Fedora, GNOME

Testing GNOME 3 on family members

I’ve read a lot of bashing about GNOME 3. It makes the overall negative impression about the new generation of GNOME. In fact, it’s because negative opinions are usually more vocal than positive ones. Satisfied users are using the software and don’t have to write blogposts about it. That’s a reason why I decided to write this blogpost. In the last year, I tried to test GNOME 3 pretty much on all my family members. They all got used to it without bigger problems. But I’d like to write a bit more about one family member who got a computer with GNOME 3 just recently – my mom. She had a really old laptop with Fedora 14 and GNOME 2 because nothing newer would run well on it (512 MB RAM is just not enough these days). But Fedora 14 has been EOL for quite a while and hardware was very unsatisfying. That’s why she got a newer ThinkPad. I decided to install Fedora 18 on it. It was still a development version, but I had two good reasons: 1. I didn’t want to undergo upgrade in a few months, 2. there were significant changes between GNOME 3.4 and 3.6 and I didn’t want her to get used to something that would change soon. In addition, I think Fedora 18 is pretty stable if you get past Anaconda or Fedup.

Before I get to my mom’s experience with GNOME 3, I have to explain why it was my mom who was the most interesting member of our family to test GNOME 3 on. She is a completely unexperienced user. She’d refused to use computers until she was 45. Then she was forced to use them because of her business and because she learned that she could auction antiquities at Aukro (Czech eBay) 🙂 But computers and her were never friends. I tried KDE, LXDE with her. She was using Windows for a while. Last time, she was using GNOME 2, but was struggling even after two years.

I installed Fedora 18 on her new laptop and explained her how GNOME 3 works. And here are some findings from her experience with it:

  • She hasn’t called since then! It’s something unbelievable because when she had GNOME 2 she called all the time and I felt like a technical support. My colleagues made fun of me at work.
  • When I called her and asked her how the new system was, she replied that she liked it much more than the one before which was really surprising for me because I’d expected a wave of complaints because everything was different and all her old instructions were useless. My mom usually doesn’t like changes.
  • Activities overview helps her a lot. She never understood the concept of apps and windows. Her work with computers was always very task-based. Once a new window covered the old one, it ceased to exist for her. She switches between tasks, not between apps or windows. When she wants to go back to writing or reading emails, she clicks the mail icon no matter if the app is open or not. In GNOME 2, she easily ended up with 3 instances of one app.  Now, she just needs to remember to press the “Super” icon to get to Activities where she sees all open windows or big icons of her favourite apps. She says she gets oriented much better than with task bar in GNOME 2 which she never truly understood.
  • Having everything under one key (the Windows/Super key) makes her life much easier. It’s pretty much the only keyboard shortcut she knows.
  • Powerusers complain that GNOME 3 doesn’t start another instance of an app if its icon is clicked. Well, my mom appreciates it because when she for example clicks the envelope icon in Activities she gets the email client no matter if it’s already open or not. And she doesn’t end up with several instances like in GNOME 2.
  • Large icons work. I always wondered why GNOME 3 had such large icons. My mom likes them.
  • She was a bit surprised by absence of buttons to maximize and minimize windows. I added them, but after I explained her that she could maximize by dragging the window to the top of the screen and there was no need to minimize windows, she told me that she didn’t want the icons there. So I removed them again and she’s never mentioned that again.
  • Virtual workspaces is something that she’s never used. It didn’t change with GNOME 3. That’s why it’s good that they’re not visible if the user is not using them.
  • I even taught her to search for apps by typing. What she didn’t understand is that you can start typing immediately after switching to Activities. Average users seem to need a text field to type.
  • This is a fresh experience: she called me today that she’d wanted to turn the laptop off, she’d clicked the “Power Off” button and ended up with a screen where there was just time and the computer wouldn’t turn off even after pressing the “Power Off” hardware button. It sounded weird. I was already thinking of a hardware failure etc., recommended she should take the battery off. Then I got it. She misclicked and locked her screen instead of powering off. She had no idea that it was a lockscreen. In this case, GNOME 3 could be more intuitive. To defense GNOME 3, I must say that until today my mom had no idea that something like a lockscreen existed.

