Gnome3 - the Antithesis of Productivity

As a Gnome user, I've been reading about the Gnome3/Gnome Shell release and decided to see for myself. I downloaded the Fedora 15 Alpha release with Gnome 2.91.6 and after a bit, i came to this conclusion:

Gnome3 is the antithesis of productivity.

My main issue with Gnome3 comes from the Gnome Wiki page GNOME Shell Design FAQ

The Shell is designed in order to minimise distraction and interuption and to enable users to focus on the task at hand. A persistent window list or dock would interfere with this goal, serving as a constant temptation to switch focus. The separation of window switching functionality into the overview means that an effective solution to switching is provided when it is desired by the user, but that it is hidden from view when it is not necessary.

The omission of a window list or dock also reduces the amount of screen space occupied by the Shell, and therefore makes it better suited to devices with smaller screens.

There are three major issue I have with this.

1) Gnome developers know how I should use my computer better than I do.

2) They don't seem to understand that most desktop computer users use their computers as desktop computers and not as phones or tablets.

3) Their definition of 'productivity' and namely 'task at hand' doesn't reflect real-world usage.

An example

According to the Gnome3 Philosophy, my current task is writing this post. This, therefore, is my primary focus. I also have my email application open. (I know it's open, because I have Docky on the bottom of my screen and can see the dots under the Thunderbird icon.) Thunderbird, therefore, is a distraction. Of course, I haven't clicked on my email since I started this, by being able to see it's on, is it really a distraction?

If Thunderbird's pop-up notification activates and tells me I got a new email from, say,, I have the choice to either read it right away, or ignore it. I decide if I want to lose my focus on this post, or continue with it. I decide.

What the Gnome3 Anti-Productivity Philosophy doesn't take into account is there are different levels of tasks. Writing this post is pretty low-level. Sneaking away to look at my tweets isn't going to hurt me much. In fact, since I started writing this, I've been more distracted by my kittens. (Is there a Gnome app for making them take a nap?) If I'm balancing my checkbook, I'll have one program open for it, plus I might need a browser to download the statements I need to complete the task. But really, a distraction isn't going to interfere too much with this process.

Now I want to take a look at a real-world process and how the Gnome3 Philosophy doesn't quite work.

Task at hand: Website Redesign

Let's say my task (or rather, project) is to redesign this website. During the process, I can have any of the following programs open:

  • My text editor
  • My web browser
  • Another web browsers
  • My image program (say, GIMP)
  • My file manager (say, Nautilus)
  • An FTP program
  • And a music player to listen to tunes as I work

According to the Gnome3 Philosophy, I can only use one program at a time, and that's true. But the measure for productivity isn't in how well the Desktop Environment can hide everything else, the true measure of productivity is in how I, the user, can get to the programs I need as effectively as possible.

On Gnome2, I have Docky set up, so if I need to switch programs, I can simply click on its icon. If I had a taskbar, I could simply click on the task. If part of a window is showing behind the primary window, I can click on it.

In Gnome3, If the program is exposed behind the primary window, I can click on it to bring it forward. If not, I can hover over the top left corner to expose the Application screen, and click on the app. (And rinse and repeat as needed.) Or I can use keyboard commands. Or possibly, mouse gestures. Right now, what I can't do is add a Dock or taskbar to easily access my programs.

If a person was creating a presentation for work, they might have their Presentation program, a spreadsheet, some documents, email, contacts, web browser, and file manager open. Does Gnome3 allow the user easy access to what they need when they need it? Or how they want to get it.

What's a task?

What don't the Gnome3 developers understand? A task isn't one thing. It's a series of elements that work together to complete the goal at hand.

And I believe that the Gnome developers are going down the wrong road with Gnome3. What I like about Linux is choice. Gnome, however, doesn't seem to want to give that to me. And I'm sure people will make fixes for it, what they won't be able to fix is the developers belief that they know better than you or I do.

1. Yes, I'm basing this on Alpha software. But Gnome3 is going to be released in a month, and that's not enough time to fix the main problems, notably Gnome3.

2. If you want screenshots, do a Google Image search for Gnome3. I'm sure there are thousands of them, and they all look alike.


Sriram Ramkrishna's picture

You used docky as an example, but docky is not part of the default design of GNOME 2. Similarly, it's quite conceivable that you would find a similar tool (if not docky itself) that would augment your GNOME 3 experience. I stil luse gnome-do with GNOME 3, but I expect to use it less as performance on the shell gets better.

GNOME 3 wasn't designed with the idea that developers know more than the user, it was built using modern desktop design. I suspect that you're more interested in preserving the way you do your tasks and certainly GNOME 3 challenges that. But it's a 1.0 release, GNOME 3 will have extensions and various other things that modify its behavior. Give it a chance and try using it for a week on the tasks. Once you've gotten used to it, you'll find it more useful. I was also a little hesitant, but I went full in and I've been using it regularly for most of this month and I can no longer go back to GNOME 2.

