Sunday, July 16, 2006

CDE to GNOME migration: the pros and cons

I've been a CDE user for many years (in fact, since I started using very early internal builds of Solaris 2.6 when I was a contractor at Sun). For the most part, I've been happy: little superfluous, performance-robbing eye candy, intuitive ease-of-use, and enough customisation to let me do things more or less how I want.

Sun has stated for a long time now that GNOME is the way forward for desktops, so every now and then I give it a try. To say that I've underwhelmed by Solaris 10's GNOME 2.6-based JDS is an understatement. But recent builds of have included Vermillion, which is the codename for the next generation of JDS--currently based on GNOME 2.14.1--so I thought I'd give it another try. Given that the only way something can be fixed is if people are aware of perceived trouble areas, I though I'd blog about my efforts to come to grips with GNOME.

I'll start off with the pros: The performance issues I remember with GNOME 2.6 are, for the most part, history. The default desktop, a striking fade of dark blue to black, is beautiful. Some of the toys--esepcially the image previewer of the file system browser--are great, and very useful. (The image previewer was VERY useful recently, when it was time to sort the 600 or so photos on my camera's CF card.) Finally, if you're coming to Solaris from Windoze, the migration should be fairly painless, as the two seem to act similarly (I am fortunate enough to not use Windoze very often, so I can't say for sure how close the two are). Unfortunately, this last point is the source for most of my issues with GNOME.

Let me get this one out of the way first: I *hate* the stupid "Launch" menu being buried in one corner of my screen. My screen is 24.1" in size, running at 1920x1200 pixels; the bright spark who thought that putting the menu in a corner of the screen was a good idea obviously didn't use high res displays (I'm sure that on a 15" monitor at 640x480, it's a fine set up). Sun touts the accessability features of their contributions to GNOME. All fine, I'm sure, but perhaps they ought to do something about that bloody menu location to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome! Moving my mouse to the bottom left corner of the screen everytime I want to open a new application is a major pain...

CDE has it right: you right click on the desktop, and presto: the "Launch" menu appears where your mouse is, enabling you to run the app you want with the minimum of hassle. I strongly encourage the GNOME people to adopt this behaviour--or at least make it an easily selectable option. Launch -> Preferences -> Menus & Toolbars seems to be the most logical place to put this; create an new option under "Behaviour and Appearence" called "Enable Desktop Launch Menu" or something similar.

The applet bar along the bootom is a good idea; I think minimised apps are supposed to go there, a la Windoze, but at least for me they don't. For me, this is another annoyance: I prefer my minimised apps to appear as icons on my desktop. Not everyone would like this--especially those coming from Windoze--so this too should be easily configurable behaviour. This time, Launch -> Preferences -> Window Behaviour is the logical place to put this option. Simply create an option called "Minimised windows appear as desktop icons", and away you go. Even if minimsed apps appear on the desktop, I'd keep the applet bar, because, as I said earlier, it's a great place to put nifty little applets, like the volume control, clock, and network activity monitor.

On the subject of window behaviour, can we please make it that double-clicking the top left Window menu button closes that window, like it does with CDE? Or at the very least, make this behviour optional (put it in the same place as above).

Here's another one: GNOME seems to (at best) ignore the keys on the Sun keyboard (Stop, Again, and so on). I very frequently use the Front, Open, Copy, and Paste keys, so their non functioning in GNOME is a major pain.

I think that's covered my major issues and annoyances with GNOME. I managed to fix one very major issue recently with the behaviour of dtterm on GNOME (I'll blog about that soon); I really want to adopt GNOME, but I'm afraid that right now there're too many problems with it for me to adopt it full time. For now I'll be sticking with CDE, opening up GNOME when necessary. If the community can fix these issues, I bet a lot of people would be happy. Oh, and one final message to GNOME developers: configurabilty is not necessarily evil!


At 16/7/06 15:04, Anonymous John Levon said...

There's a very good reason the menu is in
the bottom left: Fitts' Law. The edge (and
especially the corner) of the screen effectively makes the target infinite in size, making it very easy to hit. Having to position the pointer in a restricted box is
much more troublesome. If you're having trouble travelling the pointer the distance of the screen, it sounds like you need to tweak the acceleration settings somewhat? It shouldn't require more than 1/4 of the mouse mat at most to slam the pointer to the corner.

At 16/7/06 15:07, Anonymous John Levon said...

And in case anyone tries to point out there's one place better than the corner, and that's where the pointer is already: that's true, but it's not easy to do with the typical menus like CDE had. A radial context menu would be an improvement, perhaps, but it's not clear how that would integrate with the application menus.

At 16/7/06 15:38, Anonymous ian Collins said...

One seldom mentioned feature that has sold me on GNOME over CDE is its support for twin view. The toolbar stays in the left hand display, leaving the other free of clutter. Full screening a window fills which ever display the application is in, nice.

I seldom use the launch menu, so its location isn't a problem.

At 16/7/06 19:28, Anonymous nacho said...

sounds like your problem with JDS is just that youre not used to it, and that will not go away if you rarely use it. Just set it as your default DE/WM, force yourself to use it for a while, yes, i know it will slow you down and will feel weird at first but it is quite effective. Trust me, I erased all the other OS's in my desktop pc just to make myself use Solaris.

At 17/7/06 05:07, Anonymous Calum Benson said...

You could probably write a nautilus extension that would make the applications menu appear on the right-click menu... the "Open Terminal" menu item that appears there is a nautilus extension too. Might be a nice little OpenSolaris project for somebody :)

At 17/7/06 09:09, Blogger Rich Teer said...

John, what restricted box are you referring to? I want the abiity--as I have in CDE right now--to right click anywhere on the desktop's background and have the "Launch" menu to appear. Context-sensitivity isn't an issue, I just want the Lanuch menu to appear!

I'm no GNOME/Nautilus guru, but I can't believe that this would be hard to implement. Heck, the code for displaying *a* menu is there, I'm just asking for a different menu to be displayed.

At 17/7/06 09:12, Blogger Rich Teer said...

Nacho, point taken, but I don'think that CDE -> GNOME migration should be something that is hard to do. One of Sun's great plus points is their backwards compatibility and their adherence to the principle of least surprise.

I'm not asking for the behaviour that I prefer to be the default or only choice, but I think it should be a configurable option. That way, everyone is happy!

At 17/7/06 11:57, Anonymous ux-admin said...

"On the subject of window behaviour, can we please make it that double-clicking the top left Window menu button closes that window, like it does with CDE? Or at the very least, make this behviour optional (put it in the same place as above)."

If there is one thing that annoys the hell out of me in GNOME, the above would be it.

When I click in the upper left corner (even just once), the window MUST CLOSE. No bullshit, no eye candy, JUST CLOSE.

At 31/7/06 16:25, Anonymous Darren J Moffat said...

The window button behaviour is just down to theming this is most certainly possible as I've seen alternate themes for Metacity that have this behaviour.

The Sun keys work just fine for me, but unfortunately it wasn't the default behaviour. Go to Preferences->Keyboard Shortcuts and program them.

I even have the volume keys on a Sun keyboard and on my Ferrari 3400 working.


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