I use GNOME 3 in OpenSUSE relatively frequently at work. I’m familiar with this “shell” flavor of GNOME and have watched it evolve over recent years. But, I’ve stuck with XFCE on my personal machines for several reasons:

  • XFCE is very customizable.
  • It looks professional and doesn’t throw useless flashy buttons or movements in front of you.
  • While there are some pretty horrible themes, it generally hasn’t been hit with the ugly stick. This was my main reason for moving away from GNOME 2, which was my first Linux desktop environment after starting with Ubuntu years ago.

I revisited GNOME 3 today in Debian for my personal laptop. I’m sad to say that I still can’t use it. While there are great aspects to it, there are still bits that infuriate me.

Icon Sizes

Believe it or not, the issue of icon size was the original thing that pushed me from GNOME 2 to XFCE. Here’s a sample of what toolbar icons look like in GNOME 2.

This is the icon equivalent of bad kerning. Icons are simply stuffed full-size into a toolbar, with no space between them and no vertical padding in the toolbar. This drives me nuts and it looks horrendous. At least in XFCE, I get reliable spacing and padding around icons to make them look reasonable. Yep… that’s the original reason why I switched to XFCE. GNOME2 was just hit with the ugly stick in a big way.

Moving on to GNOME 3, it gets worse. While the toolbars are basically gone, I now have the currently open application showing in the top toolbar as follows.     So, Iceweasel (the Debian equivalent of Firefox) is open here and the icon is so big that it won’t even fit in the toolbar. Plus, there’s text to show me the application name associated with the icon that is now unrecognizable because it’s so huge. This is simply GNOME 3 trying to add some design appeal, while forgetting that this Iceweasel icon and text do absolutely nothing, except for possibly closing Iceweasel. It gets worse. If I click on this monstrosity, it pops up a menu with a single option: “Quit,” which stays open until I click the icon/text again. It’s useless, beyond letting you know which program you’re using, in case you forget. And, you can’t get rid of this ugliness.

Sure, there are add-on extensions to remove this little useless graphic, but I haven’t been able to get them to work. So, I’m stuck with ugly, space-sucking, useless graphics on my desktop. Good job.

While we’re on the topic of icon sizes, I should mention that I was able to find an extension that would allow me to change the notification icons on the right-hand size of the top toolbar in GNOME 3. They now, after being modified from their original form, look as follows.

That actually looks good. I like that. It’s clean and functional.

Activities

I like the mouse gestures associated with the “Activities” button in the upper-left side of my screen, but I don’t understand why it is called “Activities.” It would be more appropriately called “Stuff” or “Dashboard” or even “Oberoth,” the name of my laptop.

If you name it “Activities,” then it should actually be a route for accessing items that are actually activities: “write an email,” “browse a website,” etc. Instead, “activities” are things like “removable devices” and “windows.” I don’t even see why “activities” is there in the first place.

If I go in to “activities” and then click on “applications,” I get an array of huge icons associated with programs. I do like that I can start typing the name of a program and have this list be filtered. But, the array of icons and text isn’t incredibly easy to use. I was able to reduce the icon size a bit, but now we find ourselves in the following situation.

Just to recap, the six application options in these six icons are as follows: “gedit”, “GNU Im…”, “GParted,” “Hugin …”, “Hugin …”, “Hugin …”, “LibreO…”, “LibreO…”, and “LibreO…”. Only two of these nine options remove any doubt as to what they access. This is just horribly designed.

Conclusion

I could go on, but won’t. It’s this sort of nonsense that I don’t miss when using XFCE. I think the look and feel overall is nice, but it’s infuriating during actual use. I can’t find what I’m looking for, and thing I’m not looking for take up space. The clock, for instance, takes up about 3x the space on the GNOME 3 toolbar as my XFCE clock does on my XFCE toolbar.

I’ll try again in another year or so. Until then, XFCE still has my vote. By the way, below is a screenshot of what my XFCE environment currently looks like.

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