Open Source

GNOME: user un-friendliness


I don't know if you've heard about the recent little squabble in the open source camps but Linux Torvalds (creator of the Linux kernel) has taken his best shots at the GNOME Desktop environment. Why is this happening?

A while ago, Linus was quoted saying that Linux users should switch from GNOME to KDE. Linus' view on the GNOME developers was that they had a "users are idiots" mentality. His actual quote:

"I personally just encourage people to switch to KDE. This 'users are idiots, and are confused by functionality' mentality of Gnome is a disease. If you think your users are idiots, only idiots will use it. I don't use Gnome, because in striving to be simple, it has long since reached the point where it simply doesn't do what I need it to do. Please, just tell people to use KDE."

Well, the King of Linuxland followed up his words by submitting patches to the GNOME developers. His patches for the GNOME print dialog simply made the dialog behave as he would want it to behave. 

The whole argument spiraled downward from there. Godwins' law was invoke, the term Nazi was tossed around (in both English and Spanish). It's rather silly.

Or is it?

Truth be told, Linus is right. 

When GNOME first arrived on the scene it had some bugs but it was a killer Desktop Environment. It had features I always wanted, it was highly configurable. It was clean. Did I mention it was highly configurable?

Now? It's klunky. It's heavy. It doesn't like to be configurable. In a word, it's nothing more than a different shade of Windows. Even the artwork has become something unworthy of the evolution of the PC experience.

The old KDE vs. GNOME war used to be one that was a real grudge match. Each DE had a feature, look, configuration that made its siren song powerful. Now it's hard to hear the GNOME call over the Symphony of KDE.

Now, don't get me wrong, the only time I spend on KDE is playing with beryl. I spend 95% of my time in Enlightenment. Why? Because I can make it look and behave EXACTLY how I want. You know, kinda like GNOME USED to be.

So, my friends, if you're out there looking for a DE to use, do yourself a favor and just skip over GNOME. It's lost its way. It's lost the war.

And the future war? KDE and Beryl? Or maybe e17 will eventually find it's way to stability and release and all eyes will be opened in a wash of "Yes!"

But realistically KDE is simply going to continue listening to its users and marching far, far ahead of the crowd. And that is true user-friendliness. 

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

32 comments
jdcmshaw
jdcmshaw

Arguments about the useability or funcionality of either UI is irrelevent. What I see is the problem of acceptance of the platform by the ""normal user"" and the ability of the platform to perform in this environment. If this environment is to become main stream, then the effort and development for at least one UI need to address expectations of the mass and stop irrelevent arguments as expressed in this stream. Ther is obviously a need for the other UI's and always will be. Let's see a more coordinated approach to development and lets keep technical bickering to appropriate forums. That's if we wnat to see the platform in the main stream?? Perhaps we need to see a group dedicated to development of this sort.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

You don't have to use Gnome if you don't like it. Hell, there are tons of Window Mangers out there. Light Weight: TWM (blech) FVWM Medium Weight: Fluxbox Enlightenment Afterstep Heavy Weight: Gnome KDE You get to choose and you can decide what you want to use!

Jaqui
Jaqui

after all they both have requirements for bloatware [ multimedia crap ] gnome is worse, inrequiring that the linux workstation desktop environment be able to connect to microsoft servers. [ smbclient, only use is to connect to windows based servers, not ever REQUIRED for a linux workstation ] I looked at gnome, on a standalone, non networked workstation, and getting an error message because there is no network is reason enough to never touch it again. [ gnome 1.4 circa 1998 ] kde at the time was ok, but the current kde is 85% bloat, that I have zero use for or interest in. I'll stick to enlightenment, and if e17 is showing signs of the bloatware trend, i'll stick with e16

