Criticisms for the GNOME Shell

GNOME Shell gets a lot of flack from people that wish it was more like GNOME 2.x series, ranging from lamenting the difference to disgruntled rants that it’s a ruinous step towards Armageddon.

I’ve been using GNOME Shell since 3.x landed on Debian, and I enjoy it. But there are some things I don’t like about it (very few). Some of them are my own lack of relearning the desktop, failure to install appropriate extensions, etc.

Messaging Tray

This is my least favorite thing about the Shell. The Messaging tray is the area at the bottom of the screen that lets notifications be added, while sometimes acting like the old tray area where applications can add icons.

The problem is that it’s auto-hidden, which wouldn’t be a problem except for the fact that it’s way too shy. I believe in recent versions it’s better, in that it will pop-up and stick around, but it’s still difficult to open if you’re on multiple monitors with the Shell on the left monitor. I run my mouse down, and miss it several times before getting it to show.

There’s supposed to be a kind of hidden bump at the top and bottom right, but those are both ineffective and annoying (ie, they don’t work when I want them to and do work when I don’t want them to).

Snapping Windows

Another feature of the Shell is snapping windows to three places: left-screen and right-screen both take up half of the screen when snapped. This is a kind of easy-tile system where you can have two windows side-by-side. The third snap is maximizing a window on the current screen.

I almost never use any of these on purpose, but do run into them accidentally more often than I’d like. This is especially common with the top-right mouse trap.

Multiple Desktops

My main complaint here is that it’s a pain in the ass to use multiple desktops. I either have to keep a mental map of my desktops, or keep going back to the Shell overview. There’s no normal workflow that automatically makes use of additional desktops. (I have a little more to say about that last sentence, see Workflow below.)

This is partly my fault, as I could probably learn to manually build these into my workflow.

Overview

The fact I’m avoiding the overview in dealing with multiple desktops points to the fact that I almost never touch the overview. In the course of a day, 90% of my overview use is in the first minutes of starting my computer. That’s usually to open a terminal, browser, and mail client. Maybe a few other things get opened/closed during the day (eg, wireshark), but these are rare.

I could have my common processes open on login, but then I’d really neglect the overview.

But this is less a criticism of the Overview/Shell, than the way I’m using it and that it’s meant to stay out of the way.

Things I Don’t Care About

I press Alt when I’m going to shut down. It doesn’t bother me. I understand that it would be trouble for discoverability reasons, and would see it fixed (I believe there’s some further work on changing it already?).

I open new windows from the application itself. As said above, I tend to avoid the Overview anyway, so making it easier to launch multiple windows for apps wouldn’t buy me anything.

Workflow

I mentioned not using multiple desktops due to workflow problems. That’s the same reason I only sparingly use Panorama in Iceweasel/Firefox.

In general, I’m conservative in my computing. I keep the number of visible tabs in Iceweasel below 10. But that’s based on experiencing frustration when I have too much around. There are people who regularly speak of having hundreds of tabs open.

My guess is that they would rather find the tab they want than navigate to a new tab.

But the point is, there’s an opportunity to have things like Panorama and multiple desktops automated into the workflow. If I could open 50 tabs without managing them (building and pruning the set), it would be entirely common.

For Panorama, that would probably involve some sort of on-screen/non-dedicated group mechanism.

For multiple desktops, seeing the other desktops might be part of it, but that would add clutter to the desktop. Better might be to do away with the concept and instead have some other way of managing what windows are on the screen(s) at once.

In any case, having features that aren’t part of the workflow requires the user to build their own extra steps into their work.

Summary

If you look, you’ll see all my (minor) complaints are regarding places where GNOME Shell gets in my way. It doesn’t do it very much.

I’m rather happy with what’s here. It can be better, but for all of the grief it receives, it’s a stable desktop experience. I honestly believe that the complaints tend more to the feelings of betrayal at the loss of GNOME 2 than any deep complaints at the state of Shell.

Cleaning the Other Side of the Browser

It’s a messy world.  The new generation of browsers are cleaning it up a bit; they are actively pairing down the amount of administrative chrome that surrounds the content.  And that’s great, because it makes half of the web better.

But it doesn’t make the web better, it only makes the browser better.  It’s still mostly the same web.

It’s the web with too many irrelevant advertisements.

Too many sites with clutter.

Too much bad typography.

Bad suggestion engines and search results.

So, accepting that each website is like a public toilet stall, with whatever has been scrawled on it, what happens if everyone is given a marker?

Some sites have tried that.

Readability tries to pare down any site to just the content.

There are also things like Greasemonkey and Stylish, allowing users to apply their own scripts and styles to pages.

But these things rely on the current version of sites.  They are subject to breakage, and the site owners want you to view it the way they say.

