Gnome 3.2 Review
After my rant on the podcast, in which I got sidetracked for a whole minute on the uselesness of Gnome 3.2's new GDM login screen, I thought I'd post a fuller review here of the latest Gnome release. Has it fixed all or some of the little frustrations that so many people had with Gnome 3.0? Or has it become more annoying?
For bobthebob1234, here's the tl;dr version: Gnome 3's got some nice improvements, like smaller Gtk+ widgets and titlebars, as well as great potential with its online account integration. Unfortunately, it's still got lots of annoying little bugs (which some call features) like no automatic focus on the user selector in GDM and alt-key to shutdown.
The Bad Parts
As I said on the podcast, I don't find the new GDM theme very attractive. The elements are all too big, and the rounded corners too pronounced - there's no subtlety in it. The theme is also effected by Gnome 3's reduced customisation options. If you've decided to customise your icons, or your fonts, or most anything else using Gnome Tweak Tool, you won't find these changes reflected in the GDM, leading to greater inconsistency in the desktop. It would be nice, as well, if the GDM background reflected that of the main desktop.
What I found more annoying is that the user select dialoge doesn't receive automatic focus when the screen loads, or so I thought. On first appearances, it seemed that I was no longer able to press enter to select my user name, instead needing to use the mouse to first select my user name, and then switch back to the keyboard to enter my password. It turns out, however, that it does receive focus, but you have to press the up arrow before you're able to select a user. This strange, undiscoverable behaviour, is only a minor annoyance, but it does effect my perception of the entire desktop.
The real issue here isn't that some functionality has been removed or had its location moved, it's that it's been made undiscoverable. I doubt, for instance, if anyone would have been so bothered by the alt-key to shutdown situation if there were some way to figure this out without reading the Gnome 3 cheat sheet or other documentation first. It's mad that after a kernel update, a user's system might tell them to reboot, only for them to have to turn to Google to figure out how to do this!
Then there's NetworkManager and the password dialogues. If you're connected to a wireless network which then goes out of range or gets switched off, and you know this to be the case, you still face a series of prompts asking you for various passwords so the system can try and reconnect to a now non-existant network. I often find myself having to click cancel on four separate dialogues, one of which isn't themed in the same way as the others, before I can finally get back to my work. This seems like the complete antithesis of Gnome Shell's efforts not to distract the user.
The update to the Gtk+ theme is a big improvement. Titlebars now take up a far more reasonable amount of space, while window controls are still a good size and easy to click.
Also relating to the Gtk+ theme is the increased area for resizing windows. Whereas before it was almost impossible to resize a window that didn't have the special Gtk+ 3.0 corner handle, now it's a fairly straight forward operation that even my shaky hands can manage.
The other great addition is Sushi, a file previewer like OS X's Quick Look. On almost any file in Nautilus, you can press space and a large preview will pop-up without you having to launch a separate application. Images can be made full screen, and audio and video have really great looking controls - far nicer than those found in Totem, the default video player. Once again, it's not exactly a discoverable feature, but once you know about it it's quite nice.
As well as these updates to the general user experience, Gnome 3.2 has also introduced a few new applications and features. The most notable is the Online Accounts integration. This tool, which is found in the System Settings, allows you to link your Gnome desktop with your Google account (more are planned, I believe). Once you link it, if you're an Evolution user you'll see your Google Calendar appointments appear in the Gnome calendar at the top of your screen, and you'll be able to see other aspects of your Google account in two new Gnome applications, Documents and Contacts.
The idea behind both of these is that they provide a central place to manage all of your online and offline information and keep it synced. So Contacts takes your Evolution and Google contacts and allows you to edit and view all of their information from a single application. If you have the right applications installed, Contacts will also give you a shortcut to open these and begin a new conversation with this person, whether that's through email, IM or VoIP. In my experience, this application has worked well, although I've yet to figure out how to organise the mess that is my Google contacts.
Documents aims to do the same for your local and online documents, only I've not had nearly the same success with this. The application looks great, but it's only ever found six of my Google Docs and never any of my local ones. It uses Tracker for the local backend, and since I'm using Arch it's quite possible I just haven't configured it correctly, but I do expect it to find more of my Google Docs - not sure where I've gone wrong here!
All in all, it's a mixed bag of a release. The improvements that have come with it are definitely welcome. The Gtk+ theme updates have certainly improved my day to day experience with the desktop, and I'm hopeful that the new applications and online accounts integration will turn in to really excellent features in the near future.
Unfortunately, many of the bugs and annoyances from the 3.0 release persist - largely because the Gnome team doesn't consider these bugs but features - and some new ones have been introduced.
Weighing things up, I'd say that my overall experience with the desktop is little improved from 3.0. That said, it's not an altogether bad thing since I did quite like the 3.0 release and still find this series of Gnome releases to be the best free desktop for my needs.
I do still dream of what things would have been like if Gnome 3 was just a radically polished version of Gnome 2.x, with a more consistently spaced panel, upgraded applications, integrated and quick desktop search, and a smart compositing set up by default... if only.