The Right Question

So, this is almost short enough to stuff into a tweet, but I was wondering if there was an actual list of ways in which GNOME Shell fell short of Canonical’s requirements or desires?

In other words, there is a list of problems that are severe enough to cause Canonical & Co. to think it’s worth paying developers to work on a fifth desktop interface contender for Linux rather than use any of the available ones, including the Shell—an undertaking that Dave Neary quite presciently calls “really hard” (more on that later).

My fairly brutal framing is that it’s useful to anyone even tangentially involved in free-software desktop work to have a list of things that will diminish the number of people using their stuff.



  1. neo says:

    None of these reasons seem strong and none of the reasons were communicated with the GNOME Shell developers. Canonical wants control and they are using Unity where they demand copyright assignment.

  2. Ewan says:

    I think the feedback on GNOME Shell has been 100% negative. Maybe I’m living in an echo chamber of people complaining; but I suspect GNOME developers might be living in their own echo chamber if you can’t see the people who are appalled at the direction it’s going.

    The comments discussion here has some useful feedback:

  3. Rolandixor says:

    One simple reason: most users said NO to the direction GNOME Shell was taking, and so did many developers (seriously: scrapping compiz? blocky animation, poor design, single panel and no options available? full screen application – menu? – can we call it that?) — we said no, the developers ignored us.

    Ofc the current unity (for netbooks NB) is similar, but from what we have heard, the desktop version will be different. If it isn’t, users will just not use it. As was the case with the shell.

  4. “As was the case with the shell.”

    I don’t know what you mean by ‘was’. GNOME Shell is still in Alpha stage and hasn’t had an official production release. It’s rather early to be talking about it in the past tense.

  5. Bruce Cowan says:

    It is also a bit early to saying that gnome-shell is worse than the hilariously named Unity, because neither of them are in their final form.

  6. James Cape says:


    Thanks for posting that, great link.


    I can’t comment on your bubble residency status, but I have both heard positive and negative impressions of the Shell myself. More negative than positive, yes, but the Shell is still very alpha at the moment, and hasn’t been really cleaned up to look pretty yet, so far as I know. Since the Shell is apparently doing everything with JavaScript and CSS, it means it’s in a much better architectural position for branding, behavior, and appearance fixes to come later.


    I don’t think anyone has done any legitimate research on what any computer users think of the Shell, so please don’t pretend like anyone can say their opinion on the subject is somehow the tyrannized majority opinion.

    Regarding the other points, Compiz was never the “official” WM for GNOME, Metacity was/is. Ubuntu offers the option to turn it on, but while Compiz is a step forward for effects, it’s also at least one noticible step backward from Just Works.

  7. Benjamin LaHaise says:

    Personally, I’m sick of the direction Gnome is taking. I don’t want a desktop that has successively fewer of the features that I use in each new version because someone thinks an options is “too confusing” for users and must be made hidden or non-functional. I truly hope Canonical is able to grow a developer community that listens to its users, something that Gnome has been actively fighting for years.

  8. akoumjian says:

    I just want to say that I’d loved beta testing Gnome Shell and will be using it full time as soon as it is production ready.

  9. Brian says:

    I’ll toss in that I love the GNOME Shell concept, and while I’m not sure that I grok the implications of dropping Compiz, I am sure that I like the idea of using Clutter and providing an expressive platform to use scripting languages to control the interface.

  10. sulfide says:

    you just have to read the internets and you’ll see why they didnt pick gnome shell, and why they didnt have to communicate it. Gnome shell developers should have just read the internets, people all over say how awful it is/looks. Instead they get approval from their peers and don’t listen to the community.

  11. Indubitableness says:

    In my opinion, the largest issue with Gnome Shell right now is that nothing has been done to address people’s complaints.

    For example, the most voiced complaint is that the full-screen launcher is extremely distracting. As far as I know, nothing has been done about this complaint even though you see this complaint everywhere. Ironically, Gnome Shell’s goal is to be less distracting.

    Correct me if I’m wrong, I haven’t heard anything about Gnome Shell in the last few months.

  12. James Cape says:


    Canonical is a business, and the decision to rewrite a desktop interface from scratch is a business decision. My question is: what social, technical, and political factors fed into that decision, because that sort of information being made public would help both Canonical and the broader GNOME community.

