Showing posts with label user experience. Show all posts
Showing posts with label user experience. Show all posts

11 December 2011

26. Linux The Basics: the evolution of a user

I've used linux for a few years by now, and I find that how I do things have changed over this time. In other words, the way you use linux will change and evolve as you learn more. I never experienced this in windows -- there you click your way around, and you quite easily become stuck with a handful of applications and a way of doing things.

In the beginning, I dual-booted. Windows at work, where I would use originlab's origin, micromath scientist, excel etc. Linux at home where I'd browse the web, check email and chat. That lasted for a month or so, until I become confident that virtualbox could handle a copy of XP.

For about a year I persisted in doing most of my personal work in linux, and using virtualbox to run origin, use word to write articles etc. At least that way I only had to boot one operating system and could make the initially frightening step of removing windows for ever (you're a green linux user without anyone to help you, you have a paid job relying on you being able to use your computer, and you sever the ties with an OS which has been with you since 1993? It's frightening)

Making the transition complete required finding native ways of doing things. Instead of using origin I used gnuplot. I started using latex via texmaker. sed + gawk with a little bit of python has been a great stand-in for excel (there's always gnumeric as well). Latex has replaced powerpoint as well - I don't know why it never occurred to me before to use pdfs for presentation. I mean, it makes a whole lot more sense using something that's designed to be portable (fonts is the one theoretical issue) and which is pre-compiled. Rendering on the fly as powerpoint does is just asking for trouble (and as anyone who's ever been to a conference can confirm, a fair proportion of powerpoint presenters experience problems of some sort).

I've also slowly moved form using gnome with its tools, to using the terminal. Some things simply don't need a fancy gui. While at first I used gedit under gnome and nano in the terminal, I now use vim and gvim. While vim takes an hour or two to learn well enough to use, it is worth it for the convenience of a powerful keyboard-driven and ubiquitous editor. I also use vim for editing latex documents. Mutt is good enough for email when you don't need a gui, mcabber is less intrusive than gajim if you're busy, etc. And you can use them remotely. There's nothing that can be done in matlab (which exists for linux) that I can't do in octave. I don't need mathematica since I use maxima (they are not equivalent -- but I use maxima for symbolic math and octave for numerical stuff. I've dabbled in R as well, and while it's powerful I find the behaviour of it being a bit unpredictable -- R tries to second-guess what you want to do, and often gets it right. But not always).

There's no right way (but plenty of wrong ones -- if all you are doing in linux is installing explorer and msn in wine, then why bother?) of using linux, but what I do find satisfying is that you have the freedom to create your own workflow.

Where I am today: using Linux is no big deal. I don't think about it except when explicitly confronted with another OS. It's as second-nature as using windows once was -- you knew there were people out there using something infuriating and ridiculous-looking called MacOS  going 'eep' at inopportune moments, and that there was something hardcore called UNIX (Jurassic Park -- 'It's a UNIX system. I know this!'. That was 1993 btw.) Linux is just the way I do things, and I no longer evangelise. It might be age too -- you tend to be less religious about things as you get older. If people are willing to expand their horizons and feel that using linux makes sense, then I'm willing to help. If they are happy where they are today, that's fine too. Just don't email me any doc, docx or xls files where simple text files or a pdf would do -- that's just presumptuous in the other direction.

The main problem which hasn't been solved to this day is actually word. I can't stand the fetid piece of excrement (most people have at some point been frustrated by self-moving figures or odd formatting incidents), but if you collaborate with other people in writing articles and those people aren't willing to spend the time necessary to learn LaTex, you're pretty much stuck. Well, articles are better written by a single author anyway - writing by committee never flows. Anyway, turns out Office 2003 installs just fine in Wine. At this point, I find it difficult to understand why people insist on using binary formats like .doc and docx even for unformatted text. LaTeX works for me, and it suits my way of working.

Anyway, each to his or her own. The main challenge for a linux user isn't so much how to configure a certain piece of software as in finding out about the existence of the piece of software in the first place.

05 December 2011

22. gnome-shell/GNOME3 -- acceptance

So after the turmoil of being thrown into a new desktop metaphor, I've finally reached a stage where I'd feel less at home in Gnome 2.3 than 3.0. Truth be told, the new gnome is both pretty and quite responsive. Key to making Gnome 3 usable is, however, that enough shell extensions are installed that it works similar to the old gnome. The application centric desktop may work for casual users (email/browser), but not for traditional linux/unix applications where different parts of a work flow is handled by different applications (e.g. latex -- scripting/composition in one application, compilation by another, inspection in a third; or gnuplot -- data preparation, gnuplot scripting, visualisation of output file).

