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How I ended up liking GNOME

Written by Solène, on 10 November 2021.
Tags: #life #unix #gnome

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Introduction §

Hi! This was a while without much activity on my blog, the reason is that I stabbed through my right index with a knife by accident, the injury was so bad I can barely use my right hand because I couldn't move my index at all without pain. So I've been stuck with only my left hand for a month now. Good news, it's finally getting better :)

Which leads me to the topic of this article, why I ended liking GNOME!

Why I didn't use GNOME §

I will first start about why I didn't use it before. I like to try everything all the time, I like disruption, I like having an hostile (desktop/shell/computer) environment to stay sharp and not being stuck on ideas.

My current setup was using Fvwm or Stumpwm, mostly keyboard driven, with many virtual desktop to spatially regroup different activities. However, with an injured hand, I've been facing a big issue, most of my key binding were for two hands and it seemed too weird for me to change the bindings to work with one hand.

I tried to adapt using only one hand, but I got poor results and using the cursor was not very efficient because stumpwm is hostile to cursor and fvwm is not really great for this either.

The road to GNOME §

With only one hand to use my computer, I found the awesome program ibus-typing-booster to help me typing by auto completing words (a bit like on touchscreen phones), it worked out of the box with GNOME due to the ibus integration working well. I used GNOME to debug the package but ended liking it in my current condition.

How do I like it now, while I was pestling about it a few months ago as I found it very confusing? Because it's easy to use and spared me movements with my hands, absolutely.

  • The activity menu is easy to browse, icons are big, dock is big. I've been using a trackball with my left hand instead of the usual right hand, aiming at a small task bar was super hard so I was happy to have big icons everywhere, only when I wanted them
  • I actually always liked the alt+tab for windows and alt+² (on my keyboard the key up to TAB is ², must be ~ for qwerty keyboards) for switching into same kind of window
  • alt+tab actually display everything available (it's not per virtual desktop)
  • I can easily view windows or move them between virtual desktop when pressing "super" key

This is certainly doing in MATE or Xfce too without much work, but it's out of the box with GNOME. It's perfectly usable without knowing any keyboard shortcut.

Mixed feelings §

I'm pretty sure I'll return to my previous environment once my finger/hand because I have a better feeling with it and I find it more usable. But I have to thanks the GNOME project to work on this desktop environment that is easy to use and quite accessible.

It's important to put into perspective when dealing with desktop environment. GNOME may not be the most performing and ergonomic desktop, but it's accessible, easy to use and forgiving people who doesn't want to learn tons of key bindings or can't do them.

Conclusion §

There is a very recurrent question I see on IRC or forums: what's the best desktop environment/window manager? What are YOU using? I stopped having a bold opinion about this topic, I simply reply there are many desktop environments because they are many kind of people and the person asking the question need to find the right one to suiting them.

Update (2021-11-11) §

Using the xfdashboard program and assigning it to Super key allows to mimic the GNOME "activity" view in your favorite window manager: choosing windows, moving them between desktops, running applications. I think this can easily turn any window manager into something more accessible, or at least "GNOME like".