One Week With GNOME 3 Classic: Days Six and Seven (Conclusions)

Dynamic thinking

Yesterday (Day Six) was a very busy day at my day-job filled mostly with meetings, so I didn’t get a great deal of time to play with additional features of GNOME Classic. I did notice one bug with how workspaces are handled in Classic mode that was a bit troublesome. When I locked the screen and unlocked it again, my windows would shift workspaces to fill up any gaps with empty workspaces. The response I got in the Bugzilla ticket agrees with my assumption that the GNOME Shell switches back to dynamic workspaces while locked and therefore removes the unused workspaces.

On my drive in this morning, I was thinking more about the things I like with GNOME Classic and another subtlety came to mind. Up there with the list of things that you don’t really recognize until you think about it hard is the advantages of having the window selector in the lower taskbar. I realized that I have been unconsciously focusing my attention on that space when I switch back and forth between workspaces because they contain the set of information that I need to determine when to stop scrolling. In the standard GNOME Shell, if I have several windows/applications present on a workspace, I can only really determine which apps are there (if some are hidden) by going into the overlay mode before switching between workspaces. This usually works (although I can’t always recognize the difference between a terminal window and a text editor from a quick glimpse in the overlay), but it’s an extra step (and a pause for an extra animation. The fact that I can just keep my eyes on the taskbar and see what’s running is a simple but powerful benefit that Classic mode has over standard GNOME Shell.

Pay attention

Yesterday’s post received a comment to which I found myself writing up a detailed response. Giving it some more thought, it seems to me that I should probably describe my thoughts on notifications in a full blog post. Here’s the paragraph from the comment that drew my attention:

For example, many people complain that they don’t have instance visibility on their unread notifications. But that’s actually part of “being out of your way and letting you get your job done”. Instead of constantly having those blinking lights calling your attention, you can relax, focus on the task at hand, and go read those messages when you’re actually ready for the interruption.

This is one piece that I need to address, I think. I understand the GNOME perspective on this somewhat, but I think it misses the point of notifications. I wouldn’t turn a notification on unless I expected to need to know that information in a timely manner. I.e. for email, I may just opt to only go and check unread messages once an hour or something. However, the “let’s hide notifications unless you look for them” approach misses one key piece of the puzzle: some of us have jobs that require us to be interruptible on certain events.

Now, one problem here is that notifications in the vast majority of applications are not as granular as I would like them to be. For example, in Thunderbird, I can only choose whether I want to be notified on new email, but not which folders I care about. I have a few specific folders (INBOX, a few important mailing lists) that I’d like to be alerted when new email comes in, but I really don’t need to know every time someone sends a package review swap email to the Fedora development list.

In my day-job, there are many situations where I am expect to drop everything if someone “pings” me on IRC. When I first tried GNOME 3.0 through 3.6, this inability to see that I missed a notification (if I wasn’t looking at the screen or was looking at my large, non-primary monitor at the time it came in) caused me significant problems and a severe drop in productivity until I ultimately worked around the problem by sticking my IRC application on the secondary, static monitor and sacrificing the use of that space for other work.

I  agree that notifications don’t need to be extraordinarily verbose. I don’t really need the GNOME 2 experience of the task bar flashing the task entry of a Window requesting attention on all workspaces. I think that, for most people, the little blue badge in the lower-right corner of the primary display is probably enough. For me (who likes a little additional notice because I rely on my notifications), I have also elected to add an additional extension to my GNOME Classic experience: Notifications Alert. The effect of this extension is to just flash the “thought bubble” next to my name in the upper-right corner back and forth between the standard color and one selected by me. (I stuck with the default of red). This has the effect of drawing the eye slightly more clearly than just the badge. I don’t recommend this for the general case, but I’m listing it here so that those folks reading this that have similar needs will know that it exists.

I think the GNOME design team needs to take a careful look at how notifications are used and relied upon to to take timely actions. This is one reason why I think that GNOME Classic is necessary. Since it has added back that missing notification light, it becomes possible for me to resume being responsive again.

Feedback Loop

I am very happy to say while I am writing this that the GNOME upstream has been very responsive and attentive to the bugs I have been filing. As of today, there are patches posted to address two of the four most pressing issues that I’ve discussed in this blog, specifically the “windows changing workspaces on lock” and “alt-tab changing workspaces” issues.

Final Thoughts

When I started this experiment, I was expecting that it would be an interesting foray and that I’d most likely end up switching back to KDE when it was all over. I’m no longer certain that I will be doing that.

I’ve been fairly comfortable operating in GNOME Classic, once I figured out the few tweaks I needed to perform. I think I’m probably going to continue using GNOME Classic for a while (at least until after next week’s Red Hat Summit).

I’ve been asked by some of the folks from Fedora’s XFCE SIG to also look into doing a “One Week With XFCE” segment sometime soon. I think that would be another fun project, and I expect I’ll take them up on it. I’d like to give myself a short break though. In the last week, I’ve added over 7700 words to this blog, and my fingers are getting tired.

Thank you for joining me on this journey. It has been a great trip.

