GNOME, one of the two main linux desktop environments and platforms has become a very popular choice adopted by most major distributions as their desktop of choice, mostly due to its simplicity and minimalist design. While it does several things ‘right’, by generally providing a straightforward experience and ‘hiding’ advanced configuration options in its gconf system, its development has been unfocused and lacking in some areas where it needs additional work.
More specifically, the desktop is lacking very basic features one could find even on the original Macintosh or Windows 1.0. I’m going to list some of those critical omissions that should be a priority for any modern desktop and that GNOME seems to have missed:
- Regional Settings. I’m really clueless as to why GNOME does not include a proper Regional Settings configuration panel by default. Sure, power users, programmers and *nixheads can sort out the enviroment variables, but this should be there anyway.
- Audio Configuration. ALSA has been the standard for years, yet GNOME is missing a proper audio configuration panel. Audio is more than setting the event sounds and choosing a backend. The advent of PulseAudio has made things much worse, especially on systems where there are more than one soundcards available. Soundcard selection and configuration should be a couple of clicks away. And this includes multi-card systems and numerous backends.
- Convoluted Settings. Why do we really need two panels for ‘Keyboard’ and ‘Keyboard shortcuts’? Why isn’t there a proper, functional ‘Service’ management panel? Why is gnome-control-center polluted with utilities such as ‘Network Tools’ and ‘System Monitor’? (hint: those are not configuration panels, but utilities). Why is ‘Default Printer’ a separate panel from ‘Printnig’ (and for those still in the 20th century, where on earth is Faxing configuration?)
- Searching, Indexing: Chaos. On Ubuntu clicking on Places -> ‘Search for files’ shows the old GNOME ‘Search for files’ utility. Clicking the lens on the top right or going to Applications -> Accessories (?!) -> Tracker Search tool starts tracker. Pressing Ctrl-F when a Nautilus window has focus shows yet another dialogue. This is totally unacceptable.
- Configuration: No CLI Requirement. There should be a concerted effort by all linux vendors, across all desktop environments to constitute a simple text based standard for configuration files with self-documenting facilities and coupled with a standard API for accessing, creating and modifying such files. This, in turn, could (possibly) allow for automatic generation of GUI applets capable of configuring every single aspect of the system in case a custom UI for a certain function is not available. Such a system would present a simpler, more pleasant experience to both users and developers. No GUI application, utility or system function should require the use of the terminal, although it should be possible to use a plain text editor to edit configuration files if that’s preferred. Since linux is a multi-desktop environment operating system, this should not be gconf, but something else; perhaps an XML-based standard.
I’ll be revisiting the topic over time in follow-up posts in order to add more usability annoyances of the modern linux desktop. Until then, I’d like to hear your comments.
Please do not ‘inform’ me of KDE’s strengths. I’m very well aware of them and I’ll provide a respective critique of its features as soon as the 4-series reaches a point of maturity worth spending some time for (I’m guessing 4.2 at the earliest, maybe a bit later).