The benevolant overlord interface

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about computer interface design. That’s probably because Gnome and Canonical have also been doing that for the last couple of years. I’ve spent quite a lot of time using both Gnome Shell and Unity recently and I feel like they each bring a sort of personality to my computer.

Gnome ShellGnome-shell watches over everything I do. It’s quietly waiting in the  background and at moment’s notice it will shout my windows into parade form and stand by awaiting orders, like a high-ranking general to a despot in his final years. “I await your orders, Sir, although I strongly recommend you do what I have already decided.” In practice I don’t find the expose overview very useful, maybe because I’ve never been a Mac user so I’m not used to it. Most of my windows are grey and white and look basically the same. A “show icons in the overview” extension would probably help (in fact, I seem to remember this happening at some point).

Canonical's UnityUnity is more of a young child stood next to me, who has coloured my application icons in different colours for reasons that I don’t understand, and proudly presents them to me on a tray at irregular intervals (and on a random choice of monitor). The launcher is perhaps the drowsy, overgrown teenage sibling. The dog has helpfully dragged all of my menus to the top of the screen, which is a well-meaning gesture for netbook users but unfortunate with an extra monitor that’s vertically above my laptop screen.

I feel Gnome Shell is a good interface for a laptop, but the design is poor for more technical users who use multiple monitors, or multiple terminal windows. Unity’s seems designed to fail in any situation – too slow and complicated for a tablet or a netbook, unusable with multiple monitors, and rather distracting in every environment as the panel slides in and out unpredictably. How about the old Windows 95 / Gnome 2 interface? I guess I’m so used to it that a character doesn’t really come out of it at all. It’s a grey-looking middle-aged fellow who knows exactly what his job is and does it the same way he’s always done.

This post was brought to you by a major electronics manufacturer based somewhere in Asia.

About Sam Thursfield

Who's that kid in the back of the room? He's setting all his papers on fire! Where did he get that crazy smile? We all think he's really weird.
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