Those are just a few findings from my mom’s first experiences with GNOME 3. Before I installed it on her computer, I called it an ultimate usability test of GNOME 3 because if my mom can use GNOME 3 anyone can. GNOME 3 has succeeded in it so far.

38 thoughts on “Testing GNOME 3 on family members

  1. Really, you’ve got to be kidding. Nothing against your Mom – I’m sure she’s a great person, but most people that have used Linux for years and have strong tech skills hate Gnome 3. This isn’t just because they’re reluctant to change – it’s because you have to do so much more to perform the same basic functions. Just starting an app from a menu (as opposed to the command line) takes several more clicks (and now typing!) than it used to. There are multitudes of other examples of how Gnome 3 has made it harder – not easier – to do the things we do on a daily basis, and this isn’t a matter of just relearning, it’s a fundamental change that no one wanted. And why would we want to click more and type more to achieve the same results? It just doesn’t make sense. I used to use Gnome almost exclusively, but now I use KDE most of the time. This isn’t because the changes that team made with KDE 4 were so great, but that they were less wrong than Gnome 3. I really wonder about the future of Linux as a mainstream desktop OS when I read blogs like this – it boggles the mind.

    1. Mums are important too, there are many more of them than there are geeks. Geeks can and will build their own desktops but mums cannot so I think its great we can count mums among free software users now.

    2. ” most people that have used Linux for years and have strong tech skills hate Gnome 3.”
      This is simply not true. I’ve been using Linux for almost 10 years exclusively and consider myself a poweruser and I find GNOME 3 better than GNOME 2. And I know a lot of colleagues in Red Hat that are happy with GNOME 3, too. One of my friends, who’s been using Linux for like 15 years, is a local guru, has written several books on Linux and has always been choosy when it comes to desktop environments, switched to GNOME 3 a year ago and loves it (before that he was using heavily customized E17 and KDE). Of course, I also know colleagues that can’t stand it, but you can’t generally say that all or even most powerusers hate it.

      ” And why would we want to click more and type more to achieve the same results?”
      I don’t have to click more in GNOME 3. It’s much faster to use with keyboard than GNOME 2 and as most powerusers I tend to to control my desktop with the keyboard.

    3. Also a highly technical user here (engineer, programmer, researcher), and I really like GNOME3 over the old GNOME2/KDE/Windows desktop paradigm.
      None of my colleagues with similar backgrounds seem to mind either.

    4. Hmm, I have used Linux since before it had a tcp/ip stack and Unix for longer. I’ve also used Gnome since the beginning and I can say that I think Gnome 3 is far superior to previous versions. The only thing from Gnome2 that I missed enough to tweak was having the Date displayed in the clock. Yes when I was a student I lost hours and hours to endless tweaking and customising my desktop. Now I beyond setting a background image I simply don’t care. I don’t miss the hierarchical menu hell that was Gnome 2.

    5. I have to disagree with alto. I let my mom using Gnome Shell for a while until she brought a iMac for her PhD (blame the academic system that heavily relies on Microsoft products). She did work much better in that environment then in both OSX and Windows 7 she worked in her job.
      The lesson here is let ordinary people try and judge themselves.

  2. Exact the same happened to me but already with Fedora 16. Additional the reasons you listed one important improvement was the new System Settings; settings are easily accessible in the one place.
    I’m sure unified and coherent UX and well integrated applications will help them as well. There’s still work to do with it but GNOME 3 has take big steps in every new release.

  3. My mom died some years ago, so I can’t repeat such an experiment on her, but one thing I can surely say: if I had to setup a desktop for her, it would be a completely customization from what I am using myself.
    On the other hand, for my future daughter, I think I will introduce her to computers at the age of 3 or 4 and she will receive the same desktop customization as me. That’s because I expect her to *learn* (unlike an elder parent).

