authentication was not supported). And the most important (and probably most ridiculous) issue for me is switching the workplaces with my keypad. For years I've always used the keypad on my keyboard to choose between my 9 workspaces. Since the dawn of KDE 4.0 I can't distinguish between the keypad "1" and the "1" above my Q key. So the keypad is useless for assigning keyboard shortcuts. I admit that these may be corner cases but I'm a heavy customizer (aka "power user") of my desktop and thus even such minor subleties quickly annoy me.

          But you are right. It may be time to give KDE another try. Now that I've been trying Gnome 3, Ubuntu, XFCE and even MacOS.

          • I suggest you to not use kubuntu, try opensuse, arch, gentoo or whatever you want. I had stability problems  with kubuntu too, with my gentoo it works flawlessly with no crash. Opensuse should be a good kde distro, but I didn't use it.

    • Similar to Trinity with KDE 3.5, yes. And I like open-source and the way that projects could easily be forked and continued if the main project is heading into a direction that several users dislike. But let's face it – it will barely have any market share and with time the maintainers will lose interest. Gnome is a huge proejct and due to lack of manpower the only reliable distribution we will find is Gnome 3.

      Fortunately I'm still happy with XFCE. But I miss Gnome 2. Not enough to dedicate large amounts of my spare time to help MATE though.

  • I too have use kde and gnome 2 and 3 …. finally I’ve just given up when I found that I could not control gnome 3 and the transparance and inconsistencies with multiple monitors… I’ve switched to XFCE and love it….

  • I know this is an old article, but after several years with the “unholy mess” of GNOME 3, I am now thinking of switching back to Windows. Since Windows 7 is basically a corporate espionage scheme (it calls back to home with almost everything), I am actually depressed about what is available; perhaps I do not even need a computer anymore at home, after all, what do I really use it to accomplish that I do not do at work?

    I’ve been a Linux advocate 6 months since its release; it has only been lately that I cannot advocate it to anybody: not family members (which DE will they use?) or to businesses (which DE will they use?) or to friends/co-workers, etc. I owned a business totally dedicated to implementing and supporting FOSS; however, today, that will not work.

    Sad, sad times…

    • Although the article is already three years old it's pretty much up-to-date in my opinion. I have since switched to XFCE and never went back. It's customisable (which Gnome 3 isn't at all), lightweight and stable. I'm very happy with it. Just on my laptop when I undock and re-dock I have problems with my keyboard shortcuts going away. Everything else is just the way I want it. I have even recently tried Linux Mint with Cinnamon or MATE but none of them made me happy. XFCE is exactly what I wanted.

  • Installed new Linux distribution that had Gnome 3 as default desktop.

    Frustrated initially, did not give up, tried more and more and more, gave up in the end (no point going down a road leading nowhere). Unusable (have to say I earn my money with the computer).

    Using MATE now, works a treat, can only recommend it if you like Gnome 2.

  • I know that I am not a common user 🙂
    But I really do like Gnome 3 as my primary desktop.



  • I guess I’m crazy, but I kind of like Gnome 3. I think it’s a good progressive evolution for desktops. I even like the way it handles dual monitors by default. The thing is that it isn’t Gnome 2, and that is shitty to just up and change it that profoundly. I find most people that are new to Linux really find Gnome 3 impressive. Personally, I prefer i3wm with a heavily customized config – but we’re powere used, and Gnome, even 2.x really was never meant for us. If you want pure keymapping bliss give i3wm an honest go for one week. Like all drastic changes, it’s gonna feel like suck at first – but once you get the hang of it and write some custom config rules you wonder how you lived without it. I press one key and on my left mon a web-browser opens with a smaller file manager and irc client tiled to the side of it, another key and four tiled terminals open and all use my ssh key to connect to one of my servers. Another key, and my stock app opens about 12 windows, all laid out across 3 desktops. All of these desktops exists at once, all separate and just a key press away. Just trying to pain you picture of the bliss that i3wm brings! Also, I was reluctant, but I tried Arch, a rolling release disto a few years back (actually like 5+ years now… man time flys) and it’s not like the bad wrap rolling-releas distro got in the early days of the concept. My main office desktop has had the same install for two years, only because I got a new PC two years ago. It just never breaks so long as you don’t go like six months without updating it. I even use it for noob converts to Linux that I help get started. This install isn’t cake, but it isn’t hard at all either. If you can do terminal basics and follow the guide it’s a breeze. The package management and the AUR make it where I almost never need to screw with dependencies and whatnot. Arch + i3wm truly is linux zen! P.s. there’s a package called i3gnome that uses the gnome backend services and find this compliments the bare-bones i3wm nicely. It only uses what’s necessary and is still super lightweight, but you don’t have to worry about setting up stuff that one excepts to ‘just work’ on a modern computer. I’d install gnome first, then i3wm, them i3-gnome. Then login with GDM and make sure you choose i3gnome and not just i3. I don’t know if you’ll try this, but maybe someone is interested. If you like to customize and use the mouse less this might be for you.

  • I switched to Trinity Desktop Environment at the moment when I was forced to use KDE4, and I am happy with it still.
    I install it on all my systems and immediately have my (highly configured) desktop back. It is basically just a matter of transfering ~/.trinity, ~/.config/menus and a few dirs under ~/.local/share from an existing to a new installation and bingo! my desktop is there, with its (virtual) desktop(s), klipper-(clipboard)konfigs, my second (popup-)toolbar containing my most used applications plus a menu for RDP connections to several remote win-machines, a menu with several konsole-sessions to local or remote machines by ssh, a menu with many konqueror-filemanager connections to remote machines through ftp, sftp, webdav, smb, a.s.o. … a.s.o. …. Its high configurability has always been a main reason for me to use KDE, and TDE continued and extended this tradition.
    I LOVE IT!
    TDE is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, so there must be a lasting user base obviously, and every KDE 3.5 user disappointed by succeding KDE releases should give it a try!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2021 - Proudly powered by theme Octo