Software, Technology

Review: Gnome-shell Fail

Panels, menus, panels, menus. Blah. Blah.

Except I quite like panels and menus. My panel (one-of) and menus are standardised, stripped down affairs. I run light, I multi-task within a very restricted program set.

Gnome-3 will feature Gnome-shell, the alternate program launcher, desktop environment thing. Its in the current Ubuntu repositories so you can try it yourself. Gnome-shell takes over as your launcher and window manager…

To quote the project home page:

“The Gnome Shell is the project being developed as the new interface for Gnome 3. It is being rewritten from the ground up to replace Metacity, Compiz, and the Gnome Panel. The direction the Gnome Shell is heading towards is to rework how we start and continue to work on tasks on a daily basis. It is by no means cutting corners, being written in the Clutter library and implementing the entire interface in 3D OpenGL.”

Gnome-shell changes your desktop metaphor; from your panels and menus, you get Activities, things you do; browsing, email, documents, media. These show up in the Activity “list” as either Applications, Places & Devices, or Recent Items. Click on your one big button – ‘Activities’ – and all windows reduce to  “thumbnail” view in a single gnome-shell window on top of everything.

  • The desktop view show either your desktop, or one or more applications open to work in.
  • The Activities overview is a multi-function panel with an overview of you active workspaces and open applications. You can only drag running applications between workspaces and select one as the active one.

The one remaining panel is minimalist to the extreme and you can’t get anything else in it.

Gnome-shell allows you to create multiple desktops (workspaces) to a ridiculous degree.

It’s still somewhat new and uses clutter as a back-end effect engine, so I didn’t put it on the working machines. You’ll have seen from a previous post, the install in the old test machine didn’t go well (old graphics card and insufficient texture mappers). However, one graphics card update later (thanks to Mat’s jumble box) the P4 is fighting fit again.

Gnome-Shell aims for you to use menus less. so it’s easy to access the search future in gnome-shell – tap the super key and start writing, or click in ‘Activities’. Someboy mention Gnome-do? No? Then I’ll continue.

The Gnome-Shell Desktop

There’s only a top bar, with a calendar widget, the ‘system tray’, a link to the activities overview and the name of the currently open application. My issues with it?

  • it doesn’t support searching for files. I still need a search application, or browse through directories.
  • it doesn’t support compiz at all – the few clutter effects aren’t customizable).
  • it isn’t customizable at all – change the window theme if you like, but the rest fixed, no tweaks.
  • the applications list is a faithful reproduction of  the Applications sym-links (short-cuts) folder. Therefore it is an unclassified, unsorted and incomplete list of whatever is symlinked in that folder; no editing or customisation unless you root around in Nautilus and edit symlinks yourself! This assumes a level of user knowledge and competance in order to find the stuff you know exists and don’t know the binary names to run!!! Where’s my Preferences and Administration panel???I have this problem with all the alternate launchers which use the Applications symlinks folder. This is not new-user friendly, this is not a step forward in UI design!

Installing
On Ubuntu Lucid, add the following to your /etc/apt/sources.list file:

deb http://ppa.launchpad.net/ricotz/testing/ubuntu lucid main
deb-src http://ppa.launchpad.net/ricotz/testing/ubuntu lucid main

Update your repositories and install through Synaptic or apt-get install gnome-shell. Launch using:

gnome-shell --replace

Which replaces metacity in your session. Put this in a startup script to make it permanent.

Verdict

Now that I’ve seen the Ubuntu Notebook Edition Launcher and even the Unity Launcher, Gnome-shell looks neither clear nor simple nor minimalist (are two ‘nor’s’ allowed in one sentence?).

Gnome-shell has nothing I want plus restrictions I don’t. Since I don’t use a lot of workspaces, it does nothing for me there, meanwhile the Activities view is way too confusing, failing to clearly delineate running vs. available applications. The Applications list is a half-arsed short-cut to something that doesn’t fill the brief. The current clutter engine has software compatibility clashes with other clutter applications.

Gnome-shell needs to get an upgrades, finishing and serious polish before the appearance of Gnome-3 in September. Currently it’s a dodo before it’s even released.   RC

About Robin Catling

Writer; performer; project manager; sports coach; all-round eccentric.

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