Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Fedora and Gnome 3, Ubuntu and Unity, will openSUSE and KDE benefit?

Right now it seems like some of the top Linux distributions such as Fedora and Ubuntu are heading down a slippery slope.

Fedora 15 will be based on Gnome 3, it is still early days for the Gnome 3 project and over time I am confident it will get better but many (including myself) feel its not ready for use.

I believe the simplicity of Gnome 2.x is what made it a success, the main menu bar provided a quick and efficient method of accessing your applications / system settings. The ability to minimize to a panel also provided users with a quick and efficient method of accessing minimized programs and by its very nature visually indicated that a program has been minimized.

Gnome 3 on the other hand doesn’t really have a place to minimize applications to and should you use the gnome tweak tool to enable the minimize button to application windows, applications disappear (not minimize) to the activities tab leaving the user with no apparent visual indicator that an application has been banished (minimised) to the activities tab.

Accessing or viewing applications in Gnome 3 generally requires use of the activities tab where you can either browse through all your applications or search for an application. Unfortunately the Gnome 2.x method of using the main menu (a concept featured in all major operating systems) is still a quicker and more efficient method of accessing your applications. The search function works effectively, although it doesn't help if you don't know what you are searching for.

There is also space in the activities tab to place some of your favorite applications in a dock like fashion which will certainly mitigate some of the inefficiency caused by the method of browsing through or searching for applications, but some will always find it a slight annoyance since you have to invoke the activities tab to view it.

People moved away from the command line and into graphical user interfaces because it made doing things easier and quicker, the current implementation of Gnome 3 compared to Gnome 2.x therefore seems like a step in the wrong direction.

However, visually speaking Gnome 3 looks very modern and stylish.

With Fedora being a project that aims to lead the advancement of FOSS the decision to include bleeding edge software and the latest developments such as Gnome 3 is the right decision and inline with the project goals.

Fedora users will be familiar with the possibility that the latest and greatest can sometimes have a detrimental consequence and for many Gnome 3 is no exception. But the sad reality in this instance is for many Fedora users Gnome 3 is unworkable.

So what will these users do? 

I expect many to hop over to another distro that still features Gnome 2.x and come back at a later date providing Gnome 3 has improved. Alternatively, Fedora does have a few other spins but Fedora at heart has always been a Gnome distribution and the majority of its users Gnome users.

What about Ubuntu?

Taking a look at Ubuntu presents a similar situation. Canonical Ltd have recognized that Gnome 3 is not quite ready for the Ubuntu user base and their solution is Unity. Ubuntu 11.04 features the new Unity desktop from Canonical Ltd which is currently a mish mash of Gnome 2.x and Compiz.

Just like Gnome 3, some users like it and others hate it. Quite clearly Unity is not a finished product and I cannot understand why it was decided to make Unity the default desktop in Ubuntu 11.04.

Some users feel Unity is easy to use and if you rarely ever have to go beyond the dock that stands to follow but just like Gnome 3 it also lacks the application menu as featured in Gnome 2.x. A poor decision.

Instead you can view all applications by using the applications tab or the search function, this is the same as Gnome 3.

The simplicity Gnome 2.x provided Ubuntu users has been lost with Unity, the very simplicity that made Ubuntu easier to use.

Personally I think Unity for Ubuntu is a lost cause. There is nothing wrong with trying out new ideas and I give credit to Canonical Ltd for trying but those who are not good at using computers or those who find slick looking 3D GUI's complicated and hard to navigate will not appreciate Unity.

I feel Canonical Ltd have over looked how the simplicity of Gnome 2.x contributed to making Ubuntu easy to use.

So what now for Ubuntu and Fedora users?

If you are one of those users who likes to have the latest version of a distribution the future may be looking quite grim. It has been confirmed that Ubuntu 11.10 will not feature a classic Gnome 2.x interface and future versions of Fedora will have Gnome 3.

Looking ahead, Unity in Ubuntu 11.10 and Gnome 3 in Fedora 16 may be a completely different experience from what we are seeing right now but nothing is for certain. Therefore due to that uncertainty some users may go about looking for another distribution that doesn't use Gnome 3 or is not Ubuntu with Unity.

The quest for another distribution will inevitably spark interest in some of the other desktop environments available and speaking of desktop environments, is there anything worth mentioning over KDE 4.6.x?

Will openSUSE therefore benefit?

With the recent acquisition of Novell by Attachmate now complete, SUSE has been split away from Novell and will be established as its own corporate entity. A positive step in the right direction for SUSE and the openSUSE project.

Despite my own reasons for putting openSUSE behind me, it has the best implementation of KDE 4.6 (although I maintain the view if you have the time and patience, Gentoo with KDE is better) and a powerful system management application called YaST which makes administering your system easy (or at least in some instances that is the idea).

Since the release of KDE 4.6 things have been looking very good for KDE and given openSUSE is a strong KDE distribution with many KDE developers behind it, if you are looking for a solid and usable desktop environment KDE 4.6.x (in other words openSUSE 11.4) is a great choice.

The openSUSE project could do with more users, so if you are looking to try something different openSUSE is definitely worth considering.

Its funny how things can change in just a few months,  not so long ago I would have been quite happy to recommend Ubuntu or Fedora but with current developments this is no longer the case.

And not so long ago I was voicing my annoyance with openSUSE 11.4 but believe me, its nothing compared to Unity and Gnome 3.