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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Fri, 01 Feb 2013

How I feel about GNOME 3.6 in the Fedora 18 final release

I'm testing Fedora 18 again. Yes, the live image. I didn't do an install, though I'm certainly thinking about it.

In this release's GNOME 3.6 desktop, at least a few applications -- all from GNOME proper -- like Nautilus are putting more functionality into the "global" menu that pops down from the app's icon in the upper panel.

While not catastrophic, it is problematic.

From where I sit, as long as most of an application's menu choices remain in its own window, putting anything in that app's panel-icon dropdown menu other than a superfluous "quit" does nothing to enhance the user experience.

More directly, having to go from the menu in the application's window to the additional menu in the upper panel to look for the functions you want just seems wrong.

For one thing, it kills discoverability, something that both GNOME 3 and Ubuntu's Unity seem overly fond of doing.

Apple's OS X has put every application's entire menu in the upper panel for years. But since going to the upper panel is the ONLY way to access menus on the Mac, you know everything is right there and not lurking in some other menu ... somewhere else.

I'm sure I could get used to this. I don't know whether it would be better or worse to pull more menu items from the application window and put them in the panel menu. The Unity desktop is seemingly trying to do this with all menu items.

This isn't a deal-breaker for me and GNOME 3. The situation could settle as time goes on. Apps that are not part of GNOME could ignore the upper-panel menu. That would be fine. Knowing that I only had to click the application icon to find hidden functionality in GNOME bits means less potentially pointless clicking on my part.

Sure I began with nine paragraphs of complaining. But I'm still using GNOME 3/Shell. In fact, I'm using it more and more. And despite the applications menus' descent into schizophrenia, I'm liking the overall GNOME Shell experience.

Even though GNOME Shell runs very well for me, I've been worried about resource use. So I looked into the situation as best I could.

In an very unscientific test for which I have no hard numbers (it's just me looking at htop in a terminal window), I don't see the processes initiated by GNOME Shell using very much more CPU than Xfce. At times it could be less.

You heard me: From a purely "how much CPU does this desktop environment use to perform normal operations" standpoint, I don't at all see GNOME 3/Shell using more CPU than Xfce 4.8.

Again, it's just me doing tasks in both environments and keeping an eye on htop while I do it.

I suspect that the 3D-accelerated nature of GNOME 3 taps the GPU more than the CPU for many operations. Most of the CPU usage in Xfce is from Xorg. In GNOME 3 I see the gnome-shell process doing more and xorg doing less. Overall I don't see the same xorg spikes, in the same intensity, while running GNOME 3. It seems crazy. Maybe it is. Maybe not so much.

That's not to say that Xfce isn't fast -- and certainly faster -- in desktop operations than GNOME. Xfce is faster. But in terms of CPU resources used, Xfce doesn't crush GNOME.

GNOME has had a bad rap on resource use that goes well back into the GNOME 2 days. I suspect GNOME is continuing in its tradition of being lighter on CPU than it ever gets credit for. And I also suspect that applications like GNOME Shell's mutter window manager are very well coded.

Memory use is another story. In my once-again unscientific htop-based tests, it looks like GNOME Shell uses a good 200 MB more memory than Xfce. That could be significant. Or not. It depends on what kind of resources you have available and what you want to do with them.

In my case I've got the RAM to spare.

As I've written many times, an application like a modern web browser uses way more CPU and RAM than any desktop environment I've ever used. Once you bring up Firefox or Chromium/Google Chrome, the desktop environment becomes a bit player, resource-use-wise, in your overall experience.

Sure GNOME 3/Shell runs better on better hardware. The better graphics card/chip you have, the better it will perform. And as I've also said many times in the recent past, whatever CPU is taken by GNOME Shell to peform a given operation, that hit on resources doesn't go on forever. CPU can spike but then returns to normal very quickly.

When you're doing "nothing" on the desktop, GNOME doesn't hog any resources. It sounds like a given, but there are lots of programs that kill your CPU and RAM no matter what you're doing (or not) with them.

Many vocal users are profoundly unhappy with the direction of GNOME 3 and are looking to replicate their GNOME 2 experience via any number of desktop forks and enhancements.

I'm not quite there. While I'm still splitting time with Xfce 4.8 in Debian Wheezy and refining it to the extent that I can, I'm not ready to give up on GNOME 3. And I do keep my eye on the growing number of new desktops, including Cinnamon and Mate.

And while I haven't confronted the new Anaconda installer in Fedora 18, GNOME 3 itself in this live environment is more responsive than ever. It could be time to install Fedora 18 and see how it fares on the bare metal.