I have been a GNOME fan for years. I actually liked the switch from 1.x to 2.x, and at some point switched to 3.x when it became somewhat usable. At some point, I even started some small Gnome projects, one even was uploaded to the Gnome repositories. But I didn’t have much time for my Linux hobby anymore back then.
However, I am now switching to XFCE. And for all I can tell, I am about the last one to make that switch. Everybody I know hates the new Gnome.
My reason is not emotional. It’s simple: I have systems that don’t work well with OpenGL, and thus don’t work well with Gnome shell. Up to now, I can live fine with “Fallback mode” (aka: Gnome classic). It works really good for me, and does exactly what I need. But it has been all over the media: Gnome 3.8 will drop ‘fallback’ mode.
Now the choice is obvious: instead of switching to shell, I go to XFCE. Which is much closer to the original Gnome experience, and very productivity oriented.
There are tons of rants on GNOME 3 (for one of the most detailed ones, see Gnome rotting in threes, going through various issues). Something must be very wrong about what they are doing to receive this many sh*tstorms all the time. Every project receives some. I’ve even received a share of the Gnome 2 storms when Galeon (an early Gnome browser) made the move and started dropping some of the hard-to-explain and barely used options that would break with every other Mozilla release. And Mozilla embedding was a major pain these days. Yet, for every feature there would be some user somewhere that loved it, and as Debian maintainer of Galeon, I got to see all the complaints (and at the same time was well aware of the bugs caused by the feature overload).
Yet with Gnome 3, things are IMHO a lot different. In Gnome 2, it was a lot about making things more usable as they are, a bit cleaner and more efficient. With Gnome 3, it seems to be about experimenting with new stuff. Which is why it keeps on breaking APIs all the time. For example themeing GTK 3 is constantly broken; most of the themes available just don’t work. Similar Gnome Shell extensions - most of them work with exactly one version of Gnome Shell (doesn’t this indicate the author has abandoned Gnome shell?).
But the one thing that was really sticking out was when my I updated the PC of my dad. Apart from some glitches, he could not even shutdown his PC with Gnome-shell. Because you needed to press the Alt button to actually get a shutdown option.
This is indicative of where Gnome is heading: something undefined inbetween of PCs, tablets, media centers and mobile phones. They just decided that users don’t need to shutdown anymore, so they could as well drop that option.
But the worst thing about the current state of GNOME is: They happily live with it. They don’t care that they are losing users by the dozens. Because to them, these are just “complainers”. Of cousre there is some truth in “Complainers gonna complain and haters gonna hate”. But what Gnome is receiving is way above average. At some point, they should listen. 200 posts long comment chains from dozens of peopls on LWN are not just your average “complaints”. It’s an indicator that a key user base is unhappy with the software. In 2010 GNOME 2 had 45% market share in the LinuxQuestions poll, XFCE had 15%. In 2011, GNOME 3 had 19%, and XFCE jumped to 28%. And I wouldn’t be surprised if GNOME 3 shell (not counting fallback mode) would clock at less than 10% in 2012 - despite being default.
Don’t get me wrong: there is a lot on Gnome that I really like. But as they decided to drop my preferred UI, I am of course looking for alternatives. In particular, as I can get lots of the Gnome 3 benefits with XFCE. There is a lot in the Gnome ecosystem that I value, and that IMHO is driving Linux forward. Network-manager, Poppler, Pulseaudio, Clutter just to name a few. Usually, the stuff that is modular is really good. And in fact I have been a happy user of the “fallback” mode, too. Yet, the overall “desktop” Gnome 3 goals are in my opinion targeting the wrong user group. Gnome might need to target linux developers more again, to keep a healthy development community around. Frequently triggering sh*tstorms by high-profile people such as Linux Torvalds is not going to strengthen the community. There is nothing wrong in the FL/OSS community to encourage people to use XFCE. But these are developers that Gnome might need at some point.
On a backend / technical level (away from the Shell/UI stuff that most of the rants are about), my main concern about the Gnome future is GTK3. GTK2 was a good toolkit for cross-platform development. GTK3 as of now is not, but is largely a Linux/Unix only toolkit - in particular, because there apparently is no up to date Win32 port. With GTK 3.4 it was said that they are now working on Windows - but as of GTK 3.6 they are still nowhere to be found. So if you want to develop cross-platform, as of now, you better stay away from GTK 3. If this doesn’t change soon, GTK might sooner or later lose the API battle to more portable libraries.
Update: Some people at reddit seem to read this as if I am switching out of protest. This is incorrect. As “fallback” mode is now officially discontinued, I switch to the next best choice for me: XFCE. And I do this switch before things start breaking with some random upgrade. I know that XFCE is a good choice, so why not switch early? In fact, I’ve right now only given XFCE a test drive, but it already feels right, and maybe even slightly better than fallback mode.