I jumped ship from GNOME 2 to XFCE when GNOME 3 was announced and have ranted about it endlessly, but then I decided to give GNOME 3.14 (Fedora 21) a try.
I still installed Fedora XFCE on all the PCs I care about, and decided my personal laptop was the perfect guinea pig for GNOME because I never do anything with that laptop and wouldn't mind re-formatting it again for XFCE if I turn out not to like Gnome.
After scouring the GNOME Shell extensions I installed a handful that made my desktop somewhat tolerable:
And then I found way too many little papercuts, some worse than others. My brief list:
Settings weren't always respected very well, and some apps would need to be "coerced" into actually looking at their settings. For example, I configured the GNOME Terminal to use a transparent background. It worked when I first set it up, but then it would rarely work after that. If I opened a new terminal, the background would be solid black. Adjusting the transparency setting now had no effect. Sometimes, opening and closing a tab would get GNOME Terminal to actually read its settings and turn transparent. Most of the time though, it didn't, and nothing I could do would get the transparency to come back on. It all depended on the alignment of the stars and when GNOME Terminal damn well feels like it.
Also, I use a left handed mouse, and GNOME Shell completely got confused after a reboot. The task bar and window buttons (maximize, close, etc.) and other Shell components would be right handed, while the actual apps I use would be left handed. So, clicking the scrollbar and links in Firefox would be left-handed (right mouse button is your "left click"), and when I wanted to close out of Firefox, I'd instead get a context menu popup when clicking the "X" button. Ugh!
I wanted to write this blog post from within GNOME but it just wasn't possible. With different parts of my GUI using right-handed buttons and other parts using left-handed ones, I had context menus popping up when I didn't want them and none popping up when I did. After a while I thought to go into the Mouse settings and switch it back; this didn't help, instead, the parts that used to be right-handed switched to left-handed, and vice versa. It was impossible to use. I just had to painstakingly get a screenshot off the laptop and to my desktop and deal with it over there instead.
These things just lead me to believe the GNOME developers only develop for their particular workflows and don't bother testing any features that other mere mortals might like to use. All the GNOME developers are probably right-handed, and they have no idea about the left-handed bugs. All of the GNOME developers don't use transparency in their terminals, evidenced by the fact that the transparency option disappeared from GNOME 3.0 and only just recently has made a comeback (in GNOME 3.12/Fedora 20).
XFCE is going back on this laptop.
For once, this is actually not going to be a rant about Gnome Shell. It actually runs decently on a touchscreen!
I recently got a Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook which has a touchscreen on it. After having trouble getting Windows 8 how I want it on this laptop, I installed Fedora w/ XFCE across the entire disk. I got motivated to try again with Windows 8, though, because it's a shame having a touchscreen and no software that knows how to use it properly.
XFCE doesn't work well with a touchscreen. I can't move windows around on it by touching and dragging their title bars. I can't highlight text.. when I touch and drag over text, it selects it, but it immediately de-selects as soon as I let go. About the only thing I can do on XFCE is click on things, and scroll a window by touching and dragging the scroll bar.
Before dealing with repartitioning and getting Windows 8 back on there, I decided I'd
yum groupinstall "GNOME Desktop" and see how well Gnome Shell works with this touchscreen.
The first thing I tested was dragging windows around. It works. I opened Firefox and dragged inside a web page, which highlighted text (don't remember if the text stayed highlighted though). Dragging the scrollbar worked.
I opened Nautilus and navigated to /usr/share by touching the icons. This folder had a scrollbar. I could drag the scrollbar just like in Firefox, but I could also scroll the window by touching anywhere else in the window and swiping, just like you'd expect on Android or iOS. It supported acceleration too, where you could swipe quickly and let go and the window would continue scrolling and eventually slow down.
Dragging windows around in the Activities view worked exactly how you'd expect, too.
Gnome Shell doesn't support multi-touch, though. But I think this is the fault of X11 in general not supporting it, so you can't blame them for that. If you try a multi-touch gesture, it just gets confused and tries to treat all your fingers as one and you get erratic mouse movements or something.
