[Usability]Feedback on GNOME 2

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When I heard that it included GNOME 2, I was a little more interested
in installing RH 8.0 than I usually am in new distribution releases...
In general I like to wait a while to let others find all the bugs for
me.  ;-)

Well, after the install was completed, I have to say that my interest
rapidly turned into disappointment.  It strikes me that all of the
things I liked about GNOME, and the very reasons why I use Linux in
the first place, have been completely removed from GNOME 2.  First, I
need to make the disclaimer that some of these things may be specific
to Red Hat; I haven't used GNOME 2 anywhere else, so I can't say which
things they might be.  With that in mind, here are the things I don't
like about it, and the reasons why:

 - metacity

   This window manager lacks functionality present in virtually every
   decent window manager known to mankind.  Specifically, it is
   difficult to customize it to behave the way I want it to.  This
   manifests itself most annoyingly in focus policy.  

   The policy I want is characterized by a combination of what is
   usually called "sloppy focus" and "autoraise" features.  Metacity
   has these, but the autoraise is not configurable, resulting in
   instant window raise.  This is absolutely not usable.  It causes
   dialog boxes to immediately disappear under their main windows.

   It also seems to lack an obvious raise/lower function.  The only
   way I can raise a window seems to be to click on it or its
   representation on the task bar.  There seems to be no way at all to
   lower a window.  This further complicates the issue I mentioned in
   the previous paragraph.

 - no easy/obvious way to change my window manager

   While I can change my window manager by jumping through some hoops,
   there is no apparent easy way to change my window manager.
 - button order

   The new button order is different, non-intuitive, and apparently
   not configurable.

 - default themes all look like Windows

   If I wanted my desktop to look like windows, I'd run that.  It
   would be nice to have some more choices available by default, so I
   don't have to go hunting for something reasonable.

 - the panel

   The panel, when set to autohide, often (but not always) seems to
   take much too long (like up to a full second, or maybe longer) to
   unhide.  And I'm talking about on a high-end machine with lots of
   RAM and virtually no system load.  In my opinion, this is
   unacceptable performance from a reletively simple application.

   Also, it suffers from an almost complete lack of configurability.
   In GNOME 1.4, there were a plethora of configuration options, most
   of which I modified.

 - Nautilus Desktop

   I want my root window to be the root window, gosh darnit!  I want
   to be able to manipulate the root window using tools I have 
   at my disposal for that purpose...  There's no obvious way to
   disable the nautilus desktop.

 - various other things

Without going into unnecessary details, my overall assessment is that
GNOME 2 suffers from an overwhelming inability to be flexible and
configurable.  Now, I've poked through some of the archives, and this
appears to be by design.  In my opinion, this is a BAD design.  It's
also clear that I'm far from the only one who thinks so.  In fact,
amongst experienced users I've talked with who've used the new GNOME,
I've yet to encounter anyone who actually likes it.

I'm all for providing a simple, familiar interface for new users.  But
I'm not a new user, and there are hundreds of thousands of users who
are not new users out there.  As it stands, I think the Windows UI is
more configurable than that of GNOME 2, and I think that is shameful.
I do not believe that making things easy for new users at the expense
of experienced users is a good design philosophy.  I do believe that
it will drive people away from GNOME.  I myself will be taking a good
look at KDE3 in the very near future, as well as looking at older
solutions, like FVWM.  I used to much prefer GNOME to KDE, but it has
become, in my opinion, unusable.
I'd like to address a couple of points I found in the archives:

On Thu, 2002-08-29 at 03:20, Havoc Pennington wrote:
> The thing is, most desktop users will like or be indifferent to all of
> those things, with the possible exception of button order. People
> don't want to customize things that should just work; they don't know
> what a window manager or registry is and would be angry if you made
> them learn

I'm sorry, but you're just dead wrong.  Certainly, not everyone will
care to take the time to customize their environment; howerver there
will still be a large number of users who do.  Even in the Windows world,
people want to be able to customize the behavior of their user
interface.  Evidence the existence of the TweakUI tool.  When I still
used Windows on a regular basis, this was installed on every machine I
used.  I've walked into environments that had it installed on the
servers.  Evidence also the existence of alternative shells for the
Windows Explorer.  Or the dozens of window managers available for Unix
systems.  Or the fact that GNOME is not the only widely used desktop
environment for Linux systems...

The computer is a tool, a very flexible tool.  By its very nature, it
should be able to work the way /I/ want it to, not necessarily how you
think everyone should want it to.  Even new users will grow tired of
bumping their heads on UI mechanisms that don't work the way they
work.  Users want simple; but they also want flexible.  There is a
reason that UIs, and computer programs in general, have developed
increasing customization over the years; it's that it's what people
want.  It's not possible to define a single UI behavior that will work
for everyone.  People want choice.  The more, the better.

On Wed, 2002-08-28 at 21:34, Havoc Pennington wrote:
> The only way to collect input from real users instead of Linux
> enthusiasts is to do user testing. We can't do user testing for every
> decision.

There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Linux enthusiasts 
running Linux today.  How can you say they are not real users?  They
(we) are directly responsible for the popularity that Linux has today.
You must not overlook your existing user base in an attempt to gain
new users, or you will fail.

> If you think GNOME should be the union of all possible desktop
> environments and endlessly configurable for technical users, then
> your vision for GNOME is fundamentally at odds with the developer's
> vision for GNOME.

Despite what you say, the developers' vision appears to be that one
size fits all.  It clearly doesn't.

Have you ever worked in an office environment with lots of
non-technical users?  Especially one in which you provided IT support
to a large number of users?  I have.  Even many of those non-technical
users either have already figured out ways to customize their
environment, or frequently ask questions about how to do so.  The
technical user is far from the only one who wants flexibility.  I'm
inclined to think the word "experienced" is most fitting to describe
the class of user who is interested in customizing their environment.
It has little to do with how technical they are...

The development team seems to be falling into the same trap that I
have watched development teams fall into over and over and over:
assuming either that what works for them will work for everyone else,
or that if it "works" people will use it.  It ain't so.

I'm also detecting hints of the idea that if it's easy to code, then
usability doesn't matter.  That ain't so neither.

> And you should not stay here trying to fight the battle; you should
> go use another desktop. 

This is tantamount to saying, "We don't want your feedback.  Your
opinion doesn't matter.  We know what's best, and we have already
decided.  You will be assimilated, resistance is futile."  Why not
just go work for Microsoft?  This kind of attitude is what brought me
to Linux in the first place.

> We have a strong purpose, to actually move Linux out of the 0.5%
> desktop niche to a broader range of users.

Well, without allowing the user to make their environment work the way
THEY work, you will not succeed in your purpose.  Remember, UI stands
for User Interface, not Developer Interface.  If you want people to
use it, you have to let them do what they want.  And that means

I hope you take my comments to heart.  In the mean time, I'm going to
go look at KDE.  Cheers.

- -- 
Derek D. Martin
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