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Gnome 3.8 is dropping Fallback Mode

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Why they drop it?

Except the fact that Gnome doesn’t need anymore Fallback to support no 3d-hardware there are more reasons.

  • nearly nobody actively tests it
  • it’s in maintenance mode (no new features for the core, but bug fixes go in), with no active development since nobody is stepping up (and some required parts, like polkit-gnome, are even not maintained at all), and the quality of the fallback mode has decreased since it was introduced (example: new bugs in the display of notifications, that haven’t been fixed)
  • the presence of fallback mode is having a negative impact on the quality of the primary GNOME 3 user experience
  • several apps now require clutter and can’t work without GL. Thus they won’t work in fallback mode if it was forced by lack of GL (totem, audio/video UI in empathy, cheese, etc.)
  • some changes in our architecture require additional work to keep things somewhat working in fallback, even though they won’t offer the full experience (keyboard config in 3.6 is an example)

Fallback mode was discussed in June. It was discussed again at the Boston Summit in October. It was discussed again on the list in October. And then the release team discussed it in its November meeting. As far as I read none was like “we don’t need it, let’s drop it!”, but the reason was that Gnome couldn’t maintain it in a quality form. Fallback 3.4 and Fallback 3.6 are almost identical and none was interested to work on it and improve it -or at least fix some bugs.

Gnome 3.8 is dropping Fallback Mode

Matthias made the announcement (Nov 5):

I’m writing to inform you that the release team discussed yesterday. We’ve come to the conclusion that we can’t maintain fallback mode in reasonable quality, and are better off dropping it.

We’re now working on organizing this so that it does not create more fallout than necessary. As part of this, I’m reaching out to our distributors to see what parts they care about. We haven’t worked out a detailed plan for 3.8 tasks yet, but the feature page should give you a good idea about what things will be part of the 3.8 plan:

– remove the ‘forced fallback’ ui in control-center

– unify ‘gnome can’t run’ and ‘failwhale’ UX

– move background rendering entirely into gnome-shell; this is most likely to cause some problems for other environments that reuse g-s-d for background rendering. Splitting off the desktop-rendering functionality from nautilus is a separate issue, and does not necessarily have to happen for 3.8.

Please watch the feature page for more details, as we work them out, and please contact us with your concerns. Lets work together and minimize the pain of this transition.

Matthias, for the release team

Side Effects

Regardless all the work that has to be done in Gnome to progress with this change,  -dropping modules (metacity etc), simplify others(gnome-session etc), fix broken (totem etc)- dropping Fallback also affects third party software.

  • Unity, LXDE, XFCE reuse of some fallback components, including tray icons and gnome-settings-daemon (notify about changes)
  • On what hardware / distribution combinations do we have acceptable software rendering ? (Need data about what hardware we do support/want to support)
  • On which ones do we lack that ? See ajax’ post
  • Are we happy recommending another desktop (XFCE, for instance – or MATE ?!) for cases where fallback would be needed?
  • LLVM testing/buggy
  • Tracker bug

Sebastien Bacher from Canonical says that this is one reason for Ubuntu to keep Gnome 3.6 in their next release and Josselin Mouette from Debian says:

While this is a perfectly reasonable choice given your constraints, there are several cases where plain GNOME is not an option.

      * Some GPU drivers are still full of bugs or completely
        non-working. This is now for a minority of machines, but still
        an alternative is necessary. 
      * Some not-so-old CPUs do not seem fast enough to run llvmpipe
        (e.g. netbooks). 
      * Non-x86 machines become out of question (Solaris). 
      * When you want all the GPU power to be available for heavy 3D
        applications, there’s a measurable impact of running
        gnome-shell. This can probably be improved on the clutter/cogl
        side, and anyway if it’s a hard constraint another desktop can
        be used, but currently, desktops without 3D requirements are far
        from as featureful.

None of this is a blocker per se, but if there is no mechanism to switch to something that works in all cases, it will be hard to defend installation of GNOME by default. What are users left out with if they find they cannot log in with their hardware?

This goes as far as being able to detect GNOME compatibility from the early stages of installation – which has consequences for all distributors. It is not impossible, but this is not just a technical problem.

Note that this is not a final feature but is mostly like to happen. On Meetings Minutes (Nov 4) the plan for Fallback mode was:

All agree to kill the fallback mode, plan is now to:
 1/ contact relevant module maintainers & distributors-list
 2/ mail ddl, including a list of technical reasons (there's some of
    that in the feature page already)

 → mclasen to mail module maintainers and distributor-list
 → fredp to mail seb128

but still on Gnome Live the outcome of the release team discussion was that Gnome don’t have the resources to provide fallback mode in adequate quality. Therefore, Gnome should drop it from 3.8. But it hasn’t been dropped yet.

Benefits to Gnome

All benefits to Gnome comes from less software to maintain. Also there are some modules that can be simplified

  • gnome-session (fallback session support and the check-accelerated helper)
  • gnome-control-center (option to force fallback mode, the sound applet, fallback ibus code)
  • gnome-settings-daemon (remove fallback automount code, call out to gnome-shell directly for screenshots, remove status icon in power/a11y-keyboard plugins)
  • gdm (for the fallback mode greeter and gdmflexiserver)
  • gnome-bluetooth (applet)
  • nautilus (desktop rendering)

While this will bring some issues to Gnome use in BSDs, Virtual Environments and older hardware it is a reasonable choice considering the constraints and will bring only benefits to the majority of users and Gnome itself, as less work will be needed.

Extensions as part of dropping Fallback Mode.

