Gnome 3 Delete Key — what happened!?

So I updated a few of my workstations to Fedora 16. I had been hesitating to upgrade from F14 because with F15 came Gnome 3, a pretty drastic departure from the traditional desktop environment we’re all used to. Some of the notable changes (and some of the first ones I found work arounds for) were:

  • Removal of minimize and maximize button in title bar, leaving only the “x” close window button.
  • Removal of a task switching bottom panel
  • Removal of “Shutdown” / “Restart” from … Shutdown? menu — leaving only suspend
  • Forced grouping of windows by application when you’re alt tabbing. Now 3 gnome-terminal sessions + firefox + gedit will show as 3 windows instead of 5 and require you to press down to descend into the individual windows of each group.
  • Remove the notification area available for applications and force all the applications that used it (sometimes, very cleverly) to rework their apps. See this long list of “suggested changes” proposed by the Gnome devs.

The list really goes on, but what really bothered me was that I found that the delete key in the file manager no longer worked. To be clear, this isn’t exactly a Gnome3 issue but rather a Nautilus issue, the filemanager for the gnome desktop.

At some point, the developers (at least those that accepted the patch) decided that they would diverge from decades of desktop environment tradition and change the shortcut from “Delete” to “Ctrl + Delete”. The rationale being that “Delete” was too easy to press by accident, and since there was no notification that the files were moved to the trash, it would be transparent to the user that accidentally pressed delete.

The thing is, I think they correctly identified an issue: accidentally pressing delete could result in user confusion when they can’t find their files. But what is amazing, is how they chose to address it — not by popping up a notification but by simply making it harder to accidentally (and intentionally) delete.

Its amazing because every OS I can think of already pops up a notification when you’re “soft-deleting” files. By soft-deleting, I mean “moving to trash”, etc. — something that is completely reversible — and that’s the functionality we’re talking about with the (formerly) Del / (now) Ctrl+Del command.

But instead of popping up a simple notification, they chose the almost inexplicable route of confusing every desktop user who is even relatively comfortable with the limited subset of keyboard commands that “just work”.

Huge changes like this, I argue, require sufficient motivation. In this case, the desire not to have a notification pop up is no where near sufficient. It surprised me that this bug fell through the cracks, but it baffles me that its possible the Nautilus devs might think this is “working as intended” and not a bug. This issue is not settled, as the bug is still technically open, but the way the devs seem to be leaning is that this change is acceptable.

For example:

Proposing WONTFIX. As written before this is not considered a bug but
intentional behavior.

–AndrĂ© Klapper [developer] 2012-02-18 09:22:13 UTC

But, to be honest, its not surprising. The arrogant / selfish way that the gnome desktop has “evolved” in recent history should have prepared me for this. From the outside looking in, it seems its just a bunch of people who think they know better about how the majority of the userbase should want to work — even despite an inordinate number of complaints and an immeasurable amount of time spent by third party developers in attempts to “bring back gnome2″. More on that in the links below.

So in closing, I upgraded to Gnome3, but found myself unhappy as I expected would be the case. In most of my workstations I’ve noticed a general decrease in performance clearly attributable to the gnome-shell. I spent a considerable amount of time getting it to feel better, and it does, but I would really prefer my Gnome2 back.

That being said, there are two main options for Gnome3 users who hate the new UI.

The first is using “fallback mode”. This gets the user extremely close to the Gnome2 look and feel. Its not as polished as Gnome3 is, but it gets the job done.

The second is adding “shell extensions” to gnome to reproduce the functionality that Gnome longer ships with. Specifically, this include a “Places” menu drop down, removing some of the annoying icons and menus that are there by default, restoring minimize and maximize buttons, restoring “shutdown” and “restart”, and (most importantly, imo) restoring the bottom panel task bar.

I’ve taken the latter approach and the best set of extensions I’ve found so far are the Mint Gnome Shell Extensions. For a while, it seemed like Mint was going to back a Gnome2 fork (which was encouraging), but now it looks like they’ve decided to go with Gnome3, but reproduce the missing functionality through extensions. These extensions are available on their github site, and can be easily installed on a fresh F16 install.

I only use a few of these, as well as a few from Gnome’s own https://extensions.gnome.org/.

While I have managed to get back 75-80% of the look and feel, the increased resource issue still a problem and I only expect it to get worse. I use linux on my workstations so that I can get quck calculations at the expense of visual flair. I’d be okay working (and do in fact often work) primarily from the command line. These workstations had all of the visual flair disabled (Compiz, 3d rendering, transparency, etc) and ran like a charm. Unfortunately, it looks as if this will not be the case with Gnome3.

Posted Monday, February 20th, 2012 under linux, tips and tricks.

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