My Problem with GNOME 3

I’ve had openSUSE 13.1 installed on a Lenovo ThinkPad X220 for the past weeks and it has worked pretty well. I’ve used the GNOME desktop mainly because it has the ability to call up a search box with a single button (the Windows key on this laptop). That allows me really easy access to most functions I need to accomplish.

However, GNOME 3 has bugged me more than a little bit for one major reason and I’ll use some pictures to illustrate it.



Notice the subtle difference? Here are two more pictures to illustrate a little bit better.



It is really subtle and only noticeable on a small screen (like the X220’s 1366×768).

The usable area for a Firefox window in openSUSE 13.1 GNOME is 634 pixels high. On SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop (SLED) it is 657 pixels high. While that difference of 23 pixels (give or take a few, I was just cropping the images in Acorn) might not seem like a lot, on a screen where pixels are at a premium it can make a sizable difference in just how it feels. The SLED desktop, at least in this instance, just feels a little less cramped.

Now, this is an extreme case, obviously, but it makes a difference. Smash such large toolbars on the top of the screen feels oppressive in a way that the SLED one does not. GNOME 3 overall just feels a little bit heavier than GNOME 2 at the moment on these screen sizes. On larger screens, obviously, the differences are not as drastic.

At this point I should state that GNOME has taken a decidedly Apple-ish approach here with Apple’s persistent toolbar along the top of the screens. I don’t have an exact analog with which to test it with to see how Firefox fares on, say, an 11″ MacBook Air which has the identical screen resolution. I’ll try to have a friend screenshot that soon so I can pull it apart.

The point of this was not to bag on GNOME 3, but to point out one difference I have noted so far between the openSUSE GNOME 3 and SLED GNOME 2 design directions and the feeling I have when using them. It is interesting, at least.


A Month With Linux: Some Shortcomings

Sorry to report, but I am not starting it yet. Recently I’ve been playing around with the latest release of OS X, 10.9 Mavericks, and it almost derailed this entire project of mine. However, I still have plans to go ahead with it and at the moment I am using the pending release of openSUSE 13.1 as a milestone where I will need to make a final decision as to which distro I am going to use and which month I am going to devote to this little project.

Instead of just sitting around, though, I am going to post what are some things holding me back from just jumping in and doing this. Warning, this is completely and totally biased and just my opinions. I have been running an Apple-exclusive household for a few years now and I find Apple’s hardware and software to fit most of what I want to do very well.

However, I philosophically fall in-line with the open source community and would consider myself an advocate for those communities as well. Keeping all of that in mind, I really want to see things get more than just better, but great for Linux and open source.

  • Email clients are routinely a pain in the butt. I know that “webmail” is the default way for most people to consume their mail, but I like having a single program where I am able to bring in all of my disparate accounts and access them at the same time. Sadly, from what I can find, no one is really interested in a the same unified inbox as Apple’s can provide. I need to dig more into Thunderbird, but the lack of sane defaults kills me sometimes. I think that email clients are considered dead by a great many developers, and that is too bad because there is a ton of room for excellent email clients on Linux.
  • Lack of native applications is a pain sometimes. This might have more to do with the fragmentation of the Linux distributions more than anything else, but it really forces you into the browser for a great many things. I like the looks and feel of a truly native application, but on Linux the options just are not there for the sort of really excellent native applications I have become used to having on OS X and iOS.
  • I hope someone can help me with this one, but I have a hard time getting file system compatibility between Windows, OS X, and Linux machines. I know that FAT can work, but FAT has limitations I run into far more than I want. If someone has a modern file system I can use to make an external hard drive portable between Windows, OS X, and Linux I would love to hear it. I have some training materials along with disk images I would love to be able to move between those three operating systems.
  • For openSUSE, the lack of an openSUSE-specific theme for GNOME is kind of disappointing. OS X has a very distinctive look and feel, Windows has a very distinctive look at feel (don’t get me started on 8), but GNOME is GNOME is GNOME is GNOME … which might not be a terrible thing. The hard part is that I thought openSUSE/SUSE has an excellent theme for GNOME 2, but now it looks too “samey” for my taste.
  • Don’t worry, I won’t leave KDE out of this. The hoops you need to jump through to get some sort of “super button” on your keyboard is disappointing. For GNOME I just tap the Windows key and it brings up my search box. Not so in KDE. While I understand the philosophy behind it (and I spent two hours looking into it one day), it is still frustrating to not have a simple button I can push to bring up their menu.
  • KDE also has options for pretty much everything. I understand wanting to give people choice but … I guess it just doesn’t jive with my needs as much.

