Monday, 16 January 2012

What's common between Windows 7 and GNOME 3 / gnome-shell?

Update: I managed to make sound work. For some weird reason, a mute switch option of some the many (and who knows how useful) switches of my sound card was enabled. Now the damn thing works. Did I mention that since I did the upgrade all my sound cards (I have a USB sound card, too) have listed as available inputs all the inputs of my internal sound card (mic, front mic, line in, CD, etc.) in Audacity? That makes for a very confusing and loooong sound input sources list! The upside is that I can finally record clips from televisions that do not provide such a feature and FastVideoDownload doesn't handle.

I also seem to have found a possible fix for the caps-ctrl issue in Xfce4 (obviously, setting "-option ctrl:swapcap" in ~/.Xkbmap, instead of that Alt modifier).

As I said in my previous post, I will tell you what do GNOME 3 and Windows 7 have in common.

Before everything else, I want to make it clear that when I am saying GNOME 3, I am referring to Debian Wheezy's GNOME 3, since I recently upgraded from Squeeze on my laptop. I'll probably drop a line or two about that, too.

First, I'll tell you about the (boring, probably for many) experience with Windows 7. As I said before, my new job requires me to use a Windows machine, so up until a few months ago I was using Windows XP with some additional software and tweaks to make it usable. Then came the Windows 7 „upgrade”. I am using quotes since the more appropriate term would be „fresh installation on a new partition”, not even close to what Debian users are used to call an upgrade.

So after a fresh Windows 7 installation, my first shock was the fact there was NO Quick Launch*. Some of you might be laughing, but I had never used Windows 7 up until then, just saw it on a laptop of a friend of mine (Ovidiu, one of the guys with whom I am doing this podcast, went to Denkfest with, and made these interviews). That was the first shock. Initial discussions about this with Windows users lead me to believe Quick Launch was dead and for some unexplained reason, I believed them. Later, much later, a week ago, to be precise, I found out that you can bring back the Quick Launch through some convoluted way**. Up until that point I had to have some icons pinned to the task bar, but some others on the desktop (and I hate that) because some of them, like Cygwin, if pinned, would start a cmd console, since Win 7 pins the process, not the starting script.

Among other things which broke in Win 7 and used to work fine in XP, the Virtual Dimension application which provides me with a virtual desktop, was the first one which was broken. I have been using a liniar 4 desktops-wide virtual desktop for over 5 years and I am worthless and inefficient if all my apps are on the same desktop. Mail application is always on the first desktop, work and file managers are on the second, the third is for extras and multimedia editing while the fourth is my gateway to the internet, containing the browser, instant messenger, or whatever.

The shortcuts I use to get to the various desktops are Win+1 ... Win+4 keyboard shortcuts, but the M$ Evil Empire decided that those shortcuts are going to start or bring foreward the first, second and so on applications pinned on the task bar. And you can't change those shortcuts***. Nor is disabling just those possible since they are all disabled through a huge switch which disables ALL Win+x keyboard shortcuts, among which Win+E (file expolrer) and Win+D (Show Desktop) were also. Luckly, Win+L (lock screen) was not disabled. So I disabled al those Win+ shortcuts, since I need virtual desktops.

Now, imagine if I had to start a Cygwin console and I had all sorts of apps open! Win+D was disabled, so I had to minimize the apps covering the desktop shortcut for Cygwin, click on the icon to start it, bring back the minimized windows and go on with my work. What a waste of clicks, mouse movement, energy and time, just because some dudes thought a Quick Launch-like feature was useless****.

You might wonder already what do those '*' sings mean. Well, sadly, that's what GNOME 3 / gnome-shell and Windows 7 have in common.

Gnome 3 was a shock for me. An empty desktop right after upgrade. No panels, no shortcuts*, no power indicators, no wicd indicator, no virtual desktops, no desktop icons, (I have a few dirs and docs there). Sounds like an Evil Empire decision, doesn't it?

Luckly I have been using Tilda as my always-ready console and I could fire up iceweasel from the console in order to understand where my panel disappeared.

I then realised that the upgrade brought me Network Manager, that app which wicd replaced. As a consequence, I had no working wlan since Network Manager made sure to mess up with the network manager I chose.

After looking through the documentation of Network Manager and realising I either had it set up to leave wlan0 alone or I didn't understood NM's documentation, I simply stopped the service, which let Wicd its job flawlessly.

The first thing I searched was „Gnome 3 panel” or something of that sort and I was confronted with the obvious option to appeal to the Forced Fallback Mode which was disabled. I figured I either had an old version, or Debian disabled this feature (hoping they provided an alternative). There was also the option to conform to this convoluted way of working** with Actions and such uselessness like that. I still wonder, what is the purpose of the „Favourites” bar on the left side, since it's accessible only after wasting a lot of mouse movement and time? For Joe's Pesci sake, I use focus under mouse just to avoid needless mouse and keyboard manipulation. Why? Why? WHY would I want every time I need to start or SWITCH to another application to move the mouse to the upper-left corner then take my hands off the mouse to type, move the mouse downwards or move across the whole width of the screen to get to my beloved virtual desktops and pick the app I want?

