The Activities mode should be split into two modes, Apps and Windows

The label “Activities” for the management (overview) mode has always bothered me. It’s inaccurate, confusing, and too complex.

Which doesn’t fit?

  1. Activity
  2. App
  3. File
  4. Window

Convoluted ideas have complex names. Clear ideas have simple names. The complexity of the name of the Activities mode is due to its complicated purpose. It’s a management mode that allows a user to manage apps and windows. It defaults to the window manager when windows are open. The app drawer on the dock is a sub-menu that activates the application manager. This nesting is nonsensical and slows the user down. These two distinct modes are being nested to create a false sense of simplicity. In practice, “Activities” is confusing. “Activity” isn’t a term that people associate with computers. (Nobody says, “Begin an activity by clicking on an app icon.”)

Window and app management are both compromised in GNOME.

It’s annoying to have to go into the app drawer just to launch an app. I don’t need to see my open windows or the workspace windows. They’re distractions. I don’t want a dock (dash) filled with tons of apps either.

When I’m managing windows, I don’t need a search bar or a dock. The windows are marked with app icons, so I know what apps are open. If I want to quit an app, I use the app menu’s Quit command.

Another indication this design is flawed is the app drawer button on the dock. It’s inconsistent with the other objects on the dock, which are apps. Android used to have an app drawer button too, but Google removed it. Consistency would make the dock easier to use.

The “Activities” label could be changed to “Manage”, but that’s too vague. (Manage what?) Splitting the mode into two modes, Apps and Windows, would make things much easier. “App” and "window"are two of the most basic terms in computing. The two modes would also be less cluttered.

The hot corner would have to be disabled, which would be good. Hot corners aren’t intuitive. Why would a user ever think that a corner has special importance? It’s not common. What other apps use hot corners? File managers? Video players? No.

The shortcut keys for each mode would be changeable.

Related reported issues:

Rethink name of “Activities” button (why not e.g. “Overview”?)

Consider replacing ‘Activites’ with ‘Overview’

My gitlab report:

The Activities (overview) mode should be split into two modes, Apps and Windows

I, for one, like the unified overview. I agree that the label is confusing, but I don’t think adding a big split is the solution. With that, I have to think about what mode I want to be in.

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I would rename it from “Activities” to “Overview.”

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“Overview” is vague and inaccurate. It conveys its purpose is to provide information about something, but it’s for management.

A fork and a spoon are better than a spork. The current design is a spork.

Two modes optimized for two different tasks are better than one mode that provides a compromised experience when doing either task.

iOS has it right. The window manager and app manager are two different tools. GNOME is unnecessarily complicated.

Now that I think about it, the main problem with the Activities mode is likely the window manager. What exactly is the point of having a big spread of windows? It looks cool?

Multi-view applications commonly use tabs for organization. If a desktop is considered a parent window, and the windows are considered its children, then a tab bar is the logical solution.

When multiple windows are open, a tab bar should appear containing tabs of thumbnails, like GIMP has. This is essentially what Apple is doing with Stage Manager in macOS Ventura and iPadOS 16. The tabs would be arranged chronologically by default. This might make workspaces obsolete.

If the window manager is persistent when multiple windows are open (as it should be,) there would be no need for a modal window manager. The Activities button would be simply be replaced by the Apps button.

I appreciate that people might be looking back at established designs, but please: trying to re-engineer the desktop from first principles is not really useful—especially if you’re also not planning to write the code or run a set of user testing to validate your ideas.

Tabs replaced scattered windows in the past. Why not here?

Stage Manager does look pretty slick, if it is good then someone will probably clone it into a shell extension.