That’s a sampling. No deal breakers in there and definitely the opinions of a person who wants openSUSE to be more like OS X, which is a ridiculous thing to want.

With all of that said, I will still give it a try, and maybe some of it will grow on me over time. Still hoping some designers get the itch and really try to see how far they can bend GNOME to make a really attractive-looking openSUSE theme.

Another wildcard in all of this is what SUSE is going to do with SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 12. While openSUSE has moved to having KDE be the default desktop, SUSE has not announced anything yet. If they move from GNOME 2 to GNOME 3, maybe there will be some work done there. If, however, they move to KDE then I think I might need to move on as well and learn to love modifier keys.



openSUSE 13.1 RC1 GNOME Graphical Issues

After installing openSUSE 13.1 RC1 yesterday, I noticed that I was having some very strange graphical issues with my GNOME 3.10 installation.

openSUSE 13.1 RC1 GNOME IssuesThat is probably my favorite one.

Working with some helpful friends from the openSUSE Forums, we were able to figure out which bug(s) I was running into and also figure out a pretty easy solution until a patch is released.

Basically, turn off automatic login for your account and then log in as normal. After making that simple change, everything is working fine in GNOME. If you are running into similar issues (did not happen in openSUSE 12.3 or a KDE installation of 13.1 RC1), then give the fix and report it on the bug trackers.




Benefits of Stability

SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 SP3 (I’m just going to call it SLED) is not a modern Linux distribution. I’m using “modern” in the sense of less-than-one-year-old sense. It seems that most modern Linux distributions are on a six-or-eight-month schedule for releases.

While Ubuntu, Fedora, openSUSE, and others push ever onward, SLED sticks with the tried-and-true until the dust settles and everything quiets down just a little bit. You won’t find GNOME 3 here (yet), and you won’t find a deluge of new and exciting offerings in the standard repositories. You will find stable applications and a stable system. That’s what someone like SUSE or Red Hat offers to “enterprises” and it might just be something that regular people are looking for as well.

That stability brings a big benefit: support.

Years and years of it. Security and stability updates keep coming even as other distributions and operating system vendors move on. This means less change, more time spent working on other projects and other needs, and stuff continuing to work even as the technology market continues to move ahead.

This isn’t just for SUSE either, but there are others who do this same thing. It is important to keep that in mind when you are choosing an operating system for almost any application. How long can you keep this server in service and still receive support?

This gets back to something I talk about a lot … cutting down on the choices which need to be made. Apple does this by only offering a few things and you can choose from those few things. SUSE and other “enterprise” vendors do this by making you choose once and then letting you use it for up to 10 years without needing to pull it out and upgrade it again (even if it continues to work and fills the current and sometimes future needs …  for example: DNS servers).

Two different ways to handle it.


A Month With Linux: More Thinking

No, I have not even started yet, but I do have some more thoughts on my planned “A Month With Linux” thing coming up in the future. I’ve been waffling on my end, especially with the imminent release of OS X 10.9 Mavericks, but I am going to go through with it at some point in the future.

What I AM waiting for is the next release of openSUSE. As such, you will notice on my “sidebar” a countdown image for the next release of openSUSE, 13.1. I’m pretty excited about this release for a number of reasons:

  • openSUSE 13.1 is supposed to be the base platform from which SUSE Linux Enterprise 12 is going to be based. That means a lot of updated software is going to be getting support from SUSE. I’m most interested in seeing how both KDE and GNOME have matured (especially with the recently GNOME 3.10 release).
  • I kind of like to mess around with file systems a little bit (THAR BE DRAGONS), and Btrfs has me a little excited. I really like ZFS and will probably end up using FreeNAS for something at work this year, but Btrfs looks to be where the Linux kernel is headed and I want to play with it some more.
  • The move to Ruby that YaST team just completed makes me a little bit excited about the platform. I like Ruby, so I like that a major component has moved its entire code base to Ruby and I want to watch what happens.
  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 11 is a really solid GNOME 2 distribution and I am interested to see which of the GNOME 3/KDE 4 divide they end up on … so I need to watch what happens with openSUSE 13.1+ to get an idea of what the future might bring.
  • I want to maybe move some of our older, less essential servers to openSUSE and want to get a feel for the tooling for this distro.

So, a lot to work with. That is why I’m holding off on a final decision until after 13.1 is released and I can take a look at it. I have put SLED 11 back on my Lenovo ThinkPad X220 for the time being to play with it some more. The hardest part is the lack of software directly in the repositories, and the lack of an updated version of Firefox as well (if anyone knows if SUSE is going to move to the latest Firefox ESR, please let me know in the comments).

I’m having fun playing in these new (to me) communities and how they operate. Hopefully I’ll soon have an entire month to do so.