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.