Yes, this is yet another rant about Gnome 3. Others have written about it before, but I just read the announcement that Gnome 3 Fallback mode will be dropped and just need to vent my feelings somewhere.

English is not my native language. If it was I might have known enough expletives to properly describe my feelings about Gnome 3. But in short it was a total disaster.

The single biggest mistake made was to break Gnome 2 and make it impossible to have Gnome 2 and Gnome 3 installed on the same machine. This made it impossible for people like me to keep running Gnome 2 when distributions decided to push Gnome 3. Someone at the Gnome foundation really should have stopped to think for a moment and said:

“Do we really have to break Gnome 2, can’t we rename things and tack on a 3 at the end of all incompatible file names and APIs so that Gnome 3 can coexist with Gnome 2?”

But apparently nobody thought that far. Then former Gnome bigwig “Miguel de Icaza” tries to blamethe Linux developer culture for not caring about backwards compatibility, something that Linus Torvalds did not quite agree with. What part of “We don’t break user space” did the Gnome people miss?

Instead they introduced Gnome 3 Fallback mode which really made nobody happy, it was quite different from Gnome 2 with lots of things broken. It was a temporary stopgap that obviously would be dropped sooner rather than later when the Gnome 3 people grew tired of it. And then they act surprised that nobody is willing to step up and maintain it. And by the way, one of the big reasons to why Gnome 2 and Gnome 3 can’t coexist on the same system is the Fallback mode, that’s where most of the file name conflicts come from.

What also surprised me a lot was that the Fedora Project seemed to have drunk the cool-aid and pushed Gnome 3 into Fedora. Why didn’t anyone at Fedora push back and tell the Gnome people that it simply wasn’t acceptable to break Gnome 2 and that they’d have fix it before being included in Fedora? But no, when Fedora 15 arrived it came with Gnome 3 and no way of running Gnome 2.

At that time I had just bought a new Sandy Bridge based computer which wouldn’t run Fedora 14, it required hardware support that was only available in Fedora 15 so I was between a rock and a hard place, run Fedora 14 and go through the pain of trying to add the hardware support for Sandy Bridge by hand, or install Fedora 15 and get the hardware support but be forced to use Gnome 3. Actually, what I did was to test Gnome 3 for a while and finally realize that I really could not stand it; then I built my own Gnome 2 packages and used those instead. That at least allowed me to get by for a while but it did cost me a lot of time to make everything work and to resolve conflicts later on.

Now we have the MATE Desktop, a fork of Gnome 2 which is available in Fedora 17. Very good, finally some sanity. But it does have some problems, mate-applets is missing and I really liked some of the applets that gnome had such as the system monitor applet that shows me CPU/disk/network usage. Also, since MATE is a fork where everything has been renamed to avoid file name conflicts and legal issues, which means that there is no binary compatibility Gnome 2. So I’ve had to redo all my customization of my Gnome desktop by hand. There are also some regressions where things that used to work well on Gnome 2 no longer work on MATE or are slightly broken. MATE seems to be actively developed, so this will undoubtedly be fixed sooner or later.

But I’m still quite pissed. This is the year when Microsoft totally messed up the desktop formerly known as Metro. Gartner and other organizations have been spewing FUD about “Lost productivity stemming from learning curves and compatibility can eat up direct-cost savings when moving to Linux on the desktop”, Well, it would probably have been easier to train a user on Gnome 2 than on Windows 8. The last year has been a lost year for the Linux Desktop and the Gnome Foundation have fumbled away one of their biggest opportunities ever.

What also bugs me is that they don’t seem to realize how badly they messed up. Every time I read something from the Gnome Foundation they keep saying what a success Gnome 3 is and that everyone loves it (well, most users are not savvy enough to recompile Gnome 2 so they have to make do with what the distribution makers hand them, so it’s not surprising that most people take the road of least resistance and use Gnome 3 on Fedora or Unity on Ubuntu). I have not seen one clear message from the Gnome Foundation saying “we messed up, sorry” or anyone from the Fedora Project saying “allowing Gnome 3 into Fedora and breaking Gnome 2 was a mistake”. It probably won’t ever happen.

But what I would like to see happening (since going back into time to the beginning of 2011 and stopping them from breaking Gnome 2 is rather tricky) is this:

  • Drop fallback mode from Gnome 3. It’s being done. Good. It should never have been introduced at all.

  • Fix the parts of Gnome 3 that stop it from coexisting with Gnome 2. Rename executables, icons, files, APIs, D-Bus objects and whatnot in Gnome 3 that conflict with Gnome 2.

  • Allow MATE to continue using all the old Gnome names so that the MATE Desktop actually becomes the Gnome 2 desktop and is compatible with old applications.

  • Don’t change Gnome 2/MATE a lot, decide that it is a mature product and only fix things that are obviously broken. Sure, compatibility with Gnome 3 is nice and maybe newer versions could use some of the infrastructure in Gnome 3 that doesn’t break Gnome 2. Or improving the user experience when mixing Gnome 2 and Gnome 3 applications (for example, making themes apply to both Gnome 2 and Gnome 3 applications so that they look the same). But don’t make any major changes in how Gnome 2 works.

That would go a long way towards fixing things and making up for all the trouble that has been caused.

And it would be very nice if someone from the Gnome Foundation would publically admit that they have made mistakes in how the transition from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3 was handled. It won’t make any difference to how much pain they have caused over the last year, but it would be quite nice anyway. And it might even mean that we can all learn a bit from this so the next time someone wants to introduce the next new big thing we can avoid the making the same mistakes. But as long as the Gnome Foundation insists that everything is fine there is no chance of doing that.

Note: even though I personally loathe the way the Gnome 3 desktop works (it’s just not made for me and my usage patterns), I have nothing against people trying experimenting with new user interfaces. Go ahead, “innovate” all you want, but don’t break old stuff. The first releases of Gnome also sucked quite badly and at that time I kept using fvwm2 instead. But finally I grew tired of recompiling fvwm2 and by that time Gnome had matured and turned into a quite useful desktop. That’s how you make changes, build something new and let Luddites like me use the old stuff, when the new stuff is good enough and has matured we’ll join you willingly. Maybe.