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Dear Gnome devs: Please stop trashing Gnome!

Death by a thousand paper cuts

Lots of ink has been spilled about the Gnome project being in a downward spiral, about Gnome 3 being a mess, and so on. After moving from Ubuntu Natty (featuring Gnome 2) to Ubuntu Precise (which features some version of Gnome 3), I mostly agree with those thoughts. There’ve been a lot of little papercut-style “improvements” that have been irritating me constantly:

All of these are annoyances, and not all are the fault of the Gnome project. On the grand scale of things they’re not too bad. Despite the firestorm over Gnome’s decline my usage pattern hasn’t meant it’s been a serious problem for me.

But not anymore.

The last straw

I had heard that the new version of Nautilus was losing a few features that had people up in arms. But I didn’t know how many were being cut until I read this poll from OMG! Ubuntu.

Type ahead find removed? New file template removed? Tree view removed? Backspace shortcut removed? I use all of these every single day! They’re mature features that have been tested in the wild for years. And now they’re being removed because of a seemingly lone developer’s grand vision.

What kind of project is this, where a single developer can force his skewed vision on a mature product in use by millions of people? Who’s behind the Gnome vision anyway? Even a Gnome co-founder is calling this “feature vandalism”.

I can’t sit by idly any longer. I sat by while other features got cut, and I moved aside when Gnome Shell barged in, even when I knew Gnome Classic would be deprecated soon. But now the feature cutting is starting to hurt me personally. It’s time to add my voice to everyone else’s and tell the Gnome devs loud and clear: Stop trashing Gnome!

Why don’t you just switch to KDE/XFCE/XYZ?

I can hear the advice already. “The Linux ecosystem is rich and it’s based on choice. Just switch do a different DE!”

But I don’t want to. I’ve been using Gnome for years and years. I’m used to how the entire Gnome ecosystem of apps works. I’m used to Gnome’s quirks like Gconf and GDM. I’m used to Gedit and I like it. My personal collection of scripts are heavily dependent on Gnome functionality. For the most part Gnome apps (at least in Gnome 2) work well with a minimum of fuss. And I’m at the point in my career where dicking around with a desktop environment is no longer a fun hobby, it’s a unwelcomed chore that distracts me from my real day job.

Sure I could switch to KDE or use Thunar instead of Nautilus or whatever. I could use XFCE and install the handful of Gnome apps I want to keep using. But that sucks and I have better things to do with my time. Nautilus and the Gnome app family have been working perfectly for years, and I shouldn’t have to be forced to change just because a lone developer on a feature rampage personally never uses the tree view.

A personal entreaty to the Gnome developers

Stop it. Please just stop it.

Biting the hand that feeds

Gnome should strive for sensible defaults and progressive customization. In fact I think Gnome 2 was a really good example of that. For the most part the defaults made sense. Intermediate users could tweak a few settings buried in a variety of menus. Power users could tweak Gconf for deep/dangerous customization that intermediate users would never mess with.

Right now Gnome 3 is turning in to senseless defaults and no customization. Why would anyone stick with that? The answer is, they won’t. People like me are going to finally get fed up when enough of their favorite features gets vandalized, and they’re going to stop telling their friends about Gnome. Without the power users—who, by the way, are by and large the only users of desktop Linux—to evangelize your software, you’re going to wither and die.

Keep changing things like this every few years and Gnome truly will remain an enthusiast’s software project. Keep treating your users like you hate them and you won’t have any users anymore.

Gnome is an excellent project and one that I want to see succeed. Gnome devs, please don’t drive it into the ground with this “simple and beautiful” cargo-cult nonsense.


  1. Suresh Kapoor

    I wholly agree!

    Gnome devs! Reducing functionality is in no way a great example of simplicity. If you design your products for idiots, idiots will use it! Let Canonical bash themselves up with all of their Mac envy and chasing simplicity.

    In just about everyone’s opinion, GNOME 2 was remarkably better than what 3 is. ‘Senseless defaults and no customization’ is the most apt thing I can think of. The cooler thing about using linux is that it can be tweaked.

    Us geeks like those options. We like to customize. Customizing is great. I want 2-dimensional workspace switching, customizable panels, customizable fonts, customizable colours. That sound familiar? Wait, were some great features actually REMOVED in this major release of GNOME?

    Idiots! The whole simplicity thing doesn’t mean you REMOVE features, you just display them in the most complicated way there is! I don’t want my computer to look like an OS X wannabe, please!

  2. anechoic

    yes — exactly why I’ve stuck with Ubuntu 10.10 and plan on switching to Mint/MATE this winter. Gnome *is* becoming grandmaware just like Unity. This whole move to tablet/smartphone DE model is merely dumbing down computing for the masses.