One piece to the dropping Fallback mode story is that it’s possible to get some of the GNOME2 style workflow with extensions (bug #685744)

Jeremy Bicha says:

I think we really do want a list of supported extensions for a GNOME2-ish experience. By “supported”, I mean that if somebody does something that breaks an extension on the list, that somebody needs to either fix the extension or find someone to do that. An example would be if someone overhauls the way “places” work, then they need to make sure the “places status indicator” still works.

If you follow the bug you will see that there is willingness from Gnome Contributors to support some “Gnome2-ish extensions” like Apps Menus Extensions.

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  • Adonis K (Vαяēмēиøš)

    “* Non-x86 machines become out of question.”
    Then what was the point of supporting touch screens? half the touchscreen powered devices are on ARM. Not to mention half the productivity of Gnome was lost when they started supporting touch screen gestures and such

  • josh melling

    Personally I’ll be glad to see it gone. Less maintenance and confusion.

  • Fred Schiff

    “Except the fact”
    Accept the fact

    • alex285

      Huh? Except like “Apart from”.

  • Michael Mistretta

    Disappointing but certainly not surprising.

    • Anon

      Disappointing meaning = I have to use Pure Debian from now on and the installation hassle that comes with it. I am tired of the lack of support for old school users who want the original look and feel of Gnome 2/Windows XP Desktop environment. I had a feeling that when they pulled Windows XP from the market that Ubuntu would force everyone to use Unity or something like Netbook Remix as the default. That’s dumb. Not everyone has a tablet pc and not everyone is using a netbook pc. Try doing corporate production work on a tablet pc? You will throw it out the window using Unity, I promise! Argh. No fallback mode? That sucks gnome. Big time.

      • alex285

        There are options, you have CentOS that will support (with RHEL) Gnome 2 for many more years, there is XFCE which looks pretty much like Gnome2, there is Cinnamon or you can use a set of extensions in Gnome 3 and mimic the behavior of Gnome2. Further you can push your clients to use something else. Windows XP don’t exist anymore

    • Sriram Ramkrishna

      Why is it disappointing? Were you using it?

      • Michael Mistretta

        Yes for quite some time I was using it. I’ve moved to Gnome Shell but mostly because I grew tired of the bugs in fallback. Either way fallback was quite useful if you were having video driver issues. The question for Gnome 3.8 was to either devote effort into making fallback better or removing it completely. They decided to remove it, thus disappointing, yes.

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  • Anon IT Guy

    So we are all stuck with some stupid Netbook Remix Desktop Environment as the default on most freshly installed distros out there soon. That’s just grand! ;) You know, I have clients here that need an old school windows xp feel to the desktop. Unity is a pain for a a/v production environment, if you haven’t discovered this for yourselves yet. When you need to quickly switch back and forth between open windows Unity is a (*&^)^!!! Gnome 3? Meh. Not much better in that department afraid to say! Most of the real estate on the screen is taken up for window dressing and gadgets I hardly ever use, neither do any of my clients. Sure, it looks very pretty and nice looking.. I just want something that I can install that is already default intuitive for old school users that are transitioning over from WinXP/Vista/7 DE’s. If I was only dealing in tiny small laptop screens and ipad like screen devices then naturally Unity and Gnome 3 would be perfect for that portable role and keyboard-less DE. It’s not when you need a big desktop with multiple monitors and doing big production work. I’m really kinda at a loss at what else to do but to go back to MATE (Gnome2) fork which is essentially “doable” for my clients and for my own work, but I gotta tell you… You have dumbed down what was once a really terrific alternative to windows and mac systems. Sure, it’s still free, for right now. I don’t get that feeling so much anymore though. Next year what do I have to look forward to when it comes to Ubuntu? Maybe it is time to think about pure debian from now on for clients. Just maybe. Puh. What a pain in the (*^&(*^. Thanks developers!!

    • Stiph

      “Most of the real estate on the screen is taken up for window dressing
      and gadgets I hardly ever use, neither do any of my clients”

      ?? That’s the contrary, Gnome 3 gives a lot more real screen estate for the user: single panel instead of two? Maximized windows without decorations (a close button might be nice though).

    • Stiph

      Besides, that’s open source, if nobody wants to maintain the fallback mode… well nobody wants to do it. Of course you can step up to maintain those. Why MATE is only “doable” for you client: you seem to be nostalgic of Gnome 2. It should exactly fit your needs?

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  • Thomas Mathiesen

    I left Gnome a few months ago.. and this news does not make me come back. Thanks for the 8-10 years that we spent together. It was wonderful and we learned to live with eachother. My new friend is called cinnamon and it’s almost like you used to be.

    • alex285

      Just two things -my opinion of course

      1. Cinnamon is far better than Gnome 2.32
      2. Cinnamon and around 10 more forks (and more to come) all exist thanks to Gnome 3. Gnome Panel (Gnome2) was so “casually” that none was interested to fork it.

      People should acknowledge Gnome3’s impact to all these new interfaces and choices we get like Cinnamon and Elementary, which are more suitable for some of us -like you. Besides by using Cinnamon you are still on Gnome 3. You just don’t use Gnome Shell :)

      Just my opinion!

    • Sriram Ramkrishna

      Except Cinnamon is GNOME 3. It’s just a fork of gnome-shell with some apis opened up so that some more complex extensions could be written. Otherwise you are using GNOME 3. Turn off the cinnamon specific extensions and you’ll get GNOME 3 again. So basically, you’re still on the same journey. You’re using 90% of the same software.

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  • Frank

    Can there’s not be a post about gnome 3 where people don’t bring up gnome 2, cinnamon or mate?! It’s time to move on. Were people really this negative when Gutenberg came up with the moving type press? Were people clamoring for their scrolls? Should we just go back to command line and forget DE’s? We keep on trying to live the good ol’ days and forget there’s a future out there. You either help build it or just get out of the way of people who want to.