The oddness we call the GNOME menu structure

by davidnielsen

Something that has annoyed me quite a bit lately is that a desktop as usable as GNOME still has some glaring problems with it’s defaults. Take the menu bar as the example, it has three entries “Programs”, “Places” and “System”. Which while a fairly vague and bluntly put bankrupt attempt at application centric workflow, it does work.. a little.

First grievance, what’s up with the Internet entry. I know once upon a time “Internet” was considered a seperate entity but today nearly none of my apps fully function without internet access. Making it a meaningless point of distinction when it comes to workflow. My “Internet” catagory currently contains “amsn, empathy, xchat-gnome, firefox, deluge and monsoon” meaning they can be seperated into Communcation tools (amsn, empathy and xchat-gnome), download tools (deluge and monsoon) and webbrowser.

Communication is being built into the entire desktop as we speak so hopefully these will go away, likewise downloads should be invoked when I click a torrent file I shouldn’t really need to go click an item. If there are remaining download, maybe the torrent handler – and why again is this a seperate download application…download should really just be download, let the lower layers worry about where my junk comes from – I’d love to see a similar approach to gvfs file copying, no matter which protocol I use a get a nice detached progress bar and the system will alert me when I am done.

The web browser is a special case, it is a gateway to a world of experiences, not an application in itself. Maybe the correct approach is to give it a completely separate entry, a bit like about GNOME in the system menu. It doesn’t naturally fit into any category 100% and yet is a core tool which means we need to keep it handy.

That brings us to the programs->System tools entry, which is plainly a sick idea. I already have a whole menu item for System administration, why aren’t these merged? Probably some old hat distinction between apps that run as root and apps that run as a user but yet manages your system.. the patent absurdity of this given that policykit now exists leaves little doubt that the whole thing is an exercise in obscurity which should not be inflicted on our users.

One could go on and on about the illogical placement of applications but it just goes to illustrate that while the program centric workflow has brought us so this far, it is a bankrupt idea. I don’t use OpenOffice Writer, I write documents. My system should be structured around letting me do my work not handing me a list of applications whose lines of distinction are getting blurrier every day. Clearly a new approach is needed and alternatives are being explored currently for GNOME 3.0.

That is not to say going task centric is always the right answer, an application like the web browser still poses a problem for this approach as it is a bottleneck narrowing down several types of work into one entry. Things like prism and google chromes similar “application entry” address this neither of these seem to be approached with much joy nor have they seen much system integration. One simple example of this is my workflow for mail. I use Gmail for everything but even using prism to make Gmail a “seperate application” it still does not register a way to make the default for clicking mailto: links opening a new composer window via prism+gmail. This is a great source of annoyance as one now has to copy and paste addresses, or go back to using evolution.. both in all honesty hellish and horrible experiences.