The freedom to configure

Sebastian Geiger sbastig at
Mon Apr 25 08:44:46 UTC 2011

Today I read a critique on the German by Michael Kofler
titled "Unity - Der Anfang vom Ende für Ubuntu?" (Unity - The beginning
of the end of Ubuntu?)[1]

The article spawned a huge discussion about the pros and cons of
choosing default settings and removing the options to change these
settings. Instead of giving even more arguments for or against these
changes I wanted to just share the way I configure my desktop. Hopefully
this will give some insight for the developers how the flexibility of
having more options can be used by users. I have posted the comment on
the original article and on my blog [2]. Here is what I wrote:

The freedom to configure your Desktop

Many arguments have been given about the pros and cons about Gnome 3 and
Unity and the value of fewer versus more options to configure the
desktop. The general critique is that both try to enforce default
settings while removing the ability to configure things different.
Instead of giving even more arguments I want to give an example about
how I configure my Desktop and why I value the flexibility to configure
and adjust the Gnome Panel and the Desktop (both in Theme and Layout).

First of all here is a picture of my current Gnome Desktop:

Now a short explanation about the things that I have changed and my

   1. I have a relatively small notebook with a 12.1″ screen and
1024×768 pixels. That means screen real estate is relatively important.
   2. I prefer to have the panel at the bottom rather then at the top.
Additionally I dont like to have two panels (top and bottom) like its in
the default Ubuntu configuration. Therefore I have combined all the
applets that I need in one panel and placed it at the bottom.
   3. I am using the window-picker-applet instead of the normal
window-list-applet. I find it very useful to only see the icons and not
the name of the window and it saves a lot of my screen real estate.
   4. I removed the application menu because it used to much space and I
can easily call it with Alt+F2.
   5. I am not using virtual windows, thus I have removed the applet.
   6. I have changed the background color to a light orange and the
window title to a light blue.
   7. I have put the buttons for minimize, etc. back to the right. I
think if I had the automatic window tiling function of Gnome 3 (move it
to the top right/left to make it half the screen size)  then I could as
well do without the buttons.

The freedom to configure the desktop according to my own needs is very
important and valuable to me. In comparison, on Windows you even cannot
change the background color of the task bar, not to mention removing the
start button or changing the general composition of the task bar.

I would never occur to me to suggest (or even enforce) that my settings
become the default settings for Gnome, as I am well aware these settings
would not necessarily suite many other people. Never the less it is
important to have the flexibility to configure the panel as one wishes.
Developers can make design choices which are suitable for most users but
they should never remove the option to diverge from the default values,
thus taking users the ability to configure things different from the
standard. Especially this ability should be integrated into the GUI
directly, and not in various tools that have to be installed separately
or via configuration options that are only accessible from dconf/gconf
tools and in config files.

If anybody was to tell me that I can only put the panel at the top of
the screen then personally this would be reason enough for me to change
to a different Window Manager.

The only things that I do not like about my current desktop
configuration are because of a lack in configurability or bad design.
First in the indicator-session-applet (which is designed by Ubuntu by
the way) it is not possible to hide the user name. I find this very
annoying because my user name takes up a lot of space and the buttons
(logout and IM status) would be enough for me. The second thing is that
I have to rearrange all the applets if I connect my laptop to my
external 22″ screen. I find it a bit ironic that this has only been
fixed in gnome 3 now that the gnome-panel is actually doomed to become
obsolete anyway. Anyway here is the article that explains that applets
can now only be aligned right/left or centered and not by absolute
positioning: Long Live the Gnome Panel (Align your applets correctly). I
wish they had introduced this a bit earlier in Gnome 2 (maybe it can be


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