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My Ubuntu Experience Part 3: GNOME vs Windows

The interface in Ubuntu is actually not Ubuntu but GNOME. For those of you who don’t know the Linux world is divided into two major graphical user interfaces (GNOME and KDE) and one minor, XFCE. No matter if you choose SuSE, Mandrake or Ubuntu you will most likely use GNOME or KDE. Basically the kernel, software-updates and packaging is what is Ubuntu, not the desktop interface itself. However the Ubuntu team implements the desktop theme and decides on which packages (applications) and drivers that should be included by default.

So what are the main differences between Windows Vista and GNOME? Well first off there are three “start-menus” instead of one (Applications, Places and System). They are by default in the top-bar of the desktop, the open applications are in the bottom. Naturally you can move around the menus to make them suit your needs, windows-users might wanna move the three menus to the bottom location for better windows-resemblence.

Other than the default-layout there are few real differences between Windows and GNOME. However there is one neat feature in GNOME that Windows does not have, the ability to use different workspaces. When running out of room on the desktop in Windows the only option is to add another display. However in GNOME you just move to another workspace using the same screen, very neat. It is very odd that Microsoft have not implemented this feature in Vista, both GNOME, KDE and Apple OS X has workspaces.

I like the three menus instead of one giant menu, it is easier to navigate depending on what you want to do. For example if I just want to open my word-processor I don’t want to try distingushing it from a number of other applications.  The applications menu in Ubuntu is divided in Accessories, Games, Graphics, Internet, Office and Sound&Video. The Places menu is where you have shortcuts to Music, Pictures, different drives and the ability to search.  All configuration and maintenace is done using the System-menu, there are also some fairly large help sections about GNOME and Ubuntu.

Windows Aero was apparently more for show than for real use, the Ubuntu team actually developed some 3D effects of their own to counter. If you turn up the detail level (System->Preferences->Apperance->Visual Effects) you will be able to see windows moving around like the wind and little ripple effects when you click something. The effects are not turned on by default. If you change from one workspace to another you will get a nice little cube-effect, how cool is that? The Apperance section also gives you the ability to change themes, fonts and general icons.

Desktop search is all the rage these days, Google and Microsoft is gearing up to own the search-engine on your desktop. GNOME is however way behind. First of all the search-engine is located in (Places->Search), so basically I have to click my way down to find it. It could have been placed somewhere more prominent, how about where the name of the current computer user is.  After all most users will probably know their name after all? Second the search-engine is slow, and resembles the horrible search functionality seen in Windows XP. It is impossible to search for shortcuts in the applications menu, and you can’t just start a program by entering the first three letters of it as in Windows Vista.

There is a “Show desktop” -icon in GNOME, and it has a much better place than in Windows. If you click the lower left corner the system will hide all currently open windows and show the desktop. Also the recycle bin has a more prominent position in GNOME, in the lower right corner.  Overall the effects in Windows Vista has a much better look than in GNOME, especially together with Dreamscene. But GNOME seems more productive in its layout, I love the extra workspaces and placement of stuff often used.  When it comes to desktop search GNOME is way behind Windows Vista, I actually miss the simple and fast search-functionality in Vista a lot.

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