Why Isn't GNOME Listening? : Page 2

What has GNOME learned from user reactions to GNOME 3? Apparently, only how to ignore feedback.


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Posted February 13, 2012

Bruce Byfield

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As an example, Day shows a screen shot for one view of the GNOME 3 Music app. He argues that users are better if they have to "travel through the application to the functionality that you want, rather than having it presented to you all the time."

Never mind that shuffling through limited views of an application is even a better way to get lost than sorting out multiple open windows. Unless you are familiar with the app, you are just as likely to start down the wrong trail to the view you want as the right one.

For that matter, even when you know the app, a careless selection can cause momentary confusion. You only have to look at the Amarok music player, with its all-inclusive approach to see that having all functionality available at all times is more efficient than only having a sub-set of functionality visible. In an all-inclusive app like Amarok, you can always close or resize a pane if you want to ignore it, whereas in a limited view, you are more likely to be unsure of where you can go next.

Day also criticizes panels, or "primary toolbars." Where the GNOME 2 panel was "a mixed bag, containing a variety of things that might or might not be useful to you at any given time" and suffered from a "lack of consistency" and "lacked visual elegance," he characterizes GNOME 3 panels as containing "only a few elements," and being "much more consistent across applications."

Few can argue with his descriptions. However, the point Day fails to mention is that GNOME 2 panels were genuinely useful, and could be customized for each user. Moreover, by radically simplifying the GNOME 3 panel, the project has destroyed at a stroke one of its supporting eco-system of functionality, although a few like Tomboy live on, less accessibly, in the menu.

All these three design decisions share the assumption that simplicity is always desirable, and how an interface looks is more important than its functionality. To many users, I suspect, this is a false dichotomy. After all, why can't you have functionality and elegance in the same design? But, unlike Day and the other GNOME designers, most users, to judge from their complaints, would rather have functionality than elegance, if they can't have both.

What surprises me is that, after all the hints and manifestos, GNOME designers seem unaware of this basic preference.

Ears Wide Shut

Not all GNOME's plans for core applications are as out of touch as these ones. The priorities for a GNOME 3 web browser include such functionality as writing web pages to PDF, and making the reopening of a closed page easy.

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Moreover, the plans call for a redesigned email client to replace the antiquated, non-evolving Evolution, while proposed new apps include a backup app and an ebook manager. Such plans conform to what people are actually doing with their computers, and many seem long overdue.

Similarly, Day's description of plans for "Selections and Contextual Actions" -- that is, the appearance of an appropriate toolbar when a box is checked -- and for increased availability of search functionality from the desktop are ideas to which few can find any objections.

Yet these seem the exceptions among the plans described by Day. For the most part, GNOME designers continue to work in isolation from feedback, convinced that their approach is the right one for everyone.

In fact, GNOME appears so little interested in feedback that Day simply turned off comments after 115 had been posted. The comments were not particularly hostile -- some were favorable and almost all of them polite and informed -- but the comments were cut off, despite the obvious eagerness for discussion.

From this reaction, I have to conclude that the problem isn't that GNOME doesn't know how users are reacting. Instead, the problem seems to be that GNOME doesn't want to know.

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Tags: Linux, Gnome

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