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in which i destroy my laptop, and am introduced to gnome 3 [Apr. 20th, 2011|01:23 am]
[Location |garner, nc]


Back up your stuff. I spilled a can of Coke on my laptop today, breaking it. It took me about 5 hours to (a) find an old laptop, (b) get Fedora 15 Beta onto a USB, (c) install it, (d) restore all my stuff from backups, and (e) begin the re-configuration process.

If I didn't have backups of my computer, I would have lost years of data, both personal and Red Hat related. I rsync my laptop to an external hard disk every day, and I was able to do so immediately after spilling the Coke and before the machine stopped working, which allowed me to have zero data loss.


I guess I picked a good day to fry my laptop, since Fedora 15 Beta is not even 24 hours old.

I've seen a lot of the commentary about GNOME 3, of course, but I've more or less ignored it since I was still using GNOME 2 and I figured that when I did try GNOME 3, I wanted to do so with as open a mind as possible, thinking about it from the perspective of a new Fedora user rather than simply as someone who has his own particular ways of doing stuff that might now have to change a bit -- kind of like when you get a new car, and some of your little habits have to change.

First of all, anyone who doesn't stop to acknowledge the TREMENDOUS engineering and design effort that is GNOME 3 is simply not being honest. You don't have to like every feature to recognize that a huge amount of work has been done, and that the people who did that work deserve a lot of credit.

Secondly, the laptop that I pulled out of a closet is the one that Red Hat bought me in 2007, and GNOME 3 runs faster on that laptop than GNOME 2 ever did. So from a performance point of view, I'm really impressed. I don't know how much of that is GNOME 3, and how much of it is the rest of Fedora 15's plumbing.

Now I'll mention a few of my initial reactions to GNOME 3, which may be of interest to folks who are considering the usability side of things, and who want more data about where an experienced Linux user fell down.

ITEM 1: When I clicked on my name in the user-switching applet, I was immediately confused by the "Available/Busy" option. If I change that, what happens? What applications are hooked into that? I'm not logged into anything other than my system, why is this here? Why is my desktop trying to manage my online social networking status? How do I get it to stop that?

ITEM 2: I had to use Google to figure out how to restart my system after the Live USB install was complete. I tried some of the options that I saw in the menus, to no avail. Never in a million years would I have thought to hold down alt while in the user menu to get reboot/shutdown to appear. I must have missed something totally obvious, but I felt like a complete moron thinking "Max, you have a degree in computer science and you can't figure out how to turn off your computer".

ITEM 3: I guess this is part of where an open mind is necessary, and a willingness to have my usability norms challenged, but it's strange to not see any actual stuff on my desktop, and to have to go into the file browser if I want to be able to double-click anything. I used to use the GNOME tweak UI package to remove ~/Desktop and to make ~ be displayed as my desktop. I was able to replicate this by editing ~/.config/user-dirs.dirs, but it still doesn't actually show any files on the desktop. That was useful for me, since things were arranged and organized in a way that visually made sense to me and let me know what's important, what file I want to work on next, etc. Now I've got a ton of empty space, and I can't left click, right click, or do anything other than go to the "Activities" menu. I feel like I'm not understanding what's supposed to be a key usability insight or change. GNOME 3 makes me feel dumb.

ITEM 4: I miss being able to easily minimize stuff, though I'm learning slowly that mousing over to "Activities" basically does the same thing. New paradigm understood and being adjusted to!

ITEM 5: Workspace switching from ctrl-alt-right to ctrl-alt-down is only annoying to an old user like me, but wouldn't be to a new user. However, it was not immediately clear to me that there even were multiple workspaces, and I don't quite grok yet what makes a new one appear as an option. Also, it would be nice if there were an easy way to edit keyboard shortcuts. If there is, I can't find it.

ITEM 6: My day to day workflow is contained in gnote, and not having that application startup automatically with the hotkeys just working is very jarring to me. I miss a lot of the stuff (like gnote) that used to be on the panel, including the multi-timezone clock applet. I don't know what (if anything) I can do about this. Again, GNOME 3 makes me feel dumb, like someone who is doing everything wrong and isn't capable of understanding why.


