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Another Pointless Blog - More GUADEC zanyness, views from afar and UnLove
July 21st, 2008
07:52 pm

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More GUADEC zanyness, views from afar and UnLove
A couple of things from the last night of GUADEC, when most people had gone home. A few of us relocated to the Sultan Hostel and consumed some local beverages.

* First, a guy came up and asked us how to use the wifi. His quote:
"I'm using something slightly different. I'm using Linux.". It's just a little heartwarming to see people outside of developers actually using our stuff :)
* Second, I can't decide if Lennart was being very, very dry with this, but...
I can't believe I have to do this. "Stairway to Heaven" (the song from the rooftop) is not sung by Uriah Heap. It is by a little English band called "Led Zeppelin". I'm sure someone is owe someone a drink for making me write this on p.g.o.

Anyway, as some (most?) people probably know, my day job involves using Windows Vista, as my development machine. I thought I'd iterate a couple of things that strike me that a) we do better, b) Windows does better and c) both suck at. First, this isn't jabs at anyone (not even Microsoft), it's just me generally blowing off steam. So, on with the list:
a) Things we do better
* Notification of starting apps. On Windows I'm often left wondering whether the program I clicked is actually starting.
* The desktop is my space. Applications that put icons there should be shot. iTunes in particular is a persistent offender. Each time it updates, the icons come back.
* Widgets. I like having my doo-hickys visible on the top bar. I like having more than 4 quick launchers, and having them in different locations in the panel (6 on my home PC).
* The user knows best. Our start bar equivalent (the 3 menus one) doesn't try and be smart. Windows start bar tries to guess which are my "most popular" applications. Whenever you need to do this, think again. The one I'm looking for is *never* there.
* Shuddering to a halt. If I start to compile something in 1 window and search for something in another, my computer should not grind to a halt.
* Blue screens. I don't care if it was xyz driver that blue screened. I care that 1) it takes a good minute of me cursing everything before beginning to rebooting and 2) all my work has gone. For the record, I get around 2 blue screens a week and ~ 6 black screens (where the system recovers) a week.
* Copy-pasting from Outlook. PLEASE STOP INSERTING F*CKING SPACES IN MY CODE SNIPPETS. In fact, Outlook in general should be shot.

b) Things Windows does better (and we should learn from)
* Smoothness. When I log in, the login screen fades away and the desktop appears. Alright, it takes a long time before becoming usable, but it is nice to watch the fade-out. There are a few other examples. I'm sure they can all be imitated (or bettered) using compositing. It's just small things, but they add up to feel somewhat more ... polished.
* Integration of zip files into Explorer. It's not a huge deal, but I don't care that someone sent me a zip or a tar.gz. To me, it's just another folder. Open it in Explorer / Nautilus.
* Dual monitor. First, this is insanely easy to get working in Windows (I know it's a common complaint). Second, using dual monitors feels more natural under Windows (for me). Not entirely sure why, it just does.
* The recycle bin. Apart from the odd name. I can re-instate items. I know, it's another common complaint. The other thing: applications can use it if they're going to screw with files.
* Icons. I don't know if it's my resolutions being different, but icons seem much more manageable on Windows. They seem ... smaller? More precise? Not too sure. Plus, they're not stuck on an enormous-spaced grid, where I'm not certain which space they'll snap to.
* Right-click menu in explorer. Right-click and drag file. At the end a window will pop up with the option to move, copy or shortcut the file. For some reason, I end up using this quite a lot.

c) Things we both suck at and could improve
* Unified look-and-feel. We're working on this hard. But, searching dialogs / bars are still inconsistent. There are small differences like that in a few of places.
* API guarantees. For some things, it's great. But, supporting old, unused codepaths is a pain. Every once in a while, we should be able to remove depreciated code without being pounced on. Why, yes I am in favour of GTK 3.0 / GNOME 3.0. How did you ever guess?
* Bubbles popping up / use of my status bar. Yes, I know updates are pending. I can see the icon. Yes, I know xyz program is running. I started it. There seems to be a trend in some applications to having a constant icon in the status area of late. Unless you're telling me information, go away. Even then, don't keep telling me. Tell me once and let me deal with it when I want. If you're tempted to add a status icon, please read the HIG first!
* File navigation. I have yet to discover a file browser that would tear me away from the command line. When I have to use the file browser, I find it clunky. The closest is still Nautilus Spatial (yes, I'm the one that likes it).
* Dropped network should not bring my computer or my program to it's knees. Trying to access a resource that doesn't exist any more shouldn't mean my entire system stops. Design the programs to assume network is unavailable and be (quietly) happy when it appears. This is less of an issue for us (GNOME), but still appears sometimes (restricted to single programs admittedly).
* Documentation. I know. Snicker away. We should have awesome documentation. Not just lib.g.o for developers [1], but awesome user documentation. It's just not there yet. But soon, soon my precious, soon.
* Performance, performance, performance, performance. Anything less than instant is too long. Using enough memory to trigger swapping is insane in a 2Gb / 1Gb machine.

So there we go. It did turn into a bit of "let off steam" thing. But it's useful to do this occasionally (at least, for my sanity). I'm sure you probably disagree with most of these. Tough. It's my list. Also, the things brought up aren't necessarily the Desktop only, but all, the way down the stack (I think), and outside applications. Again, I don't care if it's the fault of ABC company. I just want to not be annoyed.

Finally, there's been a lot of UnLove on p.g.o of late. Maybe everyone is suffering post-GUADEC blues. Anyway, I thought I'd finish on a high and start a "GNOME Hero" thing. My GNOME hero is Olav. He won the "Pants of Thanks" this year [2], but he deserves more praise [3]. All hail Olav the Great!

