In each Activity, windows cannot be resized by dragging, or minimized or maximized by buttons in the title bar. Instead, you change window size by dragging them to a corner of the screen, a feature that is optional in KDE 4.6. By default, you cannot even add icons to the Activity.
This, presumably, is what is meant by "distraction-free computing" in GNOME 3 marketing material.
The other features that most users have come to expect in a desktop are shunted over to an overview screen available from a keyboard short cut or through the Activities link, a name that seems misleading until you notice that it is where you can see an overview of all open activities in GNOME 3. The overview also contains a dashboard that displays favorite and currently open applications, and a menu of applications that occupies most of the screen.
If this arrangement seems familiar, it should. While KDE has approached the problem of maintaining a desktop for a variety of devices by minimizing the difference in the code, the GNOME 3 developers have apparently approached the problem by providing a single desktop based on the most restrictive use-case -- that is, on mobile devices.
The separation of the work space from the overview feels odd if you are thinking in terms of a work station, or even a laptop. Yet it seems perfectly normal if you are thinking in terms of a phone or music player.
Presumably, the logic behind GNOME 3 is that it is easiest to work within the constraints of a mobile device. After all, what is necessary for the small-sized screens on a mobile device translates to a workstation's large screen better than a design for a workstation translates to a mobile device. True, some people criticize the menu icons in GNOME 3 as being too large, but for those with failing eyesight or those who work long hours on their computers, the large icons might be considered a benefit.
However, a possible drawback with the choices made in GNOME 3 is that a workstation is not a mobile device. Users endure the clicking back and forth between screens on a mobile device as a necessity on a small screen. However, on a larger screen, the switching back and forth seems unnecessary, and for some might become a nuisance. But, regardless of your reaction, in GNOME 3 you are going to do a lot of switching, whether by mouse or keystroke.
GNOME has often been criticized for removing user choice in the name of usability, just as Ubuntu has been in recent years. The most famous critique of the GNOME 2 series was by Linus Torvalds, who complained in 2005 that "this 'users are idiots, and are confused by functionality' mentality of Gnome is a disease."
Four years later, Torvalds was making similar complaints about KDE 4.0, and justifiably, since the release lacked many of the options and customizing features of the GNOME 3 series.
However, that was six releases ago, and the current version of KDE has regained most of the flexibility of earlier releases. In KDE 4.6, you can use Folder Views and Activities to fine-tune your desktop to a degree that is unrivalled in any modern desktop.
At the same time, though, if you choose, you can expand a Folder View so that it covers the entire desktop, and work in an interface that acts and feels almost exactly like KDE 3.5 or GNOME 2.32. Further complexity is always available in KDE, but only if you want it.
By comparison, GNOME 3 is designed so that the choices in how you work are limited. You cannot avoid the overview screen -- one way or the other, you must switch back and forth between it. If you want icons on the desktop, you must edit Gconf, a fact that many users will not know and may be daunted by if they do know.
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