Of all the Linux desktops, I would have thought GNOME to be the last bastion of stability and common good. But since the release of GNOME 3, things have steadily (and drastically) gone downhill. The latest bit of crazy to come from the GNOME camp is the list of features being removed from the Nautilus file manager (as of 3.6). This short list looks like:

  • Compact View gone
  • ‘Type Ahead Find’ gone
  • ‘New file’ templates gone
  • Application Menu gone
  • ‘Go’ menu gone
  • F3 split screen gone
  • ‘Tree’ view gone
  • Bookmark menu items gone
  • Backspace shortcut to return to parent folder gone

So strong has the reaction been, that distributions like Linux Mint are developing their own file manager (Nemo) and Ubuntu froze Nautilus 3.4 for the 12.04 release (as well as the upcoming 12.10) and are considering creating their own file manager for Unity. It has also been suggested that Ubuntu adopt either the Linux Mint Nemo file manager or the Marlin file manager as the new default.

Unfortunately, what this says to me is that GNOME is not only losing ground, they are losing touch. For the longest time GNOME had the development team that honestly listened to their users. When something looked like it was about to jump the shark, the team reeled it in and took what the users said to heart. Now? Not so much. Now GNOME seems to be on a collision course with irrelevance and, in the end… a permanent spot leaning against the wall at the Linux desktop party.

You see — the world is changing exponentially faster than it once did. And with the immediacy of connection and change, it is so easy to get left behind. With GNOME removing features from the file manager that have been favorites for many users for a long, long time, they are pulling the inevitable “shooting themselves in the foot”. And with Ubuntu and Linux Mint pulling the plug on support for Nautilus, a crucial piece of the desktop puzzle will no longer have GNOME’s name on it within two of the most user-friendly desktops on the planet.

What is really sad about this whole situation is that when GNOME 3 first arrived it seemed as if it could completely change the world of the PC desktop. It seemed that good of an idea. But from the beginning of GNOME 3’s life, the developers refused to listen to the end users. It seemed they really only cared about their own needs and targeted a very minuscule cross section of users — mostly developers and those that were already drinking the Kool-Aid.

Well, that Kool-Aid has gone sour and fewer and fewer people are opting for the GNOME 3 desktop. Making a file manager less usable is just another nail in an already rotting coffin.

I remember, way back in ’97 and ’98, using the beta versions of the GNOME desktop and thinking this is what the computer desktop is all about. No more was I locked down to the Windows way. GNOME was rough around the edges, but it offered features no other desktop had to offer. And when there was a problem or a feature request, the developers listened.

Fast forward a decade and GNOME had one of the most usable, stable desktops around. But then the metaphor changed and began to migrate to a more mobile, touch-based interface and GNOME did what it had always done best — adapt. Only this time, in the act of adapting, their cart fell off the tracks and all of the other desktops have slipped past them and watched as GNOME continued to keep on the blinders and fall further and further into trouble.

The issues with Nautilus 3.6, quite possibly, serve as the final straw for the Linux desktop that, for so long, held the title as the King of interfaces for the open source world. Now, GNOME would have a long, hard fight to try to reclaim anything resembling that title. Personally, I’d like to see it happen. I don’t believe it will.