  4. Okay, interesting article, but let me say one thing. There’s a huge difference between your mum and power user workflow. Yes, for a computer noob (sorry for the word, I somehow cannot find a better one), gnome 3 might be an ideal experience. No multitasking, no distractions, it behaves similar to your phone (in a way). As you said, your mum forgets a window when it’s replaced by another — and that’s where gnome3 excels.

    However if your workflow is composed of more complex tasks gnome 3 is a serious showstopper, well actually it just slows down everything you do. Imagine editing a complex TeX document, consisting of several source files — you need a text editor, terminal, pdfviewer and maybe a webbrowser with TeX manual opened at the same time and accessible fast. And a audio player and mail client hidden from this one task by being on a different desktop. Let me tell you, I cannot work efficiently with less then about 6 virtual desktops, I have them ordered and named — to keep things easier to remember and thus faster to work with. Gnome3 is again a major showstopper here.

    TLDR; is that while gnome3 definitely has it’s target audience it lost a great number of users like me or Nicu, because our workflows weren’t taken into account at all. Not to mention the default theme is hugely inconsistent, at some parts very pretty (e.g. check boxes) at others totally ugly (e.g. scrollbars), who the hell made such a “bastard”?

    1. I used earlier a fixed number of desktops (6) and keyboard shortcuts to access them fast on my GNOME 3 setup. I could have installed couple of extensions to make my setup to work like GNOME 2 (taskbar, app menu, etc.) but personally I didn’t find them useful.
      As a “power user” I’m able to develop my own extensions easily if needed. I have found GNOME 3 very configurable but nowadays I prefer default GNOME 3 setup.

      1. Well, to be fair I haven’t “re-tested” gnome 3 in a while (other than checking whether F18 wallpapers work there), so as you say, with extensions it might be actually usable nowadays… However I’ve gotten used to xfce-4.10 so much that I even prefer it to my previous gnome-2 setup and furthermore I have yet to find a gtk3 theme I’d like (and I don’t have that much spare time to port nodoka) so I’m kinda shunning everything gtk3 for purely subjective reasons (just as I avoid qt apps as much as I can)… How lucky am I that xfce still sticks with gtk2, lol.

    2. Hi! I am a heavy user of LaTeX, terminals, browsers, and development environments, and I can do all my work just as well in GNOME3 as in any other desktop environment.

      Can we stop the “only noobs like GNOME3” bullshit now?

      1. Well I prefer plain to LaTeX, but that’s not of importance here. The point is, gnome-3 seems to be developed with the one task = one window workflow in mind, which is totally different from my workflow (one task = one virtual desktop with aprox. 1 to 5 windows) and most people I know that dislike gnome-3 dislike it mostly for this reason.

        I honestly tried gnome-3, I was using it for a week and my efficiency suffered a lot. I could do the work well, but less efficiently. Granted, it was in the much earlier stages of gnome-3 development than it is now. On the contrary getting used to xfce (with all it’s differences to gnome-2) took me about a day or two to the point that I like it more than I liked gnome-2.

        Also, I’d like to mention that some gtk3 apps are slow, at least for me. When pavucontrol switched from gtk2 to gtk3 cpu usage increased highly, when gucharmap did the same, everything started loading slow as hell. I don’t see a reason why — clearly the default gtk3 theme is less complex (rendering-wise) than the gtk2 one and the apps look pretty much the same (ui-wise) 😦

        1. Well, honestly, the applications I use the most (browser, Eclipse and Spyder) all work best given the entire screen. When I have lots of windows (mostly terminals and editors) there was nothing in GNOME2 that made it easier to work with than what exists in GNOME3.

          It’s nice that you have found a new home in XFCE. It would just be nice if everyone who do not like GNOME3 just used something else and refrained from calling those of us who do “idiots” or “noobs”, because that’s not really helping anyone.

          1. That’s probably one huge difference in our use cases, on the deskop I *never* maximize my browser window (nor Inkscape, GIMP, you name it). I always have overlaping windows and have something else open (and I don’t do anything serious on a smaller screen).

