Sunday, February 05, 2006

Things about GNOME that Rock, Number Three

I have previously written about the GNOME community and how it is so good. However since starting this "Things about GNOME" series I have been astounded at the number and quality of positive comments on the series.

I can only reiterate then, that the GNOME community ROCKS! To be specific, the ability of the community to absorb criticism in good faith is truly inspiring from the perspective of a GNOME user (as opposed to a developer).

But now I have a problem. As a user of Windows XP, Fedora Core 4 and Ubuntu Dapper Drake, I am trying to think of things that I really like about GNOME that Windows XP does not have. To be honest, nothing really leaps out at me. Don't get me wrong, I can't see myself ever stopping using GNOME, but I at this stage I can't see many obvious advantages of GNOME over Windows. This is GNOME as a desktop environment. I can't comment on GNOME as a developer platform, as I am not a developer.

This leaves aside the issue of individual GNOME applications. There are a few GNOME applications that I like better than the corresponding Windows options. I think that I will start blogging about those in the future.

As always, if you find these posts pointless, tiresome or offensive, please let me know.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

Actually, you've put your finger on something about Gnome that doesn't exactly suck, but that is a problem.

There's a strong contingent in the Gnome developer community whose concept of "usability" means "works just like Windows XP", or "works just like OSX". By this definition, a feature in Gnome that isn't in XP or OSX would be considered to have usability problems. If people had to have the feature pointed out to them, it would be called "undiscoverable".

We're so nailed down by this Windows/OSX idea of what UIs should be that we're kind of stuck. Why, for instance, do we have this separate idea of a document that is in memory, which has undo capability but which is lost if you don't remember to save it, and a document that is on disk, that has no undo capability and is persistent?

What if, instead, revision control were built in to all the apps in a seamless way, and there were no such thing as an unsaved document? Make every change persistent, keep it all. Have clever visualization to show alternative states of documents. Certainly, provide a way of purging history if the user really wants to get rid of it, but if you can kill "the computer ate my thesis chapter" forever, imagine the praise.

This concept isn't original with me; many GUI experts have proposed it. But Gnome developers are too busy cloning Windows to do something radical.

late said...

Ten things that rock in gnome that are not in XP, off the top of my head:
1. Scroll wheel on the volume control. This is the coolest thing of all time.
2. Double-click titlebar to shade window. (not by default true, but still rocks)
3. No notification every time I load that unused desktop icons are being cleaned up.
4. System tray does not contain 4000 applications.
5. Consistant application interface, even including non-gnome apps like OOo and Firefox.
6. Open/Save dialogs
7. Six month upgrade cycle.
8. Tomboy. Period.
9. Abiword (exists on other platforms but not nearly as good/proper as on gnome)
10. Totem (other OSes have media players but none come close).
11. Synaptic or the approximate equivilent in other distributions.

And uh, from a user perspective, Gnome is free, which is important both in the sense of the pocketbook and in the sense that none of the programs are trying to sell you things, or that you need to pay a fee to get the non-crippled version, or that crush your system with spyware, or most importantly try to lock you into to their proprietary systems to prevent you from ever using something else.

None of that lept out at you? ;-) I bet you just wanted to hear someone else say it!

Anonymous said...

I use Windows at work (under Linux's rule in VMWare) and every time I use it I appreciate even more GNOME's attention to usability.

The best example I can give is Explorer. Actually, this brings up an entirely different point. They named their web browser and file manager basically the same thing. But I digress.

In Explorer (the file one) when you right click it takes several mouse movements and submenus to create a file or folder!

Now perform the same with GNOME. Not only is the create folder on the first context menu, they're both at the top of the menu. What's at the top in Explorer? "Arrange icons" or something like that. You have to always drag your mouse to the bottom of the menu to use the most common tasks.

This and the scroll-over-volume is what makes GNOME truly superior.

rob said...

What GNOME has over XP?
One word: Security.
Sure, one could argue that it's a feature (or "missing" bug) of the underlying operatin systems GNOME runs on, but as a user i call the combination of hard- and software my computer.

Davyd said...

John,
You've left me a little confused. What are you saying rocks?

Great commentary, keep it up.

Ian Davey said...

A few things off the top of my head, the lack of this functionality annoys me every day when using XP:

Custom icons for folders and files plus emblems. Doesn't seem like much but it's really useful.

Remembering the view mode of a folder when you reopen it. This really annoys me in XP.

Icon previews of lots of document types.

Better file type recognition. Clicking on a text file and it opens as a text file, XP will ask you every time you try and open a file without an extension.

Common usability standard (Gnome HIG) for GUI applications which is largely adhered to. XP applications seem to have a completely random look.

All user documents stored in a location unique to that user. All applications open at this user folder, so don't wind up sprinkled all over the place.

Mike A. Owens said...

I'm still really fond of more complete window management functions available in Metacity and through the panel: Multiple desktops, pinning to visible desktop, "Always on Top", etc. I take these for granted until using XP.

For some reason, these things are a cornerstone of all popular X environments, but never got picked up outside of this world. It's not like they're particularly confusing, and they are still one of the "whoa cool" features new users appreciate.

Gnome also allows far more global keyboard configuration than Windows. It's funny that you can put the "Windows" key to far better use in Gnome than XP (minimizing, maximizing, hiding and moving windows with Win+Arrow key).

I'd like to be able to add "Network Transparent File Dialogs" to this list, but they seem to be sparodically implemented across applications on my desktop. It's very much missed when using a KDE application for a while.