Notes

  1. https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=701717 Classic: Windows sometimes change workspace after screen lock
  2. https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=701214 – Classic: alt-tab should not switch workspaces
  3. https://extensions.gnome.org/extension/258/notifications-alert-on-user-menu/ – GNOME Shell Extension: Notifications Alert

One Week With GNOME 3 Classic: Day Five (Oblivion)

So, I have good news about Day Five. I have nothing negative to report whatsoever. I’m over the hurdles of the adjustment period and I find myself able to operate very well in GNOME Classic. I certainly feel that there are three changes that absolutely need to be incorporated upstream into GNOME Classic so that others can benefit from my experience here:

  1. The “topicons” extension should be added to the collection of extensions installed by default with GNOME Classic
  2. The default behavior should be set to have workspaces on all monitors, not just the primary monitor.
  3. The default behavior of alt-tab in GNOME Classic should be bound to the current workspace.

I’d also like to spend a little time today talking about some things I really like about GNOME Classic. I realize that my blog posts on this topic have been somewhat focused on GNOME Classic’s shortcomings, and I don’t think that’s really fair. There are a number of things I find myself really enjoying when working with GNOME Classic (some of which I’m sure are also present in GNOME 3 as well).

First of all, I appreciate the simple and powerful NetworkManger-GNOME interface. I like that it offers me access to a lot of advanced functionality such as adapter bonding without having to wrap my head around the complex nmcli invocations. I wish it was able to support bonding my wireless adapter with my wired adapter, but I recognize that this is a very difficult problem with a lot of edge-cases to resolve, so I’m really not docking any points for that.

Secondly, I find the interface to be very clean and unobtrusive. While I enjoy KDE’s interface a great deal, it occurred to me yesterday that this was a conscious thought. With GNOME Classic, except when I engage the overlay, I don’t find myself thinking about the interface at all. It’s just there, stays mostly out of my way and lets me get my job done. This hit me with a revelation: I like GNOME Classic because I don’t really have to remember that it’s there.

The more I use GNOME Classic, the more I appreciate the notification mechanism as well I like that I get a bubble of notification and that I also have easy access to a panel icon telling me how many notifications I haven’t addressed yet. I did just discover one little glitch during the writing of this post that I will be filing a bug on, but I don’t have the spare time at this very moment. When a notification is retrieved that’s marked as “urgent”, striking the space bar will immediately take you to that application. This happened to me mid-sentence while writing this post and pulled me bodily out of my editor. I think they need to sense ongoing keyboard activity and disable that space bar jump if so. I’ll file the bug later today and update this post. Bug filed.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll (hopefully) see you tomorrow for Day Six.

NOTES

  1. https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=701216Classic: [RFE] Do not hide classic systray icons in the message-tray
  2. https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=701217Classic: [RFE] Classic mode should have “Workspaces only on primary monitor” set to False by default
  3. https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=701214Classic: alt-tab should not switch workspaces
  4. https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=701738 Classic: “Urgent” notifications can steal focus when typing

One Week With GNOME Classic: Day Four (Settling In)

Today’s update is going to be fairly brief.  GNOME and I have come to an accord and now we’re mostly getting out of each other’s way. After my initial impressions, I adapted the way that I do a few things and I’ve come to appreciate certain aspects of the system.

I have kind of a love/indifferent relationship with the GNOME overlay. I find myself happier with its capabilities now that they are not the *only* way to interact with the desktop. Since I have access to most of the important UI elements without the overlay in GNOME Classic, I don’t have to suffer through the annoying context shift of pulling up the overlay unless I specifically want to use one of its advanced features (such as smart-search or viewing all of my windows to choose one). My experience with the basic GNOME Shell was that it forced me to always pull my attention fully away from what I was working on in order to spot queued notifications or open an additional window. With GNOME Classic, the Shell overlay feels like useful add-on functionality, rather than an enforced mode of operation. I can use the overlay features when they’re helpful and can ignore it otherwise.

Additionally, based on the recommendation of a commenter on one of the bugs I opened on Day One, I installed and tried out the “topicons” extension for GNOME Shell. I was pleased to discover that this accomplished exactly what I wanted from this ticket, and I’ve proposed that this extension should be incorporated as part of the formal GNOME Classic collection. We will see if this is accepted. For reference, the net result of this extension is to take all systray icons out of the message tray and instead position them across the top menu. This also has the effect of resolving another bug I filed on Day One; it removes the icon from the message tray and notification counter.

All in all, today’s experience was largely painless. After installing the “topicons” extension, I briefly switched back to Pidgin as my messenger and IRC client, but decided that I was actually happier running Empathy for messaging and XChat-GNOME for IRC. While the experience took me a little while to get used to, I think I’m going to be happier with this arrangement (or possibly switching to classic XChat instead and taking the time to tweak all of its knobs to my satisfaction).

In short, it’s taken me only about four days, but I’m comfortable (even happy!) with using GNOME Classic as a primary desktop environment. I’m sure that some part of this is due to existing familiarity with the standard GNOME 3 experience, but I cannot say anything but that this is far more pleasant to work with than the vanilla setup. I think if the assorted bugs I’ve filed over the last few days are resolved (to my satisfaction, naturally), I think we can genuinely make a case for GNOME Classic being the true upgrade from GNOME 2 that people have been waiting for. Maybe some of those people will take the plunge even further and dive into the full GNOME 3 environment, but GNOME Classic certainly feels like a necessary intermediate step that has been missing for the first three GNOME 3 releases.