GNOME 3 and the focus on usability

Blog post by stippi on Thu, 2011-04-07 09:16

GNOME 3 is out and of course I was very curious to give it a spin. As the GNOME developers claim they care a lot about usability and have given the new desktop design a lot of thought, I was pretty excited, since I care about these things as well. Haiku still has a lot of usability issues that we need to sort out. Maybe we can learn a few things. So what are my impressions? To be honest, I have pretty mixed feelings.

I've had to use the GNOME 2 desktop a lot for various reasons. There are a lot of good ideas in there and many neat usability features. At the same time there are serious gripes. For example some applications are not shut down properly when you quit your session. Since ages the system can't remember which workspaces windows were located at when restoring a session. I can't move windows between workspaces by simply dragging them. I don't mind the tiny window border width, except it's so hard to resize windows by their borders... it's the little things that are so annoying and each time I upgrade to a new Ubuntu release I get disappointed because they are still not fixed. I only ever reported one bug. The bug was that keyboard settings, in particular the key repeat delay is not persistent when plugging in new USB keyboards. This is especially annoying when you use a KVM to switch between several computers. The bug was actually a duplicate, but I have since received progress updates on the original bug. Ages later the bug had indeed been fixed (I am not complaining, Haiku bugs take ages to get fixed more often than not...), but it has recently reappeared...

So now I am looking at the shiny new GNOME 3 desktop. I understand the rational for a lot of things in the new design and I have still a lot to explore. Many things are logical and intuitive. I like the smooth animations that mostly don't introduce delays too much. At the same time I don't understand why the round window corners are still not anti-aliased. Why the tiny window borders are still so hard to grab for resizing. And the most annoying new issue has to be that even though we get full screen windows for many apps, which places the scroll bar at the edge of the screen, you can't actually hit the scroll bar thumb when you flick your mouse to the edge of the screen. In most apps you hit nothing at all and nothing happens, in one instance I've irritatingly hit the scroll bar background and got the page-wise scrolling as if I clicked below or above the thumb!

The next thing I have to question is the priority given for "avoiding distraction" over the necessity to quickly switch between running tasks, let alone always seeing which tasks are running. There is the top bar with plenty of space to put the running tasks into. I don't see how that is such a big distraction to require me to make that many more mouse movements to switch tasks.

Given this lack of attention to detail in such important areas as allowing to hit the scroll bar thumb properly of a scroll bar placed at the screen edge... how am I supposed to believe usability was the top priority? Sigh. Obviously there are still many nice ideas in the GNOME 3 interface. Maybe I have to use it a little more, but for the moment, I am doubtful that I want to switch my Linux desktops to GNOME 3. In any case, congratulations on the release. Now that it's out I hope developers will also spend some time on the little things that are still as annoying in GNOME 3 as they were in GNOME 2.


Re: GNOME 3 and the focus on usability

I don't hold my breath waiting for the 'little things' to be fixed. Seemingly in the past five to eight years, OSS developers--mostly in the GNU/Linux emporium--rarely look back to fix the little niggling problems. Rather, it's always onward and upward. It reminds me of the old academia joke about ignoring the minor inconsistencies while sweeping on to the grand fallacy.

But as you said, congratulations are in order. I know what it's like spending two years upgrading a system to modern components, then spending another six months going back and fixing the little things.

you are ranting about nothing

That might sound a bit harsh, but basically you really are ranting about nothing.

About resizing windows: Strange, I for one have a big, nice handle in the lower right corner of my GNOME 3 windows... You doin' it wrong?

Scroll bar thumb: Can't reproduce that.

"I don't see how that is such a big distraction to require me to make that many more mouse movements to switch tasks."
Here you simply disagree with me and the GNOME designers...

"Given this lack of attention to detail in such important areas..."
WHAT important areas? Firstly, those areas aren't important IMNSHO, secondly, I don't see a lack of any kind.

Get a life.

Re: you are ranting about nothing

Gnome3 the TopMainMenu ;-) loock gread, i like the one color symbols (Mac os X hav it too!)
For Usability i found this from the Unity Desktop


Re: you are ranting about nothing

maybe you're a gnome developper, but I agree with this blog entry, gnome3 fails at usability. For my graphical card KDE4 or compiz look ok, but with gnome3 it's not smooth at all so it's really painful to get the windows presentation every time I need to switch app.

Also I like to view all my running apps, and switch to them with only one click. Gnome3 (gnome-shell) looks over complicated on this matter, and it will probably confuse non-geek users even more.

Re: you are ranting about nothing

This is intresting too


Re: you are ranting about nothing

IF you and the Gnome designers spent more time actually researching basic interface usability and less time scouring the internet for anyone critiquing the Gnome desktop, you would not have had to clone Unity. You've got a big bar at the top with that just looks wonderful, and no way to see running tasks at a glance. Not the end of the world certainly, but pretty basic, and should not have been overlooked.

Re: you are ranting about nothing

Are you kidding me? The resize knob at the bottom right corner is actually something I failed to mention in the list of bad user interface design. The problem is that it looks square in most windows and thus the user might try to click into the middle. However, the upper left triangle is dead space, you have to click the lower right triangle (with the dots) to hit anything. This means your chance of hitting the resizing "square" is only 50%. You have to train yourself to click only the dotted triangle. How stupid is that?

That is not to mention that a good number of windows have no resize knob and my other complaint is fully justified.

Then do you really think that pointing out I disagree with you and the GNOME designers makes my argument invalid? How is that supposed convince anyone?

And finally, you cannot reproduce the scroll bar click target problem? Are you serious? Just try in any full screen application, take the browser for example, to move your mouse to the very screen edge, where the scroll bar thumb is, and try to click the scroll bar. Don't click onto the thumb, try to click it at it's right edge, where your mouse can't get any further to the right. There is a one pixel border around full screen apps which makes this impossible. It's just dead space and this is simply against Fitt's Law. If you don't know what that is and why it's a problem, that's OK, but please don't comment on usability when you have no clue about some of the most basic usability rules.

Re: you are ranting about nothing

Bah, he registered for no other reason than to post his troll comment, and hasn't logged back in since... It probably ruffled a few feathers since this article got posted on reddit ;)

Re: GNOME 3 and the focus on usability

Hey stippi,

These are all annoyances I have noticed too. Happily I think we can put the issue with the scrollbar thumbs down to the theme, Adwaita, which if we're being honest is a bit of a dog at this point.

Overall though, I think GNOME 3 is a step in the right direction and there definitely some ideas Haiku could take from it for the eventual R2. Something like the activities overlay might be a good replacement for the leaf menu, as long as the window list in the deskbar is maintained for fast application switching.