What is it like to move to Unity or Gnome Shell?

After a heavy lunch and some tea, still unable to get into working mode. Incidentally, much awaited Ubuntu 11.10 Oneiric Ocelot has taken another decisive step toward being a future shaper (that ain’t a word? well I just created it :) ) in form of Beta 2. Going through the usual channels, I found that the beta 2 is more or less a bug fix milestone (which it should be) and some very leveraging UI changes. So, listening to this link in youtube, was pleasantly surprised that someone had taken the time and courage to say that the emperor is naked, that the Ubuntu 11.10 is NOT for power users and that its for new users trying to get into Linux. Anyways, listening to him saying so made me think about how good is Unity (or Gnome Shell) for power users used to the existing task-bar-system-tray-workspace-pager UI paradigm. Having had tried Unity from 11.04 and Gnome Shell a little later, I would say personally, I’m much too used to used to the said paradigm that almost every routine action of mine in my everyday development life needed some searching and resulting in my mind map going haywire. Not to mention the muscle memory that comes with ages of using the paradigm.

The first thing that messed up with me was, no cookie for guessing this, THE ‘Start’ button. Well, replacing it with the Unity Dash or the Activities Hot Corner works well, you might argue, and its a good argument. But that is where the goodness ends. In any Desktop (as in Desktop Environment) where I work on, the first thing I do is to pull up most used programs into the quick launch bar so I don’t have to go around playing yo-yo with the start menu all the time. How do I do that in Unity? after some insane banging around, found that you can indeed pull up the starter icons to the dock in the left.. I must be getting old.. not keeping up with the ages of UI experience development where it says having a auto hiding dock in the left makes a person efficient. But to think that the auto hide monster is going to peep up every time I move my mouse to the left corner where most applications tend to be having their control panels (Thunderbird, anyone?), just gives me the creeps. Creeps because I feel I’ll get epileptic due to the now-pop-now-hide-now-forget-your-train-of-thought frequency with which the dock does its duty so well.

Oh and before I forget this, the dock is exactly that and no equivalent of a simpler quick launch bar. For example, you pull a terminal icon on to the dock… now click on it.. oh, wow, you got a terminal without doing the UnityDash->Type(What the !@#$ ?)-the-name-of-the-app Eeeeaaasy routine. But then I want another terminal window. I click on the icon again… oh, wow, I get the originally opened window activated again. And I’m left scratching few strands of hair left in my poor head… I gotta do ^N stuff. No more now-you-click-now-you-get-new-window quick launcher. To make me feel even more stupid, docky boy has a cool feature… after doing the ^N and getting the second window, docky graciously shows it as an almost invisible arrow in the left of the icon… what do the arrow in the right of the icon mean? oh that’s to say that the app is on. yeah well, whatever you say, you are the boss. And here is another cool geeky stuff if you can think of this. You click on exactly the left side arrows, you get a collapsed view of all the windows of the application in the workspace and you get to select what you want. Much simpler than the tedious job of the task bar listing which will list all windows open in whatever applications open, I reckon, my good Master.

Talking about Task bar, that’s second thing that messed me up.. where the hell is my task bar? Life was simpler seeing like all the five terminal windows I had open in the task bar along with n other applications which were open. No such thing in the Unity or Gnome Shell. Of course there are the extensions which bring in the functionality, but then, why remove one of the most efficiency prone feature and say ‘you got it if you need it. its only not there by default.’? Of course, I would need it and need it from day zero when I start operating.

Same goes to the system tray while we are bashing about panels… No more of all that useful horsedropping (for the want of a parliamentary word and appropriate language horsedropping) of having program services blinking comfortably from the systray. I felt Unity did a neat job in this respect. They just decide on what they will show as system service and what not. Gnome Shell went the route of comedy horror genre of movies and put the systray, right in the area where you would least expect it to be… bottom of the screen… as a 100% width panel… which auto hides… with graded transparency… with a algorithm that decides when to popup the application and when not, usually inversely proportional to the urgency of your requirement to have the app open. Geekiness pwns dude…

With all these as part of the paradigm shift, one would say things are intended to get more buy in from people from the user land and if you are a power user, just use xfce or openbox or some such horsedropping or bull dropping. It certainly doesn’t seem to cater to a mediocre user like me who is not powerful. May be a power user who has some Albert Einstein like knack for inventing formulae to keep track of some 1000 plus keyboard shortcuts and gestures and use them with the honed reflexes of a Formula 1 driver might be adapting to the new paradigm and still be a power user.

But will the same paradigm shift cater to the people in the user land? Like my dad who is Windows adapted? Well the answer to that would need a similar rambling to say ‘NO’. Maybe I’ll write about it sometime.

To answer the question in the title, maybe I’ll try to give the benefit of doubt, try Unity and Gnome Shell for sometime more to see if in fact what I’ve mentioned here is all a bag of hot air and nothing more. Right now, I’ll stick to my Gnome 2.32, my good Sir!

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