Gnome3, Gnome2, Unity, KDE, MGSE, MATE, aaaarggh!

Just over 6 months ago Canonical released version 11.04 of Ubuntu. IMHO every Ubuntu release up until that point had been a major step forward with each release clearly showing improvement over the last, but that all changed with 11.04! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ The previous release, 10.10, for me was beautiful, slick and they appeared to have almost nailed the whole “it just works” thing better than any other linux distro I have ever used. Then 11.04 messed it all up. Ubuntu decided to ship 11.04 with their new desktop environment called ‘Unity’ which just isnt an option for me. People tell me it works quite well on a small netbook, but I dont have a small netbook! At work I have over 7 million pixels of display staring at me from across 3 screens. Unity is just not even relevant for this setup. Then there is the fact that Unity has virtually zero options for customisation. Being able to litter my desktop with little applets and panels was one of the things I loved about gnome.

Everything was OK though because Ubuntu 11.04 still shipped with Gnome2 as an alternative for Unity. Phew! Happy days! Yeah. Then came Ubuntu 11.10 which is a frying pan into the fire job. Gnome2 has been totally ditched, Unity is still taking pride of place as the default desktop but you can also install Gnome3. I haven’t done much playing with Gnome3 but it appears to suffer from the same problems as Unity; i.e. Lack of customisation and an application centric design. So no look there then ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

So what is a man to do? Ubuntu seems to have done their utmost to alienate me so what options to i have?

Linux Mint Is a fantastic OS that I’ve been using for about 6 months now and they seem to have a better attitude towards users than Canonical do, insofar as they actually care what their users want! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ Mint is based off Ubuntu and their releases usually follow a month or so behind the official Ubuntu releases. So it is we now have Mint 12. I’m pretty impressed with what the Mint guys have come up with. They recognise that they cant stick with Gnome2 as it is effectively deprecated software so to keep the distro alive they have had to move on ๐Ÿ˜ฆ These are the options in Mint 12:

  • Gnome3 – Let’s just not go there
  • Mint Gnome Shell Extensions (MGSE) – An interesting idea which basically makes Gnome3 work like Gnome2 (i.e. task centric) but it still suffers from lack of features and customisations – I still cant add Wanda the Fish to my panel! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ
  • MATE – This is a fork of Gnome2 that can be installed along Gnome3 (apparently you cant do this with standard Gnome2). I’ve tried it out and it is great – it’s the Gnome2 that I know and love, but but but! It’s just not ready yet. Mint themselves admint this – “MATE is at a really early stage of its development and isn’t stable yet. It was included in this release to gather more feedback and help it get the maturity it deserves.”

None of these options really fulfil my requirements for something that is maintained, slick, customisable and allows me to look at two windows at once! I’m convinced that Mint are doing the right thing here and it’ll be interesting to see what happens in 6 months with the next set of releases. So I’ve been thinking what I’m going to do longer term and havent really had a decent answer until this morning!!

When I started using linux I tried out all the desktop environments I could; Gnome, KDE, Fluxbox, XFCE etc. Eventually i decided I liked KDE’s customisability, uniformity and tight integration above all the others and remained a KDE user for many years. It wasnt until Ubuntu started messing around with Gnome that I saw a reason to switch. The integration present in the 10.04 release of ubuntu was exceptional and it just looked stunning, it made KDE4 look a bit pap really.

So thinking back through all this it suddenly dawned on me that Gnome2 might be dead, and there is no serious Gnome based alternative to it yet, but Gnome is not the only desktop environment out there. So I’m going to give KDE another try. I never really liked KDE4 that much, it felt like a lot of good ideas that never quite worked in practice but I havent used it since version 4.3 and it’s now up to 4.7 so hopefully it’s a bit better these days.

So I’m off to install KDE, see you later! ๐Ÿ˜‰


8 thoughts on “Gnome3, Gnome2, Unity, KDE, MGSE, MATE, aaaarggh!

  1. Pete says:

    Hey it was nice to read about your experience. I also think that MATE is interesting for those who want to continue using gnome2 interface. Then I also think that Unity which is part of 11:10 is very much better than the old in 11.04. One can use Unity with the new Ubuntu 11.10 without losing any time at all. I think gnome-shell3 has a long way to go to catch up both gnome2 and Unity. KDE, I am disappointed. KDE just gets more and more tedious, for me, KDE disrupt my workflow too much. I think KDE is on the wrong track, the last KDE as I could manage was version 3.5. KDE feels out of fashion, I think. Yes that was a bit how I see it ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Cheers Pete. The problem with Unity for me is that regardless of how well it works it is just trying to do the wrong thing. I like to have shed loads of windows open at the same time; terminal, browser, IM, logs etc, and Unity just wont let me do it (unless there’s something I don’t know about??).

      Investigating KDE a bit more it appears that since I last used it they’ve started developing a similar thing to Unity/Gnome3. They’re taking the standard Plasma platform and developing versions of it tailored for specific platforms. So they have desktop, netbook and tablet/mobile/touch versions which come under the ‘Plasma Workspaces’ umbrella term. As ever Wikipedia has more:

      I’ve been on KDE for about 24 hours so far and it’s been mostly a good experience. I forgot how much I love Amarok!! ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Pete says:

        Hi, I’m working as fast with Unity as I do with gnome2, but there are different ways of working. With Unity, you must use keyboard commands more often to get the high flow of work and with gnome2 is really just the mouse .. The transition from gnome2 to Unity can take some time and sometimes so long that people have time to change before they can work with Unity properly and as intended .. Working with more applications simultaneously is both simple and gives a faster workflow and it is perfectly acceptable to do so in Unity as well. I work on both Ubuntu 11.10 and 10.04 and it is absolutely clear that I do not do jobs faster on Ubuntu 10.04.. I gave a 11.04 chance but I thought then that Unity was too bad but I do not think that with 11.10.
        You can download a wallpaper to help you with Unity here
        Hope you find your way with the new Linux that is emerging .. ๐Ÿ˜€

      • Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚ Exploring Linux is always fun!

        For me it not so much how fast I can work as generally this is either in a terminal or in a web browser. It’s more what I have to hand immediately. With gnome2 or kde I can at a glance see things like tailed log files, the song that is playing, who is online, the weather outside, CPU/disk/RAM/network utilisation, unread emails, eyeballs that follow my mouse etc. I’m totally unwilling to give these things up! ๐Ÿ™‚

        Also it seems like no one is addressing the elephant in the room; Canonical have not implemented free the fish in Unity! It’s not in gnome 3 either >:-o

    • Indeed, Cinnamon is looking incredibly promising! I’ve just recently been reading about the applets that you can build for it and they sound pretty damn good. Being able to write them in JavaScript should hopefully encourage lots of people to develop applets and Cinnamon will quickly gather a big library of useful applets. Maybe I’ll even have a crack at building the Wanda the Fish applet! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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