On fallback mode

I’m just going to preface this by admitting something: I love GNOME 3. It works (for me) and is, in my opinion at least, beautiful in its simplicity. When I show almost anyone my computer, the response is almost always positive – comments usually include ‘thats cool!’ or ‘I like that!’. Its interface is streamlined and non-intrusive, and for myself and many others, allows us to do what we want, without unnecessary intrusion by the GUI.

All that said, I understand peoples dislike, and it does take a bit of getting used to. If you want a traditional desktop in the vein of Windows 95, or are running older hardware, GNOME is probably not for you. When Unity came out in Ubuntu 11.04, I wasn’t a fan and on recommendation, I gave XFCE a try for the first time in many years. I liked XFCE – I still do, and I used it as my main desktop briefly, before discovering GNOME 3. I still run XFCE on an old backup desktop, and keep it installed on my laptop as well. The point is, I understand why some dislike GNOME Shell, though I suspect most complaints can be remedied with extensions.

Whether you want a panel, an application menu, or something else, there is likely an extension for it. Currently, the problem with extensions is their tendency to break between releases. At the Boston Summit, we discussed how to ensure users are given the tools to make GNOME work for them. Currently discussions are centered around compiling a list of ‘supported’ extensions which do not break with every new release. Work is ongoing, but if this is something that interests you, I encourage you to contact us and become involved in the discussion [1, 2].

As for the impending removal of fallback mode, and the way it was announced all I can say is I’m sorry. As in much of the FOSS world, communication skills are (unfortunately) not one of the GNOME community’s great strengths, particularly from a users’ perspective. The result of which is negative press when something is changed or removed, with the imminent removal of fallback mode being the latest manifestation thereof.

Fallback mode, as I understand it, was never meant to be a permanent part of GNOME 3. Its removal has been planned since its inception, though that does not appear to have been communicated to the larger community.  One factor which has contributed to the confusion was the renaming of  ‘fallback mode’ to ‘GNOME Classic’ in some distributions. Today it is neither used nor tested by a majority of GNOME developers, resulting in numerous bugs large and small.  Whats more, since its original purpose (making gnome-shell usable without hardware acceleration) is largely null with LLVMpipe, it has outlived its usefulness, and the result is its imminent removal from GNOME 3.8.

I know that much, perhaps all of the above is upsetting to fallback mode users. If you are one of them, I encourage you to do two things. First, checkout extensions.gnome.org and determine if your issues with GNOME Shell can be fixed with extensions. If so, wonderful! If not, and GNOME 3 is simply not for you, by all means, look at the many other options available. Personally, I’m a fan of XFCE, but you may prefer LXDE, Enlightenment or something else entirely.

[1]https://live.gnome.org/ThreePointSeven/Features/DropOrFixFallbackMode

[2]https://bugzilla.gnome.org/show_bug.cgi?id=685744

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17 Responses to “On fallback mode”

  1. Hashem Says:

    Well said.
    How can we do better to communicate with users and the Linux community in general?

  2. Alberto Mardegan (@mardy) Says:

    “…its original purpose (making gnome-shell usable without hardware acceleration) is largely null with LLVMpipe”
    This is true only on a computer with a powerful CPU: LLVMpipe compensates the lack of a supported GPU by rendering the 3D scene in software. So, depending on how powerful your machine is, LLVMpipe can totally solve the GPU issue or make your desktop almost unusable due to slowness.

  3. George Orwell Says:

    Ignorance is Strength: https://igurublog.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/gnome-et-al-rotting-in-threes/

  4. Simon Says:

    Actually, the thing that puzzles me most is that people see Gnome 3 as something other than a traditional desktop. A few things are in different places, but ultimately it’s the same as all the others – the differences between Shell and (e.g) KDE are no greater than between Gnome 2 and KDE, or any other desktop. It’s all pretty superficial, the same old WIMP paradigm that goes back some 30 years now.

    To be honest, the Netbook Remix that Ubuntu worked on a few years back was much more different than anything I see in the open-source desktops these days. Not hugely different at a technical level, but it just changed things a bit to work on a small screen – discouraging non-maximised windows, removing title bars, etc. A pity they abandoned that – Unity never worked particularly well as a replacement…

    • mrericsir Says:

      I think you hit the nail on the head here. Gnome 3 is just a standard desktop — but instead of being Windows-like, it’s OS X-like. Different look, same ol’ idea.

