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.