A Week on Gnome for a KDE Plasma User with openSUSE Tumbleweed

My virtual Linux Users Group, as it were is the BDLL community. As part of a community challenge we were to live a week in Gnome. In full disclosure, I didn’t quite make it a full week on Gnome. Even though I was told I had to really give it a chance, really get used to the work flow to appreciate it, I tried, I read the documentation and I just could not find it an enjoyable experience for me. So, thanks for stopping by, if that is all you wanted to know, that is the bottom line up front.

Just because my experience in Gnome was not enjoyable, that doesn’t mean yours will be the same. It may work splendidly for you and you may find the work flow a perfect fit for your personal computer usage. I highly recommend that you do give it a try, regardless of my biased opinion.

This test was done on my primary machine, my Dell Latitude E6440. This machine had no trouble with Gnome. I didn’t see any performance issues there were occasional glitches but nothing distracting.

Installation

The beauty of openSUSE is the package management but beyond the package manager, the organization and simplicity of installing software. In this case, to install an entire Desktop Environment, Gnome in this case can be done by running this simple command in the terminal:

sudo zypper install -t pattern gnome

In summary, this is what the result of installing the Gnome Desktop from the openSUSE defined pattern.

432 new packages to install.
Overall download size: 177.7 MiB. Already cached: 0 B. After the operation, additional 660.9 MiB will be used.

Truly, not much more storage space was required only 660.9 MiB for the “standard” installation of Gnome.

Scope of Evaluation

For the purpose of this evaluation, I am going to ignore any little hiccups from the Desktop Environment. I am not going to be critical about any little glitches or bugs. I will ignore any rough edges of it, largely because I know this is the openSUSE, somewhat vanilla presentation of Gnome. In order to keep this Gnome experience similar to my time using Fedora with Gnome, I will not install any extensions. I am going to use it the way the developers and architects intend.

Overall Experience

After installation, I rebooted my machine. I wanted to be sure I was starting my Gnome experience from a freshly updated and rebooted system. The familiar SDDM (Default Plasma Display Manager) interface appeared with the familiar menu of options. I initially chose Gnome with Wayland but since I wanted my tools that require X11, I did switch to X for the majority of my time on Gnome.

Gnome felt stable to me. I didn’t have any strange behavior or crashes. It all worked as I expected. The interface is clean and tidy and has the familiar openSUSE look about it. I did notice that the settings I used to configure GTK apps look and appearance within Plasma carried over to Gnome. For that I was grateful as my preference has the right dark theme. Gnome is very smooth and the simple desktop animations look fantastic. From my perspective, Gnome didn’t feel heavy. I would go so far as to say that it didn’t feel any heavier than any other desktop environment.

What I Like

I started to get used to the Super Key (Windows Key) as an application switcher. It was a bit of a muscle memory alteration from how I have Plasma configured but it did seem reasonably efficient. Could I make Plasma do the same thing, yes, but the method I have set up to do the same thing in plasma is just to move the mouse in the upper-left corner of the screen and I will have all the applications display themselves in a similar fashion.

A rather neat feature is the very intuitive color calibration per device settings. Although I don’t have a need to color calibrate my screens, as they are all Dell monitors and seem to have the same general feel to it, I can see where this would be very, very valuable.

Notification settings configuration is quite nice and intuitive. The fact that I can shut of notifications, very easily to one or two applications or all of them is fantastic.

Gnome-04-System Settings Notification

When you scroll down a menu and reach the end there is a slight ambient glow. It is just a really nice user experience touch that I appreciate. That same effect is in GTK apps on Plasma but it is specifically a GTK (3… I think) thing.

The hardware information was organized in such a way that is a very user friendly, easily digestible manner. How much a user will dig into that, I am not sure but it appeals to my inner geek.

What I Don’t Like

Gnome Tweaks is required to make Gnome a non-terrible experience. The positive is, openSUSE installs it by default. That is not so with some other Gnome versions I have used. Having Tweaks installed by default is really the only way to use Gnome.

The bar at the top is unwelcome. The “minimize” button which generally points down has an animation that goes to the upper-left corner of the screen

Gnome is not nearly as friendly to Qt applications as Plasma is to GTK applications. GTK applications look great on Gnome. Qt feels like an afterthought. The highlights are a mismatch and although blue and green look fine, it is just a lack of visual consistency within a single Qt application.

Gnome with Dolphin File Manager

Configuring Gnome is quite literally the most confusing process. If you can’t find it in the Gnome Settings, you have to look in the Gnome Tweaks to find it. It would be nice if Gnome Settings folded in the features of Gnome Tweaks. Take this to another level, if you didn’t know about Gnome Tweaks, and it wasn’t built into the distribution making Gnome your own would essentially not be possible. This makes the Plasma System Settings far, far less confusing than Gnome’s offerings.

The default sound applet is basically useless, especially when compared to the built in Plasma applet. You have to have Pulse Volume Control open to do anything meaningful with your sound, especially if you have multiple input and output devices.