      To get back to the topic, has the Gnome team ever communicated why they think Gnome 3 is better for their users? Certainly the big players in this space (MS and Apple) area always explaining why their new UIs and features are better. But Gnome seems to have a very insular, “take it or leave it” attitude towards marketing.

      • Alex Says:

        The problem with GNOME 3 is that its interface is broken, and the devs expect users that complain to go install some extensions instead of fixing the UI. No, GNOME 3 isn’t better, it’s just horrible from a UI perspective. It’s a pain in the neck to change between running applications (because of the activities screen), it’s not clear how to minimize or maximise applications. Or even worse, there isn’t even a title bar for maximized windows, so users won’t figure out how to unmaximize it because without a title bar, it’s not clear that you can drag the window down. The app menu is a horrible kludge that messes with other desktop enviroments. You can’t change the UI font size or set a screensaver, which is functionality that every user expects since Windows 3.1 or even earlier.

        If you want people to use GNOME 3, improve the UI. Hire someone who knows about UI because the Red Hat guys clearly don’t know how to do that. Or just take the UI from Elementary OS.

  5. Fabioamd87 Says:

    Hi, I liked this post but I have someting to say:
    1) make supported extension between release meaning that they are pieces of gnome releases, so it does not have sense to keep it separated from configuration tool, at this point remove gnome-control-center and offer the setup of gnome only by extention, (who choose what is extension and what is built-in?)
    2)I tried gnome 3.0 it was good but extremely experimental, same as 3.2, but with it I noticed that the fallback mode was like everything I needed and twice fast (menus, windows, apps), so I keep using this unmanteined mode since now, also on my fast PC, I use it because is light and fast,
    2b) 2 things that now doesn’t permit to install gnome3 on PCs:
    1. video drivers (an old geforce2 or ati 8000 COULD run gnome3 at least with proprietary driver, but it was abandoned (from ati <HD4000 and nvidia I dont know, nouveau doesn't have good 3d performance)
    2. slow PCs, and Is bad that not every pc in the world can't run gnome, gnome should be as linux. you can't suggest XFCE, because are 2 separate projects. (could be XFCE the fallback mode of gnome you said?)
    3) If you chose to remove fallback mode, at least provice a "recovery mode" like gnome2, with just a terminal in case video driver doesn't work fine or some application make the system freeze, I finded it very useful.

    • Ernest A Says:

      XFCE can be configured -with a little work- to look and behave like Gnome 2. The hardest part is to replicate the applications menu, but it can be done. The places menu can be emulated with a panel applet. The pager and windows list (usually in the bottom panel) look exactly like the ones in Gnome 2. Then there are panel applets for clock & calendar, audio volume, notification area, hardware monitors, and quick launchers, basically all you need. I don’t have desktop icons, so don’t know about that one. The whole environment is very configurable, stable, fast and looks good, although it does have little quirks. All in all, I couldn’t recommend it more enthusiastically.

  6. drago01 Says:

    Fallback mode never meant to be an alternative desktop for people who dislike gnome3. It was supposed to run in cases where gnome3 cannot run. The fact is no one cared enough about it to step up and maintain it and we have an alternative that somehow runs “good enough” in cases where we don’t have hardware GL.

  7. squentin Says:

    I really don’t understand why people try to invent new way to handle the desktop when perfection has been around for ever (long before gnome 1, it already existed in fvwm2) : a good pager that makes use of your spacial memory : http://i.imgur.com/HTUdW.png
    This is a screenshot from my gnome3-fallback pager that sits at the bottom right of my screen, yes it takes up some room, but it’s sooo good. Notice how in spite of the number of browser and terminal windows opened, it’s easy to differentiate them spatially, and I can jump to any one in any of them in around 1 second.

    Yes there is a gnome shell extension that kind of do that, but with way too much mousing (top left corner -> far right of the screen) and with stupid screenshot of the desktops inside, rather that clear and simple boxes and icons. I’m sure the extension could be improved, but why would I use a desktop that can’t get the most basic (for me) thing right.
    And sorry but replacing options by extensions is not user-friendly. Changing the date format should be a simple combobox, not searching for an extension that doesn’t even exist yet.
    slashdot thread where I shared some more of my experience with gnome shell : http://slashdot.org/comments.pl?sid=3243483&cid=41947779

    I’ve been a gnome user since 0.30 IIRC, but I’ll be forced to jump ship, goodbye.

