Gnome Builder's Initial Project & Template Window Is Confusing

This is something that has been bugging me for a while in Gnome Builder, so I figured I would talk about it.

To me, this appears to be a fundamental workflow problem. While the request is super simple, stick with me.

I’m a beginner that has just downloaded Gnome Builder, and opened it for the first time.

Here is what I see:

Naturally, it’s a pretty good introduction to the Gnome ecosystem, and gives people something to look at. Maybe if I am curious, I would clone one of these repositories and contribute changes to them. We know that practically nobody would actually do that as their first time Gnome Builder experience. They would just open one, look around for a little bit, be confused, and close it again.

But there are more options here:

  • Create New Project

Create New Project is very misleading. Perhaps this should be called, create new project from template, or maybe even, create new project from Gnome template, or create new Gnome project. There is no option to create an actual blank “project” such as a folder, where I could use Cargo or something similar to create the scaffolding for my general purpose development project, not a complex application. Even something as obvious as making a new folder to store a .py file so I can run Python from a terminal is not obvious at all in Gnome Builder.

There could even be an option to open a small Terminal to configure a new project directory and folder, such as a Cargo project, before entering a workspace.

Or lets assume that I want to make a new folder to store a web page structure I create from scratch, that is not obvious either.

By obfuscating project creation, Gnome Builder is throwing away its opportunity to introduce beginners to programming in a friendly environment, and simultaneously convincing experienced developers that this application can only work with Gnome specific project templates, and not replace their general purpose IDE or code editor.

I find that this idea completely discounts the fact that Gnome Builder is actually a general purpose IDE, suitable for all sorts of languages, build systems, and language servers not listed within these templates.

  • Select A Folder

Second, “Select A Folder” doesn’t make it obvious that Gnome Builder can open all sorts of project directories with different build systems, code, and platform targets than pure Gnome apps. It is also annoying that I cannot make a new folder when using this menu option.

The Problems

  • Gnome Builder’s UI does not provide an easy method to create a new folder, so users can quickly start creating text files, and utilizing the terminal.
  • Gnome Builder’s UI does not properly convey that Gnome Builder is a general purpose IDE, which substantially reduces its use-cases and mindshare. (Think of competing with VS Code.)
  • The example projects in the initial window are far too complex for a beginner, which may cause confusion.

I feel there needs to be a happy medium happening here between Gnome Text Editor and Gnome Builder. Where Gnome Text Editor doesn’t support directories or an embedded terminal window, Gnome Builder does. It should lean into this simplicity first and foremost by giving freedom to the user to build whatever they want, while keeping access to the Gnome platform templates and apps in a way that doesn’t discount the capabilities of Gnome Builder as a general purpose IDE.

Just from anecdotal experience, when I tell people that Gnome Builder is a general purpose IDE with extensive capabilities and language support, they are completely surprised. This doesn’t even cross most people’s minds, as they assume Gnome Builder is analogous to Xcode on Mac or Visual Studio on Windows, which are very limiting IDEs. There should be some clarity here.

Final Remarks:

  • New Editor Workspace should be a dedicated button on the project window, so people can easily dive into the settings and explore the interface.
  • File creation in Gnome Builder is very confusing and buggy, I should make another post about it.

Builder is not a general purpose IDE, and that has been my focus since day 1.

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Might I ask, if it wasn’t meant to be a general purpose IDE, than why does it have so much capability? I understand that Builder is meant to support the Gnome platform, but it does not have to do that exclusively. There are tons of first party language server implementations, and many different build systems, and an exceptional amount of language options, most of which aren’t even relevant to Gnome projects. (I am absolutely NOT complaining by the way. It’s great.)

I would reiterate again, that most beginners looking to learn Gnome Builder cannot understand a complex application template and work on it. I feel that Gnome Builder is aligned in Gnome’s idea that software can be minimalist, beautiful, yet functional. I agree with limiting the scope of the Text Editor, but it is the spiritual successor to gedit, which catered to the niche of hobbyist learner far better than Gnome Builder does with its rigid template structure.

Some use cases:

  • Using Cargo projects to learn Rust with command line examples.

  • Using Python to create a useful script.

  • Using HTML and CSS to create the website for an open source project.

But honestly, the good news is Gnome Builder doesn’t even need much extra features at all to be useful as a general purpose IDE. It’s already there. (I already use it in that way.)

Perhaps what you decided from day one does not explicitly apply to today. I believe the project has grown for the better, and achieved far more capability than most people expect. Back in 2015, when the Indiegogo project for Gnome Builder was launched, Visual Studio Code was nothing but a small idea released in preview. Now it is a massive project of which entire developing ecosystems pop up, and many people learn to type their first code because it’s free and easy to use. I see that Gnome Builder has the same potential, if people just knew more about its capabilities. The best place to introduce them to these ideas are in the initial project and template window.

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