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“Treat Gnome3 as something new” by Allan Day | Interview

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Hello Allan, a few words about you please

I’m a GNOME contributor and member of the design team; I’ve previously contributed to GNOME marketing and helped out with bug triage. I live in London, UK. I like boats.

In November 19, 2009 William Jon McCann printed together with Jeremy Perry a design prototype paper: “GNOME Shell -A design for a personal integrated digital work environment” which basically describes Gnome3 beta. This work had excellent critics from  Gnome community and beyond, can you name the main reasons behind the radical changes between Gnome 2.90 and Gnome 3.0 ?

I wasn’t fully involved in those changes, but my understanding is that they were prompted by experiences testing the initial implementation. People tend to forget that GNOME Shell has been in a continual state of evolution since the very beginning. Some things have worked well and have become established, but we’ve also been more than willing to make changes when necessary. I’m sure that there will be plenty of other things that we’ll be improving in the future.

Gnome 3 has been working for almost 5 years and it has been released about 2 years ago. There had been many postpones (and this 1st of May joke!); these were due coding delays, or because you were looking for a better design?

Design and development tend to go hand-in-hand, so I suspect it was a combination of the two. You’d have to ask a member of the GNOME release team to get a real answer to that question. :)

Two years after Gnome3 release, do you feel that you completed your goals in relation to the time given? When do you think you will be in a point that you can say: “Ok we are done with the features, let’s do some polishing now”?

I hope we’ll never be finished with new features, because at that point you stop innovating. We’ve certainly got plenty of new features in the works right now, and we’ve got plans for many more in the future. That’s a good thing, in my opinion.

There’s no reason you can’t focus on polishing and develop new features, and those of us who work on GNOME are putting a lot of effort into refining the existing GNOME 3 user experience. We always aim to ensure that every GNOME release brings tonnes of bug fixes as well as new features.

When you’re trying to build a new design, you use some relative art from other operating systems such as Windows, iOS, Android, Lion, MeeGo, Chrome OS etc. Are you (personally) getting inspired mostly from a particular system of them?

I find it hard to single out a particular OS, because they all have their good points and their bad points. And it’s not just OSs: there are also plenty of individual applications as well as websites that are doing interesting things. We’re living in interesting times when it comes to UX design; there’s a lot of innovation occurring and it has become a very competitive field in which to operate.

It should be said that, although we do research existing work when we do design in GNOME, we are also working to produce our own distinct design style. This is something that should become more and more apparent in the future.

Many Gnome devs also work for Red Hat and RHEL will soon adopt Gnome3. Are there any priorities that are set by Red Hat towards the server use that postpone or even modify the design needs/goals of Gnome in Desktop?

GNOME is a part of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, so it isn’t a distraction for Red Hat. I’m excited that GNOME 3 is going to become a part of Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and that Red Hat customers are going to benefit from all the work that has gone into GNOME over recent years. Red Hat’s investment in GNOME is good for the project and good for its customers; that’s very much the philosophy behind how the company operates.

Allan Day in Asia Summit in Hong Kong this June talks about Every Detail Matters project.

Personally, without wanting to flatter you, I think that Gnome3 from its core infrastructure till its outer design is a work made from some very clever people, an awesome work. Looking back at it after so many years of work you have done, what you really think?

One of the amazing things about contributing to GNOME is that you get to work with incredibly smart people. I always feel very lucky to have colleagues that are experts in their fields, and I’ve learnt a huge amount from being around them. That’s one of the great things about the GNOME community, in my opinion – all you have to do is start contributing, and you’re suddenly working with all these great people.

There are people that love Gnome3, people that Gnome3 just doesn’t work for them and people that are somewhere in the middle.. “We like it but we miss this feature, this is buggy..” etc. Is there anything you want to say to this last category?

GNOME 3 is different from GNOME 2 – that’s the whole point. So if you approach it wanting to preserve an existing way of working or wanting something exactly the same as GNOME 2, then you might be disappointed. GNOME 3 does contain major enhancements though, whether it’s fast application switching, integrated search and messaging, or improved applications. My advice to people trying GNOME 3 for the first time is to treat it as something completely new and as an opportunity to evolve their working style.

That said, GNOME 3 is an ongoing project, and there are some things that we know need improving. The good news is that we are constantly listening to feedback and are working really hard to improve what we have. GNOME 3 is getting better with every release. It’s good now. In the future it’s going to become fantastic.

Gnome OS, your personal comment please.

There’s a lot of confusion around GNOME OS. People assume that it means that GNOME will be launching its own distribution, but that’s not what GNOME OS is about.

GNOME OS is important for us as a project. The first thing that we’re doing for GNOME OS is working to produce a fully testable GNOME OS development build. This will let developers, designers and testers run the latest GNOME code against specific versions of other upstream compoents. This will be a massive improvement on what we have already, and will mean that GNOME is are able to produce much higher quality releases in the future.

The other thing that is happening for GNOME OS is that we are extending the GNOME 3 experience into new areas. Some important parts of the overall user experience GNOME have been traditionally missing, and that has left distributions with the task of filling in the blanks. The problem with that is that it leads to a very inconsistent experience.

