Mint 12 - the sky is the limit, but don't bump your head!
Thursday, November 17, 2011 8:16:04 PM
What do I see? Watch YouTube! Wasn't I right in my claim, that people don't like too abrupt changes? The Gnome shell extensions are mainly used to return to that 'good old' desktop with its menu's and 'junk' on the desktop. Even a dock is back, as well as Mint's nice menu-slab. Yes, you can turn them off, but most users rather appear to turn them on! I have seen nobody lately still using the naked, dark and heavy Gnome 3 shell 'desktop'. Now you!
· Where do we go with Ubuntu's 'Unity' and the Gnome 3 shell? Are they merging? What about a first 'Focus' experiment bringing back some Compiz effects to Gnome 3? Why not Compiz...? I'll explain below, then there is a surprising reason. Have both new Linux desktop experiments perhaps failed?
Yes, from the user-experience I think so. Making a car running smoothly on wheels is one thing, trying the same with balls just another. There is a vast difference between iPhones, Kiosks and Slabs, Netbooks, Laptops and desktop PC's. Linux Mint 12 offers a very wise decision, it leaves the choice to the user to select and combine the best (for them) out of the old and new desktop. Even in a hardly visible way it allows them to merge both. Freedom for users with a touch of Mint's well-known elegance.
· Is Gnome 3 "bad"? Not at all! It largely depends on what you do with it. Listening to its users will probably catapult Linux Mint sky high on the Linux users lists, but you shouldn't bump your head at the same time! So avoid too high expectations. Gnome 3 is clearly different, so is the Gnome 2 part attached to it in Mint 12. See some of my screenshots and a video of my Mint 12 Gnome 3 Shell basic experiences. From what I have seen now I ask myself: do we really still need Gnome 2 ?
Make your choice... (Download Mint 12 versions here. Make sure to read the release notes!)
Url movie: http://youtu.be/S_V_IbXMmGE - click movie to see in HD.
As a retired marketing manager (and publisher) I know that people dislike abrupt changes to products they learned to understand and appreciate. A few buttons in the wrong place could make or break a product. Its 'look and feel' could just do the same. Gradual changes are the name of the game, unless you bring something completely new, requiring new insights and methods. For instance: one could easily make a car steered by joystick instead of a steering-wheel. Car-manufacturers don't, although it would be safer! Nobody would buy such a car. Sure, there are some 'innovators', customers who only opt for the latest and not for the best. However, the mainstream market doesn't like those changes, explaining f.ex. the seemingly everlasting success of Microsoft's Windows XP. We'll see what happens after the release of Windows 8. Probably the same that today is happening to Gnome 3 with its Shell or Unity user-interfaces, aka 'desktops'. A majority doesn't like them... But, then see this: (click pictures to see them enlarged)
What's that? It is Linux Mint 12 Gnome 3 Shell with Focus. Aha! Not Compiz? No, with an experimental 'extension' for the Shell interface called 'Focus'. It shows that Clutter, a toolkit used for 3D visual effects and acceleration, is capable of certain special effects of which we might see more in due course. Why then not adding Compiz instead? The structure of the Gnome shell doesn't allow this (a very technical issue ¹, ²), but I assume also for reasons a Phoronix test revealed. Compiz consumes too much processor power (see this contradicting argument in the top answer, also see that). Complaints about slowness ('sucking') were many. Particularly with Windows gaming on a Linux box. The Phoronix test proved that to be true. The Gnome file manager Nautilus (currently in overhaul for Gnome 3) sometimes also performed far from optimum depending user settings. For reasons that Gnome 3 ought to run on (say) 'all computer hardware' (i.e. being web integrated), Compiz requiring special adaptations, it becomes understandable that 'the communications between Gnome and Compiz left much to be desired'. The Focus-experiment now shows, that certain effects can be expected without much loss of agility, but without Compiz after all. Here we find a major difference with 'Unity' that a.o. allows Compiz (side-)effects.
This is the 'shocking' first glance of a 'nude' Gnome 3 Shell. Not particular far away from the look of its competitor: Unity. A massive launcher bar (left) and a top menu bar. Although one wanted as much 'real estate' (screen) as possible, it's back. To the right auto-hiding workspaces. You'll learn to appreciate them and the way they are implemented, notwithstanding lots of critique. Just start working with them and you'll notice. I write this in one workspace, but review pictures and test things for their description here in another. Switching rapidly from the one to the other makes me work very efficiently. It saves time. Yet, that is Gnome 3 'as such'. This part is difficult to change. It is the 'basement' of the Mint 12 building at the same time, so to speak.
The top floor of Mint 12 looks like this. Again, would you believe this is Gnome 3 shell? The workspace has a bar at the bottom with the beloved Mint Menu slab. It's all very recognizable and 'clean'. The G3 top bar is there as well, but by adding an extension it can be made hiding, leaving only the task-bar at the bottom. Whatever the underlying 'modernity' of Gnome 3 (shell) Linux Mint 12 immediately conveys a familiar and trusted message: 'little to learn here, just go and work with it the way you did before.'