But once all the shell extensions are installed, it's back to business as usual.

Even Linus seems to be coming around to Gnome 3 after mumbling about defecting to xfce4:

So far I've only had one unresolved problem - an 'old' desktop with a radeon 5400 hd card won't run gnome-shell on debian testing. No acceleration. Oh well. At least all my other computers are reasonably happy so far.

10 November 2011

18. Gnome 3/Gnome-shell -- first impressions. Rant.

Debian testing has now transitioned to gnome-shell/gnome3. It's...different...from gnome 2.32, so be warned. While I'm as frustrated as anyone else who feels that they are being forced to move to a new desktop metaphor for no good reason, I'm trying to keep an open mind. The lack of a bottom panel is pissing me off and disorienting me enormously though. I also would like all my panel applets back - I used to have a good overview over how my computer hardware was doing, and now I have no clue anymore.

Essentially, at this point it seems like gnome-shell is fine for people who do their work in a specific application - like a browser, word processor etc. It absolutely blows if you're using your COMPUTER. I edit code in gedit, render figures in the terminal, inspect them using evince, include them in documents using LaTeX etc. Suddenly I feel I have no overview what's going on. The lack of a bottom panel showing me which applications are open on a specific virtual desktop is very confusing. Using alt+tab to check before I switch is a great time-waster.

For those who haven't used gnome-shell -- yes, you can still have windows side-by-side. You just can't see if you're hiding a window behind another one.

Seriously. I don't see why I can't customise my desktop anymore. Gnome has always (I do realise that this isn't entirely true - functionality is being removed and re-added all the time in most desktop environments) been a bit more restrictive than KDE in terms of granular control and I do understand that this is on purpose -- it's a design philosophy. I guess I just violently disagree with it.

Finally, even though I can't put my finger on WHY, I feel that I suddenly have a tiny screen. It's 23 inches. It's huge. It's made for having lots of windows open side-by-side.

I admit that I'm as resistant to change as anyone, but since I use my computer as part of my work, I need a damned good reason for changing. Few people can afford a few weeks downtime in productivity while learning the ropes if they feel that the change isn't justified.

I'll stick with gnome for a while longer. You can't bitch if you don't give it a chance. But I'll spend those weeks looking closer at the alternatives - XFCE, LXDE, KDE etc.

The point here -- and which was seen with the defections to OSX caused by Windows Vista -- is that if people are forced to learn a new way of working, they might as well explore ALL the options.

Prediction: I'll either stay with gnome-shell (which will hopefully improve as functionality and control is returned), or move to xmonad (another extreme)

I obviously appreciate the fact that I'm using a free and open source collection of software - in theory no-one is forcing me to keep on using GNOME. Nor was I forced to upgrade. In reality, it's not so easy.

Given that gnome 3/gnome-shell is more than just an iterative update, I think it would've have made sense to allow for the installation of gnome 2.32 and gnome3 side-by-side. After all, there's nothing preventing you from running KDE, gnome, xfce and lxde side-by-side. Sure, uptake would be slower - but 'forcing' people to move from one version to another isn't really a good idea either. The way it is now you have no easy way of reverting back to 'normal' if you accidentally, or misguidedly, upgrade to gnome3.

Oh well, ranting is easy. A better use of my time would probably have been to learn how to write gnome-shell-extensions to provide the functionality which I feel is missing.

<How to deal with it>
So, there are a few things which can be done to make the transitions a bit easier to handle -  do an online search for gnome-shell-extensions and download the ones which you think will help. For me, I've got the following installed and active:
Bottom Panel
Gajim IM integration
Alternative Status Menu
Shut Down Menu
User Themes
Break Dynamic Workspaces
Panel Favorites
Applications Menu
Move Clock
Auto Move Windows

Make sure that you get the right version of the extension for your version of gnome-shell (gnome-shell --version; currently it's on 3.0.2) since extensions for 3.2 won't necessarily work with 3.0.2 (e.g. the bottom panel extension).

You will also want to install the gnome-tweak-tool and explore what it does. At least you can choose your preferred icon theme, set nautilus to handle the desktop space, bring back maximize/minimize buttons etc.

You may also want to add keyboard shortcuts to the most commonly used application since it's a PITA having to go back to the Activities every time you open e.g. a terminal, nautilus or gedit  instance. I've mapped terminal to ctral+shift+up, google chrome to ctrl+shift+down, nautilus to ctrl+shift+left and gedit to ctrl+shift+right.

If you find that you can't run gnome-shell but only use the fallback mode, check that you haven't got 'compiz --replace' in your start-up programs (gnome-session-properties)