That’s an older problem.  Some religions wanted you to look at things their way, to the point where they controlled the availability of sacred texts or the ability to read them.   Kings used to have the power, but even when democracy took hold there were countless attempts to control who voted and ran for office.

It’s worth pondering though.  We need to clean the other side of the browser, from bad path design to clutter to typography.  Too much dictated design makes the web less useful, and it stifles the spread of information.

bookStack 0.4.3

Get it while it’s hot: bookStack 0.4.3 in AMO Sandbox

Note this is only for Firefox 3.0b3 through the current preb5 releases. This extension will not work in Firefox 2.0

Documentation is now at: bookStack Google Code Project wiki

If you do try it, please please let me know what you think.

Finally, a few words of thanks to the awesome developers at mozilla and the community on the mozilla.org irc server that makes developing and using extensions possible. And to the people who made the new Places system in Firefox 3, it completely rocks.

Thanks,

Adam

Changes in 0.4.2:
* Dropped support for Firefox 2
* Now supporting Firefox 3b3+
* Fixed several memory leaks (observers that weren’t being properly removed when not needed), thanks to Leak Monitor extension!
* Added Multi-Stack support (one stack at a time)
* Independent settings for:
* Add items to top
* Clear on exit
* Remove items on view
* Added special Trash folder
* All items that are removed from a stack are moved here.
* It is cleared out on exit from Firefox
* Added sidebar context menu with keyboard support and accesskeys
* Items: Open in This Tab
Open in New Tab
-separator-
New Item
New Folder
-separator-
Copy Item Location
Move in Folder
Top
Up
Down
Bottom
Move to
{List of Folders}
Move to Trash
Purge Item
* Added aforementioned New Folder dialog
* Added sidebar menulist for choosing the current stack folder
* Added sidebar button to toggle between adding to top or bottom
* Removed Clear Stack Tools->bookStack menuitem (Tools menu only shows bookStack Settings item now)
* Removed Menu button (only sidebar button available to navigation toolbar now)
* Removed pop first button from sidebar (alt+c still does this)
* Removed ‘remove and view’ item from content area context menu
* Removed manual add button from sidebar (context->new item now does this)
* Rearranged Preferences dialog into general settings and stack settings

web time

The w3c has various time specifications for time & date, but there seems to be a lack of use and/or implementation.

There’s just no good excuse, given that a browser should recognize time values when present, and have awareness of the locale information of the operating system/user, for anyone to see “5:00 PST” or the like.

There’s no reason that today’s lunar eclipse times posted on the Wikipedia entry should include a table of various timezones.

Okay, I’m a little off with that statement. If you are planning to view in a timezone other than your own, or to relay that information to someone in another timezone. But, even then I believe you should be responsible for the conversion.

So what’s the alternative, everything in UTC/GMT? No.

The alternative is responsible implementations that allow aware browsers to display ALL time values converted to your local time.

In other words you should always expect a time value to be local to your current time locale.

So how does that work? It’s dead simple and requires only one change. It works by having well-formed time values with accompanying tags or markup that designate they are time values.

Given some string which is marked as time, the browser makes a best-effort parse to understand that string, and then displays in its place whatever preference the User (you) have for time display.

Many websites today do this by a few methods. A majority of them probably use javascript, whilst some (given you are registered) have a setting and use the server’s time +/- your setting’s offset.

Both of these are hacks. No one should need to have javascript enabled or login just to have times displayed “correctly” and even then the sites display them in the form they want, not in a user-specified, browser-profile format.

It is trivial to do this correctly, yet it’s not done.

bookStack 0.3.5

For those who haven’t been keeping up with bookStack on its page it’s now up to 0.3.5 and pretty good with respect to features, stability, and customizability.

Also of note is that the Netscape browser is finally going away which means that there will no longer be a Link Pad as Netscape 9 had. As of February that browser is no more.

A quick rundown of where the extension is now and where it will likely go in the following months:

Added drag & drop support, support for customized viewing options, more sidebar control of useful preferences. A lot of code cleanup, as well. The 0.3.X branch has mainly focused on stability and better integration into the browser.

What’s next? Probably will look at multiple-stack support where the user can easily switch between stacks, add stacks, remove, and merge stacks. The goal there is to allow multiple ‘projects’ to be handled simultaneously through the stack archetype.

I’d like to look at adding a context menu to the sidebar. There may not be enough items to justify it, but that will depend, at least in part, on how the multi-stack ends up being implemented.

And sooner or later (sorry to those who have requested it already) I’d like to get this running with Firefox 3. There are still some instabilities from what I can tell with the Fx3 code that make me wary of going too far in porting bookStack over, but the code is much cleaner for bookStack as I can finally shed the RDF quirkiness and use the utensils Firefox 3 offers for managing the bookmarks.

Thanks for all the feedback on bookStack and I hope to continue to develop it and help make it easier for people to optimize their browsing.

-Adam