What else about F15 Beta, that isn't GNOME related?

ITEM 7: I really like the current start.fedoraproject.org. It's probably been a year or more since I actually looked at that site, and it's looking nice! I wish I knew to whom I should give credit for that work.

ITEM 8: Firstboot gave me an opportunity to add my non-root user to sudoers automatically, which saves a step of post-install configuration.

ITEM 9: When I ran the software updating application, it didn't prompt me for my root password. Is that a PolicyKit thing? I know that's not a new feature to Fedora, but with Fedora 15 I seemingly no longer know how to revert it. I like having to enter my root password.

ITEM 10: This ancient laptop of mine has a 50 GB hard disk. The auto partitioning gave me 25 GB of /tmp of / and 25 GB of /home, which doesn't leave me enough space for all of my actual files. I wasn't paying attention, so I didn't notice this until post-install. I know there's a graphical front-end to LVM that I might be able to use to change this, but I can't find it, which ties back to my comments about not being able to find some settings in GNOME 3 that were easily found in GNOME 2.


ITEM 11: I'm not allowed to "launch" more than one instance of an application. If I want a second terminal window, I have to open it from within the first -- I can't simply click on the terminal again and get another.

ITEM 12: Alt-tab only cycles between applications, not windows or instances of those applications. To switch between instances of the same application requires more keystrokes, and slows me down as a user. I was able to solve this by installing gnome-shell-extensions-alternate-tab.

From: adamwill.id.fedoraproject.org
2011-04-20 07:35 am (UTC)

A few pointers

On item 1 - Empathy is the Big Thing currently hooked up to GNOME 3's status and messaging bits, and I think there's a patch for Pidgin. To me it makes sense but I can't use it, as absolutely all my 'conversation' stuff goes through IRC, and Empathy and Pidgin are both terrible IRC clients. It does make sense to me, though - when properly considered, presence *is* something it makes sense to manage at a desktop level. There've been various Grand Presence Plans floating around the GNOME-verse for a while, it'd be nice if one finally comes together with the Shell.

2 - if you log out you can reboot from GDM. The idea behind the current design is that shutting down and restarting aren't things you actually need to do much. There are varying perspectives on this. =) The GNOME 'vision' is that you usually suspend your system when you're done with it; if you need to reboot to apply updates, PackageKit can handle that. Rebooting to another OS is accepted to be a special case, but one that's not handled yet. Probably, to fit in best with this vision, Anaconda should do something to offer a 'reboot' option when live install is complete.

4 - yes, the idea is that minimizing is usually a pretty useless operation. This is true for me, though I've seen reasonably valid objections raised.

5 - this is a very neat design (though apparently it precedes the Shell, I don't know what desktop gets credit for introducing it): there's always exactly one empty workspace. As soon as you put any windows on the currently-available empty workspace, a new one gets created. If you take all the windows out of a workspace that currently exists, then you lose one workspace (so you now don't have two empty ones). For me this really nails it. Keyboard shortcuts: just go to overview and type 'keyb', that should get you the Keyboard bit of the control center ('System Settings'), and it has a 'Shortcuts' tab where you can configure shortcuts.

6 - gnome-session-properties exists and you could set gnote to auto-start using it. You can also throw a .desktop file in ~/.config/autostart . g-s-p is somewhat considered deprecated. Or at least, mclasen considers it deprecated. But it works for configuring autostart. Again, in the Great GNOME Vision that you almost never actually shut down or restart the system, this just ceases to be an issue; you suspend, and gnote's still there when you resume.

9 - yes, it's a PolicyKit thing: installing signed updates to existing packages, from a signed Fedora repo, does not require authentication. Installing new packages does. *Every* PolicyKit policy can be configured, but there's currently no GUI for it, so it's a bit complicated. I used to know how to do this, but it's a bit hazy now. I don't know how badly outdated http://hal.freedesktop.org/docs/PolicyKit/PolicyKit.conf.5.html is.