    I certainly hope I don’t have to be so crass as to spell out why.

  13. Mike says:

    Flame wars will flame.

  14. peee says:

    I wanted to like the GNOME Shell, I really did, but every time I try it out it feels like the answer to a question nobody asked. It’s confusing, slow (ok, it’s alpha, so I won’t fault it for that) and in no way intuitive. (for what it’s worth, I’m guessing that Unity is going to be the same.) I love GNOME as is, and I don’t want to see it get messed up. Change is fine, if it makes sense and serves a purpose. I can even live with temporary regression for future payoff. But I just can’t ever see myself getting used to the GNOME shell unless it is drastically redesigned.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Unfortunately, Gnome-shell is not very good from a usability perspective in its current state. The design (at least the big picture) has not exactly changed that much since it was introduced, and while A LOT of those who have tested it have given negative feedback, Gnome has chosen to stick with its design. Just check out the comments on every blog entry, every youtube video, every news item on the internet about the shell. Although I see positive feedback as well, they are far between. That Gnome-shell have not taken this feedback into consideration is just arrogant and a big “fuck you” to the loyal Gnome user base.

    Its sad that Ubuntu felt they had to make their own shell, however, its even more sad that Gnome-shell have not listened to the critique of the current state of affairs.

    If I personally have to choose between Gnome-shell (as it is now) and Unity, I will go with Unity. I am sorry, but the current way of switching between tasks are just not acceptable in Gnome-shell.

  16. anon says:

    i don’t want to sound ungrateful for all the work the gnome devs do, but they’re well-known for not listening to their users.

    if you’re hearing mostly negative (all negative i’d say!) then you’re already going in the wrong direction at the alpha stage.

  17. bishop mandible says:

    @Indubitableness: Check out the overview-relayout branch. It’s much less dis­tract­ing.

  18. vav says:

    Gnome-Shell is dead.

  19. Larry says:

    It’s all looking a bit like the re-run of the KDE 4 debacle…and that kept the DE fundamentals in place, not introduce an entirely revolutionary interface into the mix. If the gnome devs have got this wrong then it could really dent the credibility of gnome at a time when desktop adoption is slowly reaching a tipping point.

    At least with Unity there is some sort of choice ahead if gnome shell sucks as much as I fear it does. Options are the life blood of any vibrant culture, and at least canonical are, by (certain) reports purging the mono plague out of their repos. That is a big plus against the minus of upstream contributions that canonical are continually accused of, rightly or wrongly.

    The trashing – and I mean trashing, of the efforts of the compiz team who have done so much to enhance and help gnome get some sort of adoptation going through the oooooh! factor was pretty awful. OK technical aspects are important, but on the basic fundamentals of fairness, from the outside it just looked harsh. I’m delighted that compiz have been awarded the unity development. They deserve more than nostalgia.

    I have tried both – my personal preference lays with unity.

  20. Olafur Arason says:

    Gnome-Shell is all about favoritism. They have been exempt from a lot of criticism because they are well known.

    They are very far from being stable. They are doing everything at the same time; they are building the foundation at the same time as the house.

    Which one on based on specs would you use:

    Uses Javascript with a speed penalty in a new binding infrastructure. Which instead of using modern Javascript metaphors like jQuery uses it like Mozilla does, very complex and very archaic. Using interpreted language without the sex appeal of Python or even Javascript in browser. Has not still settled on a user interface interaction.

    Uses Vala which I think is a very good comprise in writing software in a clear way. Uses animation where it makes sense, not on every action. Integrates interesting technology like Zeitgeist and Indicators. Does not use bleeding edge foundation to build upon. Reuses existing technology where it makes sense like with Compiz.

    What do you have against Unity is what we should be asking.

    I really loved the Gnome 2.0 revolution and I really like where Gtk 3.0 is heading (Gnome 1.4 was a disaster). But where is Gnome 3.0 heading, really?

    I stopped using KDE because Gnome was thinking about what was the right interactions and was not afraid to say when they were wrong. Where are those people now?

    It’s the same thing as with the Cygnus EGCS / GCC split. If a origination is to reluctant to allow new people to do interesting things they will move on.

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