The User Perspective

I was a computer and GNU/Linux newbie once. Alas, it was such a relatively long time ago that I don’t remember the associated feeling anymore. Of course, I do see the difference between a user-friendly desktop environment or GNU/Linux distribution and one that is geared towards experienced users or even veterans. Especially, when I’m dead tired after a 12-hour working day! That was one of the reasons I embraced the GNOME3 experience as part of my Fedora 23 and openSUSE Leap/Tumbleweed escapade. Gladly, habits die hard and I’m back with the lean and simple Manjaro Linux.

While helping out some fledgeling GNU/Linux users, I noticed that there is a drastic correlation between the number of competent computer users and the user-friendliness of a GNU/Linux distribution. No rocket science here. The real catch is that in a user-friendly GNU/Linux distribution much more manpower is needed to maintain the expected array of functionalities. However, there are less technically-inclined users to provide the requisite manpower. Tricky business, right? People come to take, because a distribution advertizes itself as there for the taking. Also, it’s much easier to take than to give.

I can empathize with newbie computer and GNU/Linux users, though I don’t always understand them. To me helping someone and giving advice is a two-sided coin. It’s not only about them receiving the answer, but also about them digesting it. To my complete dismay, the latter is often lacking and I am left with a response which will never be understood by my recipient. One of the rules governing our beautiful universe is that there are no simple answers. They can be simplified or generalized, sure. Who do they do justice, though?

I think this is not a problem of modern computing, but of modern society. Taking is easy and talking is cheap. People should learn and we GNU/Linux users should teach them that in order to take, one should also give something in return. That’s the only way intellectual barter can work.

Fear the GNOMEs No More!

For a very long time I have been a zealous proponent of minimalist desktop environments and window managers, loathing bloated creations such as KDE or GNOME with passion. It baffled me how many GNU/Linux distributions would ship with either of those by default (openSUSE, Debian, Fedora Linux, etc.). To me more usually meant less in terms of freedom and control. Then, I noticed how little time I have for playing around with Unices and that the computer should eventually serve me as a tool for software development, blogging, listening to music and such. Hence, with lots of initial twitching I decided to settle for one of the big DEs – GNOME3.

gnome_logo

Just to get a few things straight and out of the water – GNOME3 is not without vices:

  • Bearing in mind the dramatic change from GNOME2 to GNOME3 and how both MATE and Cinnamon are actually evolved instances of GNOME2, GNOME3 should be the one to fork and should not even hold the name GNOME. That would prevent a lot of pain, grudges and dissatisfaction.
  • Initial iterations of GNOME3 were riddled with bugs and made for a very unstable working environment.
  • When things go wrong with GNOME3, it’s difficult to troubleshoot due to the uninformative error notifications (Oops, something went wrong!).
  • To some GNOME3 may feel oversimplified and lacking in content.

Now, all of the above is absolutely true, however one has to consider that any new technology goes through extensive user hazing before things start working more often than not. KDE4 also received a shower of complaints when it was officially released. As of GNOME3 version 3.14, many of the previous bugs are gone or are at least significantly limited. Also, some of the bad reputation GNOME3 received was because Fedora shipped it before it was stable enough for daily use. I feel GNOME3 actually deserves some praise and does many things in a very intuitive way:

  • Rotating between opened apps and documents gives a minimized view of each window for inspection.
  • The main panel contains only the essential information, but supports notifications and extensions.
  • Favorite programs (shortcuts) can be placed in a left-sided dock, while more are accessible from the Applications menu.
  • The Applications menu lists only a number of apps at a time to avoid confusion.
  • The file manager Nautilus provides all of the most important features (view mode, hidden files toggle, folder creation, etc.) within barely 2 sub-menus.
  • It can still be customized to look slightly more classical!

I am still a GNU/Linux veteran at heart and for dated hardware I would surely select something more lightweight like Xfce or Openbox. However, on less limiting hardware I believe GNOME3 displays great snapiness and offers the bare essentials to make everyday computing just pleasant.