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Norman Walsh needs our love

Norman Walsh — esteemed godfather of Docbook — gets very cranky with GNOME, ditches it for a while, but ultimately returns… because it just feels right.

I can understand his frustration — gnome-screensaver has been flicking the hate switches for a lot of our traditional, tech-savvy users. I’m hearing about it a lot. It’s a great example of GNOME shipping software a teeny-weeny bit too early, building dependencies around it, and frustrating a bunch of our early adopters.

So if anyone’s looking for a good way to make our early adopters and momentum users happier — and by “happier” I mean “kick arse” — give your love to gnome-screensaver today. Delight them with a bit of just works… and a bit of just works personalisation to boot!

  1. I can’t imagine how this could go into GNOME 2.14 like this. Having a hard-coded ~/Pictures isn’t just a little inflexible, it’s horribly broken – think i18n.
    For F-Spot users, there’s always the F-Spot screensaver, but the number of GNOME users is many times higher.

  2. Dude, gnome-screensaver’s “user switching” filled me with hate today when it decided to poll several thousand users homedirs (these homedirs are NFS mounts handled by autofs) and attempt to mount them all when I tried to unlock my workstation. The technical term is FURIOUS RAGE ;)

  3. niall: HFSNW! Sorry about that… Could you please file a bug on GDM? (That’s where the switching mechanism is.)

    Norman: You really are a momentum user! ;-)

  4. Yeah, that Pictures thing is a pain – there’s no existing convention for that name, so it’s something almost all users are likely to need to change to make the screensaver work. And there’s no way to change it, short of going hunting for where gnome-screensaver keeps it’s configuration files.

    That’s a big failing in gnome-screensaver – I’m all for having sane defaults where few people need to change the settings, but if you can’t do that, you *must* allow the user to change it. By all means, default to ~/Pictures, but providing no method of changing it is a major bug.

  5. Gnome-screensaver’s extremely limited features has been giving me grief as well. I’m all for simplicity when it enhances usability, but if it’s simplified to the point of being practically non-functional, I don’t call that usable. Here are a few problems I’ve encountered:

    1) No full-screen “preview” option — just a little window which can’t always provide a good idea what a particular screensaver is like. One thing my little 4 year-old nephew and I used to enjoy about earlier versions of Ubuntu was that we could “play screensavers”. He’d choose screensavers he liked in xscreensaver (tunnels, etc.), and we’d full-screen preview them and pretend that we were travelling through space, etc. ;-) Maybe not a common use-case, but it’s still sad that Ubuntu Dapper has spoiled our fun. :(

    2) There doesn’t seem to be any obvious way of disabling/removing particular screen savers! Thus, you have to choose a particular screen saver, or put up with screensavers you don’t like when using the “Random” option. This isn’t just inconvenient — right now, there’s one particular screensaver (LavaLite) that’s causing my system to lock up hard. If I could disable/remove particular screensavers, I could just get rid of it, but instead I’m forced to avoid the “Random” option or I risk losing all my unsaved work (it’s happened twice so far).

    3) The “Pictures folder” screensaver that’s being complained about doesn’t seem to provide *any* indication of where pictures actually need to be stored (and there’s nothing in the docs). Sure, some users might guess that one should create ~/Pictures and put them there, but many won’t have a clue (and others won’t want them there anyway). How is this sort of hidden functionality usable?

    Right now, gnome-screensaver is simply not functional enough to replace xscreensaver, and I’m surprised it was chosen as a default without fixing some of these obvious problems first.

    Sorry for the rant — In general, I really LIKE Gnome, and appreciate all the hard work that goes into it. Sometimes though, the push for simplicity just seems to go too far.

  6. > I can’t imagine how this could go into GNOME 2.14 like this.

    Julian, mistakes will always happen. Stuff can be fixed with time, though it’s best to make that happen via bugzilla. You may also test the unstable GNOME releases to help us catch problems.

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