And a good one, at that. Honest, in-depth, provocative. No bullshit, like Linus, where is Linux headed in the next 2000 years.
Recently, I’ve upgraded the HP 874W power station to Linux Mint Maya, 64-bit, MATE edition.
It’s pretty stable, the performance is brutal, and it has very new packages out of the box, like VIM 7.3 (I’m looking at you Debian Squeeze). But the Gnome2-MATE conversion is still a work in progress. A few things are still broken, like the power button brings up the shut-down dialogue for exactly zero seconds and, unfortunately, Compiz does not work out of the box.
It took me two evenings to play with the Configuration Editor (gconf-editor), the Configuration Editor (mateconf-editor) and CCSM to reach a state, where Compiz places, decorates, wobbles and peeps through windows in the desired fashion, and the virtual desktops are spinning and exposing as in the old times. Except, there is no way to start the old hierarchical menu with Alt-F1. So I’m forced to use the chaotic MintMenu. By now my readers have figured out, correctly, that I’m a keyboard-guy.
So Ubuntu Lucid Lynx will stay on the ultra-portable ASUS UL20A for at least another year. This OS is the symbol of the golden era of the Linux desktop, 2010. Dark clouds were already gathering on the horizon, but here, down on Earth, everything looked rosy and happy. The Linux desktop was so good that Apple and Microsoft could not help copying it at an astonishing rate. Full screen for ALL apps for the first time in Mac OS X Lion, anyone?
But while we, proud users, were showing off semi-transparent rotating desktop cubes to the Apple fanboys in the neighbourhood, William Jon McCann had a feeling of terrible insecurity. He, as the lead designer of Gnome3, felt that the Linux desktop was crap and something new, more apple-ish was required. At the same time Miguel de Icaza, the founder of Gnome, had already been a closeted Mac OS X user, waiting for the great coming-out moment. Allegedly, his sound was not working and he could not play videos on Linux. I’m at a complete loss here…
But anyway, Gnome3 was born, Gnome2 was discontinued, Ubuntu defaulted to Unity, and everybody else got real angry. There is a silver lining in the clouds though, thanks to Linux Mint, but it’s still a long way. But what caused this mayhem?
It’s called inferiority complex.
No, the desktop is not going away, and no, OS X and Windows were not better than the Linux desktop, and no, goodness is not measured by market share. These gentlemen were hankering after the wrong things from the Apple world. They wanted to copy looks and features and gardens and walls. They should have noticed something else:
It’s the ability to notice that you’re good at something. The first Mac OS from 1984 and the present OS X basically look the same. They stuck with their interface even in the valley of the shadow of death. Their user interface is still the same, while they have changed the internals to Unix. The same is true for the Linux kernel. The external interfaces never change. Linus’ bash binary from 1991 still runs.
Miguel de Icaza thinks Linus Torvalds is an arrogant low-level kernel guy. But the fact that you’ve been a guilt-afflicted closeted Mac-fag, does not mean that someone else with a healthy dose of self-confidence is arrogant. In fact Linus Torvalds is an extremely humble person. He goes to great lengths to protect his users. Yes, on the surface you see the “shoot-yourself-before-you-reproduce” and the “you-are-full-of-BS”, but the comforting self-mockery is always there, and it’s all for the users’ sake.
On the Gnome side there is McCann’s polished and politically correct corporate lingo, which in fact is full of ignorance, insecurity and bullshit. And they could not care less for their existing users. But it’s Linus’ fault, of course.
Go to therapy, get rid of your inferiority complex and start using mplayer.
I gave it a go, after I read a positive blog-post about it. So I installed Fedora16 as a new VirtualBox machine. Then I installed VirtualBox guest-additions to enable 3D-acceleration, without which one is confronted with the 2D fallback mode, which shall not be mentioned in civilised company.
Finally I was presented with the new shiny uncluttered Gnome Shell. I hit Alt-F1 to see the menu. There emerged the even more shiny semi-transparent Activities page. Surprisingly, it was rather empty. I wanted to start something like a browser or a terminal with the keyboard. So I hit the arrow keys, Tabs and stuff to get to “Applications” instead of “Windows”, or to the hierarchical menu on the right side. Nothing. In about 5 minutes – googling included – I have not found any key combination the Activities page recognizes. There is probably something like Ctrl-Alt-Shift-arrow, which needs 3 hands to operate.
So, rather sadly, I resorted to using the mouse and started a terminal. I was immediately presented with an unpleasant huge silver title bar. So much for uncluttered. So, yes, let’s customize the desktop theme. Right-click the desktop. Nothing. Hmmm. Alt-F1 for Activities, somehow I found Settings. It turned out all you can do is change the background image. Hmmm, indeed. Compiz will probably sort it out.
Or rather not. Compiz is not available. Good bye Rotating Desktop Cube, good bye Ring Switcher, good bye semitransparent Wobbly Windows. One might say I’m an effect-junkie, but the fact is these Compiz bells and whistles actually help you see what you do. On the Cube, you see what is on the next desktop. With a semitransparent moving window, you see where you place it. With the Ring Switcher after Alt-Tab, you see what window you choose. Which is not the case with Gnome3’s Alt-Tab, which displays icons only. Welcome back to the wonderful world of Windows XP.
Having mentioned terminals, I wanted to open a second one. Activities, click Terminal, and Gnome3, endeavouring to give satisfaction, returned me to my old Gnome-terminal. Thank you very much.
So back to customization. You cannot choose your fonts. You cannot choose your colours. You cannot choose your keyboard shortcuts. You probably can, but you need extensions and special config tools and config file editing. Need an extension to choose my fonts? Weird. The Windows XP registry springs to the mind. Not funny.
But c’est la vie, I yummed gnome-tweak-tool. Suddenly a whole new world of options opened up, like choosing fonts. Not colours, though. I’d say about 10% of the options of Gnome2-Compiz. At least I could select my favourite MetaBox window borders. Or rather the Metabox non-borders.
The issue of window borders brings me back to my favourite obsession, vertical space. Or in the case of Gnome3, the lack of it. You must have a panel, and you must have it on top. You must have a window title bar and you must a have a menu. In Unity, for a maximized window, the panel, the title bar and the menu are one. In Gnome2, you can place the panel to any side and make it auto-hide.
And sorry, but I have not seen any nice effect that necessitates 3D acceleration. Gnome3 does not look too good. It’s a desktop, which is a piece of furniture, which, by definition, must look good. Mac OS X looks good. Unity looks good. And Gnome2-Compiz simply blows everything else away.
Gnome2-Compiz was actually so bloody good that Apple copied many features from it. I still remember the day I first installed Jaunty Jackalope after living for years in a desert called Windows XP. I was amazed by the myriad of desktop customization options: Configurable window decoration! Configurable controls! Configurable panels and applets! Configurable hotkeys for everything! Semi-transparent terminals! A sane algorithm for placing new windows! Not even mentioning the rather mind-blowing Compiz stuff. And suddenly, Windows XP looks like an oasis of freedom compared to Gnome3.
What’s going on here? I’m probably very stupid. Too stupid use Gnome3. At least I’m in good company. Linus Torvalds can’t use it, either.