Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Things about GNOME that Suck, Number Four

First, let me thank all the people who have been posting comments on my blog entries. I never expected such a positive and encouraging response to this series! For those of you who have not read the comments, I can summarize the frequency distribution of classes of comments as follows:

1. "Right on! Keep up the good work": lots.
2. "That's bullshit/You suck": none.
3. "What about ?": some.

Thanks! But just to reiterate: If you think that I am being unfair, or am JPW (Just Plain Wrong), please let me know. I could let this go to my head otherwise... ;-)

So, Gripe Number Four: The desktop environment does not remember the size and position of windows.

Premises:
1. The purpose of computers is to make the lives of humans better and easier
2. Computers are for automating tasks that are boring and repetitive
3. GNOME is simple and easy to use
4. GNOME "Just Works".

Data:
Every time I start the applications that I use every day (Evolution, Firefox, Gaim, a couple of terminals, Emacs) I have to arrange the size and locations of the application window, both across virtual desktops and within each desktop.

Conclusion:
At least one of the premises are false.

I know that it is a deliberate policy decision of the Metacity hackers to not handle this functionality. I also know about Devil's Pie (thanks Ross!). But I still find the premises compelling. I don't want them to be false. Do you?

63 comments:

Anonymous said...

Metacity doesn't do this because window managers are forbidden to do this in some spec. Elijah can explain better.

Apps in your session should pop up at the same place. But doing this for all windows can also be annoying (it might overlap with a window that I just moved there, while there is still space available). Better to have a improved way of placing the windows.

Simon said...

I think the implied premise "windows need to remember their position and always pop up in the same place" is wrong. I've been bitten by session management frequently: Windows that pop up on the wrong virtual desktop, window placement that overlaps other windows etc. pp.

Since I rarely log out from my desktop I greatly prefer automatic placement, even if that means that I have to arrange some windows after a login.

Anonymous said...

It really should be up to the application to store/restore its position/size.

Anonymous said...

I guess it's number 1 which is false. ;-)

Ross Burton said...

The most excellent libgconf-bridge has a very nice function:

guint
gconf_bridge_bind_window(
GConfBridge *bridge,
const char *key_prefix,
GtkWindow *window,
gboolean bind_size,
gboolean bind_pos);

Thus, gconf_bridge_bind_window (bridge, "/apps/myapp/window", main_window, TRUE, FALSE); does exactly what you want in a single line. We need stuff like this in Project Ridley!

Anonymous said...

Another thing that sucks is that Gnome disregards the screen resolution that you can get from the X server. (At least that's what I've heard; please correct me if I'm wrong here.)

Ross said...

Regarding GNOME disregarding the screen resolution, that is wrong.

It does ignore the screen DPI which is a shame, and defaults to 96dpi (which is at least somewhat sane). The rationale is that the X dpi is often totally incorrect and impossible to fix without root access. I wish it defaulted to the X value and let the user override it, as all of my displays have the correct DPI.

Anonymous said...

In the meantime the metacity developers should really consider allowing more choices for default placement!

This patch implements that nicely:
http://home.uchicago.edu/~chad/metacity/

Who wants to always manually drag windows from the top-left-hand corner to wherever they're useful every time!! IMHO this is not a sane default choice. Having automatic centering for windows which do not remember where you placed them is much better.

Even in cool demos from http://nat.org/demos/ you see manual reordering happening. Come on, how usable is that!

GNOME has gone through many great release cycles but has not managed to move away from the forced all-windows-are-placed-on origin-mode which also happens to cover up the spot where most desktop icons are placed.

Please think about it and take a look at the patch.

Reinout said...

Well, of course Firefox is not a GNOME app. If you find that Epiphany does things wrong in this regard feel free to file a bug :-)

Ploum said...

Ok, so this is my little comment :

please continue your serie. It rocks ! I'm sure that a lot of ideas and good things will come from your posts.

Thank you for such interesting things on pgo !

Anonymous said...

About centered window placement: This has been discussed in bug 151818. Looks like everybody agrees that this is useful.

Just the patch is not applied yet.

Elijah said...

Your article (like the others) was great. Except for:

I know that it is a deliberate policy decision of the Metacity hackers to not handle this functionality.

This is misleading, at best. Read bug 91481; it was never a deliberate policy decision to not do this but we just never got an implementation that be reliable and not cause other bugs and not need a million configuration options (as Havoc put it in comment 5 of that bug).