Making a long story short, after even trying XFCE4 (which for some unknown reason resets almost immediately my keyboard layout to the default layout with the Caps on Caps, instead of my preferred and set Ctrl on Caps - yes, it's global), I managed to find GNOME Shell Frippery** which made the experience better.

Later I found out that GNOME 3's file manager, Nautilus, has decided that an „up on level” button is useless, since the default is to use that uncopy-pastable button location bar instead of a sane text location bar. And it seems the GNOME developers decided this*** and I should conform to it.

To add insult to injury, those icons on my old panel are apparently useless**** and even in the fallback version I can't get them back. Or so the GNOME developers decided.

At some point this sunday, don't know how or why this change happened, producing sound was impossible. I know the problem is pulseaudio since when I kill the pulseaudio daemon from the console I can play audio. BTW, great timing, just when I needed sound the most, before releasing episode 32 of our podcast (yay, I reaslised that xfce just decided to reset my caps to be caps, after setting to ctrl a few minutes ago).

I know I praised pulseaudio when I first tried it, but failing to make it work out of the box or after some tinkering is a deal breaker for me, so I removed it. Now I find it that is a default in GNOME, yet all it manages to do is prevent audio from working. At least on my machine.

Other problems? Gnome Power Manager manages to hang and block my session, GNOME managed somehow to fail to start at some point. Yeah, and that sound problem which I didn't fix yet, didn't went away after removing all the pulseaudio packages which could be removed (e.g.: ryhtmbox depends on libpulse0, same do some other apps like audacity, so I couldn't remove all pulse related packages).

I got involved with Debian and GNU/Linux because it was tweakable and customisable, didn't use to force all sorts of option on me and now I find with its increasing popularity it becomes more and more like a product of a corporation which decides to change some things just to change and totally disregadring user experience and uses.

So, in the light of all of these problems I think it's time to probably consider trying KDE. Is it any good lately?


Unknown said...

Give XFCE a second chance. Try it for a week and tweak it. I think it is much better than KDE for a former Gnome2 user.

Anonymous said...

So true... :-(

DB said...

Wow, that's a hardcore linux-on-windows user!

Nice to compare experience a bit. I must say that by half-way through my thoughts were "I'll be sticking with KDE a long time then". It's slightly slow (at least, sometimes with NVIDIA graphics) and the PIM stuff is a little more complicated than really necessary, but a lot of it... just works in a pretty usable way without much tweaking.

XFCE and gnome aren't so feature rich (kate session launcher from Alt+F2? the "do-everything" konqueror, even if not quite up to scratch in a few places?).

Pulseaudio: yeah, we all know (at least, I remember no sound on upgrade to KDE4).

Network manager vs. wicd: neither's really perfect, but network-manager mostly works (obviously not if wicd's running at the same time). WICD's "automatically connect to other wifi boxes with the same SSID" bugged out on me, which is a real pain on a campus with thousands of access points.

Long story short: nothing's perfect. But I'm happy that KDE strives to be friendly to power users without requiring me to do everything from scratch.

Anonymous said...

If you give xfce another try know that the caps lock thing is a xfce4-xkb-plugin bug. It resets your prefs every few minutes (too bored to find the link to the bug report right now). Use fbxkb as keyboard indicator and set your options with setxkbmap at startup (setxkbmap -option "ctrl:nocaps" from what you wrote).

Anonymous said...

It's just that you don't know GNOME nor XFCE. Take for example you "non copy-pastable" remark. If you drag-and-drop a file icon in a terminal you get its path written in the terminal.

Anonymous said...

KDE4.7 is really awesome. Debian maintainers made the transition from major 3 to 4 almost flawless with kaboom. Given that I don't thinks like akonadi for performance / battery reasons (but nepomuk for digikam) or "activities" it gets with xmonad as window manager pretty much out of your way if like to simply use your computer with nicer graphics attached.

eddyp said...

@Anonymous (non copy-pastable): "It's just that you don't know GNOME nor XFCE"

Wow! Just wow! Did it ever occurred to you that I have been using GNOME since the days of GNOME 2.2 and I like it to be the way I want it to be? Do you really think the ONLY problem with that hideous location bar is that is non-copy-pastable (in an intuitive manner)? It's called a graphical interface BECAUSE it's supposed to be intuitive and not convoluted!

You say I don't know XFCE. It's true, I haven't been forced to used it before, I have been using GNOME. But, still, can you please explain what is so intuitive and smart about a DE that CHANGES the layout option *I* chose two minutes ago? And the crappy start session bullshit is worthless, BTW. I have the command in there, yet, caps is still caps. So?

