Thursday, January 30, 2014

Adventures in Arch: Part 3 - What the GNOME?

A Choice

In my previous Adventures in Arch post, I mentioned that I was using XFCE. Because XFCE is cool. However, XFCE got its fame for being a ‘lightweight’ distro, and I had originally chosen it to reduce my CPU load. After noticing, however, that my CPU temperature was roughly the same on XFCE and on Ubuntu, I decided to take Gnome 3 for a spin.

First Impressions

First impressions of Gnome 3 were rather good. It certainly was not lacking in the eye-candy department, and, in terms of appearance, was probably the least Windows-looking DE/OS out there. That's a good thing, by the way – if interface design went the way of GNOME 3, I certainly wouldn't have any problems with that.

But Then, Problems

After using GNOME 3 for a few hours, however, the real problems started becoming evident.

The first major problem I encountered was with Evolution, the GNOME mail client. (While not being an integral part of GNOME, I'll cover it here anyway as part of the ‘GNOME experience’.) I'd intended to switch from my existing email client, Mozilla Thunderbird, to Evolution, as web searches revealed that Evolution had support for calendars, while Thunderbird did not, natively. (I later discovered that Thunderbird actually did have calendar functionality, through the use of extensions)

The inital setup experience was comparatively simple. I add my 2 accounts without any problems at all. But then I went to set up my school email account, also hosted on Google's servers, but using a different email address. I added one of my spare GMail accounts, and changed the username to point to my school email.

When the dialog popped up to enter my password. I typed it in. And it didn't work, complaining that the password was incorrect and asking again. I typed it in again. It didn't work. I thought that, perhaps, I'd got my password wrong, and wanted to check by logging into GMail in Chrome. The password input dialog, however, locked out all other programs, so I had to click ‘cancel’ to go into Chrome. Unsurprisingly, logging in with the same password in Chrome worked perfectly fine.

So I went back into Evolution and clicked ‘Get Mail’. Nothing happened. Clicked again. Nothing happened. ‘Fetching mail for (cancelled)’ appeared in the status bar for a moment, but nothing happened. Thus, following conventional technological troubleshooting methods, I quit and reopened Evolution. The password dialog popped up, I typed my password in, and as if by magic, everything worked! All my emails began syncing.

Now it was time for my Google Calendar, also on my school email. I followed all the steps, and it asked for the password. I typed the password in. Incorrect password. *facedesk*

Successive restarts were unable to resolve the problem, so I eventually just uninstalled Evolution, reinstalled Thunderbird and got the Google Calendar add-in. Surprise, surprise, it worked perfectly.


Having gotten Thunderbird working, the next step was to get it to minimize to the system tray. (I don't want to see it in my Activities menu!) This functionality was already set up and worked perfectly in XFCE. GNOME 3, however, by default possessed no system tray. I enabled TopIcons in Gnome Tweak Tool, and also got a sensors extension to monitor my CPU temperature.

The problem now, however, was that the system tray and the CPU temperature were in the wrong order on the panel, so I tried to move them. Click and drag, surely that would work? Left click, right click, middle click, all did nothing. {alt,super,fn,control,shift}+{left,middle,right}click, nothing worked.

After a bit of Googling, I discovered that the only solution to this simple problem was to manually load the extensions in a certain order. Every time.

Power Management and Settings

The next step in attempting to configure GNOME was to get it to blank the screen after 5 minutes, lock screen after a further minute, and suspend to RAM (and lock screen) when the lid of the laptop is closed. In XFCE, this would be simple: everything would be in Settings. But not in GNOME!

The settings for XScreenSaver and/or gnome-screensaver were non-existent. I had to configure XScreenSaver by running the obscure console command xscreensaver-demo. A Settings option for adding it to the startup list was also nowhere to be found other than the also obscure console command gnome-session-preferences. Even using this, locking and suspending was glitchy and horrible.

Power settings for when the laptop lid is closed also did not exist, even in Gnome Tweak Tools, where there was a heading ‘When Laptop Lid is Closed’, but no items under said heading. I simply had to work around this by manually suspending the system before closing the lid.

Smells Like…

Now, there may well be an extension or a magic button to fix all of my issues, but I couldn't find it. And coming from XFCE, where I found everything to ‘just work’, a Desktop Environment where everything ‘just doesn't work’ is simply not acceptable, especially for a product from the likes of GNOME.

Attempting tasks I would have used the XFCE Settings for required Googling, command line hackery and trawling through dconf-editor, and even then still didn't work as well as XFCE.

You know what that reminds me of? A kind of even-worse-than-Vista Windows. Being unable to do anything while a password prompt was active? That's just UAC… Moving system tray/panel icons? Even Windows can do that. And using dconf-editor was basically just like editing the registry.

GNOME 2 used to be the shit! Ubuntu 8.04, those were the times! But now? GNOME 3 is just shit. Oh, how the mighty have fallen…

It's back to XFCE for me. It's smaller, more lightweight, and actually works.

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