            People call names and put labels due to frustration, their experience was downgraded against their will.

          2. I’m using multiple windows as well while I’m programming. I have couple of terminals open with Vim, a browser and Evince. ALT+TAB does work differently by default but there’s already multiple of extensions where to choose if one wants similar functionality than in GNOME 2.

          3. it was not about single/multiple windows but about maximized/overlaping windows. you don’t ALT-TAB overlaping widows, you use the mouse for that.

          4. Sometimes you don’t alt-tab maximized windows either (I use maximized windows a lot myself, only rarely full-screen mode) — most of the time I use mouse when browsing web, reading mail, reading documents, selecting music to play, …

            It’s much faster to select the window I want in a sorted window list (which I *always* see and have sorted myself) than alt-tabbing in a ever changing order (if I switch between more then two windows often) that appears only after I hit alt-tab. Not to mention the annoying animations, but some people like them…

            But from what I collected in 3.6, the extensions are powerful almost enough to provide me with my usual experience, only one thing is missing — decent artwork. I *hate* symbolic icons and dark app themes (especially if they’re in only some apps) and I haven’t yet found gtk3 theme that would be pleasant to use, for me.

  5. “Average users seem to need a text field to type.”

    1000 times agree with that. if the feature is not advertised, are we supposed to guess? Recent change in gnome-documents (adding a “search” button to display or hide search bar) is a good thing.

    Making “which has the focus” obvious is important, too.

  6. I really liked your article! I introduced gnome 3 to my sister (non-technical), my girlfriend (physics student, but little prior experience with linux), and both grasped the UI concept without explaining and like it.

    That’s got nothing to do with being noobs; I am a software developer and do believe that gnome 3 fits my workflow best of all desktop environments I have used as of yet. I can understand that some don’t like it; but please stop making claims like “it doesn’t work” – it may not work *for you*, but it definitely does work for me as well as for a lot of others.

    Also, good insight with the text field thing!

  7. No doubt Gnome-Shell (even Unity…) is a great system for elderly people, computer newbies and monotask users. But it is not productive for corporate users or developers who open, close and change apps and windows very often.

    All that zoom, animations… could convince Tom Cruise, but you get sick quickly when you see them every minute.

      1. IMHO, it’s not a matter of right or wrong, but a difference between single-window based work-flow and parallel-multi-windowed work-flow.

        PS @eischmann: the discussion isn’t displaying very well with long threads, one word per line is killing the readability 😦

    1. You must have different corporate users I have 🙂

      In general, my corporate users only have a few open applications at the same time, and they only use between two or five applications. I have only a few exceptions to this, and most of them have more open applications because they forgot or they don’t care to close them.

      Most of the time, my users only need to pay attention to an opened window for their tasks, and they rarely need to use two windows at the same time. They spend the required time in every application window to get the thing done (usually more than five minutes) and they only change to another windows just because they are asked for doing another thing or for reading the email or take a look to the web browser.

      The only thing I think is quite different from default GNOME 3 desktop is that many of them have a messy desktop full of documents, folders and direct links to applications.

  8. Thumps up for your mom! Wonderful article 🙂
    I would consider myself a ‘poweruser’, and I must admit that GNOME3 took a bit of getting used to – but now I can’t live without it. In fact, I’d wish that something similar happened to Win$, rather than the (is it still named?) Metro user interface ..

    I haven’t had the chance to try GNOME3 on a touch screen, but my guess is that it would work great as well.

    I fully understand why some choose not to use it, or even not to like it, based on how they define their needs – and I would always defend their right to both have and express such an opinion – but making a generalisation is seldom wise 😉 You just can’t market your own experience as statistics. We, the people (of this planet), are created equal, but act and choose differently.

    I have also ‘tested’ GNOME3 on a wide (skill) range of people, and I have yet to encounter someone not taking to it in a couple of hours. Maybe the real opposition is force of habit ..?