  3. Kyle

    I agree. I have actually moved away from gnome in favor of XFCE

  4. Marty Fried

    You stated my feelings well — I loved Gnome 2 with my set of customizations; I finally got really comfortable with it, and along came gnomes hell — I mean, gnome shell (or do I?). What were they thinking?

    I’ve never liked KDE — it just never clicked with me. I keep trying XFCE, but find it too crude for my tastes, and it takes way too much work to get it into some semblance of what I’d want — mainly, I’d need to add most of the Gnome environment, I think.

    I hate it when people say things like “just switch to XFCE — it’s just like Gnome 2”. Yeah, in the way that a cat is just like a dog! I also hate when people who love Gnome shell (or Unity) think I’m either a Luddite, crazy, or just a “hater” who wants to make trouble.

    I use Gnome classic, too, and it’s not too bad for me. But I’m not very optimistic about its future, either long term or immediate.

  5. Mike

    These are some of the reasons why I stopped talking about Gnome and moved to XFCE that resembles a lot to the Gnome 2 DE

  6. Fewt

    We are currently evaluating options which include forking GNOME 2.

    (as posted on reddit a few minutes ago)

    My plan is to take all of the work we currently have in Fuduntu’s GNOME 2 and merge it into the sources (we are still working from the forked Fedora sources but are applying and maintaining patches). Afterwards, rebrand it all so we can integrate it with GNOME 3, and then move it forward fixing bugs and continuing to beautify and modernize the product while retaining the classic desktop.

    This is what I have so far: http://ompldr.org/vZXhwNQ — It just needs to be cleaned up a little more and rebranded.

    Ideally we can build a community around it external to Fuduntu where it can also be adopted by other distributions. I’m starting to put the formal plan together and then I’ll get it out there in hopes that we can build something great.

  7. Vadim P.

    Ideally, the person behind the latest Nautilus changes will actually listen to the community and give a good explanation — some criticism is to be ignored, but I feel that this is getting out of hand and this needs to be explained for.

    Being on Ubuntu who’s always and will be patching away some of the most controversial Gnome changes (like no “new folder” button in the file picker), I’m not too worried about the upcoming changes.

  8. Ronny

    Just give up and embrace another window manager, you won’t regret it. I was in the same position. I have used Gnome 2 for years and years and was perfectly happy and intended to keep using it forever. But then came Gnome 3. I have used it for over 6 months, I figured it had some early problems and was more than willing to give it time to stabilize and mature. But everything that was good in Gnome 2 is just not there anymore, and with every update stuff gets worse instead of improving. As time passed I was getting more and more irritated by the way even simple tasks have become practically impossible to perform, and felt insulted by the way the desktop has been dumbed down to the extreme. To make matters worse the posts written by the Gnome developers in the bug reports make it clear that this is not going to improve ever. Every insightful bug report or suggestion is getting shot down with some nonsense reason. This got me into a downward spiral up to a point where I realised that I was simply not enjoying my computer anymore but loathing every minute of it.

    I then tried out a number of WMs and distros over a period of a few weeks in a virtual machine and was very impressed with Awesome on Arch Linux, this is a tiling window manager which is absolutely not for everyone, but fits my way of working better than I could ever imagine. I am now extremely happy again, and more productive even than I was on Gnome 2!

    So just take the plunge and use another WM, forget about Gnome, it is a sinking ship, don’t waste your time on it any longer!

  9. Anon

    Hopfully Canonical will take the lead here and just start slowly forking and making their own replacements. There aren’t that many other alternatives, and while I’d prefer if it still were a 3rd party that’s handling those apps, the Gnome foundation is obviously not the one to do that. The lack of goals and the target of touch-based UI is disconcerning, and the fact that they are not able to admit even the slightest mistake makes them so much more of a problem to deal with.

    But OS X shouldn’t be held up as a golden standard, it’s far from it. As a first time user, you’re confused and unable to discern what you’re supposed to do. And it’s hard to find anything. Nothing sohuld be held up as a golden standard, we should just do Q&As with the changes and see what do people think about it and what do the expect.

  10. Sasha Shepherd

    The answer is simple — forking.

    Gnome devs, if you want to radically redesign Gnome. fork it.

    Leave the Gnome 2 everyone knows and loves, and start a new fork. Call it ‘smurf.’ Then, do whatever you want with it. Voila, everyone is happy.

    But DON’T go radically changing GNOME and keeping the same name! It is blatantly irresponsible!

