Thu 07 March 2013

I really like Gnome3

Posted by ankur in Tech (1146 words, approximately a 5 minute read)

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The subject says it all. Since Gnome3 was released, or even in the works, all I've read about it is negative. I assume there must be posts that compliment it too, but forever reason, I've only run into what is now termed "Gnome bashing". I'm not going analyse why people don't like the new design; neither am I going to summarize why people should like it; I'm going to write down why it works for me.

The first thing I must list are my requirements. When I boot up my system, and login, without a thought, I run the following programs, in order:

  1. Gnome-terminal for a byobu/screen instance set up with irssi, rtorrent, htop, ncmpcpp, mc and additional bash screens
  2. Gnote
  3. Firefox
  4. Evolution

It takes me less than a minute to get them running: Firefox, Gnote and Evolution are on my dash as my favourites while a quick "alt f2 gnome-terminal -x byobo" pulls up the byobu instance. Sometimes, I even use "alt f2" to start Firefox and the rest. The point, irrespective of the method: it's quick. Mind you, I can configure gnome to start all of these at each login too, but that would contribute to the time the system takes to login and give me a usable interface. I resist the temptation.

I use Evolution for multiple accounts: my Gmail account, my UTS account on Microsoft Exchange, my Windows live account and my Facebook: all of which were conveniently set up using "Online accounts". I can use them for mail, calendar and chatting amongst the other cloud and storage services. I generally limit my usage to mail + calendar + chat.

Once my applications are up and running, I limit most of my work to the terminal instance, switching to Gnote for my TODO lists, or Firefox and Evolution to glance at the web or my mails respectively. My calendar is on the top panel, so I don't need to use the Evolution calendar view unless I want to add a new appointment. A click suffices. Switching between applications is very very easy. It's a simple "alt tab" to me. If you're not a keyboard person, it's fairly simple to use the activities overview to select another application. I've read that some people have issues while switching between windows of the same application: I haven't experienced this since a combination of "alt tab" and "alt ~" works perfectly for me.

While I'm working, there are times I need to use other applications. For instance, when my mother wants me to check something in her mail, I really don't want to logout of my Google account and into hers on the running Firefox instance. Instead, I use Ephiphany for such ad-hoc tasks. I read somewhere that opening an application is a problem in Gnome, apparently because the "app icon" isn't intuitive enough and it takes 2 clicks to get to the application list. Being and android user, the "app icon" tells me what it is. If you aren't an android user, exploring the dash will bring up a "Applications list" pop up when you hover over the icon. I don't think the 2 clicks trouble me either. Here's the thing: I hardly ever make the two clicks. Typing "web" into the search box in the activities menu brings up a bunch of web related things. I only need to check out the entire list when I need to use one of those applications that I use once a week or less. When this is the case, an extra click does not erk me.

What else do I use? "Settings" is easily available in the user menu on the top right. Bluetooth, network, volume, power management are all there too. I have nautilus on my favourites list in the dash, when I'm not using "mc".

I remember reading that changing the background in Gnome3 is an issue too, since there isn't a right click on the desktop. When I tried to change the desktop background the first time, I was already aware that a right click on the desktop would not work. I went to the "Settings" tool and found "Background" there. Since then, I type "Background" in the activities menu search box and access "Background" directly. I've noticed that the "Background" tool only lists images in the Pictures folder, but doesn't look into folders there, i.e., it doesn't search recursively. I'm not sure if this is a bug or intended behaviour, but it's something that could annoy some people (Note to self: file a bug requesting recursive listing after some research on the subject). The "workaround" is to simply view your image in Shotwell, the default image viewer, which lets you set the image as background.

On customizing Gnome3, I didn't need to. If you do, you should look at the many extensions available. If you want to move the core components around, the panel, the dash, the workspace switcher, you'd probably be better off using another DE. (I can't think of a reason I'd want to move them around personally.)

When I'm done using my system, I generally set it to hibernate. When I want to power down, the "user menu" is right there. Since I have a "Guest" user on my system, I do indeed have a logout option. There's an extension to make this option permanent if I'm not mistaken. You can also use "alt f2 gnome-session-quit", like I mostly do.

My father uses Gnome3. He's not a tech person. He's almost 60 and a doctor by profession. He hasn't had much trouble using it (if he had, he'd call me and go "how do you do $this?", and it hasn't happened over the past six months at least).

In conclusion, it works for me (and my father). What's even better, it works really well. I like to keep my fingers on the "home row" of my keyboard all the time. Moving my fingers to access the mouse/touchpad feels like a waste of time to me. In this environment, I can do almost everything without using the mouse. (Yes, I can browse the internet without using the mouse too: checkout Pentadactly for Firefox!). It's incredibly efficient for the work flow that I follow personally.

I'd really like you to give it a go. However, when you do, don't do it looking for a Windows style desktop. It's not what Gnome3 is trying to be. Give it a go with the expectation of something new! If you're open to learning a little, I'd think you'd be comfortable with the desktop within a week.

A note: If you "Gnome bash" in a comment, I will not approve the comment. It isn't because I can't take criticism, it's because I've had enough of it. If it isn't working for you, you're free to criticize it on your blog or chime in with the many already doing it.

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