Press the Windows/Super key to descend into the basement to find an application if you need to. What else could you do there? See this cheat list to get an idea.
Well, there could be users thinking differently, working under circumstances that are far from ideal. Think of individual limitations or even a handicap. There is a lot under the hood to serve them as well. Gnome 3 is application oriented, which explains the word 'Activities' in the top-left corner of the screen. You need not go to the top left of the screen to invoke that level. Just toggle the Windows/Super key next to the Control-key (³, ⁴ ). Underneath, thus in the 'basement'-level, sits the 'Dash' for launchers of favorite applications that you may assign from the same screen. Another option here is to choose for windows (opened or minimized) and workspaces. Top right sits an intelligent Search option that even allows short notations as to find and open the program or file you were looking for. The crux here is to allow file manager Nautilus to take care of your desktop, show your Home folder and maybe your desktop-launchers, ...or not! I prefer the first, to see my Desktop (folder) and have my Home folder orderly organized as well. I never use 'search', unless it is for Google or Wikipedia. Well, both search-engines pop up as buttons at the bottom of the screen to specifically search from when typing text in the top right Search box! Part of Gnome's 'web-integration'. Right bottom shows a button to the 'message' bar, where you a.o. can find removable devices or get system information. There is a lot hidden and a lot added by the Linux Mint team.
Next to the Mint menu slab you could install 'Docky' from the Mint Software Manager or Synaptic Package Manager and use it as a side-bar to hold your favorites and tools. I tested it and it works under the current GS 3.2.1. Be warned: there also is a shell-extension 'Dock' that no longer functions properly due to (still?) undocumented changes in the Extensions-API. Using Docky together with the Mint menu and Dash seems rather bloated and superfluous. I think it's not. It depends on what you are doing, where you are, what you are looking for and is the easiest way to get it. In fact it merges the best of the old and new user interfaces in Gnome 3. It is familiar to most users. Precisely the intention of Linux Mint 12.
Linux Mint 12 can be customized with 2 important tools of which 'Advanced Settings' comes standard as a favorite in the Dash. Here you can change the Desktop appearance (whereas the top right 'user-name' menu holds the Control Panel with an option called 'Appearance' of wallpapers. Right-clicking an empty place on your workspace offers the same option. Confusing?). Furthermore you find Fonts, Shell, Theme and Window there - well known to most users. New is 'Shell Extensions' referring to extras that you find as MGSE (Mint Gnome Shell Extension) in the as always useful and nice Mint Software Manager (the star symbol in the Dash) or in Synaptic. You can also visit my favorite website for Ubuntu and Mint software and hints. Now, be very careful adding Shell Extensions from the Internet! This area is very much under development, so very unstable, and mixing things up with Linux Mint's preferences (MGSE) could easily ruin your nice new Mint-12... Shell Extensions can be toggled in 'Advanced Settings'. Some are still far from safe to use. The happy few of 'better' ones are in Mint already! Patches to the programmer's API could break them however. The price to pay for a (sudden) return to the good old user-ways under Gnome 3.2 shell? I bet that Debian Wheezy with Gnome 3.4 shell in the near future is a best candidate for a Mint 12 successor, and the start of an own identity for Linux Mint without Ubuntu heritage.
From the Software Manager you can install 'dconf-tools' which puts the Dconf Editor under 'System Tools' in menu and application overviews. Experts recognize that Gnome 2 'Gconf' is pretty similar to 'Dconf' under Gnome 3. The functionality is the same. With both tools you have a lot of freedom to change your desktop and screens the way you want. Should you like a real cute gadget, a true 'Schmankrl' as the Bavarians say, then install 'Gnome Pie' to find menu's in a surprising and dynamic way... Yes, I use it!
Enjoy the weekend!
PS.1: Movie made in Gnome 3 Shell by pressing Alt+Ctrl+Shift+r (toggle on/off), then edited this way:
PS.2: Should you need to reset certain situations you can do this:
Press 'ESC' (top left on my keyboard) to close a window, process or program (no Close button),
Press 'Ctrl+Alt+Del/' if you set-up your keyboard for it (see movie) to restart the session if things 'hang',
Press 'Alt+F2' and type: xkill , then point and click the program (window) to close: force quit.
Use the System Monitor program to end running processes, f.ex. Wine Server that keeps running after a crash of some Windows program. I found Wine (+ CrossOver 10) less stable under Gnome 3 shell for the different graphics handling...
PS.3: In the movie Keyboard Layouts was erroneously set: Compose to the CapsLock (Bloq Mayús) key.
I found a better solution putting it under Ctrl-Right, the right control key on my regular keyboard. What means 'compose'? It means sort of combining characters to special tokens, like © ™ € if not on your keyboard keys. Press your Compose key next = e, which causes: € to appear, or Compose, then P t, which gives ₧ (Pesetas, you never know these days) and Compose, then 3 8 to see ⅜. More here.
Important for different keyboards.