Ripping off Linux Outlaws title for episode 122, here is my review of GNOME’s upcoming desktop shell. Promised to be the pinnacle of the much talked about GNOME 3.0 release (which was happening and then not happening and then happening again) that is currently scheduled for September of 2010 (though no GTK+ 3.0, as far as I understand).
The new GNOME shell is, off the bat, pretty awesome – it is a completely new and refreshing approach to the desktop (checkout the screenshots in the link).
The GNOME shell replaces 3 different components of the modern X11 free desktop – the Window Manager, the panel set and the Compositing Manager – with a single setup. By running
gnome-shell --replace it takes over all these responsibilities. Unlike KDE’s 4th iteration the new GNOME leaves Nautilus to manager the root window as a file view – the so called “desktop icons”(1).
Usability wise,I think GNOME shell is very nice. The “activity orientation” works very well and is a bit similar to the point that KDE 4 went, but GNOME shell takes it further by completely ditching the panel approach. On the face of it it looks like they do they old GNOME thing – taking away all configuration and user options and do their “sensible defaults” thing. They did throw away the concept of applets which was one thing that you could customize GNOME with – with the new shell it looks like the only option you have is to choose which applications you use and how many activities you have.
That was the rant, and we’ll see where it goes from here. On the plus side, though, the new work flow with the shell is indeed very easy and flowing. The animations – though simple – make using the shell a pleasure (when its not thrashing my computer), and the favorite applications concept that have been used successfully elsewhere (in KDE’s kickout menu, Apple’s dock and the Windows XP menu) is used to great effect here.
In the future I would like to see more and better animations and compositing effects – currently GNOME shell is very plain looking compared to even the compiz default settings. Also I’d like to see more theming and customization options – I think applets are a great use case for small applications that do not need constant screen presence – like Tomboy or Hamster that I use – and I would be sad to see them go, possibly to the point of going back to KDE. Maybe a widget overlay like in KDE and MacOSX would allow that.
- KDE 4 tried to do away with this and instead use the root window as a widget canvas, but due to popular demand have later brought back the “desktop icons” file view as an optional widget and later as an alternative to the widget canvas [↩]