The Apology of GNOME 3 (an analogy to the Apology of Socrates by Plato)
- From: Ondřej Grover <ondrej grover gmail com>
- To: gnome-list gnome org
- Subject: The Apology of GNOME 3 (an analogy to the Apology of Socrates by Plato)
- Date: Tue, 23 Aug 2011 18:21:51 +0200
Hello dear members of the community,
After reading, hearing and seeing many people complain about GNOME 3, I would like to defend G3 like Socrates had to defend himself for not following the common beliefs and considering new frontiers.
I would like to dedicate this essay to the devs that worked hard on GNOME 3, hoping that it will cheer them up after so much negative criticism.
One of the underlying principles in nature is the law of conservation, leading most systems to a state of equilibrium, a state where nothing changes and remains the same. We as humans are also influenced by this principle, we dislike changes and seek the state where we don't have to do anything unnecessary. But when we find a state where it feels just right....what if there is even a better state, we just don't see it yet? And what would make us set off for another tough quest of seeking a better stable state?
Or from the biblical point of view, why did Adam and Eva choose true knowledge over the great garden of Eden?
And yet it's change that makes our life what it is, we are a result of evolution, a sequence of the most fascinating changes in the history of our planet. Taking the evolution topic further, you may know that genetic evolution algorithms are used in optimization problems to find the maximum of complicated functions, because they don't stop at some local maximum, but carry on to the higher ones.
Or from the biblical point of view, the Lord made drastic changes to the world before there was Eden.
You've guessed it: What I' trying to say is that even a rather radical change from a working and stable state is not necessarily a bad thing.
When I first played around with GNOME 3, I was shocked. It was something completely new, unlike any other DE I've used before (I tried Unity later, there are certain similarities, but Unity's design goal is to resemble OS X IMHO and functionally is different). I had no intention in using it.
But then my father's windows 7 computer BSODed and I was looking for a quick drop-in replacement for him. First I thought of KDE or XFCE, because it closely resembles windows UI in many ways, but then it occurred to me that I'm trying to replace windows instead of giving him something he will be able to use on his own. As opposed to windows' many interesting features that my father wasn't aware of, GNOME 3's shell was a centralized UI, intuitive and plain. All I had to show him was to press <Mod4> and then type the name of the app he wanted or click the icon. He was almost as fast as my dmenu in i3.
Many people complain about this "dumbing down". Yes, Openbox pipe menus are nice, but require knowledge of how to use them. I have a lot of experience with people that don't really understand the metaphor of windows floating above each other. It is something unreal for them and the less elements there are in the UI, the easier it is for them to get what they want. Many argue that GNOME shouldn't be developed specifically for the needs of such less knowledgeable people. That sounds a lot like demanding that GNOME should be developed only for the knowledgeable. A bit selfish, don't you think?
Some argue that this move takes away their freedom of not being enslaved by the design of the software. A counterargument is that there are many other DEs and WMs offering alternatives with nearly the same functionality, that they certainly can choose a different one and no distribution forces people to upgrade to GNOME 3 in the first place. Well, it is true that they would have to abandon their current setup that took hours or days to design and some distros do indirectly force people to upgrade because soname bumps would require it eventually for some gnome apps.
But there is a fork of GNOME 2, Mate and distros with G 2, so in the end either staying with G 2 or moving to G 3 requires some adjustments and changes provided people want to use a maintained project. So people have a new choice for the price of not having the choice but change a few things. Sounds like a fair deal to me considering the huge potential of the new choice and a few evenings of migrating stuff.
I spoke about "new frontiers" in the beginning. It is clear that GNOME 3 was designed with touchscreens in mind. Everything is bigger, easier to interact with using our fingers. Try on a touchscreen closing a window with the "X" button in window 7 that was designed mainly for mouse interaction. So this puts G 3 ahead of windows and mac in terms of UI interaction.
The larger sizes, accessibility tweaks and simplicity of the UI also broaden the potential target audience. Gnome shell is in my experience much more easier to use for seniors. This should make happy those people complaining that Linux/GNU is not ready for the desktop, people thinking that Linux/GNU OSs should have a greater market share. Desktop market share (such a goal does not interfere with the concept of free software) is a legit argument in software design and being thoughtful of elderly or handicapped people too.
Another ranting topic is the lack of configuration possibilities in G3. It is true that by default there's not much that can be tweaked. But
a) speaking of elderly users, less is more
b) there are already many patches and tools by other people. That's exactly what freedom3 as stated by FSF is about.
Requiring PulseAudio and possibly systemd in the future can also seem dangerous, because both projects still have problems. I hope they will improve as they could potentially unify and give easier access to functionality that used to require many ugly hacks or software hard to set up.
So even though G 3 may be a shock, I'm sure these radical changes will prove to be right in the long term scope when end users that are now complaining buy a touchscreen (because that seems to be the new direction of the market).
Personally, I cannot imagine running GNOME 2 on a touchscreen without tweaking various gtk2 size aspects. And I doubt that would take less time than migrating to G 3 or to Mate.
Here I brake the analogy with the defense of Socrates, because no project has been sentenced to imminent death. The structure of both projects may change, but they will live on.
Well, all this is my personal opinion of course and as such it has no real value. But even if it cheers up just one GNOME dev, I didn't waste the hours on writing it ;)
P.S.: If you don't want me to publish this on the mailing list as it is long, I admit, please suggested a better place for GNOME devs to see it.
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