July 21st, 2008

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