Thoughts on new shell UI design

Hi all! I posted this on the Fedora desktop mailing list, and figured I’d also share here for a wider audience. This is mostly from an end-user point of view not an official Fedora Project Leader position, but I do talk to a lot of people about their experiences with GNOME in Fedora Workstation, so I hope I have at least some of that perspective as well.

Overall, like it and think this is a good direction. It didn’t really take me long to adjust to. I do think we need to communicate this a lot, because change is hard and there exist a lot of negativity around GNOME changes in general (even when such negativity is really ironic). Let’s make sure to get positive messaging out there.

Personally, I think we should take this a step further and make an always-on dock a configurable preference. But one thing at a time. :slight_smile:

Anyway, here’s my feedback after running with this for a week:

  • The latest mutter update in the copr broke my ability to log in my existing account (getting the sad face “can’t do anything”). Haven’t had time to really diagnose yet. That makes me a little worried that others
    might experience something similar. For non-techie users this basically says “your machine is dead and now you have to reinstall”.

  • Super-L does not lock the screen. Actually that shortcut just plain doesn’t work no matter what I set it to.

  • I really find overview-zoom and unzoom animations to be too slow. Turning them off is, however, too jarring. Hopefully Impatience will be available as an extension again, but I think we should consider making the default a little faster and perhaps proving options in Tweaks. (I know this isn’t new, just missing it from not having that extension — and I think maybe having them a bit faster would be better for more people than just me, and make GNOME feel snappier and more responsive.)

  • That said, when using the scroll wheel, the switch workspace animation feels too fast. It’s easy to get lost if I have more than two workspaces. I know, it’s all subjective, but that’s my impression.

  • Speaking of extensions, obviously the redesign is going to impact a lot of them. Is the popularity sort on https://extensions.gnome.org/ meaningful? We should consider explicitly testing the top 20 or so and commenting on compatibility. [Note this was a Fedora-oriented comment, but I think it can apply to GNOME as a project overall too.]

  • I don’t have a strong opinion about horizontal vs. vertical workspace alignment, even after using it for a week. Either is fine with me. However I had previously used always-zoom-workspaces, and there’s not really a logical place for that in the new design. The net result of this is that I forget what’s on my other workspaces and open up more new windows and workspaces in general throughout the day.

    From reading other feedback, I think many people have a strong opinion about orientation even though I don’t. One factor might be multi-monitor; if I have two monitors side by side, the side-scrolling workspaces are confusing and vertical makes more sense. Also, on a 16:9 panel vertical space is precious, and especially so on 13" or 14" notebooks – making a side dock more logical.

    I know we don’t like having a lot of options, but I wonder if having a 90° rotation mode for this might be a worthwhile option, where the dash (and “top” bar) are on the sides and workspaces go up and down.

  • Okay, this is long-standing rather than new, but it seems like this redesign is an opportunity to address. I find the word “Activies” puzzling. It’s always on screen in a very prominent place, and isn’t very descriptive. I know it comes from the idea of activity-centered design, but that actually makes things worse because that’s not what the UX really ended up being. And, it’s been a while, but in the past I’ve encountered people who thought the whole desktop environment or even OS was called “Activities”.

    The menu on the top right doesn’t have any words; maybe this could also bceome an icon? I get the rationale for not making it a brand icon, so I’m not asking for that specifically, just… an icon. (Sadly, the most logical thing for it would actually be what’s printed on the Overview key. But that’s not really a possibility!)

  • Launching something from the dash using the mouse requires a LOT of mouse travel: up to the top left corner, then down to the middle. Then, it seems that new windows prefer to appear back up in the top left, so it’s back up to there again. Maybe:

    1. the botton edge of the screen could also be “hot” and bring up the overview, and

    2. new windows could bias more towards appearing in the center of the screen even if that makes more overlap.

  • Actually point #2 might be important enough that it’s worth calling out directly. The top left of the screen is rarely where I want a non-maximized window to appear.

  • The borders around the window positions in the overview make for even less real-estate in that view, which is unfortunate. I don’t have a great suggestion, except maybe thinner margins.

    • Bonus thought though: although it’s not apparent onscreen in normal use like the Endless logo is, (which is something I’d still like [for Fedora]), maybe we could make those margins Fedora Blue instead of gray, to give a little bit of distro-specific theming?

      I love that GNOME’s main UI uses neutral colors, but since this won’t distract the eye while you’re actually working in an application, maybe it’s something we could do.

      (Actually, what I’d love for my own personal configuration is a black background screen and the stars and gas clouds from the F33 wallpaper in the overview margins… or, for a default, I can see a design with a pattern which complements the default wallpaper, rather than just a plain color. Maybe too busy, though. Just thinking out loud!)

  • If I click the “show applications” icon, and then start to search, the transition from the app panel with workspaces at the top to the search is kind of jarring. I think this would be better if the workspaces were
    below the application icons rather than above.

  • A dash-to-dock feature I miss: I want the terminal icon to launch a new window rather than focusing an existing one. I know that’s not new in this design but it’d be nice to not have to use this extension. I might be able to train myself to middle-click, but I’d rather swap the behavior.

  • The first time I dragged a window to a new workspace, I was confused as to where it went. I think it’s probably the right behavior, just a surprise. Maybe an animation can help here?

  • If I have a single window on the second workspace and drag it to the third, that second workspace (naturally) becomes empty. If I then immediately launch a new application or new window without leaving the overview, that new app lands on that workspace and everything is fine.

    If, however, I don’t launch a new app and return from the overview, the empty workspace is collapsed, which in pratice means that the window I dragged to the right is now back on the workspace in front of me, and there are still just two workspaces — my drag operation is basically just undone underneath me.

    There’s not even an animation making this smooth, but even if it were, it really feels like strange behavior. Consider not collapsing single empty workspaces between occupied ones.

Again, overall I like this, but I am worried that it is a jarring amount of change, and I think there’s still quite some room for polish.

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I don’t recommend non-techie users use the copr at this stage. Everything included is in-development, and
there may be mistakes as we try to package things.

This is unrelated to the new UI. See https://gitlab.gnome.org/GNOME/gnome-shell/-/issues/3541

Yes, fair, I know it’s experimental. I just also very, very, very much want to make sure that this is 100% solid before we ship it, even more than a normal update, because people’s sensitivities will be turned up a notch or two.

Thanks, that makes sense.

What about plain “Programs”? It allows to open or switch programs.

This is an actual problem. Not just for mouse users but also for keyboard users. The keyboard usage is actually the thing where GNOME is brilliant nowadays. We usually start recognizing and reading from top-left to bottom-right, with the exception of some cultures with RTL languages. It makes sense therefore to put often used menus at top-left including the dash.

Maybe an approach would be displaying the dash at top-middle right where the keyboard selection appears. When the keyboard is used the dash is replaced by the keyboard selected items. This would be a merge of the keyboard selection and the mouse dash. So it becomes the “launching and switching” area whatever the users prefers to use.

This is tracked in GitLab, and there are a few potential solutions.

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