Bruce Byfield: Why Isn’t GNOME Listening?

Bruce Byfield swings hard. Sometimes he hits foul balls and other times he gets a home run. He has connected solidly with this piece:
Why Isn’t GNOME Listening?

The part I like best is where he compares recent GNOMEs to Lose 3.1, throwing away the huge advance in IT that allowed a desktop GUI to reflect the processes running to the user. Really, people do multitask and GNOME 2 did that much better than GNOME 3, a step backwards.

“Seventeen years of interface development, and it turns out that DOS and Windows 3.1 had the right idea after all?”

That’s a home run. I am not a great multitasker but even I have dozens of windows open to various documents, websites, applications and parts of my file-system. It boggles the mind that anyone would ignore the reason the GUI and the mouse were invented, to allow better interaction with more processes. Users don’t run an application. They run applications. Even the most devout user of FaceBook may want to look at his calendar or check his e-mail or change his playlist. Doing that with a single click or a glance makes sense. GNOME and disUNITY do not.

The idea of optimizing screen space may make sense on a smartphone but it has no place on a wide-screen monitor, or multiple monitors.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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10 Responses to Bruce Byfield: Why Isn’t GNOME Listening?

  1. ch wrote, “Yeah, that was the first Linux distro I tried, either ’93 or ’94. Eventually, I could install it, it supported some of my HW, and it had a nice Reversi game, but little else.”

    That code is still on the web. I may play with it in a virtual machine some day.

    Yggdrasil brought forth the live CD and inspired several other existing distros. Certainly many geeks were using GNU/Linux desktops by 94/95 because of it.

    e.g. Caldera Desktop Linux copyright 1995: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/4/49/ND1.jpg

    Red Hat Linux in 1994.

    First trade show for Linux in 1995

    KDE in 1996.

    see Linux History

  2. ch wrote, “Hillariously wrong. Try 1983 (Lisa).”

    I stand corrected. Wrong decade. Time flies when you’re my age.

  3. ch says:

    “It would crash at the drop of a hat when changing context. I would not call that multitasking.”

    Nobody ever accused Win3.x of being too stable, right. Doesn’t change the fact that implying Win3.1 didn’t have multiple windows is just wrong.

    “Yggdrasil”

    Yeah, that was the first Linux distro I tried, either ’93 or ’94. Eventually, I could install it, it supported some of my HW, and it had a nice Reversi game, but little else. At the time Linux could give you a nice X terminal, or you could use the command line stuff, but there was no office suite and very little else. Oh, of course you could just use Emacs and TeX ;-)

    “distros doing better than Lose ’95.”

    Better in what way? “technically advanced” ? Sure. But not better as in “more useful”, not by a long shot – unless you had very specific demands. Ok, if you needed a Unix workstation, then Linux was much cheaper than SCO.

    “Xerox Alto had a GUI in the early 1970s”

    Right, but irrelevant.

    “as did Apple”

    Hillariously wrong. Try 1983 (Lisa).

  4. Ch wrote, “there is a reason Windows was named Window*S* and not “Window”: Since the very first version, it allowed for multitasking (although only cooperative) and thus multiple windows on the screen (the limiting factor was screen size in those days).”

    Chuckle. I remember Lose 3.1. It was the last OS I ever bought from M$. It would crash at the drop of a hat when changing context. I would not call that multitasking. I developed the habit of crossing my fingers whenever I printed anything. I did File/Save every few minutes or I lost stuff.

    Yggdrasil released their first beta live CD distro with X window system in 1993.
    By 1994 there were a ton of distros doing better than Lose ’95. SUSE and Debian GNU/Linux were both technically advanced over Lose ’95. SUSE was shipping a 3CD set in 1996.

    Xerox Alto had a GUI in the early 1970s as did Apple.

  5. ch says:

    Sorry, I shouldn’t have marked MPT’s actual comment with <quote>. So the excerpt of his comment starts with “There is …” and ends after the next paragraph “… and possibly OpenOffice.org.” The last paragraph “Let me …” is written by me.

  6. ch says:

    From BB’s post:
    “From this reaction, I have to conclude that the problem isn’t that GNOME doesn’t know how users are reacting. Instead, the problem seems to be that GNOME doesn’t want to know.”

    Big surprise.

    If you are a company selling commercial SW to *customers*, then you better listen to those customers. No, you probably can’t fulfill every single wish of every single customer, but if enough important customers complain, then even a behemoth like MS reacts. So the fact that I am a customer and SW companies want my cash gives me at least *some* power.

    In the world of FLOSS, you are just a user, and a KDE developer allready stated years ago “We don’t need users, we only need contributors”. If you don’t speak C++ and/or don’t want to invest a lot of your time in project xyz, then why should the xyz developers listen to you?

