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.

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