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I think this is al out of preportion. Linus has been critical of the Gnome development project for a while. That's not news or anything to get worked up over. Gnome works for some but not others. In my case, I chose KDE over Gnome but for what I use, it works. As a software engineer, Linus speaks bluntly about technology. Call a spade a spade. It's computers, it's either one or off.. right or wrong. If something sucks, say it sucks and why in technical terms. Linus was simply saying "Gnome doesn't work for me, here's why." as any FOSS community member is encouraged to do. Because it was the creater of the Linux kernel project, any comments are instantly given this deep meaning when it's simply another user providing feedback. If the same comments had come from anyone else, they would have gone unnoticed.

paul
paul

On one hand, you have the evil empire, which has software with sane names, a single DE and compatability across the board. On the other hand, you have Linux and its stick on bits. The grand high phooba of the whole shebang is flinging poop at GNOME, GNOME is flinging poop at its users, KDE looks like something you'd install on a $10 kids toy computer and come the day E17 is actually released, we'll all be using interfaces ala "Minority Report" or simply too old to care. I love my Slackware with E16, and keep a spare hard drive at hand at all times for my notebook for when I feel like a little OSS lovin', but when I want to do some real work, the kind that entails me dealing with normal people with normal jobs away from my systems engineers grind, I turn to XP Pro / Office 2003 or Vista / Office 2007 (I'd have a MacBook Pro and Office but can't afford the one I want, but this is beside the point). The thing is, I love tech, have a particular soft spot for Linux, but even I roll my eyes and wonder when the community is going to grow up and do something impressive that will REALLY put it on the map. Unless there's a dramatic switch in community attitude and some consolidation amongst the camps, the business world, where the money is made, is going to remain far out of Linux's desktop reach. People may point to recent government adoption, but hey, governments are always looking for ways to save a buck they can spend on things like war, official perks and nice overseas conventions.

TtfnJohn
TtfnJohn

Your answer may be with something like Portland 1.0 which is a series of specs that allow software to run on many UI's in Linux using the same code rather than the mucking about going on now. It's an important start, anyway. ttfn John

stress junkie
stress junkie

It doesn't make any sense for L.T. or anyone else to discourage people from using this or that software. The whole open source and GPL and everything else that goes with it is about choice. If L.T. doesn't like Gnome then he doesn't have to use it. That's no reason for him to publicly discourage people from using Gnome. If Gnome is so terrible then people will stop using it on their own, by their own choice. If people like it then they will use it. The Gnome project will survive or perish based on whether people want to use it, not on what L.T. or anybody else says.

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

I just ran through all the packages on my KDE base install. I see one esound package and one alsa Library. There are a few other libraries for graphics related stuff (format conversion etc..). I am not sure I see where you are getting your 85%. I can agree that there are some things that I don't think should be included in a minimal install (bc, dc, mtools,cpp, gcc... though none of those are a result of KDE). But 85% seems pretty high to me.

Justin James
Justin James

It is interesting that you mention GNOME's smbclient requirement, you have mentioned it before and I usually let it go in agreement. I read an interview a few days ago ( http://www.linuxworld.com/news/2007/020707-jeremy-allison.html ) which made me think a bit differently about it; Mr. Allison does have a point, in that NFS is a pretty miserable way of doing things, and that SMB/CIFS is a better protocol. J.Ja

jlwallen
jlwallen

If you want to have Linux on the desktop, multimedia "bloatware" are not a "want" but a "need". As a desktop, for the average user, GNOME or KDE one will have to be in place. Most newbies/average users wouldn't know what to do with an enlightenment or afterstep desktop. And even though I don't run either GNOME or KDE, I still use some of their applications.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

One man's user unfriendly bloatware multimedia crap is another man's required applications. Mind you, I don't have any use for multimedia either. I can't disagree with you about the unnecesary mandatory network connectivity. e17 and e16: are you abbreviating different versions of Enlightenment?

