Although I regularly use KDE, Xfce, and other desktops for GNU/Linux, I keep returning to GNOME. Sometimes I use the default Metacity window manager, and other times the quicker Sawfish, but, with either choice, GNOME has an uncluttered look that allows me to focus on my work rather than my software. It also contains enough customization that I can easily set my increasingly long list of preferences with a minimum of effort.
However, my loyalty is far from unqualified. Despite being in development for a decade, GNOME still lacks one or two utilities that I consider essential. Other default tools are lacking in functionality, or could stand a modern redesign. I also question some of GNOME's policy decisions.
If I can be excused from building dream castles and planning to move on the first of next month (as Harlan Ellison would say), here are the improvements that I would most like to see in GNOME:
A font manager: Font administration is a basic necessity for any graphic designer. Designers need to load and unload fonts, so that they don't overload their system with thousands of fonts. They also need to enable or disable fonts by groups, so they can load all the fonts for one project with a minimum of mouse clicks. KDE 4 can manage fonts this way, so why can't GNOME? If nothing else, it could make Fontmatrix part of the default installation.
A multiple-item clipboard: Desktops on different operating systems have had single item clipboards since the early 1990s. However, as anyone who has used MS Word's clipboard or KDE's Klipper can testify, the ability to store multiple threads of text or images for reuse is a valuable editing tool.
Moreover, a multiple clipboard for GNOME already exists. It's called Glipper, and installs as a panel app. Glipper does have the drawback of supporting only text, but making it support some basic graphics formats shouldn't require much development.
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Better graphics for games: The standard package of GNOME games is varied enough, but they look like they were written in the 1980s. Compare AisleRiot solitaire to Pysol, or Five or More to the equivalent Kolor Lines in KDE, and the need for redesign becomes obvious.
Granted, I'm only talking about games, not essential productivity apps, but sooner or later, almost every user opens one, if only to take a break or to wait for a critical download. They're some of GNOME's frequently used programs, and they create a poor impression of the desktop as whole.
A better file manager: For all its ability to burn DVDs, Nautilus remains a mediocre file manager at best. Its default view shows only a limited number of file attributes, and its navigation is limited to a small directory tree that is hidden on the bottom left and shows only the current path, requiring you to click endlessly to get anywhere. A much better directory tree is available if you use the command
nautilus --no-desktop --browser. But some distributions, including Ubuntu, don't offer that alternative, while others hide it the usually crowded System Tools menu.
Other problems? To start with, the only way to open another directory view is to start another instance, which takes up unnecessary space on the screen. The ability to open multiple directory views in Nautilus would save space and make drag and drop operations more efficient.
I'd also appreciate a way to turn off the account-centric view that emphasizes the current user's home directory and desktop. That option may be fine for new users, but more experienced users are as likely to want to view system files as personal ones, and to them the extra layer of abstraction is just an annoyance.
Inspiration for the redesign of Nautilus could come from KDE's Dolphin or Krusader, both of which are much more useful as file managers. Alternatively, a leaner browser without extras like Emblems that nobody uses could come from Xfce's Thunar.
An overhaul of the System menu: The decision to offer a centralized set of configuration tools, like the Control Center in KDE 3, or a set of independent menu items, as in GNOME, is largely a matter of design philosophy. In the abstract, I could tolerate either.