Thursday, April 18, 2013

Gnome 3.8 Takes a Step Backwards with Classic Mode

by Dietrich Schmitz

It's been quite a ride.  Originally, I was a Fedora Core 1 user.  Then, I became an openSUSE user beginning with version 9.2 and stayed in that camp until Novell's Ron Hovsepian cozied up to Microsoft in their inter-op joint venture of 2006.  That interoperability agreement was renewed in July 2011 and remains active today.

When it became clear that Novell was selling-out, I chose to move to Ubuntu.

During the span of time on Ubuntu, many changes occurred, most of which were innovative and well-received by the community.

Enter Unity--Canonical's Desktop Initiative.  

Mark Shuttleworth had a 'snoot full' with community upstream hindrances and battles.  There were attempts at compromise with The Gnome Project which fell through and led to the decision to initiate the Unity project.

Unity became the default GUI in Ubuntu 10.10 with 3D compositing special graphical effects. Eventually, Canonical decided to remove the Gnome 2.32 Classic Desktop from their login menu replaced by a Unity 2D option.  And, most recently, the Unity 2D open was removed entirely in Ubuntu 12.10.  If your machine's graphics card didn't have a suitable driver match or was blacklisted, Unity currently will default to using llvmpipe software graphics hardware emulation which effectively makes the machine a 'sloth'.  And with no Fallback option for 2D anymore, that means you are stuck.  Nice work Canonical.

On a parallel path, The Gnome Project introduced their Gnome Desktop GUI, version 3.0 which was met with strong criticism, even from Linus Torvalds.  Still, both Canonical and Gnome plodded ahead largely turning a deaf ear to complaints and urgent requests for feature enhancements that never got processed.

The end result is both Canonical and The Gnome Project have left behind a large core set of features that users have come to expect.  Initially, Gnome at least saw fit to provide a Fallback mode in 3.0 which gave users a panel with most of the functionality of the old Gnome 2.3x.

Gnome 3.8

Jumping to the present, in March 2013, the Gnome Team introduced version 3.8.  In this version, Fallback mode was removed entirely.  Instead, they erected a website with downloadable extensions to add specific plugin 'behaviors' lacking in the current feature set.  Collectively, the plugins for what they now refer to as Classic mode are: AlternateTab, Places Status Indicator, Applications Menu, Static workspaces, Window List, Default Minimize and Maximize and Launch New Instance.

When bundled and installed together, they do fill some of the feature deficits, but it is, I am afraid, incomplete.  For example, right-clicking an item on the bottom panel does nothing, nor will right-clicking the panel allow the addition of an applet.

Today, I thought I would try Gnome 3.8 on Fedora 18.  My session was short-lived.  After I went through making the extension additions and tested the Desktop, I was left feeling disappointed.  I said to myself, this is not classic in the remotest sense of the word.


So, while Gnome may have you believe they are listening to users, I will tell you that they have moved backwards with 3.x so much that I think the whole project should be scrubbed and rewritten starting at 2.34.

That's how badly I feel about what has happened.  Sorry but I have to truthful.  It is kludgy and awful.

In the meantime, I have found serenity and refuge with Fedora 18 running Xfce.  Thankfully, Xfce does give me what I need and is quite close to the former Gnome 2.3x user experience that it will satisfy many users who are seeking an alternative to Gnome 3.8.

-- Dietrich
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