Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Gnome 3, Mac OS Lion, and the geeks (Part 1)

I've been using Gnome 3 on Fedora 15/16 and Mac OS Lion on a new Macbook Pro for several months now. What I see are two platforms that have done a significant re-thinking of the user interface to deal with some unpleasant facts:

  1. The old paradigm of using menus to select programs has reached its expire-by date because the menus have attained a depth that nuclear submarines would love to attain
  2. The population of most major technological countries is aging, and our old eyes simply cannot read the print on those tiny little pull-down menus anymore,
  3. Fine motor control of old folks is pretty bad. We can manage to swoosh the cursor to the corner of the screen, or hit a big icon, but fiddly little menu items are hard for us to nudge a mouse into the right box to navigate a pull-down menu, and finally,
  4. Pull-down menus simply aren't compatible with small touch-screens, because fingers are too fat to select tiny little things and you can't see them on a small touch screen like on a tablet anyhow.
In the process of dealing with these unpleasant facts, Mac OS Lion and Gnome Shell have also done a major re-thinking of how you do many common tasks in order to reduce the number of mouse movements / key strokes needed to do them. So let's look at some common tasks...

Program selection, Gnome 3:

Method a: Swoosh the mouse to the top left of the screen (one movement). Swoosh the mouse to the 'Applications' tab (one movement). Click left button. Select program from list of icons (possibly using the scroll wheel to scroll up and down the list).

Method b: Press the Windows key. Type the first couple of characters of the program you want to run. Use the arrow up-down to move the highlight to the icon of the program you want to run. Press ENTER.

Program selection, Mac OS Lion

Method A: Move the mouse to the icon of a rocketship on the toolbar. Click. Move mouse pointer to icon of program to run, possibly using left-right wobble wheel on your mouse or left-right two finger swipes on trackpad to go to next page of programs. Click on program.

Method B: Set a hot corner in preferences (I set bottom left), swipe mouse to there, move mouse to program to run, click.

Method C: Set a hot key in preferences such as control-opt-l, use left-right arrow keys to navigate pages. Unfortunately Mac OS has no way that I can find of using the keyboard to actually run one of those programs, you must actually navigate your mouse pointer to it and click it.

Verdict: If using a keyboard, Gnome 3 is very easy to navigate and uses a minimum of keystrokes to locate and run a program, requiring no mouse input at all. If using a mouse, the fact that you can get to the Applications icons immediately in MacOS, vs. having to click on the Applications tab after swooping to the corner, makes MacOS require one less mouse movement and one less mouse click. Score: TIE.

Select A Window, Gnome 3

Method 1: Ye olde alt-TAB, with a kick. For applications with multiple windows, you are shown a down-arrow and a down-cursor will then open window previews. Select the window you want.

Method 2: Hit the Windows key or swoop mouse to left top of screen. The windows will then swoosh out into a thumbnail pane view. Click on the window you're interested in.

Method 3: Hit the Windows key or swoop mouse to top left of screen. Select the dock icon representing the program you want to switch to. Either click it to go to the topmost window, or right-click it to select which window you want.

Select A Window, Mac OS Lion:

Method 1: Command-tab to get a list of running programs. While still holding down Command-tab, then use the arrow keys to move left-right to program whose window you want to see. Release command-tab while that program is highlighted. Note that unlike with Gnome 3, you do *not* get to choose which exact window of the program is going to be switched to -- you get whatever MacOS feels like giving you.

Method 2: Set a mouse button or gesture (I use the Page Forward button on my Logitech mouse or a triple-finger-up gesture on the trackpad). Invoke said mouse button or gesture. The windows will zoom out to pane/thumbnail view. Navigate mouse to the window you want and click on it.

Method 3: Move mouse to bottom of screen, click the dock icon of the program you want to switch to. Right-click will allow you to choose which of the windows to switch to.

Verdict: Gnome 3 wins on command-tab, its command-tab function is full-featured and works well. It ties on mouse button or gesture. It loses on dock, but only barely because its dock is not always visible and you have to move your mouse to the top right of the screen to show it, but that's only one mouse movement extra so not a huge loss. So Gnome 3 by a nose.


So what have we learned thus far? Well, 1) For two specific tasks, both Gnome 3 and Mac OS Lion have done a lot of work on reducing the amount of mouse movements and/or keystrokes needed to do these tasks, and almost completely eliminated any necessity for fine motor movements or reading of tiny print, and 2) Gnome 3 is quite competitive with Mac OS Lion in doing these tasks. In the next part of this series I will compare some other common operations, and finally I will summarize the results and examine one of the more bizarre things that has happened since the release of Gnome 3 -- the rabid condemnation of it by early Linux developers (including Linus Torvalds) who appear to despise it, and what that means for Linux.

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