Home opinion-and-analysis Open Sauce GNOME 3: what's all the fuss about?

The latest incarnation of the GNOME desktop, version 3. has been out for a while. I'm one of those who is late to the party, one at which there have been very few compliments and loads and loads of complaints. At times, when you get something free, you tend not to value it.

After having finally taken a look at it yesterday - I looked at the Fedora and openSUSE live CDs - I'm beginning to wonder whether there is something seriously wrong with the FOSS community. Many people within the community appear unable to accept the fact that change is continuous and that, at times, they are simply not going to like it. That doesn't make it bad.

GNOME 3 is radically different from its predecessor. The interface, called the shell, has a link to something called activities at the left-hand-top corner. Clicking on this gives one two options - Windows and Applications. There are a few links down the left-hand side to some applications; more can be added, depending on the user's wishes.

Windows shows the applications which are open; Applications shows one all the programs available for use. The two live CDs I looked at, Fedora and SUSE, have a differing range of apps, but that's due to the distributions and has nothing to do with GNOME.

There has been a lot of noise about the disappearance of the minimise and maximise buttons on windows, but one can easily perform these functions. It takes a little experimentation to find out but you don't need to do anything outlandish - double-clicking on the top bar of the app maximises it and when one right-clicks on the same bar, one can minimise the app. Neither of these actions is anything new - both have been there in other operating systems for donkey's years.

GNOME 3 looks something like Unity, the new interface developed and used by Ubuntu - something like a mobile phone interface with a minimalist approach and lots of coloured buttons. In order to stay lean, the GNOME developers appear to have opted not to retain a lot of the older attributes. Once again, people may disagree with this approach but at a certain stage, one has to move on. For a crowd that claims to live on the cutting edge, FOSS people appear to be remarkably hidebound; making these changes doesn't mean that GNOME has got it wrong.

Maybe a little less of pretending to be an intellectual would sit better with some of the more voluble souls who are partisan to the core and claim to be journalists when they are nothing but groupies, pushing this barrow or that.


GNOME had little choice but to develop something that was radically different because it had been left behind by KDE which moved to a new version in January 2008. Not to say that the path taken by KDE ran smoothly.

When KDE released its groundbreaking version 4, there was a mighty outcry. This, in part, was because it was quite buggy, something to be expected in a .0 release. As time went by, KDE 4 stabilised and is now orders of magnitude better than GNOME.

GNOME learnt from this and was much more cautious in its approach to release day, even pushing back the launch to ensure that things, when they landed, would be more stable. What I saw and fiddled with yesterday works for the most part.

There are a few things which, in my opinion, GNOME could seriously reconsider. One is the use of NetworkManager to control networking - it didn't work for on either of the live CDs. The options button remained greyed out, making it impossible to configure a manual IP. But then, maybe I am a freak in that I do not use DHCP on my network.

Luckily, SUSE still has its wonderful configuration tool called YAST (Yet Another Setup Tool - it was there in 1999, the first time I installed the distribution) and it was child's play to use that to connect to the net. On Fedora, the native application for configuring a network, system-config-network, does not appear to function on the live CD provided by GNOME.

The other thing that the GNOME developers could start doing is being more inclusive and taking their users a bit more seriously. Not the carping critics who make their feelings known on blogs and the like, the ordinary users who ask for this and that, most of them reasonable requests. KDE is miles ahead in this department.

The last thing that one needs to mention is a simple touch - include a step in the shutdown so that one can remove the CD from the drive before the computer powers down. Ubuntu does this and it is a small thing but a very necessary one.

I wouldn't use GNOME but that's a matter of personal habits - I've been using GNU/Linux so long that I have my own favourite applications and I don't plan to switch from them, not as long as they let me be productive. That doesn't however mean that GNOME is a bad choice; it all depends on the individual.

GNU/Linux is a fringe operating system on the desktop; it will always be that way. You don't find as many people buying Mozart these days as they do Lady Gaga. But its quality means that it will endure as long as developers continue to scratch their own itches.



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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.






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