We love GNOME. Sometime around 2.6 it started becoming really, really damned good, and a lot faster and more responsive. All kinds of nice things like Network Manager, the Nautilus CD burner and the SFTP support popped up. It helps that most major Linux apps like like Firefox, Evolution, GAIM, and OpenOffice use the same toolkit and themes too. Obviously we’re not alone either: Ubuntu, RHEL and SuSE all use GNOME by default.
Here’s a bunch of ideas to improve it.
1. Ditch the Acronym
What exactly is a GNU Network Object Modelling Environment? And what does it have to do with my desktop? GNOME’s ‘About’ page doesn’t even mention it - so let’s drop the acronym, and the caps too.
2. Highlight New Apps
When I install a package for a graphical app, it drops a menu item somewhere in my application menu. But I still don’t know where to find it. Sure, GNOME uses application types for menus, which makes it a little easier. But does that Disk Usage Analyser belong in Accessories or System Tools? Is Terminal Services Client an Office or Internet app?
We’re not always sure. So highlight the new apps till I start them or for a few days - whichever comes first.
3. Desktop Effects When I’m Plugged In, Battery Life when I’m Not
Desktop Effects are great for impressing your non-Linux using colleagues, or dragging round windows during conference calls. But all that GPU usage comes at the cost of battery life. Gnome already knows when I’m plugged in, so why not let me skip the less productive effects when I’m roaming?
4. Running individual Windows Apps in Terminal Services Client - RDesktop now supports launching individual apps from remote Windows systems, rather than the whole Windows desktop. Terminal Services Client should let users run either a whole remote Windows desktop (as it currently does) or use RDesktops ’seamless’ feature (which would launch Windows Explorer browsing the Programs menu for seamless launching of Windows apps).
5. Right Click An App to Uninstall It
The primary way I identify my apps is the way I launch them. So how do I know what package goes with, say, Evolution Mail, if I decide I like Thunderbird better? The computer already knows which package installed this menu entry (or that no packages did), so why not let me right click an app to uninstall it?
Novell’s alternative SLED menu already does this. But SLED is slow.
Update: While Linux has multiple packaging systems, it’s incredibly easy to abstract the differences between them (we’ve done it, so have others).
6. Something Better than Wallpaper
Nokia phones like my N95 have animated backgrounds: they cycle through a series of images as your wallpaper, slowly panning around them while they’re blurred out (the blurring shows the images, but stops the detail from being to distracting). Each photo slowly transitions into each other. It’s pretty, and you should see it for yourself…
We’d like GNOME to do the same thing, but with our own photos (sorry Nokia stock photography people).
Update: Yes, we know you can run a screensaver as an X background - provided you lose all your icons. We’d like to keep our desktop useful and pretty.
7. Video Screen Capture
Sure, there’s separate video apps like Istanbul and Record My Desktop - but why bother with a separate interface? Having a video capture inbuilt into GNOME is kind of like having a video recorder on your mobile phone - you end up using it when not expected. Want to show a developer a series of events that stop an app working? Use the inbuilt video recorder. Colleague doesn’t know how to configure the New Foo app? Make a movie and send it to him. Video is the screenshot of the modern man.
8. SyncML support in Conduit
Evolution is a great mail app - one of the first to have what are now called smart folders and heuristic spam checking (ie, SpamAssassin) was.
So why, when I try and Sync it with something, do I get a message about connecting to a Palm (the company that doesn’t install it’s own OS on half the phones it sells) Pilot (no such things exists anymore) via a serial cable (which wouldn’t plug into my computer)?
But you already know the old Palm Sync tool is getting old, and GNOME’s rocking new Conduit tool is just around the corner…and it’ll support your device, once the OpenSync gents finish creating their new framework and supporting Microsoft ActiveSync, Blackberry’s proprietary syncing protocol, and every other weird syncing protocol.
That’s not what we’re talking about.
Screw proprietary syncing protocols.
Instead of trying to support these ever-changing beasts, we’d rather Conduit just support one protocol: SyncML. SyncML is a standard syncing protocol, and clients are included with every Nokia and SonyEricsson phone, and available for Windows Mobile, Blackberry, Palm and more thanks to the Funambol project (yep, they’re Open Source too).
With SyncML support in Conduit, you could sync any device you want. Add Dynamic DNS to your computer to help you find it from the new, and you could sync that device that from anywhere in the world.
Kind of like Plaxo, except with the whole ‘giving away your passwords and data to strangers’ thing.
9. Bring Back the Skull
If you’re an old school Unix guy, remain feeling clever and skip this one.
If you’re new to Linux, bookmark this page and wait till something pisses you off. Now press Ctrl F2 and type xkill. Your mouse cursor just became a skull. The thing that’s pissing you off? Click it and it dies.
XKill is the most user friendly method of killing apps on any desktop. No Gnome System Monitor, no Windows Task Manager, no, um, Mac Thingy. Just click the bad thing with the skull and it dies.
Not only is it simple, it’s metal. GNOME should love the skull with a keyboard shortcut, menu entry, and a skullicious art revamp from the Tango guys.
10. Permissions for Multiple Users & Groups
Linux has supported permissions for multiple users and groups (ACLs) for years. Administrators of business desktops expect to be able to have different groups with different permissions more often than you’d think. For example:
- A group who can edit some documents
- Another group who can only read them
- Everyone else getting no access
RHEL 5 creates and uses ACLs by default on all filesystems - but doesn’t provide a graphical way to see of change them (they’ve done this before - you can’t graphically set the SELinux security context on your web pages either). A group may, or may not have access to a file but I don’t know it.
Graphical permissions may also be used by first level admin staff, who need simple, graphical ways to do basic stuff – so the hardcore admins don’t get woken up at night to change permission problems on documents.
The GNOME guys have actually been working on this one, they’re just not finished yet.
PS. While you’re messing with the file properties menu, why not tell me what package installed it?
Some Bonus Improvements
The following ideas are some more obvious improvements - some are already on the way.
- Talk to X Guys About An Extension for High Level Primitives
X works, and it always works. No other windowing system is suddenly about to grab the desktop. But, when both the apps and the display know what a drop down list box widget with a pretty gradient looks like, why are they talking to eachother about lots of little rectangles?If the display and the app both know about GTK, could they talk to each other about that and transfer widgets, rather than rectangles, over the network? This would make remote desktop stuff faster still.
- Show Unix write messages, reboot alerts, and important syslog messages via a modern, DBus aware /dev/console replacement. After all, when was last time you actively checked if you hard disk was melting?
- Messages of the Day and login. Another useful Unix command line trick that has no GUI replacement. This one’s already being worked on.
- Tell me What’s Using My Removable Disk
If its Nautilus, and the window isn’t busy, close it. If it’s something else, find its window name, and give me the option of closing it.
- Get Gimp to remember our defaults - when we’ve told Gimp that we prefer best quality resampling for a particular image, in much the same way we preferred it for the last 867 images, we get a little shirty. It’s enough to make you think about using Paint.net instead.
That’s all for now - if you’ve got any more GNOME ideas, drop a line below.
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