GNOME OS is about providing a complete, coherent and consistent experience, so that a whole OS can be given that GNOME look and feel. One example of the work we are doing for that is the new initial setup assistant which is being created for GNOME 3.6. It will always be up to distributions whether they take advantage of these new elements to the GNOME 3 experience, of course. What it means, however, is that GNOME will be offering a more complete package than ever before.

Gnome into OEM’s tablets, around when? :)

It’d be pure speculation for me to answer that question. :)

Anything else you feel that it should be mentioned?

There are a lot of misconceptions about how design works in GNOME, so I always try to set the record straight when I can. One thing that a lot of people might find surprising is that we don’t hand down designs on tablets of stone in GNOME, and designers don’t determine a design by themselves. A lot of the work we do is highly speculative, and is intended to fire people’s imaginations and coax them in a particular direction. Also, developers play a big role in determining what a design will be like, and it’s only when they get involved in an initiative that we can start to think about details and evolve our ideas in a substantial way.

Most people don’t realise how much iteration and discussion with different parties is involved in developing a design. Doing design in the open is all about building relationships and encouraging people to do good work. We tend to think of ourselves as shepherds rather than architects.

I think I’m done now. :)

Thank you!

I didn’t ask for design process and goals for Gnome because that would lead to a 100+ FAQ; but we will try to reach more members from Gnome Design Team. If you are further interested about Allan’s work, he has printed an excellent article “A New Approach to GNOME Application Design” in his personal blog which explains the new Gnome Apps User Interface Pattern.

Also I want to mention that Allan is a very polite person.

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  • Liam

    Too bad Allan can’t be honest about the fetishization of osx. This isn’t hard to see if you simply go to the various design pages of g3. Pretty much invariably you’ll see osx first, and in the designs you’ll see a very strong osx influence. This is disapointing for a number of reasons, first among them is that i thas led to what I feel is a certain laziness of design.
    I was a huge supporter of the mccann’s original design for g3, but as was said there was a rather large swerve away from its more interesting ideas in late 2010, iirc. I still use gnome, though it is pretty heavily modified, but I lamen the lost opportunity.

    • Alexis Diavatis

      Gnome Shell has nothing to do with OS X, is more like MeeGo. Gnome Apps look like OS X in design and in widgets, but they don’t feature global menus, instead they use Application Menus and the new full screen mode, that is also absent from OS X (as far as I know).

      I think there are some similarities but also there are huge differences. You cannot said in any case that Gnome3 mimics OS X.    

      • ian

        Think again… They are actually working on implementing Global Menus for applications on Gnome-shell… Empathy already has it “in early phase” and eventually all gnome applications will have global menu support

        • Alexis Diavatis

          This isn’t Global Menu. It’s called Application Menu. It doesn’t trying to remove menus from Applications, but adds an extra menu that affect the App but not App’s content. 

          • Liam

             It actually does remove part of the menu from the main app window.
            I think the real reason behind it is to save a bit of vertical space since full screening is the expected usage pattern. Why they don’t use a menu button that sits as high up on the application as possible I don’t know. With Wayland we should be able to get csd so they could even place it in the window border and then you have lost zero space.

          • Alexis Diavatis

            Check on Epiphany full screen mode. It has a major button on the right top (which isn’t application menu) and ofc the application menu on shell’s panel. I guess they don’t want to mix buttons. I don’t know, never realized the point in Application Menus. I would prefer it as a quick menu rather removing options from GTK menus. 

          • Liam

            By Epiphany I assume you mean “Web” ;)
            Yes, I’ve had it for awhile and it is rather bad, even down to the icon. Seriously, look at Safari’s interface, and icon.
            The tiny back/forward buttons are a huge pain to find with the mouse.
            Regarding menus, I think we agree.
            The full screen version of epiphany isn’t too bad, but the tiny buttons still remain. Honestly, I’ve yet to find a browser that implements full screen as well as firefox. Hiding and revealing all the chrome, and only revealing the forward button only when there is something to go forward to, a fantastically useful mode and interface. It’s a smart, dynamic interface which I wish thw Gnome designers would take notice.

          • Not gnome groupie

            Just because you change the name doesn’t mean you’ve changed what it is. If I take a pig and call it a northern piwakawaka, it’s still a pig.

      • Liam

         Global menus are coming. Well sort of.. really more a separation of functionality into two different menus. The idea is really bizarre. When I updated to F17 a few of the apps had switched over to the new system. I won’t tell you how long it took me to figure out how to close the app:)
        At any rate, I never said mimic, I only said it was very strongly influenced by OSX (again, look at the design pages). This has been a relatively recent shift, as I mentioned, and unfortunate since I believe McCann had some really interesting ideas but, perhaps, became overwhelmed with the reality of what he was trying to do.

  • Fewt

    > Do not compare Gnome3 with Gnome2, Gnome 3 is complete shit..

    Fixed that for you. :D

    • simon

      Well done Fewt. Well done :)

    • Alexis Diavatis

       I do strongly disagree ..but I do like the comment!