Dumbterminal
Dumbterminal

"Unless there's a dramatic switch in community attitude and some consolidation amongst the camps, the business world, where the money is made, is going to remain far out of Linux's desktop reach" Apparently too difficult for "the community" to grasp. lol...that sounds like a cult... ;) Hmmm... looks like, sounds like, tastes like... EDIT: Added quote

JohnnySacks
JohnnySacks

Jeez, it's just a UI, all I want to do is pop the CD in the drive and not think about which UI has or lacks this or that feature. I'm more interested in server components but it would be nice to get the best UI the brightest minds of my generation can come together and produce without having to think about it. Unfortunately, for an end user or anyone reviewing or using the OS, the UI is the face of Linux. This whole issue stinks of the battle over light beers or Chevy/Ford trucks being played out in media marketing. (Any outsider would deduce us to be the largest collection of mentally incompetent consumers in the world) If all the wasted effort and brain power defending, enhancing, and supporting all these multiple UI's was focused on the unification of a single customizable interface (a-la the evil empire), the general acceptance of Linux would (at least could) be greater.

rkuhn040172
rkuhn040172

With everything in your post (choice is good and survival of the fittest), but don't you all understand, this is exactly why open source and specifically Linux confuses the crap out of the average Joe? One can reach a point of too many choices and it starts to turn away the average user. And again, not that choice is bad, but the average user just hears about all the bickering and in fighting in the Linux crowd and it just doesn't appeal to them.

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

The majority of 'big' distros default to gnome, so your average-joe user may not know there is an alternative unless someone 'spreads the word'. The likely result of a figurehead like LT making a statement such as this is that more people may in fact take a closer look at the alternatives. This in turn will lead to Gnome improving or (less likely) folding up at which point those developer resources can be retasked to one of the other projects. I don't see tht either result has a significant downside.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

and have no problem with that. You should be able to install the desktop without it though. If you can't, it's a crap design fast on it's way to becoming monolithic.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"If you want to have Linux on the desktop, multimedia "bloatware" are not a "want" but a "need"." Huh? I've lived quite nicely with Windows without multimedia. Why would it be a "need" in Linux? I agree the average user migrating from Windows will initially be more comfortable with a GUI, but how is multimedia a need?

Jaqui
Jaqui

if a workplace actually needs that connectivity, then it's good that it's available, but a linux desktop itself shouldn't require it.

maurice_poor@yahoo.com
maurice_poor@yahoo.com

Since I started using Linux, about 5 years ago. I have unsucessfully tried to convince myself to use the GNOME desktop. The truth of the matter is GNOME is not very configurable, simple chores tend to become major tasks. Infact, GNOME tries to configure you - the user, instead of the other way round. I think Linus is right, people should just forget GNOME and go with KDE.

TtfnJohn
TtfnJohn

Though the reality is often that most people, other than so-called power users, never use them. Take the file manager in Windows. If you can find something more useless please let me know. Anyone doing serious file management will find a commercial or freeware or open source alternative and use it instead. In Linux, keeping to the "Big 2" there's GNOME's file manager, on a par with My Computer or Konqueror from KDE which is full featured and powerful. I prefer Konqueror because of it's power. If you want simple then GNOME's file manager is likely your choice. Both are more than sufficent to do the job of simple file management. In either case it depends on the user's needs. Now, I do agree with you that when you ask a question about an app and get barraged by a series of "RTFM" messages and the ones you've sited. Unless the person replying has a reason, technical or otherwise, for saying you'd be better off with Brand X, then they'd better explain it. "I like it better" is an opinion not something that's helpful. A comment on your statement about package managers. Most distros come with but one. SuSE uses YAST, Mandriva uses URPMI, (K)Ubuntu uses Apt, Fedora can't make up it's mind cause it's back to YUM and so on. There are more widely based choices like Smart which can handle any type of package. (In the end I'm pulling for Smart or something like it.) The choices are much more "in your face" in Linux than they are in Windows though both have a stunning array of choices to do many jobs. And both have annoying partisans of their favourite choice, too. ttfn John