    • Andre Klapper Says:

      squentin: I really don’t understand why you even started using GNOME if perfection had been around long before GNOME 1, and how you survived switching to GNOME 2 which broke so many workflows.

      • squentin Says:

        I’ve always liked the panel and the gnome icons (pre-tango I don’t like the colors since the tango icons). Gnome 2 removed some options, a few I liked, but nothing major, the way I used one panel as pager worked great, as does the version from gnome3-fallback, though since I have a widescreen I stretched this pager panel to its limit of 256 pixel width, but I don’t want more width so it’s fine.
        Now it’s true I don’t ask much from my desktop environment other than the big pager, just an app menu, a few launcher, cpu and net graphs, the time and date with a calendar, and the system tray. Gnome1, 2 and 3-fallback allowed me to have all that easily, so I’ve been happy with it. Actually I’m not sure about gnome1, maybe I used the pager from the window manager, I know I’ve used the one from enlightment when it was the default gnome wm.
        And honestly, even without the pager issue, simply configuring the rest of the panel with gnome shell is a pain, everything, even the most simple and common thing, requires finding an extension which might or might not exist, and might or might not work…

  8. Hogbog Says:

    I still don’t understand the motivation for GPU-only desktop environments. Right now, with my AMD Radeon 5850, my desktop slows down and becomes pretty sluggish when I use more than one display, or even worse if I also play a video on the other screen, (or if I have more than a handful of windows open.) Aside from some minor eye-candy here and there, there’s virtually no advantage over my old 2D desktop. But somehow this is better? This isn’t just GNOME by the way, I have the same problem with OSX – plugin a second monitor and everything becomes noticeably sluggish (though the difference is not nearly as bad as on my GNOME3 machine) – Windows 7 seems to fare a lot better here (but even then still lets you turn 3D compositing off). Ubuntu’s Unity is the worst of all; it’s not even stable out of the box with mesa, forcing me to boot with ‘nomodeset’ and install binary drivers – if I was new at Linux (something Ubuntu is targeted at), I wouldn’t have gotten through the install as it would just drop to the console and give my funny messages about GPU lockups constantly.

    I am really frustrated because I am relatively fond of GNOME3′s usability and extensibility (I’m still missing some things that were removed from GNOME2, like the ability to create my own launchers). I have a nice set of extensions and I see an opportunity to write my own and make the whole thing awesome. I’m probably going to stick with GNOME3 for the foreseeable future because life’s too short to get used to yet another desktop environment, but I don’t think this is ever going to stop bugging me.

  9. Onkar Says:

    There is a typo in your post. LXCE should be LXDE. :-)

  10. John Says:

    > As in much of the FOSS world, communication skills are (unfortunately) not one of the GNOME community’s great strengths, particularly from a users’ perspective.

    That’s simply not true.

    People are angry because Gnome keeps breaking their stuff. No amount of propaganda (that’s what “communication skills” are when used for covering things up) can change that.

  11. me Says:

    On my netbook (you know, these Atom CPUs. They suck at OpenGL, but they have a damn good battery life!), as well as my older laptop, Gnome shell is a NO-GO.

    Fallback mode works for me – and I like it – but it looks as if I will have to switch to XFCE with the next Gnome release.

    Seriously, I just want to use it, not beta-test the latest OSX-lookalike experiments (oops, sorry. OSX doesn’t maximize windows. It just almost-maximizes them, which is like the worst choice. I like maximizing, in fact I do use maximus… which makes a lot of sense on netbooks)

    Anyway: PLEASE CONSIDER USERS OF OLD HARDWARE (and netbooks) also a worthy user group. Not only OpenGL-addicts. In fact, I have more than once lost my OpenGL support at runtime due to nvidia driver upgrades… having my desktop not depend on OpenGL is a plus.

  12. Bastien Says:

    Why are you apologising for the removal of fallback or the way it was announced? What was wrong with the way it was announced? And do you often apologise for things you’re not responsible for, without telling the person that apparently did something wrong why they did something wrong?


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