10 - one of the most apparently overlooked ways to interact with GNOME 3 is 'go to Overview and start typing'. As a general rule, just hit Start and start typing roughly what you're looking for. If you hit Start and type 'lvm' you get system-config-lvm (well, assuming it's installed, I don't know whether it's in a default or live install at present).

Isn't /tmp a tmpfs? i.e. not a real filesystem? I think that's probably the size of your root partition.
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[User Picture]From: spevack
2011-04-20 03:20 pm (UTC)

Re: A few pointers

Thanks for the comments, Adam.

Agreed that the new design around workspaces is a clever one, and seems pretty intuitive, now that you explain it.

Regarding things like auto-start of something like gnote and the GNOME vision that you almost never actually shut down or restart the system -- I guess I just disagree. I don't like to leave my laptop running all the time. But what I do like is understanding the why. Now that I know that GNOME 3 was designed with the idea in mind that the user will almost never reboot or shut down, at least I can understand where the usability choices come from.

And regarding the "go to Overview and start typing" -- that's a good tip, and again, something that I hadn't considered. The "Wikipedia" and "Google" options from within the overview are also clever, but it then makes me wonder whether or not GNOME is keeping a history of the things I type and search for, and if so, how I can go about clearing that.

Regarding LVM -- I was wrong, Adam. My / and my /home are each 25 GB. It's / that I want to shrink, and /home that I want to grow. But that's just LVM and has nothing to do with GNOME.
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[User Picture]From: jspaleta
2011-04-20 06:25 pm (UTC)

Re: A few pointers

It's intuitive... when explained.

That is a great slogan.

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From: (Anonymous)
2011-04-21 04:27 pm (UTC)

Re: A few pointers


This should be on gnome.org or gnome3.org..

I feel like Max in many ways. What happened to GNOME? Why do I feel like I have no idea how to use my desktop. All these years with Gnome 1.4, remembering Ximain installer and Gnome 2.0. Now GNOME 3, Unity, MeeGO and I find my self moving to KDE4....

Yes a lot of people put a lot of work into but that doesn't mean I have to like it. People put a lot of work into Nuclear Bombs, Geo Metros and Iranian Republican Guard. That doesn't mean you have to like it or get over it...
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[User Picture]From: jspaleta
2011-04-22 05:24 pm (UTC)

Re: A few pointers

Don't get me wrong. I think the slogan is great for a lot of things. A lot of things meant to be intuitive.

First time I picked up an OLPC laptop from gdk at a FUDCon..back in the day...I freakin couldn't figure out how to open the damn thing. It was designed to be "intuitive". Kids figured it out with no instruction what so ever. And man did I feel dumb. And then when gdk showed me it was..it was.... intuitive.

What we all have to remember that intuitive doesn't mean obvious.
Intuition as a skill is the essence of making logical leaps that go beyond deductive reasoning. If you can reason it out or deduce it based on the evidence in front of you then you aren't using intuition...and the subject at hand is not therefore intuitive.

And we also have to remember that intuition is actually not so easily understood or quantified as a human skill. It is at best described as situational, and can grow and decree with experience. My experience made the opening of the OLPC laptop far harder for me...but it didn't make the design any less intuitive.

Our shared experience with the decade+ of the desktop paradigm makes it harder for us to grasp new paradigms. But it doesn't make the design any less intuitive. If anything we'll have a harder time with designs that are too close to the old paradigm.

It's much easier for us to accept completely new interaction designs which break as many interactions we've grown use to than it is for us to learn to use something that is somewhat the same. If we know we don't know what we are doing, we'll enter a learning mode with our eyes wide open looking to establish new patterns. If we _think_ we know what we are doing then we bull ahead under those assumptions and get frustrated when we hit the differences.

"It is intuitive when explained" is one of the best slogans I've ever heard for pretty much all technology changes ever.

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