Today’s the 27th of March. Just 10 days to go for the release of the next version of the most popular X Desktop environment: GNOME 3. I decided to give its beta a try, and downloaded and installed the latest versions of GNOME Shell, and other GNOME programs (empathy, nautilus, gnome-control-center, gnome-themes-standard including Adwaita, etc) from the GNOME3 Ubuntu Natty PPA.
A couple of things entered my system, due to some conflicts some other not-so-important things were removed, but the system didn’t break. To get a nice experience, I even changed my wallpaper to the blue lines one which is default in GNOME 3. Then I ran gnome-shell –replace.
The first experience
My first experience: WOW!. I decided at that moment that I’ll never come back to Unity. The GTK theme, the activities view, everything seemed to blend so well, that I thought that this was the end of the GNOME vs KDE war and GNOME vs Unity war. I launched up applications, played around with its workspaces, etc. I liked the new ‘sheet’ way of representing modal dialogs. For one whole hour, I was using GNOME Shell and liking it.
But it all ended there, atleast for me.
Well. GNOME Shell became a bit slow for me. I thought it may be because I had been running the 2GB RAM computer for a long time. I restarted the system and the I opened up my mail account, and got down to my work. I use Thunderbird for my mail work. Apart from TB, I opened up gnome-terminal for some bug-fixing and other stuff. Now this is where the advantages of GNOME Shell ended for me.
Whenever I needed to switch a window, I had to open up the Activities view. This was time-consuming and cumbersome. To prevent windows clutter, I moved my windows on to 2 separate workspaces, one containing Firefox and the other containing terminal and TB.
I found myself pressing Ctrl+Alt+<arrow keys> to move around the workspaces, which used to work for me when I had been using Unity. But it didn’t work here anymore. I opened up the Activities view to switch between workspaces. Now here I noticed one major bug in the design: long mouse movements. Just to change workspaces, I had to first move mouse on the top left corner, then move mouse to the right till the end of the screen where the workspaces were. Then I had to click the required workspace and then select the window to which I had to move to, in the middle. Compare this to the keyboard navigation system and the workspace switcher in Unity (I’ll be comparing GNOME Shell and Unity later on in detail).
Whenever I open up the Activities view and then click on ‘Applications’, it takes around 3-4 seconds for the applications list to come up. Irritating.
Another thing which I found irritating was that system indicators are rendered nicely at the top right, but app systray icons are at the bottom right. Not a big problem, but this is going to be frustrating for newcomers.
For two more hours, I was hacking around on Ubuntu packages, fixing bugs, browsing through bug lists, mails, etc. All I wanted was to get my job done. Quickly. So it has now been 3 hours since I installed GNOME shell. By the third hour, my system began to get slow. This was kinda weird for me, as my system didn’t slow down when using Unity continuously and multitasking more heavily for 5-6 hours at a stretch. So the third hour of me using GNOME Shell ended slowly.
The fourth hour
I continued with my work. Now Mutter began to show its darker side on me. What is mutter? Mutter = Metacity + Clutter. It’s a new windows manager made exclusively for GNOME Shell. It has a couple of features, but its still not at par with the other composting window managers out there, such as Compiz.
So, back to the darker side of Mutter. What were the problems I faced? Many. I have already mentioned about my system getting slow. It now became so slow that the mutter animations were no longer ‘animations’ but were jagged images moving around bumpily (sorry, I don’t know the exact English word for that). Switching to the Activities view became a slow experience. There were some other issues that I faced: top-left corners of windows became invisible, text on the top panel wasn’t rendered properly, etc.
Things became worse. My computer slowed down to a snail’s pace even when I had closed all windows and also closed background services of empathy, gwibber,etc. I started up gnome-system-monitor to find out that gnome-shell was taking up a massive 400MB of memory.
How it all ended
I must say: I had had enough. I was getting frustrated with stuff. I turned off my computer (There is no ‘power off’ option in the session menu in shell, and I was stuck until someone on Twitter helped me by asking me to press <Alt> while on the menu), and went out for a walk. After coming back, I started up my computer again, and my computer slowed down in less than an hour. And I was fed up with moving my mouse madly around the screen just to switch workspaces/open applications/switch windows.
Now, the final solution for me was:
sudo ppa-purge ppa:gnome3-team/gnome3
Yes. I was fed up. All I wanted was a nice desktop which allows me to do what I want, without any bounds.
Comparison with Unity
Unity is the name of the desktop shell which will be default in Ubuntu 11.04. Unlike Shell, Unity runs on top of Compiz.
So these are the advantages of Unity over GNOME Shell:
1) A clean launcher which does what it says on the tin and much more. By default the launcher is set to intellihide, which is a nice feature. The launcher makes switching between windows easy.
2) A clean dash which is swift and fast in opening, swift in launching apps and opening folders.
3) AppIndicators are clean, easy-to-use and fast.
4) Workspaces are easy to use, and moving apps between them is easy and fast. Switching between workspaces is also very easy thanks to Compiz.
5) Compiz is fast, doesn’t hog up memory, has nice visual effects.
Now for the advantages of GNOME Shell over Unity:
1) More customizable thanks to themes written in CSS.
2) Nice looks, suites casual users.
People moving from GNOME 2 will find Unity much better, mainly because it behaves in a way more similar to GNOME Panel.
GNOME 3 is more properly targeted at casual users who don’t do multitasking very much. GNOME 3 looks better on screenshots and screencasts, but the story of usage is quite different. Its mainly suitable for those who don’t have many windows open at any time, don’t work much on a computer, and are fans of eye-candy and customization.
Unity is undoubtedly the ‘One size fits all’ desktop shell out there. It suites everyone. It won’t disappoint anyone out there. It does what it is expected to do plus many more things (such as quicklists, launcher emblems, etc) which make the desktop experience intuitive, fun and swift.
One month is still remaining for the release of Ubuntu 11.04, and Unity will get even better in this month. Bugs will be fixed, the UI experience will be polished, etc.
Disclaimer: The views presented in this article are my own views. These are not biased towards either Canonical or GNOME. Though I am an Ubuntu Member, my views are not a representation of Canonical’s views on GNOME.