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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Fri, 08 Aug 2014

Jordi Mallach says GNOME should remain the default desktop environment in Debian Jessie -- and why I agree

Jordi Mallach details in a post I found via Google Plus why GNOME should remain the default desktop environment in Debian Jessie despite the usual switch to Xfce prompted by a desire to keep the ISO image at CD size.

There's more. And it's not just image size: Most use Debian's netinstall image, which is always much smaller than a traditional data CD, and I think many if not most have access to a DVD drive or bypass optical media entirely for USB flash drives, so size doesn't matter as much as it might.

The dust-up over GNOME 3's controversial desktop is nothing new. Many will never like it. Cue irony: Windows 8, UI-wise, is as crazy as GNOME 3. They make the current Mac OS X desktop look positively old-school. That's probably drawing more to OS X than it is the other direction (to GNOME and Windows 8).


If GNOME 3 would run over/under the AMD Catalyst driver in Fedora 20 without extensive manipulation, I'd be more of a fan. Since it won't, Xfce is my desktop environment of choice. If I had one of the HiDPI displays that Mallach mentions, I'd be more motivated to run GNOME.

I do like the way GNOME 3.8 (?) is set up in RHEL/CentOS 7. Except that my CPU fan blows like crazy and I don't have suspend/resume (both due to the lack of AMD Catalyst, and specifically GNOME-supported AMD Catalyst, for the RHEL 7 platform).

I'd love to see the Wayland display manager out in the wild. My hope against hope is that Wayland will cure some of what ails Linux on the desktop and leads to better video configuration out of the box. And as Mallach says, GNOME is way ahead when it comes to Wayland. Unfortunately, this future focus makes GNOME less usable in the present as the Catalyst trouble seems to be due to Wayland code in GNOME itself. That nobody seems at all motivated to solving this dilemma is disappointing.

So to have the "best" experience (cool-running CPU/GPU and working suspend-resume, the latter of which should be obtainable out of the box for all desktop Linux users), I've been running Xfce for the past year and a half, the time I've had my current AMD A4-4300M APU-running laptop. I could go on about how concern for the pricier AMD A10 has been good for folks who have those chips while doing less for those with the older/cheaper ones.

Mallach mentions OwnCloud integration. Real, deep integration with OwnCloud would be enough to bring me over. As it is today GNOME's OwnCloud integration is superficial at best: You put in your account details and then are thrown into a window with WebDAV connectivity. Which you can set up on your own in Nautilus without a "special" credentials window.

If GNOME offered true OwnCloud integration with built-in syncing that worked without the customary tweaking -- and not just the tenuous WebDAV that results in more data loss than makes me comfortable -- that would marshal me right over. The same would happen with easy connectivity/setup for storage in the Amazon or Google clouds. That's where GNOME could (and should) win. Dropbox works better with Nautilus than it does with Xfce's Thunar file manager but not as well as it does in Windows and OS X. If GNOME improved this situation, that would bring me over.

Does GNOME have seamless integration with Web-based Gmail? How about Thunderbird? I don't know. What I do know is that I'm not going to use Evolution. Does GNOME Documents do more than crawl your disk and bunch up all of your documents in a folder-less mess?

What I'm trying to say is that there are plenty of half-baked features in GNOME. Xfce does less, but it's hella configurable. And fast.

I also need Xfce because a Linux-unfriendly Citrix-driven app I run will disconnect itself whenever changing virtual workspaces in any desktop environment. These network disconnections also happens when changing windows in GNOME 3, so that's a bit of a deal-breaker for me. I'm sure it's an edge case. But it's my edge case, and it dictates my Linux setup.

Despite all of this, I still do come down on the side of making (or keeping) GNOME as the default environment for Debian. I'm hopeful that the GNOME developers will continue to iterate on the GNOME 3/Shell platform and not throw it out for something even more futuristic and less feature complete.

More users bring more developers, more complaining and hopefully more solutions. GNOME can and should lead when it comes to technology, accessibility and aesthetics. Red Hat's rendition of GNOME 3 in RHEL 7 adds just enough old-school menu pointers to ease traditional users into the Shell experience.

Here's the short version: Desktops with killer features draw users. Get the killer features, get the users. That's how simple it is.