Gnome (with the aid of X) has much more complete session management than anything available on XP. (Personally, I've never used it much, but I know people who have 15 windows across 4 desktops automatically loaded at log in. Go figure.)

There are a few other things, but the gap is now much narrower than when I started using Unix years ago.

Claus Schwarm said...

OK. I couldn't resist.

I'm sure there are lots of friendships, and help within GNOME. However, there's still a lot to do before we'd be able to call GNOME a great community!

The GNOME User Board, for example, has currently 1842 unanswered posts. What a shame. There're are just three HIG recommendations that every GTK+ applications needs to care of! However, we have nobody to organize this. In fact, we don't any official means to advertise third-party GTK+ apps except the planet (which has a strong Mono monkey population, and thus a slight tendency to report about certain apps, only).

We also have no overview on our "community": Who are the web designers when we would need them? Who are the PHP and web developers? Who's able to do a HIG review?

In fact, if somebody answers me on the mailing list, I have to google for his address to know whom I'm talking to! And this won't reveal if he or she is GNOME 'member' for five years already with lots of background knowledge or just just a 12 year old pupil who wrote his first post!

And what defines GNOME? Debian has a social contract: They have an agreed-upon goal. What's the GNOME goal? Where is our agenda?

I believe we do have a great desktop with 2.12! Now it gets time to build a great community!

We should slow-down development on the desktop for a while and spend our time with preaching!

Why no skip the April releases for the next two years, and write patches that implement the easy HIG parts (without additional dependencies) for others? Why not trying to help others to make better GTK+, more GNOMEy applications?

Heck, GNUCash has still no GTK+2 version!

This is the fact that makes you wonder why GNOME doesn't appear to be better as Windowx XP: The only real benefit of a desktop is the number of people using it.

Since this depends upon the number of applications we should start helping others to write better applications!

Just my 2 cents.

Shawn said...

Another thing that gnome has going for it as was alluded to in an earlier comment was the "window management features" such as:
1. alt+drag to move any window from any location
2. alt+middle-drag to resize a window with each of the 4 corners
3. middle-click to lower the windows stacking order.

Now if only they would add:
1. the ability to drag windows through the walls to other virtual desktops. They could set the resistence to ~2 secs to prevent unintentional switching and it could also be only enabled while the window is being moved.
2. Window placement funtionality such as Cascade, Tile or Distribute currently opened windows could be added to metacity which would improve it. Distribute could work like Expose with out resizing the windows just providing each window with a location of least overlap.
3. Another thing would be a bit more change control. Like setting up some guidelines for making far reaching changes such as (changing the functionality of Spacial Nautilus or adding Apply/Ok/Cancel instead of Close or the default placement of a logoff button in the upper right corner which I suspect will commonly be accidentally click while attempting to close maximized windows)

Mikey Cooper said...

Please keep posting your experiences, both suck and rock! I'm in the same boat as you as far as seeing the advantages of WinXP vs Gnome. As a result, I've mostly stuck with XP. I really like the idea of Free software though and it's good to hear reasons why (or why not) to try switching again.

Last Gnome I played with (I believe it was on a Hoary install), there were still minor frustrations like mp3 or video playback not supported with the integrated components and apps, my wireless card not being supported, and the inability to add/edit/delete items in the Gnome menu. Otherwise, XP and Gnome perform basically the same tasks for me... launching Firefox, Thunderbird, Gaim and VMware.

Granted, most of the issues that keep bugging me are beyond Gnome's control (driver issues, distro restrictions for copyright law, etc). All the same, I want to play mp3s and not introduce dependency hell and upgrade holdback by adding unsupported repositories.

Now that I'm using a wired lan again, maybe I'll give it another go with Breezy.

Juri Pakaste said...

One thing that I hate about XP is that I do not understand how it works. Maybe it's just because I'm a developer (even if I'm not much of a contributor), but I understand a lot better how Gnome works. It feels more transparent. I'm better able to figure out what the problem is when there's a problem.

That rocks.

Kurt McKee said...

Gnome-vfs is a major desktop strong point. It's not unique just to GNOME, but it isn't available to me in Windows.

I just don't have to care where the file is with Gnome-vfs, whether it's on my hard drive, a CD, a friend's computer in another dorm, across campus on a departmental server, or across several states on my brother's computer.

This leaves aside the issue of individual GNOME applications that have lagged behind in Gnome-vfs implementation. Nonetheless, it's supported widely enough to make that a small irritant.

Another strong point for the desktop as a whole is Gstreamer. I really appreciate having a single desktop-wide method to interact with my music and video files. Now if only I could edit meta data in my videos and such...

I am thoroughly enjoying your posts - please continue! Also, include screenshot bling at all costs. *wink*

Phil said...

Things that rock? What about...

Freedom!</william_wallace>

Joseph Huang said...

I agree with your blog post.

If only Gnome had pie menus, then I'd have a pretty darn good reason that it's superiour.

Justin Fitzsimmons said...

Kurt, with respect to gnome-volume-manager and not caring where things are, I highly disagree with what you're saying. At the time being, unless a file is saved on a local drive, there is no "save" access in applications. The only thing that can write to network mounted volumes in gnome-volume-manager seems to be nautilus, even in other gvm aware applications, like gedit. Gedit opens the file read-only, even if permissions would normally have allowed for write access. This is one thing about windows's UNC path integration that gvm is sorely lacking. There are only a handful of applications in windows which are unable to treat a UNC path exactly like they would have treated a local drive.

Adi said...

Thank you for sharing.
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