  9. Just because your mom can use it doesn´t mean that the UI is any good. A good UI should work well under any workflow and should be appropiate for any kind of user. The Windows desktop (not Metro) and even Mac OS X interfaces work fine for newbies and power users, this isn´t the case of GNOME Shell which only works for limited workflows. If you can´t see the importance of making a UI for complex workflows then Linux will never be a mainstream OS, even if newbies can use it.

  10. “I called it an ultimate usability test of GNOME 3″

    To be fair, while what you’ve done here is useful, it’s not actually a usability test. There’s a lot more rigor and methodology to usability testing. You’ve essentially exposed a user to new software and asked how they liked it and noted their comments.

    It’s valid user feedback, but by no means an actual usability test.

  11. I am a bit puzzled by what people mean when they mention ‘complex workflows’. I admit, I am just a simple programmer so my needs are quite limited. My typical session consists of nine or so terminals (I generally try to keep it below a dozen), one or two instances of emacs, devhelp, multiple pdf reference manuals in epiphany, a file manager with a tab or three, a score tabs in a webrowser, email client, some IM windows (and once every quarter LibreOffice Calc), all distributed across four or so work spaces. I am sure that’s a few more windows/apps/tabs/workspaces/whatever my mom uses, but I personally fail to perceive any complexity here, it’s just switching between windows and tabs and doing bit of C&P, and time from time opening a new terminal.

    It took me a week to transition from Gnome 2 to Gnome shell; the biggest difference is that I use the mouse lot less, which suits my unnatural attraction for the console just fine (and my aging wrists are grateful for). Anything I have ever done using a Win95-like UI I can do in Gnome Shell more efficiently, and anything that might remotely qualify for ‘complex’ in my own workflow invarriably happens somewhere else than in the Shell per se. I am inclinded to think that this ‘complex workflow’ is complete BS …

    As a side note, I can never make up my mind whether a person declaring that Mac OS X is suitable for power users and Gnome Shell is not has never used Mac OS X, or never use Gnome Shell, it’s got to be one or the other, or perhaps both?!

  12. Appreciate this post. My conclusions are very similar to yours.

    I really like the new System Settings are and its applications. They’re a lot nicer than what was available in GNOME 2.

    When I update my parents’ machines to Debian Wheezy next year, I know that the onwards and upwards march of Linux — including the development of GNOME 3 — will make their computing lives a little better than what it had been using software of a few years ago.

  13. I agree that the new Gnome interface paradigm is good for certain types of users who have always been confused by traditional desktops and their traditional windowing systems. However, for me, the main thing that prevents me from using Gnome 3 is its insistence on using 3D compositing, which makes it unusable on old hardware or hardware with poor 3D drivers. The llvmpipe thing just offloads the same bloat to the CPU, which results in an equally awful experience on old hardware.

  14. As you have rightly pointed out, we need more blogs praising GNOME 3.X to combat lot of negative publicity it has received. It is not a bad desktop. If one wants GNOME 2.X one an install Cinnamon packages available for openSUSE, Fedora, Ubuntu.

  15. I’m way late to this discussion. But, as a formerly disgruntled Gnome 3 users now happily using it on Fedora 18, I wonder what people are talking about when the state, or at least imply, that they can’t open a batch of windows on the Gnome 3 desktop.

    I can open as many windows on Gnome 3 as in Gnome 2 or any other desktop environment. Yes, some Gnome apps open full screen and that can be annoying. No, nothing says you need to let them stay full screen.

    If you want or need to open a bucket full of windows and apps and measure your efficiency by the ease and speed with which you can move between them, perhaps you really ought to be looking at something entirely different.

    Almost all other users, however, are not developers or self-identified “experts” or geeks. They are people who spend most of their computer time watching and reading, one application and one window at a time. If Linux is to survive and make inroads into the mainstream, it needs more efforts like Gnome 3, and less of the arrogant bigotry of people who think their special ’cause they can use a terminal.

  16. By the way, I’ve got 12 windows open on one Gnome 3 workspace at the moment and I can move between each of them with a single mouse movement or a single keystroke.

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