The GNOME 2 Zombie

Disappointment with GNOME 3 has users pining for GNOME 2. But it's not always wise to resurrect the dead.
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In the past year, the GNOME 2 release series has become the zombie of the free desktop.

Although replaced by GNOME 3, it refuses to die. Its mourners flock to Xfce, in which they see a resemblance of the deceased. It lives an undead existence in a crippled version in the current GNOME's fallback mode.

More recently, Linux Mint has taken on Dr. Frankenstein's role, trying to revive GNOME 2 in MATE, and reincarnate it as Cinnamon.

Since most of these efforts are not supported by the GNOME project, they have an air of heroism. Users are insisting on having what they want, no matter what developers decree, and I have to admire their persistence.

However, I find myself asking: What was so great about the GNOME 2 series? It had reached its limits a couple of years before GNOME 3 was released and its last few releases were distinctly minor.

Maybe as a primarily KDE user, I should keep quiet. Yet I can't help remembering that GNOME 2 had at least 7 annoying features that I, for one, would be happy to see dead and buried.

So before people rush to support its revival, maybe they should take a moment to remember all that is wrong about GNOME 2, instead of idolizing it uncritically, as if their brains had been eaten by something shuffling from its grave.

Tools No One Wants to Use

Like a zombie trailing bits of itself, through much of its history GNOME 2 continued to ship with tools that nobody wanted.

For instance, Epiphany is a Mozilla-based browser with fewer features than Firefox, and little, if any, corresponding improvement in speed. Similarly, although Evolution was popular seven or eight years ago as a personal information manager, in recent years it's been neglected the way that Microsoft once neglected Internet Explorer.

Some distributions also used to install with the AbiWord word processor and Gnumeric spreadsheet, the only parts of the GNOME Office Suite that were contemplated before the release of OpenOffice.org's code cut the legs from under all the other alternatives.

Not that anything is wrong with AbiWord or Gnumeric. AbiWord is one of the few word processors designed according to how most users actually work, while Gnumeric's calculation speeds are second to none, especially with complex formulas. But, as with Epiphany and Evolution, the inclusion of AbiWord and Gnumeric has more to do with the history of GNOME than with the needs of users.

The Applications / Places / System Menu

GNOME 2's three-part menu might be called its main identifying feature. No installation is without it. Yet, for all its omnipresence, it's irritating to use.

For one thing, the Places menu is uneditable. Unlike the other two menus, you can neither add nor subtract items to the Place menu, nor remove the top-level menu. Even deleting one of the directories listed doesn't update the menu. Moreover, the less you use the default sub-directories in your home folder, the more useless the Places menu was.

Similarly, the division between Applications and System menus might make sense, except that one top-level item in Applications is System Tools. You never know when to look in System Tools or the System menu.

For that matter, the distinction between Preferences and Administration in the System menu can blur, too, depending on the distribution. Such problems should ensure that this triple-headed dog of a menu system isn't missed.

The Classic Menu

GNOME 2's Application menu is what is now described as classic. As you open each menu level, the menu drops open like pieces of fleshing dangling from a decaying arm. With too many items in one level, the menu descends to the bottom of the screen.

With too many sub-levels, it takes over the horizontal space on the desktop, throwing all open windows into the background.

An extreme example of this problem is the infamous Debian menu, which may list everything installed on the system, but also goes at least five levels deep. Assuming your menu is in the top left of the screen, two-thirds of the horizontal space on the screen can be taken over by the menu.

The one solution for these problems that was ever tried was to limit the number of menu items. This solution has the advantage of keeping new users from being intimidated by the sheer number of applications, but has the disadvantage of preventing the discovery of any application not listed.


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Tags: Linux, Linux desktop, Gnome, KDE


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