Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Giving 12.1 and Gnome 3 a second chance.

When I started this blog, I intended to make it my step by step log of the trials and fixes experienced in openSUSE so that it may be a benefit to others. However, when I first tried 12.1 with KDE it was such a terrible experience that I rolled my machines back to 11.4. But this time I went with Gnome instead of KDE; since I had experienced some of the speed improvements in the newer KDE I knew that rolling back would make it seem even worse than it really was. And in any event, I needed the experience with Gnome in order to help others. Indeed, I learned the Gnome way and it was good. Brilliant actually, we have a FANTASTIC Gnome implementation. But now, I have recently acquired a new (to me) laptop with which to be a little more risky and experiment on. So, after trying a few distros I have come back to openSUSE 12.1, but this time with Gnome 3. And I must say, it is fantastic.

One thing I feared with Gnome 3 was losing some of the functionality and refinement of Gnome 2 in openSUSE. In our Gnome 2 we had the special start menu made by Novell which was quite handy, giving quick and clean access to programs, documents, and tools. Though of course that menu is not present in 12.1 with Gnome 3, the functionality is not actually lost. In fact, it looks rather like Gnome 3 got some hints from it in its interface. Indeed, with just three clicks I can get to YaST, and the fantastic system monitor that was in the Novell start menu can simply be added to favorites so I can look at my system and kill tasks that freak out. As you may already know, that odd vertical dock in the left hand side of the “Activities” dashboard is called “Favorites.”

Certainly Gnome Shell takes some getting used to. Its a very different sort of interface, and is something of a new paradigm even. When I had tried the preview version made available for 11.4 I found it fairly comfortable on my netbook, but ultimately was put off by the stability issues. Now, that is scarcely an issue. I can of course see a few issues that need some love, but overall its more stable than KDE was when it shipped in 12.1. Quite frankly, I recommend taking a look at the Gnome Help so that you can get a feel for how to efficiently use the interface. And efficient is indeed the achieved goal. At first of course, it seems alien... but for me at least I quickly got the hang of the workflow and found it to be very comfortable. You can quickly take care of business, and do it in style.

Speaking of style, Gnome 3 delivers. Elegant, responsive, simple. The latter two are of particular note. My GPU is an older Radeon that is not supported by the fglrx driver, and thus can have odd behavior. However, you would never know that I wasn't running an Nvidia card. Gnome 3 has caught a lot of guff for its window decoration having only the one button, and indeed this put me off at first; until I realized a double click or a right click can achieve everything I need. At that point it occurred to me that it makes more sense considering how much of what we do on the desktop PC is achieved by a context click... it makes more sense to extend that paradigm to all areas.

Now so far I have sung the praises of Gnome 3. Nonetheless there are a couple things I'd like to see personally. First on my wish list would be to make it possible to move the “Favorites” dock to the bottom of the screen. I like having a good number of things on my dock, and would prefer to not have dinky icons when I have a fairly large screen. Secondly, I'd like to see the Gnome System Monitor accessible via the status menu in the upper left hand corner, by system settings. Thirdly, I'd like to be able to set more IM statuses from the status menu. Other than that, this is a brilliant desktop that satisfies my needs, wants, and does so in style that makes the Mac snobs jealous.

I should make clear mention that apparently all my bad experience of 12.1 boiled down to the KDE regressions. Under Gnome 3, I notice several subtle improvements even over 11.4. With this computer, it has an odd issue that I can't resume WiFI if it has been suspended, and I must reboot it in order to reconnect. In this situation I am very thankful for systemd since it speeds up the boot process by quite a glorious bit. Surprisingly, Gnome 3 seems to perform just as well as Gnome 2 did. In fact, I find it is a bit more responsive than Gnome 2 with 11.4 was. Needless to say, that came as quite a surprise. I know some of this could be coming from the kernel, but can tell it is as much if not more due to the environment.

So far the only two issues that are not necessarily hardware specific are the massive issues with Evolution. I have fallen thoroughly in love with Evolution and am saddened to see it become only slightly more reliable than the newest Kmail. I hope this gets fixed. The other issue is oddity with getting my webcam to work. It worked in Ubuntu (the only thing that worked in Ubuntu I may add, the whole thing was one polished shit sandwich) hence why I don't consider it hardware specific.

If you have been spooked off of Gnome 3, read some cheat sheets and get ready to read the help thingy. You may just like it after all.