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What Would Linus Do About GNOME 3? Why, Use Xfce

By Katherine Noyes
Aug 8, 2011 5:00 AM PT

Debates are always plentiful here in the Linux blogosphere, and the topic of desktop environments is no exception.

What Would Linus Do About GNOME 3? Why, Use Xfce

That may be more true now than ever before, in fact, thanks to GNOME 3, which has come to rival only Unity in the controversy it has caused.

It's one thing when a mere mortal user criticizes GNOME; however, it's quite another when none other than Linus Torvalds does. Yet that, it seems, is just what recently happened.

'Why Can't I Have Shortcuts?'

"The user experience of Gnome3 even without rendering problems is unacceptable," wrote Torvalds in a conversation late last month on Google+. "Why can't I have shortcuts on my desktop? Why can't I have the expose functionality? Wobbly windows? Why does anybody sane think that it's a good idea to have that 'go to the crazy activities' menu mode?

"I used to be upset when gnome developers decided it was 'too complicated' for the user to remap some mouse buttons," Torvalds added. "In gnome3, the developers have apparently decided that it's 'too complicated' to actually do real work on your desktop, and have decided to make it really annoying to do."

As an example of "the crazy," Torvalds cited the predicament facing a user who wants to open a new terminal window.

'That's Just Crazy Crap'

"So you go to 'activities' and press the 'terminal' thing that you've made part of your normal desktop thing (but why can't I just have it on the desktop, instead of in that insane 'activities' mode?)," he griped. "What happens? Nothing. It brings your existing terminal to the forefront.

"That's just crazy crap," he added. "Now I need to use Shift-Control-N in an old terminal to bring up a new one. Yeah, that's a real user experience improvement. Sure."

In short, blaming those and other "head up the arse" behaviors in GNOME 3, Torvalds has switched to Xfce, he said: "I think it's a step down from gnome2, but it's a huge step up from gnome3. Really."

'I Agree with Linus'

It took a few days for the news of Torvalds' comments to hit the wires of the Linux blogosphere, but once it did, "crazy" is a fair description of the speed at which it traveled. In no time at all, the topic dominated all others at every bar, saloon and watering hole in the Linux blogosphere.

Luckily, Linux Girl was ready, Quick Quotes Quill in hand.

"I agree with Linus here," opined Chris Travers, a Slashdot blogger who works on the LedgerSMB project. "GNOME 3 is an unholy mess. The interface requires too many clicks to find things and without 3D acceleration it is hardly usable. The GNOME 2 interface was good; GNOME 3 is both awkward and clunky."

Still, "it is nice to be reminded by Linus that we have a choice," Travers added. "I expect to help bring this choice to more of my Linux-using friends."

'A Beast I've Never Tamed'

Slashdot blogger yagu took a similar view.

"I don't care much what Linus does or doesn't do," yagu told Linux Girl. "But I must agree Gnome is a beast I've never tamed."

The proliferation of Linux desktops "blesses with choice," yagu added. "I choose simple. It took me a long time to leave Tom's Window Manager (twm), and I was long happy with FVWM (no idea what that stands for). Both were simple, functional, and highly configurable window managers, and I could basically create my own desktop experience."

'Noisy, Annoying and Distracting'

The "high octane desktop experience," on the other hand, "I find only a modest leap for many of the reasons Linus gives for dropping Gnome 3," yagu went on. "Highly textured and layered, these uber-window managers are interesting other choices for users, but I find them mostly noisy, annoying and distracting. Eye candy is nice but doesn't contribute to my productivity at the end of the day."

Yagu now uses KDE. He finds it "mostly functional," he noted, but "would beg off were it not for some apps I find necessary which require KDE to run.

"Therein lies the rub," yagu concluded. "I don't want technology bleeding into all of my activities to the point that I must run some monster to do simple tasks. Gnome seems to have always been that monster for me."

'I Love Xfce'

GNOME 3 is "going in a direction people don't want to go, where the set 'people' includes Linus," Hyperlogos blogger Martin Espinoza opined.

"I opted for Unity, so even people who like eye candy are dodging GNOME 3," Espinoza added. "I don't know where I'm going next; perhaps I'll go back to Enlightenment just to be contrary."

Consultant and Slashdot blogger Gerhard Mack, meanwhile, is an Xfce fan.

"I love Xfce and have been using it for years," he told Linux Girl.

'It Just Works'

"It really seems that OS designers in general, and window manager designers especially, have forgotten what an OS is for: to allow me to get work done," Mack pointed out.

"I don't want the single most used software on my system (the WM shell) to be written in an interpreted language," he added. "Fancy 3D spinning cubes to change virtual desktops might amaze other people, but they are actually SLOWER than just having the desktop switcher on the bar.

"Xfce seems to get this," Mack said. "It's written in a compiled language, the interface is light and it has just enough eye candy to look nice (shadows, etc.). I dump the dock thing and have as many menu bars as I want. Dual monitors are handled well."

In short, Xfce "just works and is efficient enough that I still have plenty of CPU/RAM left to get actual work done with my system," Mack concluded.

'If It Ain't Broke...'

Slashdot blogger hairyfeet marveled that Linus was ever using GNOME to begin with.

"Isn't Gnome the 'we know what's best for you' desktop?" hairyfeet pointed out. "It would seem like a kernel hacker would want more control than that."

In any case, too often in the world of FOSS developers seem to follow "the 'If it ain't broke we'll break it!' design mantra," hairyfeet opined. "Is a world without bling like a world without sunshine to these guys?"

In the cases of both KDE3 and GNOME 2, for example, "you had well-vetted, well-maintained, low-resource code that most of the major bugs had been worked out of," he explained. "So what happened? Did seeing Aero and the latest OSX builds just cause everyone to be so dang bling-deprived they couldn't wait to toss stuff away?

"Slow and steady wins the race," hairyfeet concluded. "If it ain't broke, DON'T FIX IT!!!"

'They Have the Choice'

Blogger Robert Pogson, on the other hand, took a higher-level view.

"GNOME 3, like Ubuntu's Unity, is change for the sake of change," Pogson told Linux Girl.

Still, "if the users don't like it, they have the choice to use other interfaces," he added. "Linus and I both like XFCE4. It gets the job done and lets me do what I need to do."

Some people "do dangerous things; others do boring things," Pogson pointed out. "There's no explaining what people are motivated to do."

Nevertheless, "as long as we have plenty of choice and the freedom to change things, it's OK with me," he concluded.

Katherine Noyes has been writing from behind Linux Girl's cape since late 2007, but she knows how to be a reporter in real life, too. She's particularly interested in space, science, open source software and geeky things in general. You can also find her on Twitter.

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