I still don't like Gnome, but I am impressed that this actually works, for all the propaganda you hear from the Gnome devs about making it a tablet interface. I was expecting it to be as painful to use as XFCE on a touch screen.
Now, to install Windows 8 and then put Fedora XFCE back on.
Let's look at some very, very old* desktop environments, which lack in some features we've had for at least a good decade now.
Gnome Shell is just so, so awful that Cinnamon was spawned as a way to get a more traditional (read: Gnome 2-like) desktop environment out of the utter mess that is Gnome Shell, except that Shell's bad design decisions are rotten to the very core and Cinnamon has to suffer for it as well.
Just to pick on one specific problem, Metacity no longer supports re-theming the window manager without logging out and back in. How many window managers in the world follow this behavior? Let's count them:
I was very impressed with the MATE desktop environment when I tested it on Linux Mint... it is the exact same Gnome 2 that I used to love. The panels behaved the same way (read: fully effing configurable and requiring no log-outs to see your changes take effect), it had all the same applets and didn't come with the high-and-mighty "we know better than you and you may have ONE of each applet at most" attitude that Cinnamon has... and it doesn't use Metacity 3 so that all kinds of theming takes effect immediately.
So there's MATE, XFCE, KDE, LXDE and a good handful of window managers that exist here in the 21st century, and then there's Gnome Shell, and by extension Cinnamon, stuck back in 1995 which is the only place that their lack of features can possibly fit in.
I have a couple of rather cynical predictions about what new problems Gnome 3 could bring to Linux (or Fedora, in particular) that I feel like writing down here just so I can say "I told you so!" as I begrudgingly look into installing Arch Linux on all my computers at some point in the future.
gnome-sound-appletisn't very useful in the Gnome Shell desktop environment, because the Shell has its own built-in volume control icon on the top panel.
The reason it's still around is probably just for the Gnome 3 fall-back desktop, where you get a two-panel layout similar to Gnome 2, which still has a decent system tray on the top panel. For Gnome 3 users without hardware acceleration, the gnome-sound-applet comes to the rescue to let these users continue adjusting their sound volume.
But, with Gnome Shell software rendering coming in Fedora 17, the need to maintain the system tray sound applet will quickly vanish, since even Gnome 3 users without hardware acceleration will be seeing the same shell desktop with its own built-in sound applet. This sucks a lot for XFCE and other desktop users. One of my favorite things about the Gnome sound applet is the ability to increase the volume higher than 100%, which XFCE's clunky old sound mixer applet still can't do.
Update (4/4/13): In Fedora 19, the gnome-sound-applet has disappeared. Called it! Now I'm stuck with the XFCE Mixer applet.
"There are currently hacks in place in Gnome Shell that allows us to run the NetworkManager applet, but place its icon in the shell panel instead of the normal system tray. So, it makes sense to just program the NetworkManager to go directly to the Gnome panel instead, and no longer support the system tray version anymore. This is good for Gnome, and anybody using XFCE or some other desktop that will have objections to this change, well they can just switch to some other distro. We don't care."
On this one, I hope I'm wrong. But due to Gnome's short-sightedness with some of their recent design decisions (ruining Zenity, anyone?) I wouldn't be shocked to see them come up with such an idea.
Ever since I jumped ship from Gnome to Xfce a few years ago when Gnome 3/Shell was first announced, I've configured my Xfce desktops to strongly resemble the standard Gnome 2 panel layout.
Along the top panel I have my Applications and Places menus, app launchers for my commonly used programs, my CPU usage graph, notification area and clock. On the bottom panel are my task bar and workspace switcher. These are all standard Xfce panel applets.
The details for anyone who's interested (the only panel applet options shown are the ones that differ from the default options):
Add a Launcher applet, set it to launch the Settings Manager (
xfce4-settings-manager), rename the launcher to "System", and on the Advanced tab of the Launcher applet, check the box to "Show label instead of icon".
This won't get you a drop-down menu, but it will complete the Gnome 2 look for your main menu part of the panel.