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