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

That the Linux community should really be greatful for Microsoft. If they didn't have Microsoft as a common enemy to attack, they just might wind up gnawing their own legs off. ;)

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I've been preaching this for years. As someone who is new to Linux I'm often paralyzed by the overwhelming number of options. For a newbie, it's easier to use the default applications than test multiple GUIs, package managers, etc. Some may find it easier just chuck the penguin to the orcas and return to Windows. As for the infighting, few things are more discouraging than asking for help with a particular distro or app and getting multiple responses of, "Why don't you run Brand X instead? I like it better than the Brand Y you're using." (Or less polite versions.) That's not answering a question, that's changing the subject.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

Music, movies, and some games. Just plain sound doesn't qualify. If it requires a player, codecs, or plug-ins, its multimedia. If it won't run on W9x out of the box, its multimedia.

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

Are the audible alerts and pop-up that warn you of a problem with a server considered multimedia (it is a combination of MULTIple MEDIA formats, specifically text adn audio)? Much of the Internet is a combination of text and graphics, and in some cases audio and video as well. It might come down to definition, but I think most users would consider multimedia a need.

rkuhn040172
rkuhn040172

"One man's user unfriendly bloatware multimedia crap is another man's required applications." Didn't you read your own post? Kidding, but you wrote it not me :)

jlwallen
jlwallen

think of how the average user uses the web NOW. it's all about myspace.com and youtube.com. the average user watches streaming video pretty constantly. and the average user has some sort of digital media player attached to their machine. music and video. multimedia.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

I'm currently running Teamspeak, Firefox, a couple of terms (one compiling a large project, the other idle), a ssh tunnel to New Mexico Tech, and Gnome as my Window Manager... My memory footprint looks like this: Mem: 1035464k total, 919472k used, 115992k free I haven't even hit swap space. In Windows, not only would I be in swap, but the memory would never be freed...

shardeth-15902278
shardeth-15902278

How did you come to the conclusion that windows is relatively lightweight in comparison with GNOME and KDE? I've been doing some analysis of memory consumption between the Linux Desktops and I don't see that they consume nearly as much memory at idle as does XP. I haven't attempted to devise a testing method for active use, nor have I watched processor utilization, so I admit that my evaluation is quite rudimentary. However, the differences are fairly significant, so I am curious how you came to your conclusion.

TtfnJohn
TtfnJohn

Windows is the "heaviest" of any desktop I use simply because it's not a desktop. It's an entire OS, at least according to Microsoft. The weight comes in lines of code that support any desktop and Windows is, even by MS's own count, the heaviest. As for flexible it has been flexible to such an extent that it has been, at least till Vista, very insecure. The Jury is still out on Vista. Now, it doesn't matter what desktop you're using with Linux be it KDE, GNOME, Englightenment or Xfce if you're going to configure a network, firewall and so on you're going to be using specific tools with root access or the command line. The same goes for Mac OS-X. Actually, the same goes for Windows. I can configure networking on a Windows box from the command line in half the time that any wizard can do it for me and with far better stability. ttfn John

edembos
edembos

I completely agree with you.exploring OSes is interesting because is the different behaviour they put up. i fell in love with KDE because of its graphics but doing multimedia was something else. mp3 was fine but i playing video is something else. WINDOWS has outplayed GNOME and KDE because its relatively flexible and lightweight.

udippel
udippel

I agree with your text, mostly. Obviously you started with Gnome2.0 and above. FYI: Gnome 1.4 with sawfish was highly configurable; and - at its time - leading. Meaning, for the last 5 years the developers have tried to make up for one of the most dim-witted decision in the history of FOSS: Rewrite Gnome as a fully castrated memory hog. No, I can't consider KDE any better. It is fully overloaded with childish, XP-like colours as well as competing applications. My personal preference over the last years has been Xfce, which is much more light-weight and responsive.

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