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:
- The “open file” (and “save file”!) dialog default to Recently Used instead of Home. I disable recently used–the hard way, I might add, since there’s of course no privacy option to disable it, so every time the Open File dialog opens up I have to move my mouse around to pick my Home folder.
- Gedit messed with its default “Find” feature, so that contrary to nearly every GUI app in existence the “esc” key now brings you to the top of the document instead of closing the find dailog. I’m still tearing my hair out every time I use it because my muscle memory can’t be broken–especially when every other app does it differently!
- The incomplete and haphazard migration from gconf to dconf, so many advanced settings are sometimes, but not always, moved, their names have changed, and there’s no clear way of finding out what setting is where and what it does. Some settings have no effect if you change them! The last bastion of power-user customization has been left a ruin during Gnome’s transition to having no user-facing settings whatsoever.
- My dislike for Gnome Shell means I have to use Gnome Classic, which has somehow regressed horribly in terms of theme glitches and general stability.
- Flaky keyboard shortcut support that doesn’t seem to work most of the time any more.
- Indicator applets not playing nice with Gnome Classic, so they’re almost unusable if not for a rough unofficial patch provided by a kind non-project developer.
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.
- Grandmas using Linux will not become a reality in the next 20 years. Don’t target them! Win the geeks by polishing what you have, not by ignoring them and chasing after a golden unicorn instead.
- Gnome on the tablet won’t become a reality either, at least not with Gnome Shell in the state that it’s in. Let’s be realistic here.
- Microsoft is getting bashed left and right for their terrible attempt at merging touch and desktop in Windows 8. Theirs is not the lead to follow! Look at OSX: desktop and touch separate, with just a handful of tasteful features cherry-picked between the two. How many complaints do you hear about the usability of OSX?
- Simplicity is not the same as slashing-and-burning features that you personally never use. I know that 37signal’s web 3.0 siren song of “simple and beautiful” is tempting, but it’s done more damage than good: Developers get sucked in to this “people only understand simple” fantasy world and forget that they’re developers, not designers, and not only that but in this case they don’t even represent their own target market.
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.