Anonymous said...

Good morning

I set Gnome 3 up on a separate partition - had heard enough bad that did not want to risk dragging too much of the Gnome schtuff in my regular partition. Hated Gnome 3, for much the same reasons as you list. In the end wiped it and put Xfce on it, so could play with it and get to know it in my spare time, with zero influence on my regular session.

My regular session? Have been a KDE user mostly over the years. Still a KDE user. The earlier versions of KDE4 were, we shall say, a problem, but the current version in Debian is quite stable. Am running Wheezy, so cannot speak of the offering in Squeeze. Configuration options in KDE are good and easy to get to, though some command line tweaking still needs to be done sometimes.

I used to use Wicd. But recently, I decided (because I could) to do a complete reinstall of my system. Didn't need it, I just felt like doing it. It also meant that I was starting afresh with a clean system. Since, I have used Network Manager and am quite happy with it. Well, at least, now that am used to it.

I also found that generally I prefer the "KDE apps" over the "GNOME apps", though Synaptic is always one of the first things I install.

With greetings


Anonymous said...

> If you drag-and-drop a file icon in a terminal you get its path written in the terminal.

If you press Ctrl-L in Nautilus the button location bar turns into a text field that you can easily copy and paste.

- Fabian

gares said...

Well, what I wanted to say (I'm anonymous) is that half of your rants comes from the fact that you have an incomplete/broken installation of GNOME 3, the other half of the rants come from the fact that you don't know GNOME 3 well enough. Did you know of shell extensions? can bring back some of the features you liked of GNOME 2 that are not part of the standard shell. There is even a gnome-shell-extensions package with a bunch of them, and gnome-tweak-tool can activate them with one click. I googled 2 minutes and I found something that may make you change your mind (untested, sorry):

mirabilos said...

I’m sorry to say that I looked at KDE 4 and Windows® 7 and had a hard time deciding which is worse, tending towards KDE 4…

Try Trinity, it’s a KDE 3 revival and somewhat usable. Or just not a DE – evilwm or IceWM are decent.

Anonymous said...

"I got involved with Debian and GNU/Linux because it was tweakable and customisable, didn't use to force all sorts of option on me and now I find with its increasing popularity it becomes more and more like a product of a corporation which decides to change some things just to change and totally disregadring user experience and uses."

Debian packages upstream projects. It doesn't force anything on you more than it has before.

eddyp said...

@gares: Did you get that information from my article, or did you manged to be redundant by yourself?

Jon Dowland said...

I wonder if gares has actually tried extensions... whether they work at all, and whether they survive even a minor version bump in the gnome3 packages, is very hit-and-miss.

eddyp said...

@Jon: Are you also a victim of GNOME 3? Have you taken refuge in xfce lands or something similar?

Martin said...

Well, I can live with GNOME 3 as it comes with Debian testing, but, yes, compared to GNOME 2 it is a step backwards in many respects.

Debians GNOME 2 was just OK for me without any tweaking and configuration, with the exceptions focus_mode=sloppy and raise_on_click=false.

GNOME 3 would need a lot of customisation, but I don't want to customise my desktop. It should be OK as it comes from Debian.

OTOH, keyboard control with GNOME 3 works better for me than it used to work with GNOME 2, where I had to use the mouse more often.

Btw. I used to like WICD, but switched long time ago to NM and never looked back. NM is really cool!

Victor said...

Gnome shell and unity are hideous, u said it well. My guess is that cinnamon/mint is going to fill this gap and maybe even get some momentum.
I will postpone my upgrade a bit to see where it's going.

Vikisonline said...

I got fed up with this. I tried LXDE which was ok, but then I decided to take it one step further.

Now I use OpenBox with fbpanel, and a couple extra programs. Its really fast, no gpu acceleration and it just works (really really fast). Indexing was awful in the gnome 3 launcher. bye bye gnome. Gnome 2 will be missed.

shirishag75 said...

just saw this one. The icons on the panel are a real pain to set up but can be set. I do CTRL+Right-click and I get the the standard right-click menu I used to get on GNOME 2. Not intuitive for sure .

Also placing icons is a pain as I cannot put them anywhere but works.

Just a suggestion, it would have been easier to imagine/know if you had used some screenies or part screenies and show it as well. As of right now, it sorta jumbled altogether.

eddyp said...

@shirishag75: Wow! Ctrl+RightClick, I'm sure a beginner would guess that immediately. I wonder, what's wrong with the GNOME developers? They had a perfectly usable desktop, they stabilised it enough to get to the point where nice things such as nautilus-actions were the next logical step to have smart context menus (that scripts stuff is such a hack with it's total lack of filters based on mime types or extension), but they decided to change everything while giving no thought to what might be breaking.

I never used screenies, I understand they are similar to gdesklets which, btw, are such a piece of crap, they never worked properly on any of the machines I tried.