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Philosophy and Ethics of The GNOME Desktop Environment

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Long-time Linux users will term which was coined around the turn of the millennium Desktop Wars still remember the , . The question was whether KDE and GNOME would be the dominant desktop environment. GNOME initially gained the upper hand, but this was mainly due to the license problems with KDE at the time. Both desktops are subject to different development and design paradigms and have consequently diverged in some cases since then.

The last development step in GNOME came with GNOME 40 and brought a new operating scheme that shifted the general alignment from vertical to horizontal. The software designer employed at Purism has Tobias Bernard explained in a series of so far four blog articles how GNOME works from his point of view, how things are done in the project and what ethos is behind it. The about this ethos fourth part of the series is , both in terms of the overarching values ​​and what they mean in practical terms.

The traditional desktop is dead

Bernard claims that the traditional desktop is dead and will not come back. Instead of trying to bring back old concepts such as menu bars or status icons, one should look for new ways. Extensions to the GNOME Shell are only a niche, it is better either to create apps or to improve the GNOME Shell right away. System-wide theming is also a broken concept, according to Bernard. In addition, Flatpak is the future for the delivery of apps. As far as the importance of the extensions is concerned, many GNOME users disagree. For many, GNOME is simply unusable without extensions. When Bernard asks to improve the shell right away, I wonder why the developers removed functionality from the shell for years.

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Lonely decisions

An example is the with GNOME 3.28 removal of desktop icons carried out . The code for displaying icons on the desktop was anchored in the Nautilus file manager. It makes sense that he really has no business there. The fact that the code was then deleted without replacement instead of being implemented in the right place angered many users. Since then, they have been dependent on icons using the extension creating GNOME Tweak Tool . But how was that? Extensions will always remain a niche …

The fewer options, the better !?

Another thesis that was already in an in 2002 essay from the GNOME environment discussed. States that every setting option has its price and that it increases exponentially the more options you offer the user. Therefore, GNOME avoid such preferences as much as possible and instead focus on fixing the underlying problems. The problem with this statement, in my opinion, is that the raison d’être of options cannot simply be resolved as a problem, since it lumps all users together. Whereby we are back to the different self-image of KDE and GNOME. Despite the many inconsistencies in my opinion, Bernard’s series is a good read to understand how GNOME works.

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