    • 2eurocents

       i hear metro’s really, really good…

  • tobisgd

     “Do not compare Gnome3 with Gnome2, Gnome 3 is something completely new …”
    Sorry, but no. You named it Gnome 3. That implicitly indicates that it is the successor of Gnome 2, so a comparison is what you have to expect.
    If you want to make something totally new give it a totally new name, simple as that. But I am sure you didn’t want that, because the Gnome in the name gives you public attention that a totally new DE probably wouldn’t have got.

    • Alexis Diavatis

      “Do not compare Gnome3 with Gnome2, Gnome 3 is something completely new …” This is what I said, just to make it clear :)

  • icehuck

    If you have a workstation, Gnome 3 gets in the way of doing work. Three monitors? just shoot yourself

  • 2eurocents

    “There are people that love Gnome3, people that Gnome3 just doesn’t work for them and people that are somewhere in the middle.”

    … while most people simply hate it, and reject it completely. why did you leave all those people out? honestly the shell will never become accepted if you people live in a world all of your own and ignore the one where your potential users exist.

    • Drobobt

       Hating Gnome 34 og Gnome 36? Come on ..

      Every redesign (good or bad) triggers backlash. There is no need for you to judge the maturing Gnome3 on its former backlash. Sorry but these gnomers are really doing a great job on design.

      Want wacky themes, the last century taskbar or a gazillion icons spread all over your desktop and bars? No problem, just do it; Extensions and themes are a few clicks away. It is a much less effort than complaining. Really.

      So go dress up your gnome to fit your fetish. Unless your fetish is rude gnome spanking but then you should consult sites like slashdot or phoronix :)

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  • trans

    I would like to make a suggestion for Gnome Shell. What is the appropriate way to do so? Thanks.

    • Alexis Diavatis

      Gnome Shell Mailing List:

  • Vagelis Giannadakis

    Thank you Alex. This interview helped me understand better why GNOME 3 is so shitty!

    If you want a (usable) Linux desktop, the only choices we the poor Linux desktop souls have, are (in order of usability and stability):

    1. Ubuntu
    2. XFCE
    3. Cinnamon

    Plus, one can use the stable branch of one of the long-cycle distros, like Debian, Centos, etc with good-old (sigh..) Gnome 2. But then you get stuck with old-to-ancient versions of various things, the kernel included.

    Please don’t start with Enlightenment and other WTF niche WMs, no matter what you may think or what may work for an individual or even small group, MOST of the computer-using world needs a full working desktop. So, these *don’t* count as solutions.

    This is why Linux is dieing on the Desktop really. I hope those investing in it, e.g. Canonical, achieve something good for the Linux Desktop, and don’t get broke in the process.

    • Alexis Diavatis

      Hello Vageli, 
      I don’t want to compare Gnome’s users base with XFCE, Cinnamon and KDE , but one thing: Gnome since version 3 grows a large community of fanatical support. I am 99,99% sure that more people like it, rather dislike it. But of course I can’t count, it is just a guess!

    • Fewt

      I have GNOME 2 at Fuduntu, and we certainly don’t have old versions of most things including the kernel. :)  I’ve been personally patching GNOME 2 to fix things that have changed upstream like default application prefs, and building against glib 2.32. GNOME 2 is only dead if we allow it to be dead, so far I haven’t done that – at least not for us.  It’s pretty shitty that the GNOME team just abandoned it leaving all of us out to dry. We won’t forget that GNOME team, we won’t forget it.

    • Liam

      So, you like Unity but not Gnome Shell? You do realize they function very similarly?
      Also, you are forgetting KDE.

  • ScionicSpectre

    If you do want more information on specifics, you can always read the WIP HIG for GNOME 3. I think people underestimate just how much can be gained from this new direction, and for sure we need to emphasize that we’re trying to do something new. There will always be corner cases when it comes to the user experience- people are very distinct, and the more their computer allows them to do, the more they demand from it. It seems some users, especially the techy ones, can’t be satisfied at times. It’s good to have these people constantly weighing in to make sure we don’t make arbitrary decisions, although they aren’t solely representative of our focus.

    I suspect the Linux users who don’t get online to talk about it outnumber those who do, especially those willing to criticize design decisions. And of those, how many resist things just because they are different? It’s a tough job to sift through the criticism to find the nuggets that allow us to doubt our faulty decisions. I hope that the friction against the core concepts of GNOME 3 subsides in the next year or two, as people come to accept that this is our direction.

    • Alexis Diavatis

      There is a HIG Gnome3 page? Because I know they are building one, but isn’t complete, is it?

      • ScionicSpectre As I said, it’s a work in progress. From ‘Guidelines’ on down, you can find various content, although it is definitely incomplete at the moment. Also, the plan (to my knowledge) is to have a web portal that’s updated to reflect refinements and distinctions as the design of GNOME continues to emerge and improve. You can probably tell from reading some of the preliminary information that this HIG will be more engaging to read and easier to understand than the previous textual versions have been.

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