GNOME: rethinking window management

While most of us are used to this system and its quirks, that doesn’t mean it’s without problems. This is especially apparent when you do user research with people who are new to computing, including children and older people. Manually placing and sizing windows can be fiddly work, and requires close attention and precise motor control. It’s also what we jokingly refer to as shit work: it is work that the user has to do, which is generated by the system itself, and has no other purpose.

Most of the time you don’t care about exact window sizes and positions and just want to see the windows that you need for your current task. Often that’s just a single, maximized window. Sometimes it’s two or three windows next to each other. It’s incredibly rare that you need a dozen different overlapping windows. Yet this is what you end up with by default today, when you simply use the computer, opening apps as you need them. Messy is the default, and it’s up to you to clean it up.

There are a lot of interesting ideas in what GNOME is working on to address these issues, and it includes a lot of new thinking and new approaches to windowing. I have a lot of reservations, though.

I do not like it when windows do something out of their own volition. A window should be where I put it, and manipulating one window should not make any changes to the shape or position of other windows, unless I’m specifically asking the window manager to do so (e.g. using the side-by-side snap feature, which I never do). There’s nothing I hate more than my UI deciding what’s best for me. Windows should be where I put them – until I explicitly instruct my window manager to put them somewhere else.

I also do not understand this obsession with fullscreen windows. I just don’t get it. Unless it’s a video or a game, none of my windows ever go fullscreen, whether it be on a small 13″ laptop display, or on my 28″ 4K desktop monitor. I find fullscreen claustrophobic, and it almost never makes any sense anyway since virtually no application actually makes use of all that space. You just end up with tons of wasted space. Designing a UI with fullscreen as a corner stone absolutely baffles me.

As such, some of these ideas for GNOME worry me a tiny bit, since they go against some of the core tenets I hold about my UI. I’ll see how it works out when it ships, but for now, I’m cautiously worried.


  1. 2023-07-27 6:14 pm
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  5. 2023-07-30 10:53 am
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