2012-06-13

[Technology] Work flow

In GNOME 2, the desktop was more window-centric.  For instance, alt-tab switching behaviour would switch between windows. 



In GNOME 3, it's application-centric.  Alt-tab switches between applications.  Alt-` switches between windows of the current application. 



I was surprised when GNOME 3 went for an application-centric environment, because my work flow for many activities combines multiple applications working together.  For example, devhelp, firefox, emacs, and a terminal.  It makes alternating between two points feel like shifting gears in a car when I have to alternate between windows in two apps.



In fact, when I have multiple concurrent activities open at the same time, several of them often use windows from the same applications.  This makes it a bit confusing as trying to switch windows within an application or between applications will end up intermingling the two sections a bit as I start tripping over windows for other activities. 



Consequently, I'm finally turning on the extension to revert to classic alt-tab behaviour, after almost at least half a year of GNOME 3.  (gnome-shell-extension-alternate-tab, if you wanted to know.)  This gives me a simple most-recently-used list of windows, so I can mindlessly switch between windows of different applications used under the same activity.  I'm always concerned about relying on extensions, because I feel like support for them could disappear at any point.



What I really wish was that the desktop was now activity-centric.  I thought that there had been talk of that before.  Perhaps it seemed like too difficult of a design challenge.  Perhaps it was not Mac enough.  I sort of effect activity-centric behaviour by moving different activities to different workspaces.  A problem with that is that the GNOME 3 alt-tab behaviour violates workspace boundaries and lets you alt-tab to windows in apps on other workspaces without resistance (just a visual vertical bar which blends all non-current-workspace/activity windows together without further distinction).  Also, the workspaces have been simplified into a dynamic list rather than a well-defined grid, which prevents me from finely spatially orienting activities (e.g. top-right workspace is for school, top-left for GNOME, bottom-left for personal activities, etc.)



I hope that in the future we can have an activity-centric desktop.  I feel like it would help productivity by simply helping focus.  It would probably require applications to be able to separate states for different activities: the browser tabs and bookmarks I want for school are different from the ones I want for GNOME.   I think segregating activities is important to minimising distractions.   I am concerned that the current directions will prevent GNOME as a whole from considering it further, as for me it would involve giving up on some current directions and reverting to things that worked better (for me) before.  I suppose that happened with Spatial Nautilus, though, so it could happen.



So, I'd probably like grid workspaces with distinct window sets again.  It's weird feeling an increase in productivity in that regard when I use GNOME 3's fallback mode (which I need to use for using my second monitor with my intel graphics).  I will say that the minimalism in GNOME 3 helps my productivity.  It turns out panels with window lists and panel applets actually are distracting.

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