[1] Again, Fredric Peters and Goran Rakic are two of my many GNOME heroes.
[2] Which still sounds odd to us Olde-Worlders
[3] And beer

(18 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments
 
From:cosimoc
Date:July 21st, 2008 07:30 pm (UTC)
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Great post, Don! Although I haven't used any Windows machine for a long time, I agree with many of your points (especially Dual-Head support and general smoothness).
Some comments:
* Integration of zip files into Explorer. It's not a huge deal, but I don't care that someone sent me a zip or a tar.gz. To me, it's just another folder. Open it in Explorer / Nautilus.
You can do this with Nautilus and the gvfs-archive backend.
* Right-click menu in explorer. Right-click and drag file. At the end a window will pop up with the option to move, copy or shortcut the file. For some reason, I end up using this quite a lot.
You can do this with middle click drag and drop.

Cheers!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 21st, 2008 07:30 pm (UTC)

Right-click drag

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Actually that already exist: Alt + drag'n'drop in Nautilus :) Ctrl and shift have other behaviours!
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 21st, 2008 07:44 pm (UTC)
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* Integration of zip files into Explorer. It's not a huge deal, but I don't care that someone sent me a zip or a tar.gz. To me, it's just another folder. Open it in Explorer / Nautilus.

I HATE this. The first thing I do whenever I must use a Windows machine for more than a day is to download 7-zip and associate all the compressed files to it, so that they open in a new application instead of the file manager.

* Icons. I don't know if it's my resolutions being different, but icons seem much more manageable on Windows. They seem ... smaller? More precise? Not too sure. Plus, they're not stuck on an enormous-spaced grid, where I'm not certain which space they'll snap to.

I agree, the default grid is too large, and the "tight" option makes everything ugly

* Right-click menu in explorer. Right-click and drag file. At the end a window will pop up with the option to move, copy or shortcut the file. For some reason, I end up using this quite a lot.

What's wrong with using the middle button for this (like GNOME does)?

* File navigation. I have yet to discover a file browser that would tear me away from the command line. When I have to use the file browser, I find it clunky. The closest is still Nautilus Spatial (yes, I'm the one that likes it).

I like it too, but yes, the CLI is faster and I usually have at least a terminal with 3 tabs open to deal with most file operations. In the last months I noticed that I'm gradually using nautilus for more things, but it's maybe a 75% command line vs. 25% nautilus.

* Performance, performance, performance, performance. Anything less than instant is too long. Using enough memory to trigger swapping is insane in a 2Gb / 1Gb machine.

Well, on my "core 2 duo something with 1 GB of RAM" machine at work I can't use two virtual machines in vmware without huge swapping (that makes the computer unusable for up to 5 minutes, sometime). On my single core athlon64 3500+ with 1 gb of RAM at home I can use two virtual machines without any problem.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 21st, 2008 07:45 pm (UTC)
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Oh, I forgot. My work machine use Vista (yes, I can't change it), at home I use Linux (2.6.26 now) + GNOME.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 21st, 2008 08:23 pm (UTC)
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I on the other hand, think that the zip intergration is one of the few things, maybe the only thing that I love on Windows. Apart, of course, from the fact that it only handles Zip. If it handled everything that file-roller did, why would I ever want to use separate application? It's just files and folders, and file and folder operations. Now, I don't use Windows anymore, but I do miss that functionality a little every day. The only reason not to use it would be if the file manager sucked (as witnessed by all those people using norton/windows/total commander). But if it sucks, then that's a hopefully fixable bug. Rumor has it that there's an archive backend underway for GIO which would provide this in Nautilus, and that would just rock. File-roller "works", but it's redundant and also almost behaves like a file manager, but not, so it's a bit confusing.

Middle click has a few problems. It's not discoverable, and oh, my laptop doesn't have it at all. Which hurts me badly everytime I try to use Evince without an external mouse - someone thought that using middle click, with no modifier alternative or toolbar option should be the only way to drag a large document around. (Neither scrollbars nor autoscroll works for this, scrollbars are waaaay too clumsy and outscroll too slow and only in Y-axis). I finally found one thing that Acrobat Reader does better apart from compatibility with more documents (which is natural). So, I can think of at least two reasons why that is not the optimal solution. Middle click is a "power" way of doing things. A huge part of regular users don't even venture to the right one!

Hey, I remember one more. Vista handles single click mode very well. Nautilus does not (selections).
From:http://mijnopenid.nl/is/reinouts
Date:July 21st, 2008 09:59 pm (UTC)

middle click

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"Middle click has a few problems. It's not discoverable, and oh, my laptop doesn't have it at all"

Try using two fingers on your touchpad.
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 21st, 2008 08:36 pm (UTC)

html!

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Dude! Please use HTML tags like ul and li for your posts!

Claudio
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 22nd, 2008 12:53 am (UTC)

Re: html!

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Please, he is using Vista ;-)
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 21st, 2008 10:03 pm (UTC)

Popular apps

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If you mean the start menu popular apps I find it best to have about 12 of those and no perm icons in the root, then it's pretty good
From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 22nd, 2008 04:31 am (UTC)

Witchfinder

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It's Heep, Uriah Heep.

From:(Anonymous)
Date:July 22nd, 2008 08:58 am (UTC)

Nice :)

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I agree with some of your points.
Especially "smoothness", "icons", "MY desktop" and of course performance !
From:mvjsebyiypsy
Date:December 17th, 2010 08:59 pm (UTC)
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From:(Anonymous)
Date:December 31st, 2010 07:07 pm (UTC)
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It is amazing that this project is being shared online. I visited the museum for the first time last May, a wish I’d had for a long time- it was fantastic
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Date:January 17th, 2011 10:43 am (UTC)

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