When I was first asked to write this article, I immediately thought back to the many articles I've seen surrounding this now famous blog post. The blog post highlights one GNOME developer's view about how GNOME has lost its way and needs a clear direction for the future.
Others see it differently, of course. A counterpoint to this view was written by Bryan Lunduke, who explains that trying to measure the success of a project such as GMOME using standard metrics is pointless.
He opines that if users are able to use GNOME to customize their desktops to meet their needs, then the project is in fact a success.
In this article, I will bypass that minefield entirely. Instead, I'll focus on the desktop experience of GNOME 3 vs alternatives, while putting emphasis on the user experience – not how the underpinnings of the GNOME desktop work under the hood.
Experiences, not desktop environments
I have long since believed one of the strengths that allowed Ubuntu to become the "go to distro" for newbies and intermediate Linux enthusiasts alike was that Ubuntu was about the experience.
Normal people don't care about the version of a specific type of software or the core of their desktop environment. More advanced distributions have begun to realize this and have focused on a smooth experience with improved distro speed and user-centric customization.
Ever since GNOME 3 was released onto various desktop Linux distributions, there have been a mixed bag of reactions. They ranged from those who really enjoyed the change from GNOME 2 to those who honestly didn't care for it at all.
I fell into the latter camp, but not because I have something against GNOME. No, my issue with it was merely that the experience it provided wasn't a match for what I was looking for. Quite honestly, I would sooner have gone with another GNOME shell spin-off like Cinnamon, as I felt more at home with it.
Another desktop based on the GNOME shell that I prefer over the typical GNOME 3 experience is Unity. Despite loathing Unity when it was first released, I've come to prefer it as time has progressed.
Now realizing that I'm not likely alone in being among those who prefer Unity or Cinnamon, how does this affect the overall well being of the GNOME 3 desktop? In truth, I don't think it affects GNOME 3 at all.
What does affect each experience will be the desktop distributions they’re bundled with. Realizing that not every distribution out there gives you a prompt – which asks which desktop environment to select – many users simply choose whatever the default happens to be. See, only intermediate to advanced users are likely to actively choose one desktop over another. Newbies will likely run whatever desktop environment their preferred distribution happens to come installed with out of the box.
And there is the bigger issue here – newbies will judge a distribution based on the experience they have with the provided desktop environment. So while the rest of the Linux community argues whether or not GNOME 3 is a success or a mistake, in the end, it really doesn't matter – newbies are using Ubuntu.
And that means Unity wins the new user, by default.
GNOME 3 on the tablet
According to this article, the rationale was to use GNOME OS as a means of "completing the GNOME 3 experience." Apparently this idea is that usability issues would then be addressed. Super, sounds great! Unfortunately, the project then jumps the shark by immediately embracing touch interfaces, such as tablets.
Is it me, or does this sound like something Unity has already begun the process of doing? It's an admirable idea, but honestly, who cares? I wasn't that excited to see Ubuntu coming to tablets, much less other desktop environments. And I'm not alone here; many believe Android has already filled the void – anything else is a hobbyist toy. So what could GNOME hope to accomplish here?
Quite honestly, I think future revisions of the GNOME desktop would do all of us a favor by letting Unity fail in the tablet space. In addition, the lack of leadership and/or direction with the folks behind GNOME should be the focus long before trying to retool GNOME from the ground up.