(I know, click-bait title, couldn’t resist.)

Ever since Ubuntu announced that they’re switching to GNOME as their default desktop environment, online discussions about it have exploded. I thought this extra publicity would do GNOME good but the most frequent comments I see are ‘the default settings suck, they should be this way’ or ‘why don’t they add x, it’s so obvious!’, and of course ‘GNOME is focused on touch, that’s why it sucks’. Please let me clear things up a little.

I feel ya

The best way I can explain it is with my own journey.

When I first tried Linux I came into a world where everything was different to what I had known for years. But instead of trying to turn it back to something familiar I took it all in the way it was and found sense in it, because I saw it was much better. That was Unity mind you.

However my laptop had a single core and 750MB of RAM so it soon became apparent that I would have to try something lighter. LXDE, Xfce, LXQt, you name it. However these DEs often came with pretty painful defaults. That’s when I became a tweaker. I spent hours experimenting with setups, constantly switching workflows, trying to find the perfect one.

When I finally bought more RAM and installed GNOME, which I really wanted to try after I experienced Gedit with HeaderBars. However, this time it was different. I became used to the fact that in order to get a working desktop, I had to build it myself. I saw people with similar opinions complaining how GNOME just cannot set sane defaults—and I came in prepared.

As soon as the GNOME Shell launched I touched every setting I could. I changed the theme (ugh so white, so big!), installed all the extensions (why does the dock keep hiding? Who thought that was a good idea?), even changed the font (Ubuntu FTW!).

(Funnily a few hours after that I found out how rm is powerful and cleaned my entire home directory by accident. I had enough of tweaking so I only re-did the most important things, but it still changed the GNOME experience entirely.)

Paradigm Shift™

As I met more GNOME guys, I found out that there was actually carefully though-out work behind all the questionable design choices. I saw setups where the minimise/maximise buttons weren’t enabled (whaaat?). I saw people not using a dock, keeping the theme. And I tried it. I slowly changed settings back to defaults, even the wallpaper, and tried to live with it.

And I realised a lot of things, exempli gratia:

  • the default un-tweaked Alt+Tabis actually much better than having a dock
  • dynamic workspaces are quite good for organising stuff, and that I don’t need to name them/set default workspaces for apps to stay organised
  • I really do not need to minimise windows, and for that one time that is useful I can just use Super+H
  • the default theme, even though it took me quite some time to accept the look (which I later grew to love so much I ported it to GTK+ 2), is much more functional than the others (by that I mean it doesn’t prefer looks over other values), has much better contrast, is much better supported and the bigger paddings are make it much nicer to use, especially on non-mouse inputs
  • searching is a really fast way to do stuff
  • keyboard shortcuts are powerful enough for a keyboard-centric workflow

What has all of this got to do with me?

The thing I’m trying to say is that GNOME isn’t an empty plate—it’s an extremely well thought out system meant to be used by anyone, where everything fits together. If you’re going to use GNOME thinking that your way is much better than the way thought up by the designers—people whose entire job is to make it as good as possible—your experience will be frustrating and you’ll be essentially banging your head against a wall.

But if you come with an open mind, as a student and not a teacher, you’ll find that it actually has something to it, and maybe you’ll even like it.

So, I hereby challenge you, the reader, to use GNOME, as pure as you can, as your main desktop environment for at least two weeks. If you still don’t see the point after that, you are free to complain about it as much as you want. Until you do so however, your right to complain is about as big as complaining that your tooth brush sucks at brushing hair.

Footnote

GNOME isn’t perfect, or for everyone (shock! But seriously, people just prefer different workflows and that’s fine), and I’m not saying that. There are plenty of things either awaiting design or implementation, things that need to be redone (as is being done with almost the whole of the control center) or things that people need persuading for (destructive middle-click anyone?). But there’s always room for new contributors with tons of friendly people happy to get you started.

If you’ve read it this far, uh, thanks, I didn’t really expect that. If you think I’m wrong feel free to leave a comment, I’ll try to answer as soon as I can. Stay hip!