So it seems this is a week for gnome-shell bashing. I’ve been using gnome-shell on my laptop since Fedora 15 came out. That’s just over two months now. Whilst I use my laptop a reasonable amount, it doesn’t represent all of my computer usage. There are three other desktops in my life — one in the lab, one at home, and another that one might call a “media centre” desktop in the lounge. The laptop and media PC got updated to F15 as soon as it arrived, and I upgraded the other desktops about a week ago. I think the only machine that gnome-shell has been close to pleasant to use on is the lounge PC. This isn’t really saying much though — it’s only really used to run MythFace, Firefox, and VLC. Certainly nothing like real desktop use, which involves much higher numbers of windows from a variety of applications, some of which will stay around for weeks as I move back and forth between the various activities that I do.
I find it terribly difficult to work out what is a bug and what is a feature in gnome-shell. Here are some things that perplex me:
- Multiple monitors: My desktops both have two monitors. I’d read that when it was released, gnome-shell didn’t work very well with multihead setups. However, I later read that this had been fixed. Unfortunately it has some rather odd behaviour. It seems that virtual desktops only apply to the primary monitor. Windows placed on the second monitor are essentially what some window managers call “sticky”. The effect of this is that one monitor is almost unmanageable, and can only be used to hold something that you’re likely to want to be able to see at all times — e.g. mail client, a browser window with a video of keyboard cat in it, and IRC.
- Lack of desktop thumbnails: Gnome 2.x had a nice little virtual-desktop pager applet. In this applet, one could see the arrangements of the windows that were on other desktops. This made it quite easy to get an immediate idea of where you’d put things you were doing, and how to get to them. gnome-shell removes this always-visible preview, leaving you to either randomly scroll around all your desktops until one is found, or press the “Super” key, move the mouse to the right-hand side of the screen so the previews are shown, then click on the one you wanted.
- Alt-tab behaviour: There are things that irritate me about gnome-shell’s alt-tab behaviour, but there also things that I completely fail to comprehend as design decisions. I (perhaps wrongly) expect holding alt and tapping tab to show me a list of the windows that are on my current desktop. gnome-shell behaves quite differently to this expectation. It groups windows by application. alt-tabbing to Firefox will bring all my Firefox windows on top of my other windows. This is rarely what I want. Furthermore, the alt-tab menu shows me all the windows from all of my virtual desktops. This leads to a vomit-inducing merry-go-round desktop-switching frenzy every time I want to make my way to the window I want. I’m not sure if this was a design goal…
- The damn suspend thing: Everyone must have heard this one by now. Shutting the laptop lid leads to suspend. There is no option to stop this happening. If I am on some kind of IM and want to walk into another room, I now have to keep my laptop open, otherwise my network connections will go down and the people I’m talking to will think that I’ve gone away.
- Enforced screen-saver: We often watch films on the lounge PC. Having to hit a button on the keyboard every so often to stop the screen going black is quite annoying. gnome-shell has removed the option of disabling the screen-saver. You must now touch your computer every hour!
- Pausing music: I listen to a lot of music using rhythmbox. In gnome 2 when I wanted to pause music (perhaps because I wanted to speak to someone), I’d right click on the little rhythmbox icon that was always there in the top-right of the screen, and hit pause on the menu that came up. Now pausing my music takes much longer, as I have to get gnome-shell to dance through desktops to locate rhythmbox first. Ugh.
I am finding it a lot slower to get things done under gnome-shell. There’s a lot of animation and stuff going on, and managing more than three windows is a challenging task. I think two months of daily use should be enough to adjust to something — especially something that claims to have been designed! Of course, gnome is a release-early release-often outfit, so hopefully it’ll improve in the future.
When I started using Linux about 8 years ago, I originally used KDE. A year and half later, around about the time I ditched the Windows partition from my PC, I switched to using Xfce. Gnome 2.x was around at that time, but it was quite slow to load, and didn’t really offer me anything extra that I needed. I could run all the same applications under Xfce as Gnome, I just didn’t have to wait as long for my laptop to boot. Then Gnome 2’s loading speeds got much faster, and so I switched over to that. I’ve used Gnome ever since then. Maybe it’s time to go back to Xfce until gnome-shell has had a significant overhaul, or has been completely replaced by something better.
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