You can read on how GNOME Shell was designed here:


mike's picture

GNOME 3 developers seem to be under the impression that all of their users are 13 year olds suffering from severe ADHD. I'm surprised there isn't a modal box that pops up every time you try to move from one application to the other that says, "Have you completed this task? Are you sure you wan--" .... ... Oh sorry, I re-enabled icons on my desktop. Whenever I'm typing I get distracted and randomly start clicking them.

An ironic thing about GNOME 3's mania for "distraction free computing," is that, while removing everything useful (like a list of running tasks, and THE DATE), they left in this heavy-handed chat integration. Things like notifications from the hidden notification area (which you generally want to distract you -- isn't that point of being notified?) are routinely missed by users who sneeze or look away for a moment because of a shiny object outside their window; however, potentially useless IM's completely demand your attention thanks to the unremovable, "Hey! It's your own name!" chat menu thing. Do the developers realize that desktop computers aren't mobile phones?

david's picture

@mike - I'm actually using Unity on Ubuntu right now, and the messaging on Unity isn't as pronounced as Gnome 3. But messaging doesn't make sense in their Philosophy.

(And I haven't used IM's in a couple of years.)

I don't know what these developers are thinking.

On the plus side, I have started using the workspace feature (though I haven't figured out how to get more than 4 on Unity.)

Tivisiana's picture

Thank for share about GNOME 3 wasn't designed with the idea that developers know more than the user, it was built using modern desktop design. I suspect that you're more interested in preserving the way you do your tasks and certainly GNOME 3 challenges that.

Andy's picture

1. Launching an application takes twice longer as before.
- In Gnome 2 I have a launcher in the task bar, and I need only 1 mouse move.
- In Gnome 3 I need always two mouse moves - first to activities corner, then to the application icon.
So, ergonomy is worse in Gnome 3.

2. Gnome 3 is not flexible, not configurable. In the last 3 years I am using mainly Ubuntu and Mint. I have never used Gnome as is.
- I have always moved main menu
- I have always configured inidicator applets
- I have always added System Monitor applet to the panel
- I (not Gnome developers) have decided, which applets and lanchers I need
- I (not Gnome developers) decided, at what position in the panels to place them
- In Mint, I haven't used default (Mint special) menu. I was able to remove it and use standard Gnome 2 menu.
I like Gnome 2, because it is configurable. After installing new distro, it took a few minutes to configure Gnome for my needs.
Gnome 3 is NOT configurable, NOT flexible. There is no way to configure it for my needs, no way to make it convenient for my needs. Gnome 3 is approaching Windows. But now even Windows is more flexible than Gnome 3 (one can at least decide, where should be displayed the task bars and which shortcus to place in quick start panel).
What I like in Gnome 3, is flexible number of workspaces, and possibility to get and overview of all open windows. But I would use it only in some cases, when I have too many windows and wish to find needed one based on its appearance, not based on its title. I would use it in some cases. Also I like the search embedded into desktop. It is not new, such search is used in Open Suse as of years, but not in desktop.

To maximize a window in Gnome 3 one has to drag it over the whole screen. It may be 15 to 20 cm way (on 22" display)! Why??? Why do Gnome 3 developers force me to make more efforts? Why do they want me to be more tired?

Double click on title bar works too, as before. But why should I make double click if single click was is sufficient??? Again, why do they force me to make more effort?

I cannot configure Gnome 3 for my needs, I cannot start applications quickly (with 1 move instead of 2), I cannot monitor my PC (because I cannot add indicators). Known workarounds with JavaScript (in .local/share) are only workarounds, they don't bring the comfort from Gnome 2.

So, basically I am missing ergonomy. Gnome 2 is ergonomic. Gnome 3 is not.

I was looking for alternatives. Twice a year I give KDE a try. I like plasmoids. I like hot spots in the corners and at the borders. But KDE looses each time, because it is missing flexibility. I don't like the main menu in KDE. It is not configurable. No way to change it.

XFCE is not yet as shik as Gnome 2 is. May be when it is more mature, I will switch to it. LXDE is also not good, it doesn't matter for me how light is it, important is, how comfortable is my work with it.

So I switched to Mint. They promise to support Gnome 2 for a long time. If someday Gnome 2 support is dropped, I switch to XFCE. But not Unity or Gnome 3. As of Unubntu 11.10 Gnome 2 will not be supported at all.

Ciao Ubuntu.

david's picture

I've been using Ubuntu's Unity since 11.04 came out and I can't say my productivity has increased. Frustrations, yes.

But on the plus side, I've learned to enjoy having multiple workspaces for organizing my computer life. Just wished they added a way to add more workspaces without having to download programs. Major fail.

Cat Topanga's picture

Unity is terrible - it is aimed at the numpty market, have been using Ubuntu for few years and always used alternatives, now testing gnome3,which is never going to fly unless they come up with much quicker access to applications. I am currently using it with awn which helps. What I would like to see is integration with Thunderbird lightening and gmail, Also a better way of looking up applications. This big icon thing is useless.

Thank for share about GNOME 3 wasn't designed with the idea that developers know more than the user, it was built using modern desktop design smiley