There is a lack of desktop icons, not even an option. You have this unusable workspace for which you can do nothing but stare at a wallpaper. I like to have shortcuts to specific places from my desktop and Plasma gives me the option to have different folder views on the desktop as well.

There is no system tray for things like Syncthing-GTK, Teamviewer, Variety and so forth. They are running but if I close the window. I can’t access them again. Supposedly there is an extension for that but I am not about to go hunting the internet for extensions that will likely break at the next Gnome upgrade.

Final Thoughts

Without Gnome Tweaks, Gnome is rubbish as far as usability is concerned. I am not going to learn all the shortcuts in my first week with Gnome so to expect a new user, without any kind of guide is absurd. Distributions like BunsenLabs Linux have a Conkey on the background to show you what you need to do to interact efficiently with the Desktop. Sure, that layout isn’t my favorite either but the desktop is way more user friendly.

Gnome culture is to use the computer their way, change your ways and thought process to match the designers. Plasma Culture feels more like a recommendation but feel free to change whatever you want. This is the culture I prefer.

Another issue I found, Qt applications feel like a second class citizen. They just don’t look right or at least they look out of place. If you try to tell me there is an extension to fix it, please don’t bother as I have no desire to play extension roulette next time Gnome updates. It communicates to me that the intention of Gnome is to only run GTK based applications, specifically, GTK3.

At the end of my Gnome journey, it really further cemented my preference for Plasma. Gnome itself is a very nice looking desktop, that is undeniable. If you like the prescribed Gnome workflow and don’t use Qt applications, it just may work fine for you. Ultimately, you need to use what works best for you.

This is my opinion and you may not agree… and that is okay. I really don’t expect you to agree.

Further Reading

BigDaddyLinux Live Show on Gnome

BunsenLabs Linux | Review from an openSUSE User

Dell Latitude E6440

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PeppermintOS | Review from an openSUSE User

peppermintos review title

PeppermintOS is a bit of a different distribution that I have become aware of in recent months. Peppermint is built with the LXDE interface that is very nicely customized. It can be downloaded from here in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions. The latest version, Peppermint 9 Respin can be downloaded in both to see how they would perform on both old hardware and in a virtual machine.

So it is understood from the very beginning, I am a huge openSUSE fan and a member of the project. I am fantastically satisfied with the distribution, nothing is perfect, but this distribution and its culture fits me well. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t other fantastic projects that work fantastically well for other users. I also primarily use KDE Plasma as my desktop. There are many other fantastic desktop environments out there but Plasma just happens to work best for me by catering to my preference. With my biases clearly stated, I will now get into my experience with PeppermintOS, as an openSUSE user.

Installation

Using the SUSE Studio Imagewriter, I burned a 32 bit image onto a USB flashdrive and installed it into a Dell Inspiron 10 with 1 GB of RAM. It was stated that Peppermint will work with older hardware, so that is exactly what I used. I also installed this on a Virtualbox Virtual Machine so that I could capture some better images.

For starters, I really appreciate that I am able to install Peppermint right from the boot menu. This is one of those features that is important to me when I install a Linux distribution. I am glad that they give the option to try it live but that particular feature is not as important to me.

peppermintos-01-installer boot menu

The next two steps are basic but necessary questions of your language and keyboard layout. It’s good to knock this out immediately.

Next you are asked to specify the installation type. In this case of this Dell Inspiron Netbook, I chose to erase the entire disk and let the the defaults reign. Next you asked if you would like additional software such as downloading and installing updates immediately and to install third-party software for graphics, wifi hardware and such. I did notice a minimal installation option, I did not try this out but from my experience, distributions often offer a ‘minimal’ set of applications. I wanted to see what I was specifically given with Peppermint.

After you confirm the updates and other software, you are given a warning about how the partition tables are going to be written. Maybe this is better than what I am used to with openSUSE but I do prefer stepping through and setting all my options before I am given the final warning. Peppermint warns you in the middle of the install. After the whipping of the drive, you are asked to identify your location. I am puzzled by the sequence of steps here a bit.

After you enter your user information and set your log in preference, the installation begins.

I have to give much credit for the Peppermint team in their theme and graphics with the installer. I do believe that this is the first distribution of Linux I have ever installed that I didn’t have to fuss around at all with the theme. The installer just looks great and the logo fits right into the color selection. Fantastic!

peppermintos-10-installation complete

Once you get the happy message that the installation is complete, the computer will restart when you give it the push.

First Run

Right from the very beginning, Peppermint looks pepper-minty fresh. It has the kind of dark theme I can work on that doesn’t cause me undue stress on my eyes. The coloring the soft lines, just looks great.

peppermintos-11-login screen

Immediately upon starting Peppermint, I had to look at some of its included tools. One particular tool that I found particularly useful was sakura. It gave me a very thorough listing of system information about the installation, the machine, state of the battery, hardware information and package repos. It can be run it on a machine to get a detailed snapshot of a system configuration. I also was glad to see neofetch was included by default with the option of turning it’s output on and off from the Peppermint Settings Panel upon opening the terminal. This tool not only gives you another detailed snapshot of the system but gives you some fantastic ascii art of the distribution logo.