--- Response to comment 1 ----

Metacity doesn't do this because window managers are forbidden to do this in some spec.

I also don't understand the comments in the first anonymous post. I'm not aware of any spec that would forbid this, and the only case where it would be bad (assuming we could come up with an otherwise working implementation) is if the window manually set the position it wanted and we then overruled that to give it its previous position/size.

Anonymous said...

The problem is that the application is responsible for saving its state (IIRC that's in the free desktop standard), and most of these apps do not.
Gnome integrated apps do save their state through GConf.
Only Evolution is a Gnome program among all the apps you cited, and I think that's the most prominent Gnome program that does not save its position.
I remember GAIM saving its location though.
The WM could do the job on log off, but as it has no way to know if an app can save its position, it starts to become hard to do without duplication, conflicts, ...
I use mostly freedesktop compliant apps on my Gnome desktop (for example, Epiphany or Galeon instead of Firefox) so I don't have this problem (except for Evolution and Liferea).

Aldo "xoen" Giambelluca said...

A good idea is have something similar to exposè but integrated in GNOME : http://kugghiuns.altervista.org/xoen_blog/2006/02/03/idea-expose-like-into-gnome/

This serie is a good idea to improve our loved GNOME ;)

Anonymous said...

No, gnome does it correct, windows placement and size is stored and I thats the correct way.

Just like nautilus remembers the last place you were in the directory, it's a really nice feature.

/\/\/\/ said...

> automatic centering for windows
> which do not remember where you
> placed them is much better

YES! YES! If apps are meant to remember where they go, then fine, don't make the wm smart enough to track that stuff, but for the love of God, the top-left corner is a ridiculous place for the default position!

erich said...

There is a reply at:
http://blog.drinsama.de/erich/en/linux/debian/2006020502-window-placement.html

I don't think it's easy to write a sane "rule" for how windows should be placed. :-(
Remembering window positions often sucks (IMHO), and there are different types of applications that need different rules (e.g. terminals should remain 80x25 IMHO, IM windows should also remain small, while I run most applications full-screen on different desktops...)
And configuration of suck rules sucks. I couldn't get devils' pie to do what I need... and it's configuration is a PITA.

Joseph Huang said...

Check out the WMII dynamic window manager.

http://wmii.de

Ben Meyer said...

Window managers aren't suppost to do this, applications are. For example in KDE any application that uses KMainWindow will get this feature (storing location and size).

Anonymous said...

Nautilus remembers it's size and position-- but only if it's not maximized! That is so bone-headed it's not even funny.

Anonymous said...

"Nautilus remembers it's size and position-- but only if it's not maximized! That is so bone-headed it's not even funny."

couldn't agree more with you more...
if you found a solution, please post it here for the love of god...

Anonymous said...

Does metacity already default windows to the top left of the screen, perhaps cascading them if there are windows already there?
This is what I want, as I have everything on my desktop at the top of the screen, from the gnome panel (I have just one, which has switcher, app chooser, and everything else on it), firefox tabs, application menus. They're all in the top-left of the screen (or at the top-left of any application windows), so it's damned annoying when a popup dialog appears in the center of the screen, having to move the mouse all the way from the 'action zone' in the top left, down to the new popup.

So, is there a "top-left, cascading" window placement option somewhere?

Anonymous said...

"Nautilus remembers it's size and position-- but only if it's not maximized!"

Only n00bs with no spatial navigation sense do maximized windows!

Anonymous said...

Having come from Windows to Linux I think this issue of windows not remembering their positions is the one that bugs me the most. I HATE it. It makes me want to drop Linux but other issues related to open source etc make me stay. I don't care much how they work this out but dammit lets get it happening. Every damn time I open an app I have to move it and resize it again. This is REALLY the most annoying aspect of using Linux and if Linux people want to attract more users then things like this need to work better. If some Linux hardcores don't like it then PLEASE make it an option or something but as a normal real world user I for one can hardly believe with all the effort that's gone into Linux and the Gnome desktop that this is issue is still outstanding. Having to constantly re-adjust new windows is plain stupid.

Archimedes Trajano said...

Actually Xlib normally does allow you to set the starting position of a window using the -geometry parameter. GTK just happen to take that capability out so we need to find other hacks like devilspie or compiz to help us get around things.

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If it makes the developers feet itch to give us that functionality, at least give us any easy way to set window position.

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