If GNOME hadn’t irked many users when it redesigned its approach to the desktop with GNOME 3, there would be fewer popular desktop environments for Linux.
I recently took my first look at GNOME 3. I’d played around with GNOME 2 a couple of times back in 2002 and 2003, not caring for it very much. This was in small part due to the fact that on Mandrake 9.X, GNOME was unstable and prone to crashing, but mainly because I found it wasn’t configurable enough for my taste. I stuck with KDE, which even back in the dark ages of the early 21st century was uber configurable.
When the brouhaha exploded after the release of GNOME 3, I wasn’t much interested in having a look for myself. However, a few weeks back I finally got some hands-on experience when I wrote a review of Antergos, which I installed with GNOME, not so much because I wanted to give the DE a look but because it’s the distro’s default.
In a nutshell, like many others I don’t care much for its new-to-me reinvention of the desktop, although there are a lot of aspects I did come to find useful after I learned my way around. I didn’t find it particularly difficult to learn, which had initially been a complaint from some, although I did have to ping a friend with a question about its implementation of virtual workstations.
In the end, I decided that the new direction the GNOME developers are taking the desktop probably suits many users fine, evidenced by the many desktops that use it as a default. This is good, since GNU/Linux has always been about choice. It just isn’t for me.
This doesn’t mean I don’t understand the uproar that erupted back in 2011 when the GNOME team first unveiled the future direction of what was then the most used Linux desktop. If I had been a loyal GNOME user who had supported the desktop for years, I would’ve been pissed by the sudden change, just as KDE users had been a few years earlier when it had introduced a radical new approach. KDE quickly did an about face and gave in to user demands. GNOME, much to the chagrin of loyal users, did not and has continued to boldly take the desktop where no desktop has gone before.
But while the change wasn’t good for a user base that was perfectly content with the desktop the way it was, an unexpected consequence stepped in that’s made the “new” GNOME one of the best things that’s happened to desktop Linux since the marriage of GNU with the Linux kernel. Funny thing: That unexpected consequence was a direct result of the disgruntled users who refused to have GNOME’s change of direction forced on them.
Due to GNOME’s change of direction, Linux users now have a much wider variety of desktop environments from which to choose than ever before. A quick glance at the list of now popular desktop environments that grew out of dissatisfaction with GNOME’s direction is impressive. There’s Unity, Ubuntu’s default, which is basically a redesigned UI plastered onto GNOME 3 (and not very popular with GNOME 2 fans, I might add). Linux Mint’s Cinnamon desktop began as a GNOME 3 fork and MATE also started as a fork — of GNOME 2.
Even SolusOS’ Budgie and Elementary’s Pantheon, both built “from the ground up” and for different reasons, freely borrow from GNOME components.
If the GNOME developers hadn’t changed their approach, it’s doubtful that Unity, Cinnamon or MATE would have been developed, since all three of these came out of a direct response to GNOME’s change. And if Unity, Cinnamon and MATE hadn’t proved to be so popular, illustrating the viability of new desktop environments, it’s doubtful that Budgie or Pantheon would’ve ever come along.
So GNOME 3 has not only taken the bold step of exploring new ways to perceive the desktop, it has added new desktops to the Linux and FOSS gene pool.
From where I sit, that’s a good thing.