Ice Web App Integrator

A fine feature included with Peppermint that may also be somewhat of a hindrance to its adoption is a tool called Ice. If you are unaware of this, it is a web application integration kit that allows you to easily integrate web applications into the menu as though they were native applications. I have been doing this with Chrome but as of late, with the Chrome bloat, just haven’t been using those menus I have previously created. This is a fantastic way to use some of those “web apps” like native apps without being tied to Chrome.

I was so enamored with this, I had to try it out. I decided I would see if I could create a “Netflix App”. As I could see this very handy in possibly using this as a media set-top box distribution. After all, the theme is already fantastic looking. It has that “theater ready” look about it.

What is nice about Ice is that you can specify, right from the dialog, where you want the application to live on the menu tree. In my case, Netflix is a multimedia app… maybe it should be in the Internet section… In any case you can put it where you want

peppermintos-17-star trek on netflix

Default Applications

I wanted to see what kind of applications are installed by default. Upon doing some clicking around, I thought it to be rather lean but that is really a non-issue as far as I am concerned. I actually would prefer that for several use cases.

What I found particularly interesting was the choice for office applications. This is a first, as far as I have ever seen, Microsoft Office 365 is your default office suite. I would never have thought I’d ever see Microsoft Office products by default in any Linux distribution.

peppermintos-18-office suite

It’s a different world we live in these days…

PeppermintOS-21-Microsoft Word.png

The updater tool on Peppermint is everything I want in an updater tool. Nice and verbose. Although, I do seem to prefer doing it all the the terminal these days, this gives me a find blend of the friendly approach of a GUI with the verbose readout of the terminal.

It should also be noted that doing updates does require a password. I have come to the conclusion that this is the norm for Linux distributions.

Logout

Lastly, after you have had all your fun and want to put your PeppermintOS machine to sleep, you have some options when you go to log out. It’s nice to see it laid out so incredibly clear. A well branded dialog with the Peppermint logo, typeface and reminder of what version of Peppermint you are running.

peppermintos-14-shutdown.png

All-in-all, in my short time on Peppermint, I truly enjoyed it.

What I like

Right from the very beginning, Peppermint OS has the best theme and installer graphics for those, like me, that are not happy about light themed interfaces and bright lights. The tone this distribution sets with me is that it understands my struggles and knows they are real when it comes to bright lights. It gets me.

The menu in Peppermint is laid out very well. and is snappy, even on old hardware. It looks good, works well and thankfully has a “recent applications” and and “Favorites” section.

The Peppermint Settings Panel is a great tool that has just about everything I would need as a desktop user. The System Information Tool, sakura gives me more than what I need but will happily accept. Interestingly, one of the tools is a system wide Ad Blocker that you can set. Sure, that’s not so good for cubiclenate.com but since there are so many websites out there that, in my opinion, misbehave in their advertisement exposure, this is good to reduce a lot of that unwanted traffic and distractions.

Ice could possibly be my favorite PeppermintOS feature that I wish I had on openSUSE. Everything else is basically there but I haven’t come across a “Web Apps” integration outside of using Chrome. I wanted to not emphasis this but I really can’t help it.

Lastly, I was able to install from the boot menu. That is a huge win for me. I do appreciate this as an option.

There are a lot of great features of PeppermintOS, like many distributions, this is put together very well and I can see many use cases for it. In an effort to not turn this into a novel, I will leave it here as my top likes.

What I don’t like

I prefer to to have the final commit button at the end of the installation, just as openSUSE does it. From my estimation, once you commit to the writing of the disk partitions, you have already committed and there is no turning back. I could go through the entire process on openSUSE and still back out at the very end after I am given a rollup of all the changes and such. Truly, this is not a criticism of the Peppermint team in choice of installations steps, this is purely a preference. In the end, this really doesn’t matter much.

I am not sure how to think about having Microsoft Office 365 as the default office suite but this can be easily changed. I shouldn’t put this under “What I don’t like” as it is something I just don’t know what to think about.

Final Thoughts

Peppermint OS is certainly with giving a try. I need to take some more time on it and I am putting this distribution of Linux as one of my top, smile-producing Linux distributions. It is certainly worth the time to try out, especially on older hardware. Was fascinated by the inclusion of Office 365 as the office suite. This could almost be the antithesis of a Chromebook, which is nice to see.

For more on what other Linux enthusiasts think of PeppermintOS, check out this meeting of the minds from the BigDaddyLinux community.

I thank the team that has created Peppermint for the effort they have put into this, there has been a lot of time taken on the look and feel of Peppermint and it shows.

Further Reading

https://peppermintos.com/

https://software.opensuse.org/package/imagewriter

neofetch | Command-Line System Information Tool

VirtualBox.org

BigDaddyLinux Community Chatter

BigDaddyLinux.com