Why Isn't GNOME Listening?

What has GNOME learned from user reactions to GNOME 3? Apparently, only how to ignore feedback.
Posted February 13, 2012
By

Bruce Byfield


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Ten months ago, GNOME 3 was released. Since then, there has been a steady murmur of complaints, mostly about a design that forces all users to work in the same way. And what have GNOME developers learned from the experience?

Judging from Allan Day's recent blog entry, "A New Approach to GNOME Application Design," absolutely nothing.

All the complaints, all the extensions to revert to GNOME 2's behavior, all the interest in Linux Mint's Cinnamon, which recreates GNOME 2 on top of GNOME 3, and in planning new core applications, GNOME developers continue exactly as they began. They show no recognition that not all users think the way they do.

It's a persistence that's so unyielding and shows such little ability to learn that it borders on the perverse.

Day, who is a GNOME designer, makes the project's position very clear when he begins by saying "We want GNOME applications to be throughly modern, and we want them to be attractive and a delight to use," emphasizing appearance and perhaps a preoccupation with being as cool as everyone else, and ignoring functionality altogether.

Then he adds, "That means that we have to do application design differently to how we've done in the past" -- a conclusion that by no means follows, even if you accept his basic premise.

Anyway, who delights in a new interface for more than the first few seconds of viewing it? Most people are more concerned with whether it allows them to get their work done in the way they prefer.

Yet, while users are complaining about GNOME's basic design, Day talks about "evolving" a new approach based on that basic design, and -- perhaps flippantly -- of how some designs "have come to have an increasingly important place in our hearts."

In other words, if much is being done to make the basic design more generally acceptable, it doesn't rate a mention. To all appearances, GNOME is continuing as it has begun -- in fact, Day talks about solidifying the approach GNOME has chosen by writing a new version of the project's Human Interface Guidelines.

Meanwhile, you can see details of GNOME's approach in the rest of Day's blog.

Cures Worse Than the Diseases

Before Windows 95, users wanted the ability to display more than one window at a time. Now, however, Day suggests that "displaying multiple windows at the same time means that screen space isn't used efficiently, and it means that you don't get a focused view of what you are interested in." Seventeen years of interface development, and it turns out that DOS and Windows 3.1 had the right idea after all?

In fact, multiple windows serve all sorts of purposes. They allow users to drag and drop files between open directory windows, or to copy and paste. They allow users to consult one application while working in another, whether you are reading a main page with a terminal open, or (as I am doing now), writing in one window while consulting a page open in another. The mistake that Day makes is assuming that, because you are focused on one window, you are uninterested in other ones.

Day is more to the point when he notes that managing open windows can be troublesome. However, a simple solution for that is a configurable window manager that positions windows better, or at least offers a better view of what is open, the way that GNOME 3's overview does. Maximizing all but small apps like calculators seems a solution that causes more problems than it solves. Especially when Day adds that title bars will be eliminated as unnecessary, their content moved to the panel, where they are divorced from the window.

The same is true within an application, according to Day: "breaking up an interface into different views makes it more efficient and more pleasurable to use" -- although how or why that should be so, he doesn't explain. In effect, what he proposes is to make what is a necessity on a mobile device the norm on desktop interfaces as well.


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Tags: Linux, Gnome


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