I had actively been avoiding newer versions of Ubuntu, and yes, even my favourite Linux Mint because of the absolutely terrible things I had been hearing about Gnome 3 and Unity. Seeing how I’ve dove off the deep end in terms of what OS I use, I decided to install Ubuntu 12.04 Beta 1 this weekend and give Gnome3/Unity the old college try. I’ll be honest, I don’t know the difference between Unity and Gnome 3 – how they compliment each other or how they even work together. Frankly I’m so disappointed in them I don’t even care to look it up – I never plan on using them again (such is the joy of free software: so many choices).
The first thing I noticed was ironic and disheartening: the key-bindings are a strange mix between what was in Gnome2 and OSX. Meaning no matter what OS you’re coming from Windows/Gnome2/KDE/OSX – you get to learn brand new keyboard shortcuts (that’s not a shitty pain in the ass at all). Unity adds a weird side bar that functions very much like the dock does in OSX – that is to say; you can never be sure how many windows of that particular application are open, or even if it’s state is minimized/maximized or on another workspace – it’s a single icon with a crappy little light telling you if it’s running or not. A massive step back from what was in Gnome 2. Worse; there’s no clear way to modify keybindings – at least OSX lets you do this (mostly). I managed to install “ccsm” and changed a few, however now I have really weird things happen. For example, when “alt-tabbing” sometimes the “Search” window comes up – it comes up if you press “alt” and no other key – why, I have no friggin clue. No OS ever has done this and since ALT is a typical modifier key if you press it too slow/fast your window focus changes from the window you were on to this crappy “search” box. It’s like a UI punishment for not being exact or fast enough with keyboard modifiers.
It really strikes me as if Canonical hired a new UI guy who really had big ideas based on how he worked with his Mac on OSX – so he flat out took ideas from OSX and stuck them (quite awkwardly) into Gnome 3/Unity – and for some reason either no one disagreed with him or he was high enough on a corporate ladder to force his changes in (despite massive community backlash). I bet to brand new computer users this would be great, and lord knows there’s TONS of people out there who have never used a computer before and therefore will have no trouble or frustrations at all working with Gnome3/Unity (Yes. Sarcasm).
I love FOSS, and Ubuntu is easily the most recognizable brand of GNU/Linux, but with the way they’ve been making massive, heavy-handed changes to the very core elements of the OS – that’s slowly changing. DistroWatch shows Ubuntu’s popularity is dropping quite quickly since they changed to Gnome3/Unity – and that sucks. If Canonical and/or Ubuntu are really interested in getting a bigger user base they need to consider UI elements that compliment and enhance existing UI patterns. That is to say with a car analogy; if everyone is already driving why are you reinventing the steering wheel? It might be better to brand new drivers (who didn’t learn on their parents car), but since 98% of drivers will already be used to the way they drive, your revolutionary new steering wheel concept will be more frustrating to users than useful. Why not start with simple questions: “What’s frustrating about using Windows 7?”, “What can improve my experience with OSX?”. Then throw a bone or two to your biggest, most supportive group; developers and Linux power-users (whom got shit on with Gnome3/Unity): “How easy is this to customize and/or extend?”, “Can this be easily reverted to how it worked in the previous version?”
All hope is not lost. MATE is a project by Linux Mint that aims to bring the functionality of Gnome2 into Gnome3 – they’ve got a great start, but from my limited use (I plan on installing it next), they have a ways to go yet. In the mean time my OS of choice remains Linux Mint 11 – Gnome2 based.