Monday, July 27, 2015

Notifications in GNOME Shell

Hmm. Only five years since my last blog post.  How time flies! Perhaps I am still stuck in the mind-set of "If you don't have anything interesting or useful to say, why say anything?" As an academic, I should know better!

Anyway, I can't keep quiet any longer about the notifications "feature" of GNOME Shell. I've never been able to understand the logic behind the design decision that clicking anywhere on a message deletes it, and delete it forever. Time and again I've read notifications that seem to be important, but been unable to respond to the information that is  evidently important enough to warrant a notification. Apparently the latest version of GNOME has a redesigned notifications facility, so I thought maybe things had changed. But apparently not. The core message of the notifications feature seems to be that it's for stuff that's not important enough for the user to respond to.
Figure 1: where is the important stuff?
This morning I had a classic situation. Something along the lines of "Failed to execute BOOT=/vmlinuz ... You might like to contact the developer", or something like that. That seemed fairly serious. But when I clicked on the notification, it disappeared (as I kinda expected). But I wasn't really sure that would happen, so I took a chance.  Because, in my experience, all kinds of things can happen when you attempt to respond to notifications:
  • Sometimes when you click on notifications, an application gets launched, e.g. clicking on an appointment notification launches Evolution. That's fine, but it would be nice to have some indication that this will happen. Not a biggie, though.
  • Sometimes clicking on it does nothing. If you want to get rid of it, you can click the handy "delete" icon (an x in a circle). That seems fairly sane to me.
  • Most often, the message disappears. And if you click by accident, there is no way to recover, i.e. no way to get a list of previous notifications. (OK, maybe there is a way, but I'm a user, not a hacker)
  • Sometimes, even if a notification has a delete icon, you don't have to click on it to delete the notification. Clicking anywhere will do the trick. How is that logical?
There appears to be no way to tell in advance what will happen when you click on a notification, hence my attitude of "try something and see what happens".  Is this any way for a supposedly core feature of the GNOME experience to function? Is anyone else perplexed and frustrated by this behaviour? Or am I out of touch with the way that the majority of users interact with their desktops?

I don't really like complaining, because I really appreciate all the hard work that the GNOME hackers do, the fruits of which I get to enjoy for free! So: thank you!

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