GNOME Online Desktop: Touching the Face of GOD: Page 2

Posted November 20, 2007

Bruce Byfield

Bruce Byfield

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Admittedly, apps like Big Board ensure that new users are not overwhelmed by complexity. However, more experienced users might appreciate easier access to the entire directory tree, not just their home directory. The same is also true of the menu -- you could have an interesting debate over whether the advantage of making new users feel at ease is worth the price of making the exploration of installed programs harder. The question naturally arises of how users can know to search for a program if they don't see it listed in the first place.

The same is true of the not seen, but apparently forthcoming email widget. When you have as mature an application as Evolution or Thunderbird, what are the advantages of discarding it in favor of a simple notification? And can the widget hope to handle the several hundred daily emails that are the norm for many people, even if they prefer instant messaging and IRC?

The final major feature of GOD is the Mugshot icon in the bottom panel's notification tray. Clicking the icon opens your home page on GNOME Online for Mugshot, which can be loosely described as an index of social networking and file-sharing sites. Your Mugshot page allows you to list updates from all your interactive sites, and to list both your activities and those of friends whom you invite to participate. Probably, the more you use interactive sites, the more you can appreciate Mugshot, but opinions are likely to vary about whether you need a notification icon to access it, as opposed to a bookmark in your conventional browser.

More generally, GOD renews questions that arise whenever changes to the desktop are proposed. These questions include: Is the desktop metaphor, for all its shortcomings, too entrenched for any meaningful changes or improvements? Do improvements mean simplifying the experience of new users, or should thought also be given to features for more advanced users?

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And, for GNU/Linux in particular: Do improvements mean copying features like menu search fields introduced by Windows? Do such borrowings make the transition to GNOME easier for Windows users? And, if so, do they come at the expense of radical new features? The developer pages talk about getting ahead of Windows with GOD, yet the design itself continues to raise such issues.

I don't pretend to have answers to any of these questions. Personally, I like the Control Panel, and question the need to make Internet activities so prominent on the desktop. But, then again, I hit middle age some years ago, and likely I'm not supposed to get it.

Anyway, the specific answers are less important than the fact that the questions are raised at all. Whether GNOME Online Desktop becomes popular is, in many ways, beside the point. On the practical side, it may introduce some new or alternative features to the desktop. And more abstractly, what matters about such projects is that they challenge us to rethink what most of us take for granted -- and that's something worth confronting, regardless of whether GOD is abandoned in a few years or becomes the norm for the GNU/Linux desktop.

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Tags: open source, Linux, Facebook, Vista, Gnome

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