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Monday, 05 May 2014 11:19

gEdit shows that GNOME wants to drive users away Featured

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The GNOME Desktop project often gets a lot of flack for its design decisions, many of which turn perfectly good, usable applications into unusable crud.

It hasn't affected me at all so far because I don't use either GNOME or KDE; a simple desktop like LXDE is far better suited to my needs – and anyway, even if I wanted to run either of these two bloated desktops, my laptop, a 10-year-old IBM Thinkpad, wouldn't be able to take the load.

But the GNOME text editor, gEdit, has always been an application of choice for me. Today, I was forced to make a change.

Debian, the distribution I use, is somewhat conservative in its approach and even though I run the testing stream on my laptop, the new version of gEdit came through as an update only this morning. I see that many others got to sample its delights back in January. One must thank the Almighty for small mercies – at least it wasn't foisted on me that early in the year.

Until this latest avatar, 3.12.1, landed, gEdit looked like any other text editor. It had regular menus, all the basic stuff that one needs to write. Plus tabs. That was the killer bit; you could have 15 articles open for reference, they would all sit in the one window. They were never strewn all over the place – and when you work predominantly on a 15" laptop, that one feature is worth its weight in gold.

But the creators of gEdit apparently were not satisfied with this editor. No, they want people to "focus" on what they are writing. It looks like the developers were under the impression that it was impossible to get any serious work done in gEdit. To quote, from the blog of gEdit developer Ignacio Casal Quinteiro, "The goal of this work is to create a modern, slicker interface which wastes less screen estate and lets you focus on the text or code you are writing. No features were harmed in the making of this new UI."

I have no problem with the change of user interface – provided that there is some way for me to get back the old interface if I choose to do so. After all, free and open source software is supposed to be about choice. One doesn't expect the software Taliban to set things in stone.

But that is exactly what has happened. The GNOME developers do not want people to read – so they have removed the standard menus, the ones that you get in every text editor, those that say New, Open, View and so on and provided a number of inscrutable icons. Every illiterate can now use gEdit – though one doubts that literate people will continue using it anymore. The tabs are still there – but this UI has ended my affair with gEdit.

The menu choices that existed on the left are now on the right. There is lots of wide open space – presumably for people to "focus". In the past, apparently, people could not focus and were unable to write 10 words without having to get up and roam around the room 10 times.

Here's a bit more from that blog: "Plugins that interacted with the menu will need to be adapted to the new API. We are a bit sorry we had to (partially) break the plugin API again, but this cannot be helped since with the current manpower we can focus on a specific set of changes during each cycle."

Great stuff. The GNOME project is almost 17 years old. When will we see some signs of maturity, some signs of stability? It shows that the people at GNOME just want change. Like the good folks at Microsoft who want to change, change, change, until the software becomes utterly unusable, the GNOME developers want to keep changing things too.

I've moved, initially to KWrite which looks promising; kate, the other text editor from KDE, is too much for my needs. LXDE's Leafpad is too basic and the office suites are too full of unnecessary features.


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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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