    Unwilling convert to XFCE

  11. SAB

    You said everything I wanted to say… When I tried Fedora with the Gnome 3 I was disappointed with “improvements”… Removed minimize and maximize buttons ???? What the f****….

    I’m sorry to say this but the team behind the Mint distribution is the only team which goes in the right direction…

  12. Gosset Inofensiu

    At last, someone gets to the point. Congratulations, great post.

  13. Roberto Guerra

    I love Gnome 3. I switched to Gnome 3 from WindowMaker when my upgrading ubuntu on my laptop a few months ago. The upgrade broke my WM installation. I decided to give Gnome 3 a shot and I am loving every bit of it. I really don’t understand what the fuss is all about.

    You mention you don’t want to waste time customizing your desktop, and then you demand for more customization options? I don’t understand this. If you really want it, there is an extension for that. I’m perfectly happy with the default settings myself.

    You also mention how Apple has OS X for the desktop and iOS for mobile, well, if you haven’t noticed, iOS is starting to merge into OS X. Lots of iOS features are showing up on OS X. The dock will eventually disappear and they are using Launchpad more and more. Eerily similar to Gnome 3. This time, Gnome 3 was way ahead of the curve. Maybe its ahead of its time.

    I had always wanted a DE that was not trying to be like OS X or Windows. Gnome 3 was the first to break away from that trend, hopefully it will stick around. I don’t think it needs to revert just so its old users are happy. To be competitive they have to take risks. To enjoy developing for it, it has to be in the cutting edge.

    WM for example, is still alive and kicking and being developed. It doesn’t have lots of users, but it is an awesome window manager and I love it. Most ppl don’t understand it, they need to see the icons so they can click on it. But WM/NeXT has influenced the current state of the desktop more than anything out there and those features have slowly crept back into the major DE. I believe Gnome3 will have the same effect. Either new users starting out will choose it, or a few years further down, those still sticking to Gnome 2 will start to see features from Gnome 3 seeping in.

    Keep the course guys.

  14. Leo

    I completely agree with the OP. Why would I want a random list of files opened at some point upon opening the file chooser? There needs to be an option to disable this and specify a directory or use the last opened folder. Worse yet, this horrible feature has seemed to infect LXDE and XFCE as well. The MATE team ought to fix this since the Gnome guys seem to like forcing useless annoying features on people. It’s too bad that Canonical wants to copy Windows 8 by using Unity instead of a tried-and-true interface that allows customization. I used to love it that I could customize the menus and menu bars in gnome 2 under Ubuntu. Gnome 3 doesn’t allow customization and is buggier than Vista; What gives? Don’t fix or “innovate” what ain’t broke.

  15. Harish.K

    Great blog….
    You said the exact points..
    I moved from default ‘gnome session’ to a a custom ‘gnome-session’ made with cairo-dock, openbox, xcompmanager, and spacefm. Its hosted in source-forge as opencairo.
    Within these componets, openbox and spacefm are heavily configurable. so we can obtain a 85% shortcuts working.
    But still there is no solution for irritating ‘recently-used’ stuff in file-chooser dialogs.

    Please update your blog if you find any hopefull news ..

  16. James

    I absolutely agree with this article. This article was posted in 2012, well it’s 2015 and Gnome is still being bastardized.

    If I knew more about software dev I would fork Gnome 3 and start a new project which respects users and not treats them like idiots.

    The latest update for example, Eye of Gnome incorporating a SCROLL BAR into the title bar of is window, save buttons and preference buttons, just to name a few are just plain stupid. Why can’t that be in a tool bar? How the hell do we turn that scroll bar off now??

    Moving menus out of the application and into the main activities bar as a drop down is stupid. Move them all or preferably, don’t fuck with my menus Gnome!

    The recent folder drives me absolutely crazy! Why do I have to see that damned thing every time I open or save. I absolutely agree, there is no privacy in this regard. I found this post TRYING to figure out how to disable that default setting. Any help??

    Gnome seems to pride themselves as UI experts. The problem is they suck and are alienating their user base.

    Ubuntu went through a mass exodus, I am sure Gnome is experiencing this or will be very shortly.

    Gnome 2 was great! And now all the features that I used to use are non-existent. Don’t get me started on Gnomes stance on screensavers. Ugh.

  17. James Murray

    The application rot continues. I use Gedit daily.
    I just had the misfortune to download Gedit 3.20 on Windows. It has the features I use removed or dumbed down to the extent that I dislike it so much that I’ve removed it already. 3.18 on my Linux desktop is bad enough.

    What’s the best source for earlier versions that actually had a normal menu bar, normal file->open dialogue and didn’t have that dumb search ?