Thursday, October 14, 2010

GNOME 3, Activites, and KDE 4

There have been a slew of new articles detailing the progress of work on GNOME 3, and the refrain in all of them has been that "GNOME 3 will revolutionize the desktop". The focus on GNOME 3, ever since the release of the first mock-ups, has been on the new GNOME Shell and GNOME Activities (which are really just two sides of the same coin). The thing is, GNOME Activities has essentially the same concept (and even the same name) as KDE 4 Activities. So I was thinking for quite a while: how can this be called "revolutionary" with a straight face? Today it hit me: while KDE may have had the idea first, GNOME presents a far superior execution of this idea; GNOME Activities in the alpha and beta versions of GNOME 3 was very usable and improved with each iteration, while KDE Activities remained very slow, very buggy, and nearly unusable until the release of KDE 4.5.

All this makes me rethink my previous position on GNOME 3. I previously believed that GNOME 3 would suffer the same fate as KDE 4, in that a lot of current GNOME users would migrate to other DEs upon seeing GNOME 3 (be it for its radical nature or its buggy nature). Now, however, I don't think this is the case. I think the major *nix DEs are finally falling into fairly well-defined niches. GNOME will emphasize simplicity, ease-of-use, and understated modernity over flashiness and over-the-top effects. KDE will be the way forward for ultimate customization, web-connected computing through Plasmoid widgets, and flashy desktop effects (as well as tools for power-users, like Dolphin/Konqueror vs. Nautilus, Okular vs. Evince, Kate vs. Gedit, etc.). (Xfce and LXDE will, of course, remain the DEs of choice for people who need lower-resource but still fully-functional and modern DEs.)
But with GNOME moving towards a more tightly-integrated and powerful Metacity WM, one WM is still left out in all this: Compiz. Unfortunately, Compiz and its desktop effects still don't work in recent builds of GNOME 3. While Compiz integration with KDE has gotten better, it still isn't seamless, and Kwin is almost there (but not quite). While most everyday Linux users don't use most Compiz effects (except maybe window decoration transparency and minimize/maximize effects), these effects often play a role in convincing non-Linux users to try Linux. There have been stories after stories of people just using their Linux computers with their friends and their friends being awed and intrigued by the desktop cube and the wobbly windows; don't underestimate the power of these effects to convince people (in the implicit form of "can your OS do this?"). So what does all this mean? It'll become a lot harder to convince people to use Linux through this route, as there will be many people put off by the confusing and endless customization options of KDE 4 (or simply can't run it because they have lower-end hardware). So, GNOME 3 developers, can we please get Compiz integration with GNOME 3 before the first official release? Thanks!

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