Gnome 3.2 – a review

Last April, I reviewed Gnome 3.  It’s time to update that for Gnome 3.2, a later version of the same desktop environment.  I didn’t particularly like Gnome 3 at that time, and I still don’t much like it.  If it were the only desktop environment available, then I could use it.  But there are better choices for my way of using the computer.  I won’t go into the details of what I don’t like.  I described those in the earlier review.  And I have commented further in a recent post on how I use computers.

This review of 3.2 is based on my experience with it in openSUSE 12.1rc2.  The final released version of openSUSE 12.1 might be a bit different, but it probably won’t change very much from what I am seeing.

While the basic philosophy of Gnome 3 remains unchanged in version 3.2, there have been some changes.  And many of those are improvements.

One of the problems that I noticed in my earlier review, was in opening multiple applications.  If I clicked on a menu item to open an application (say xterm) it would open.  If I then clicked on a second application, say a file manager, that would open in a different workspace.  If I then clicked on xterm in the menus, instead of opening a new xterm that would take me to the one already open.  They seem to have fixed that.  Now, with that sequence of menu clicks in 3.2, I would have two xterms and a file manager all open in the same workspace.  That’s a lot more useful for actions such as copy in one window and paste into another, or drag and drop between windows.  If I want to open an application in a different workspace, I can just go to a new workspace before clicking on the menu item.

Another problem that I had with Gnome 3, was with the mouse focus.  For many years, I have been using “focus follows mouse” and I find that a very useful way to use a computer.  That probably works best with a real mouse, rather than a touchpad or touchscreen.  I was unable to find a way to set that up in Gnome 3.  Since then, with the aid of others who have posted how to configure this on the web, I am now able to set focus the way I want it.  I’m not sure why they are hiding this ability.  Presumably, it is contrary to their design philosophy for Gnome 3, and that leads me to worry that the ability to set this up might disappear in future versions.

Here is how I was able to set it up.  I had to first install gconf-editor, which was available in the openSUSE repo but was not part of the standard Gnome install.  Then, via the menus,
Activities –> System –> Gnome Configuration
takes me into the configuration editor.  From there, I opened “apps” then “metacity” and clicked on “general”.  Scrolling down the options, there’s a choice for “focus_mode”, which defaults to “click”.  I changed that to “sloppy”.  Then, a little higher on the screen, there’s an option for “auto_raise”.  I also checked that.  And, voila, I can now use the mouse the way that I find most useful.

My earlier review mentioned some concerns with NetworkManager.  Those are mostly resolved, with the exception of the need to give the root password for changes.  I’m not sure if that is a Gnome 3.2 problem, a NetworkManager problem, or an openSUSE 12.1 integration problem.  One sometimes sets up a WiFi connection in a coffee shop, and many coffee shops have video cameras monitoring what happens.  When setting up a WiFi connection, you should not have to worry about whether a video camera might capture the keystrokes that enter the administrative password of your system.

Overall, Gnome 3.2 would not be my choice of a desktop environment, though I might be more congenial to it if I were using a tablet computer.  On the plus side, it is improved from the originally released Gnome 3.


About Neil Rickert

Mathematician and computer scientist who dabbles in cognitive science.

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