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
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23 thoughts on “One Week With GNOME 3 Classic: Days Six and Seven (Conclusions)

  1. “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 100%. The number of times I’ve missed Empathy messages due to lack of persistent on-screen notification reminder is pretty ridiculous. Sometimes I will stumble upon IM’s sitting in the notification area hours later after a co-worker has gone home or offline. I don’t use the GNOME Activities overlay a lot, sometimes it can be hours before I need to open a different application. So it’s not until then that I even notice that I had unread messages for that time I turned around at my desk for a few seconds.

    The design to hide notifications by default is a poor choice IMO. If a user wants to stay in the zone and be left alone then why even have the Empathy IM bubble pop up for ~5 seconds and then disappear? Any concentration is gone. I either want to be left alone, or not.

    I think GNOME Shell was onto something good though with the Notifications ON/OFF switch. But the ON state really means “Show me, but hide it after 5 seconds”. This may be fine for misc app notifications like “Your CD is done burning”. Or “You’re listening to Justin Bieber track 3”. But notifications for incoming IM’s or calendar events should stay on-screen until dismissed when in ON mode.

  2. I totally agree that the point of notifications *is* interrupts, not a slowly accumulating todo list to check/process when you have free time.

    I think the commenter’s argument is based on human context switching being expensive, so lets “mask those interupts” so you can work efficiently in “batch mode” instead. However that misses the point… some things you do need to be interupted for.

  3. biggest shell problem to me?
    launcher/window selector is only visible in overview. (see window selector)
    a simple option* to show it in workspace would completely change your workflow and opinion about the usefulness of the whole design.

    * plus minimize window button

    1. I suggest you read the blog that you are commenting on, where I explicitly mention that GNOME Classic has give this back to the user. Sounds to me like you should give it a whirl!

  4. this series is full of insight, however the lack of screen captures make it hard for me to follow, when you talk bout the aspect of some user interface, an image would tremenduously help

    1. Yeah, you (and another commenter last night) both make good points. I’ll probably go back and add screenshots later. Part of the reason that they aren’t there is because I was writing these as a sidebar to my normal workday and avoiding taking away too much of my day.
      But you are definitely right that it would aid in consumption, so I will try to go back and add some screenshots soon. Thank you for reading!

      1. thank you for writing, i am, as probably many others, genuinely curious to learn more about this “classic” mode, while not ready (or not able, or not that dedicated) to give it a full test run.

  5. I use the Gnome Integration Add-on in Thunderbird. It lets you specify the path to the notify-send executable. If you point it to your own script, you can do arbitrary filtering. For example, I only get notifications for email from by boss.

    1. Hmm, I wasn’t familiar with that one. I’ll check it out soon. I’m thinking that I’ll probably do an additional entry in this series after the Summit with some more thoughts after having used it a bit longer.

  6. Thanks a lot for these series! I find myself trying to find a good Gnome 2 replacement and maybe this is getting closer.

    By the way, I really dislike that I can’t use right click on the bottom bar to “close”, “move to another workspace”, etc. Is it just me? Does it work for you?

    Thank!

    1. Hmm, I hadn’t noticed that this was unavailable. It’s not a feature I can ever recall using, personally. That said, if it’s something you need, it would be worth it to file a bug at http://bugzilla.gnome.org (Under the gnome-shell product and “extensions” component, with the subject line labeled “Classic” and see if they agree with you.

  7. I actually would be very interested in a post comparing XFCE to KDE4/Gnome Classic, as I switched to XFCE since I didn’t like Gnome 3 (Or Unity for that matter) and I never bothered to try KDE since XFCE seemed to be close enough to Gnome2 to fill my needs.

  8. “I really dislike that I can’t use right click on the bottom bar”

    XFCE FTW!

    xubuntu 13.04 with xfce 4.10 allows me to make the desktop look a lot like my old Panel-at-the-bottom GNOME 2.32. Since I don’t rely on notifications, though, for anything more than “There are XX updates available.” or “Disc finished burning”, YMMV.

    The only thing that I really miss is being able to right-click on Foot Menu app entries to make them live in the Panel. You must manually create a New Item, define it as a Launcher and then pick from a long list of Apps. (Since have haven’t really needed to do it since I first configured the desktop, it’s not that big of a deal.)

    1. You don’t need to manually create a launcher. Just drag an app from the XFCE menu and drop it on the panel.

  9. “You don’t need to manually create a launcher.”

    Hmmm. I tried that a few times on Ubuntu 12.04 upgraded to XFCE and then 4.10 and it never worked. But when I try it on xubuntu 13.04 with XFCE 4.10, it works like a charm.

    Thanks!

  10. A topic unaddressed in this series, that needs some sort of attention, is the contempt the GNOME developers have typically exhibited toward the observations of people not directly involved in the project. It may be that employment at Red Hat insulates you from such contempt. If so, you may find others asking you to pass along their requests and bug reports, in hope of a less dismissive and less disparaging response. I do notice what seems like a forced positivity that may be essential to not being labeled a Neandertal throwback, to be forever after icondemned and ignored.

    The suggestion that the accommodations you depend on will gradually become superfluous, and be spontaneously abandoned in favor of The True GNOME Way, is an example of such contempt. It appears the assumption within the project is that adapting yourself to the machine’s way of working is a goal desirable in itself, approaching a sort of enlightenment(*), and that your own goals and desires amount to vices you may eventually overcome with their patient assistance. Those of us who ultimately fail to submerge our needs to the esthetic goals of The Project demonstrate we were not worthy of its exquisite taste.

    (*) No pun intended.

    That said, that the tireless repetition of simple truths (over, what, four years?) has led to these minimal, if grudging accommodations — which might not _all_ be scrapped in the end — suggests that the project is not firmly committed to driving off a cliff, just yet. There’s merit to be found in that, if you look closely enough.

  11. Do any of the extensions to GNOME3 or GNOME Classic allow placement
    of ‘panels’ on the left/right of the screen? I really miss the ability to move
    the panel from the top/bottom to left/right, especially with wide screen
    monitors. Well, not miss particularly, as I’ve switched from Fedora to Scienfific Linux 6 for most of my machines to keep GNOME2 and run the XFCE spin if I run fedora.

  12. @Karl, I am also an RHELish6 refugee (Springdale and CentOS as well as Scientific in my case, but they are all exactly the same). But how is that going to keep working for us when, e.g., Chrome now regards it as a silly obsolete platform they no longer bother to support? There are going to be others who pull that crap.

  13. “…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.”

    Relevant: http://xkcd.com/859/

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