kmod's blog


GNOME Shell: it’s awesome, but I won’t use it

I attended a talk today from some of the developers on the GNOME Shell project.  I have to say, the stuff they're doing is pretty visually impressive.  They seemed to have some pretty solid design ideas from a UX perspective.  And watching how easy it was to add extensions was really cool.

Basically, they have brought web programming to the desktop.  Except instead of controlling your browser, you're controlling OpenGL elements.  It was pretty neat watching them write javascript code, restart the shell, and all of a sudden they had new effects.  Like the first time I started using a javascript library and saw all the visual effects in it, but this time not such a performance suck.

It's (unofficially?) part of their design doc to make GNOME Shell "f***ing amazing", and I think they're doing a good job of getting there.

There are some things I don't like about it, though.  They moved the level at which you can configure the system by swapping modules.  They make it really easy to create (somewhat) superficial effects by creating modules, or changing the source.  But they took some of the things that are modules in GNOME 2.x and baked them into the GNOME Shell architecture.  In particular, they made metacity (the window manager) an integral part of their architecture.  So no, it does not look like GNOME Shell will ever support other window managers.  Which sucks, because right now I use xmonad with GNOME, which I like a lot.

I suppose it doesn't really matter, though.  A lot of the work that they're doing in GNOME shell is to make workspace and window management more intuitive for nontechnical, casual, users.  So I'm guessing that if you're technically inclined enough to switch out your window manager, then you're not going to need most of the functionality in GNOME Shell.

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  1. I have to say that it doesn’t seemed to me to have turned out quite that way. The big thing I’ve noticed is that it’s the first time I’ve found gesture-like functionality for switching windows and desktops at least as easy as the keyboard shortcuts. I actually find myself using the activities functionality to switch sometimes windows instead of alt-tab. I’ve even been using it sometimes to switch virtual workspaces instead of ctrl-alt-aup/down. It really makes for a great workflow. It may have been intended to make these features more accessible to non-expert users, but I find them to be just as functional as the keyboard and way more fun. Or rather, it would, if it didn’t get slow and freeze up and restart/refresh. Not sure if it’s a driver problem or what, but that’s my biggest gripe.

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