GNOME Folks: Maybe *You* Should Do Something…

A while ago I read this post about a design decision for Gnome 3 power settings. Later I heard about all the comments about it and this clarification. I’ll talk about my take on the issue later in the post. Currently, I’m more concerned about some of the notes in the latter post:

… virtually all the discussion about this has been happening on #gnome-design, and there have been mockups bouncing around the GNOME design git repository for months. …

… The issue has already been discussed many times on #gnome-design, and we obviously we want a solution that works for everybody. …

… If you want to follow this issue, you can watch the wiki, design repositories and IRC channels. I’m sure it will be discussed again soon, and everyone is welcome to participate in those discussions, provided that their contribution is a constructive one. …

Hey, as you said, you’ve already seen that this way of gathering public feedback doesn’t work. Normal users will NOT follow every design detail in #gnome-design or follow the git repository. In wikis, I can see what is provided but it is not easy to notice what is missing. I might see the power settings mock-ups but I might not notice that it is no longer possible to change the behavior of Gnome when the lid is closed. So, none of the above are good ways to gather public feedback (as is clear in this case). You see, a blog post about a design decision has attracted a lot of attention. There are lots of users who cannot and/or do not want to follow all the design process, but they do care about design decisions. Therefore, when you come up with a design decision after such a hard work; it might be better to publish the design decision and request feedback in a suitable way so that you won’t suddenly face a considerable number of users unhappy with a design decision that has been made for months. This might not be practical for all design decisions, but IMHO it should be done for the important/debatable ones specially when you decide to eliminate something which is available in Gnome 2.

About this special design decision and some other similar design decisions like removing the “Startup Applications” preference, it is fine to remove the settings as while as you provide a way for applications to customize the behavior. Removing “Startup Applications” is fine if I can write a replacement myself. For example, if an application fails to remove itself from the list of startup applications for whatever reasons e.g. being uninstalled(!), there should be some way for me to remove it from the list of startup applications. If you let an application to prevent Gnome from being suspended when a laptop’s lid is closed, it’s fine to remove the corresponding preferences since there can be a prevent-gnome-from-being-suspended-when-laptop-lid-is-closed application which /I can add/it can add itself/ to the gnome’s Startup Applications so that my laptop is never suspended when I close my laptop lid (It is what our robotic team WILL need on the laptop which we use on our robot, since the laptop’s lid is closed while robot control software is running on it. However, we sometimes connect to the laptop using VNC, so in this case VNC server can prevent Gnome from being suspended too; and I think this is what a VNC server must do always. But I might happen to use a VNC server which is unaware of Gnome3, so I might use prevent-gnome-from-being-suspended-when-laptop-lid-is-closed application as a workaround; and I would hate Gnome if a workaround for broken applications is not possible).

Something somewhat related to some of the recent debates  about Fedora target users: IMHO, any design decision which doesn’t let a user to do what he wants to do is broken. And if such a decision is made to make software more user friendly, this is exactly when you are losing power users. I think Fedora can become more user friendly while still being a great distribution for power users if it does not follow such design decisions. Be more user friendly, but don’t do it by limiting your power users or making their life harder. Personally, I LOVE flexible software; specially if they make common tasks simple, others simpler and harder ones possible. That’s what I call a good user friendly software (for both naive and power users). Well, that might be impossible to be done in a single application(executable), but it can be done in a software consisting of a coherent set of tools.

Just my 2 cents, if anybody cares 😛


13 responses to this post.

  1. “Design” doesn’t mean “dumb things down so power users can’t do what they need to do”

    The problem is there are people who believe this is so and keep yelling it and causing trouble. It’s simply not true. Having a target audience has absolutely nothing to do with people not being able to do what they want to do.


    • I completely agree.


    • > “Design” doesn’t mean “dumb things down so power users can’t do what they need to do”

      Then why is GNOME doing the latter (and having a history of doing so; this is far from the first time an option is removed from GNOME, or at least the GNOME UI)?

      The hard thing is designing your software so that it will BOTH be easy to use for new users AND customizable by those users who need or want it. (And I’m intentionally saying “need or want” here, it’s not up to you to decide whether they really need it, what counts from a user perspective is that they FEEL a need to.)

      Sadly, GNOME is always choosing the easy way out (just removing/hiding the option).


  2. > IMHO, any design decision which doesn’t let a user
    > to do what he wants to do is broken.

    Big +1 to this and to the rest of the post.

    What I can suggest to you is to try one of the alternative desktop environments (KDE Plasma (*), LXDE, Xfce) shipped in Fedora. (I personally use KDE Plasma Desktop (*) and find it to be nicely customizable to my tastes. I’m also comaintaining the KDE packages, exactly because I like it.) It’s not like Fedora users are FORCED to use GNOME.

    (Now I think KDE would be a much better DEFAULT desktop for Fedora’s target userbase, but that is not a fight that can be taken up on a blog. Nor do I think you’ll succeed at changing GNOME’s years-old design principles, I’m afraid.)

    (*) About the naming: What used to be known as just “KDE 4” is now known as “KDE Plasma Desktop”, to distinguish it from the KDE project/community, the KDE platform/libraries, the KDE applications and the new alternative Plasma workspaces, i.e. Plasma Netbook and Plasma Mobile.


  3. Posted by Leif on February 16, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    It seems that a lot of the gnome 3 desktop (including settings) are being rewritten rather then reused from gnome 3. This is understandable because there are new libraries and people enjoy rewriting stuff. However. Are decisions being made to “remove” settings because the user *truely* doesn’t need them…or because guys are running out of time to rewrite all the features.


    • Please be optimistic or check the archive of the discussions. It’s not fair to talk like that. I personally believe that they really think that it’s not needed in that way (and I respect that), and I say that removing that setting could be justified if there is a good replacement way for the user to achieve the same effects. So, you should still be able to prevent gnome from suspending easily, but using an alternative approach with a good design. What I’m against is removing a feature altogether without any good replacements.


      • Posted by Leif on February 17, 2011 at 12:19 am

        “removing that setting could be justified if there is a good replacement way for the user to achieve the same effects”

        gconf/gsettings? Yes this was already blogged about on the planet.

      • Thanks! It’s better than nothing but I’m not sure if it’s really a good replacement. Specially, it probably doesn’t work if the number of such features go up. But at least it allows us to write an application for tuning such settings!

  4. Posted by bochecha on February 17, 2011 at 6:10 am

    > “But at least it allows us to write an application for tuning such settings!”

    The Gnome designers even designed it for you, you just need to start writing some code:

    Note the date of the blog post. Yes, a year ago. Since then, everyone has kept complaining about removal but no one has written anything.


    • Posted by bochecha on February 17, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      That should read “none of those of have kept complaining have written anything yet”, in case that wasn’t clear. 😉


      • 🙂
        Nice reminder (I’ve even commented there). BTW, notice that the main point of this blog post is about gathering public feedback rather than complaining about a removed feature.

        Even I’ve stated that the mentioned functionality could be accessible without a need for a “settings ui” if better alternatives are available. If most of the applications do The Right Thing, and it is easy to workaround the ones which doesn’t (having a placeholder command which prevents gnome from being suspended while running, which could be called in shell scripts for example); the we can really get rid of a settings ui that “users will be constantly fiddling with them”.

  5. […] have already talked about some GNOME 3  design decisions that I don’t like. I use my laptop as a […]


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