Eight Ways GNOME Could be Improved

Monday Jun 7th 2010 by Matt Hartley
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A longtime GNOME user suggests a number of improvements to the Linux desktop, some simple, some major.

Not too long back, I highlighted my feelings on KDE, detailing some of its shortcomings and talking about why it’s not necessarily the de facto desktop I’d recommend to people.

In this piece, I want to show you that the GNOME desktop has a number of issues that need attention as well. I’ll outline eight areas in GNOME that need to be improved for a better user experience.

1)Why Nautilus?

No seriously, why is GNOME relying on this bloated file manager when it could instead be taking notes from the design of XFCE's Thunar file manager instead? Having used both file managers, I find that Thunar's performance is much less intense and provides everything I could ever want without the extra resource overhead.

2) Applications almost always are gray.

Despite KDE providing "options overkill," GNOME's simplicity may be a little too...simple. I love the simplicity of the desktop at its core, but the appearance of the applications can be a real downer. While I can theme my desktop easily enough, why not allow me to theme Evolution or other GTK-based applications running on the GNOME desktop? I believe that having access to cleaner menus and more color choices doesn't really seem like all that much to ask for on the GNOME desktop.

3) Panels appear unstable.

The GNOME panels are not normally so bad at first, but I have had instances where my CPU throttling applet would not load right and instead displays a gray box where the applet should otherwise appear. On other occasions, one of the GNOME panels might simply crash and find itself having to automatically restart itself. Not a deal breaking issue per se, but definitely unappealing for most people.

Now, to be ultimately fair, I should concede that I’m unsure if this is actually a GNOME panel problem or a video driver rendering issue with the various desktops I’ve witnessed this on. It only happens occasionally, yet I’ve seen the problem on NVIDIA, ATI and Intel video card-based computers. This leads me to think this may be a GNOME issue based on the findings. But there may very well be a non-Desktop environment issues at hand here. I’m leaning toward thinking it’s a GNOME problem, though.

4) Functions within any GNOME app are boring.

Taking the complaint about a lack of any real creative UI design with applications even further, the GNOME desktop suffers from the same boring buttons of all GNOME apps. I'd love to see a little bit of animation with a subtle slide as I open something, but without needing to rely on Compiz Fusion to do so. Surprise me, try something unique and different with the GTK based menu – please!

5) Lack of a control panel installed by default.

Despite having one available in the repositories for easy installation, the GNOME desktop lacks this by default. Some will point out that this is more of a KDE approach to a menuing layout, but I beg to differ. The control panel has been around for a long time now for GNOME users. It's nothing new, rather something that is not included by default for some unknown reason.

Considering this does nothing to change or otherwise hinder the existing menuing experience, perhaps it's worth adding this feature in with default GNOME installations? Many people are unaware of this as an option otherwise. It might be helpful to give the new GNOME convert a second means of navigating through the GNOME based menus.

6) Network manager is difficult to work around.

I’m not entirely sure this is a GNOME problem, as it would appear to be connected to PolicyKit. When trying to work with two wireless connections at once, GNOME decides by default, no matter how many times I blacklist or disable the adapter, to select the adapter of its choosing – not mine. It's frustrating and I’ve found this to the case on multiple notebooks using GNOME, yet I am unable to duplicate the issue in KDE using the same devices. I finally ended up using Wicd instead of GNOME's network manager, as Wicd gives me stronger control over what I needed in this area. Using Wicd, I was able to select the second adapter for my wireless connection by avoiding GNOME's network manager altogether.

I feel this should have never been a problem in the first place. And considering that the GNOME provided network-admin option also fails miserably, it's fortunate that a side project was up to the task of doing what GNOME wasn't.

7) Deleted your panel? Good luck getting it back to normal.

While it is possible, it remains a bit daunting if you're unfamiliar with the names of the applets and other additions that come with a panel out of the box. I remember when I first switched from KDE to GNOME. Somehow I managed to delete my lower panel and it took me a bit to get it back. Sadly, all the applets and other things that normally come with it were missing. So I was left diving through a variety of options trying to recover everything. In response, I propose a recover default top and/or bottom panel option in GNOME. Seems a bit obvious to me.

8) Consistent pages for GNOME projects.

Perhaps I am missing out on some cryptic purpose for making Projects.GNOME.org as devoid of useful information as possible? No, wait. That is not entirely true. Many of their pages contain a great deal of detail on project status, bugs, etc. Yet sadly some of the less known projects have pages that yield absolutely nothing of value.

There seems to be a glaring mix of decent and terrible page design within the same site. Worse, there’s a lack of uniform feeling to the pages. This makes trying to go from one project to another within Projects.GNOME confusing and a bit annoying to the eye. A consistent experience would be fantastic.

Where GNOME drops the ball is also where it excels best

The thing about a desktop environment like GNOME is you either love or hate it. There are just not that many people out there who will with a straight face, claim that they really don't prefer a specific desktop environment over another. Any "daily Linux user" out there has a preferred desktop. Claiming otherwise, is simply not very likely.

I happen to enjoy the GNOME desktop myself, over all of the alternatives. But by no means do I think that GNOME is flawless or in any way, the best desktop out there for everyone. Better for select groups of people. Sure. Perfect? Not even close. It's a desktop with as many flaws as one can expect from anything under such ongoing heavy development.

Lucky for us, the libraries for the applications in question are generally usable across the Linux spectrum. This translates into GTK and KDE apps running back and forth with minimal problems. And let's be honest, being able to switch it up does help the user experience sometimes!

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