Linux of the 90's

September 27, 2012 by Noah
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

What sorts of things does this clunky old desktop environment not allow us to do, which every other desktop does (and has for a decade)?

  • We don't have a customizable panel. There's a panel on the top, and it stays there; can't be moved, hidden, changed in any way...
  • We can't change the widget (GTK) themes on the fly. The desktop environment itself provides no way of changing the theme at all, and changing it via a third-party tool requires you to log out of your desktop and back in for the change to take effect. How old school is that!
  • The same goes for the window manager theme. Every other window manager in the history of ever lets you re-theme it "live" without logging out. Not good old Metacity, though!
That's enough ragging on this one, let's look at another one!


This one is based on Gnome Shell. Some people didn't like Gnome Shell and they wanted to make it look and feel like a more functional desktop environment known as Gnome 2. So let's compare it to that!

  • Oh no. The panels aren't hardly configurable. You have 3 options: one panel on top, one on bottom, or both. And changing that setting requires you to log out and back in. How ancient.
  • Panel applets? I hope you only want one of each applet, and that you're fine sticking them into pre-designated slots on your panel. You can't customize them beyond that. The applets don't even have their own settings--your app menu will say "Menu", and you can't change that.
  • Metacity strikes again! You can't change the window manager theme without logging out and back in.
Wait, what ever happened to Gnome 2, anyway? I used to like that guy!


*These desktop environments aren't very old at all. They're current. Gnome Shell is the default desktop environment of Fedora, and Cinnamon is one of the defaults of Linux Mint. And who's really at fault for these two desktop environments being so 1995, anyway? The GNOME dev team of course!

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:

  1. Metacity 3.x
Oh? And which window managers do allow being re-themed live?
  • Metacity from Gnome 2 and back
  • XFWM4 (the window manager for XFCE)
  • KWin (window manager for KDE)
  • OpenBox, Blackbox, Fluxbox, FVWM, . . .
That's right, damn well every single one of 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.




There are 3 comments on this page. Add yours.

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Bllinker posted on February 28, 2013 @ 23:29 UTC

Good article, very good, but you know that joke "GUI? What kind of command line is it?" Anyway, keep up the good work.

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JD posted on March 24, 2013 @ 23:58 UTC

if (gnome3sucks)

 de = xfce;
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Somebody posted on June 18, 2014 @ 11:33 UTC

Please check your facts. Metacity is dead. The new window manager (integrated with gnome-shell, can't be replaced with compiz or anthing else, while gnome2 coud) is called Mutter. Cinnamon forked mutter and called it Muffin.

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