    The discussion following this post is worth reading:
    http://piestar.net/2010/06/22/ayatana-missing-the-point/
    Allmost halfway down the page, MPT from Canonical join in and – in his second comment – gives us this interesting information:

    “There is plenty of user feedback coming at FOSS products” — but most of it is useless, because opinions are not data.

    Imagine you are an engineer, or even a designer, with eight hours to devote to Ubuntu today. What is the best way of spending that time? Will reading e-mail notifications of new bug reports help you use the rest of your time better enough to make it worth it? Maybe or maybe not, depending on the package. Will commenting on posts on Brainstorm, or Ubuntu Reddit, or OMG Ubuntu, or Piestar help you use the rest of your time better enough to make it worth it? Probably not (though it varies by post, hence me here). Will reading the Ubuntu Forums help you use the rest of your time better enough to make it worth it? Almost certainly not. Forum contributors, if they see a response from a developer, may be reassured or inspired to contribute elsewhere. But that’s an intangible benefit, and unattractive for that reason. That’s why you get told “The developers don’t read these forums”. That’s why Brainstorm acts mainly as a honeypot drawing noise away from the bug tracker. And that’s why it’s gradually getting more difficult to report a bug about Ubuntu. We *need* to erect those barriers, so that we have time left in the day to improve the software. This may seem outrageous to people used to contributing to smaller projects that have less noise — i.e. every open source project in the world, other than Firefox, Ubuntu, and possibly OpenOffice.org.

    Let me repeat the most revealing point: “That’s why Brainstorm acts mainly as a honeypot drawing noise away from the bug tracker.” So they are actively shielding themselves against user feedback. And why shouldn’t Gnome do he same? They are primarily doing it for *their* fun, not for *your* benefit. And, as the head developer of KDE admitted after the KDE 4.0 debacle, developers prefer writing new stuff to fixing old stuff – that’s why nobody wanted to continue working on KDE 3.x and they had to rush out “4.0”.

  7. Phenom says:

    @Ch, you are right tht desktop for classical PCs with keyboard and mouse are basically done. XP, Vista, 7, 8, OS X merely refine the experience, make it a bit more usable, but the core idea really got nailed with Windows 95.

    The proof is that with Metro in 8 Microsoft target tablets, not classical desktops. For the latter, you still have your taskbar, start menu (improved), and notification area.

  8. ch says:

    There seems to be a rule that any member of the community criticising some bit of FLOSS just HAS to include a jab at MS – no matter how boneheaded – to prove he hasn’t gone over to the dark side. So he
    implies that “DOS and Windows 3.1″ didn’t do multiple windows, which is silly. DOS of course didn’t have any windows nor concurrent processes – that made quite some sense since it was designed to run on an 8088 @ 4.7 MHz with 64 KB of RAM – you don’t want to run stuff like 1-2-3, dBase and Wordstar concurrently on such a machine. However, there is a reason Windows was named Window*S* and not “Window”: Since the very first version, it allowed for multitasking (although only cooperative) and thus multiple windows on the screen (the limiting factor was screen size in those days). Here is Windows 3.x in all its “glory”: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/de/6/6c/Wfw.PNG

    Then Win95 came and essentially got the desktop right. Result: With the notable exceptions of Unity and Gnome 3 (and, just coincidentally, you seem not to like those two), all desktops share the main concepts: Some variation on the start menu, a taskbar and a notification area. That’s it, move on, nothing to see here. Since then, MS has dicked around with the desktop in every new version of Windows, but except for a few actual improvement I prefer to just ignore or turn off those changes. IMHO the desktop (for classical PCs with keyboard and mouse) is just done.

  9. Finalzone says:

    As a Gnome 3 user on daily basis, I think the article is all about rant. Gnome 3 is just a matter of getting used to once you understand how it works.

    The shell behaviour is extremely customizable like Mint team showed.

    [i]The part I like best is where he compares recent GNOMEs to Lose 3.1, throwing away the huge advance in IT that allowed a desktop GUI to reflect the processes running to the user. Really, people do multitask and GNOME 2 did that much better than GNOME 3, a step backwards.[/i]

    What was the last time Windows 3.1 used a dynamic virtual desktop? What about the extension? The theme on Gnome shell can be easily changed just a matter of css. Gnome 2 maintenance was beyond repair. The behaviour can still be brought back through extension.

    [i]It boggles the mind that anyone would ignore the reason the GUI and the mouse were invented, to allow better interaction with more processes. [/i]

    That method is not ignored, it is improved. The real issue is the old habit from some users. I think people who do not know much about the system are more open to learn and adapt thus the real target of Gnome 3. Rant all you want but you will find yourself using Gnome 3.

  10. Ray says:

    I have a gut feeling that it’s moving towards the tablet…

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