How I ended my trial of Gnome 3

tl;dr version: I like XFCE better than Gnome 3.

I wrote previously about trying out Gnome 3. I’ve been using it for about a month now, and it’s time for me to make a decision about whether to keep using it or revert to Gnome 2. I’m actually on vacation, which ends soon. I need to do this before vacation ends, so I can be fully productive at work.

My ultimate impression of Gnome 3 is that it’s very slick, and makes significant improvements in some ways, but it’s not very usable for my purposes, and has too many self-contradictions. I still have the complaints I listed in my earlier blog post, such as the identity crisis between keyboard and mouse use. It is geared to keyboard control in some ways, but not enough to really work, and at the same time it’s hard to use it with the mouse. For example, it wastes space on items such as huge thick titlebars (what is that for, if not for the mouse to grab?). Yet window borders are only 1 pixel thick, which is very hard to grab with the mouse when I want to resize, and there are no minimize buttons by default. And there is a big black bar across the top of my screen, which contains a lot of useless items I normally hide. At the same time, this bar isn’t configurable and I can’t put the things I actually want onto it, so it simply sits there making part of my screen unusable.

After using Gnome 3 for a while, and trying to customize it to my liking, I gave up a couple of days ago. There are simply too many things that were either designed in a way I don’t like, or don’t work as designed (bugs). At this point, I revisited my reasons for using Gnome. I used to use XFCE, and Fluxbox before that, but I ultimately decided to use Gnome because it was the default, and I want to avoid customizing my environment as much as possible. Gnome had gotten to the point where it was about as good as anything else, for my purposes.

So instead of reverting to Gnome 2, since I’m going to customize my environment anyway, I decided to go back to XFCE instead. And now I’m happy again. It’s simple, usable, functional, attractive, and fast. It’s easy to customize slightly to my taste (e.g. moving the taskbar to the bottom of the screen, Windows style). And Alt-TAB works sanely. And, I get back some of the things I always missed, such as one-click ways to maximize windows vertically or horizontally.

When Fedora 16 comes out I’ll revisit Gnome 3 and see if it has improved, but for now I’m done with my evaluation. I also just set up a new computer for my dad, who’s a Windows user, and installed Fedora 14 with Gnome 2, instead of Fedora 15. I hope the Gnome developers are able to collect and integrate enough feedback to make a groundbreaking Gnome 3 interface that still does what people expect and works the way they work, because that is the key to getting more adoption.

I'm Baron Schwartz, the founder and CEO of VividCortex. I am the author of High Performance MySQL and many open-source tools for performance analysis, monitoring, and system administration. I contribute to various database communities such as Oracle, PostgreSQL, Redis and MongoDB.