October 24th, 2006


Moving to Edgy Eft reminds me once again...

...about what an utter piece of shit gnome-screensaver is.

The story so far:

GNOME has been widely criticized in some corners, including some famous ones (e.g. Linus Torvalds), for becoming dumbed-down and unconfigurable (save via editing a registry-like data structure) in the name of user friendliness. GNOME's developers know what you should have better than you do, and you had damned well better like it!

I personally hadn't found that an encumbrance... until, with the Dapper Drake release of Ubuntu, GNOME came with a new screensaver, gnome-screensaver, by default.

gnome-screensaver does do a semi-reasonable thing, namely separates power management concerns from the screensaver. (OTOH, that does mean that all those apps that want to inhibit the screensaver now get to check whether GNOME is running and do so differently if that's the case.) However, it does one unforgivable thing: it doesn't just consider the user stupid. It considers the user to be The Enemy.

The user is someone who will point GLSlideshow at his pr0n collection, or make GLText say "the king is a fink" or something legally actionable as a "hostile working environment" on his desktop at work. The user must therefore be denied essentially all control over the screensaver, and sure enough, gnome-screensaver lets you choose from the following:

1. the interval of inactivity to allow before the screensaver(s) start
2. whether you want a particular screensaver or a random choice from those allowed you. (Oh, you say you want flurry and starfish, but not greynetic, which gives you a headache? Sorry, Charlie, you don't get to select that.)

Many of the screensavers take command line parameters, e.g. how many cows do you want bouncing. You can't control that. You are the user, and hence The Enemy. Only the system administrator can.

One has to give the developer of gnome-screensaver some credit. The version that came with Dapper Drake would not let you see a full-screen preview of any screensaver, for you as a user shouldn't be bothered with setting parameters to control CPU load or rendering speed--the screensaver itself should look at its environment to determine the CPU and graphics capabilities of the system it's running on, and also presumably psychically divine the aesthetic preferences of the user, and set itself accordingly. He appears to have relented with the version that comes with Edgy Eft, though, for you can get a nearly full-screen preview.

That said: the attempt to enforce political correctness via gnome-screensaver is misguided and futile (what's stopping one from turning off the screensaver and leaving an OpenOffice document up that says "the king is a fink" in 144 point Bitstream Sans Vera bold, or kview running a slide show of his pr0n collection?), and, combined with the developer's high-handed arrogance in responding to requests for user configurabilty and a full-screen preview, has only managed to make a lot of enemies.

Unfortunately, the GNOME project has no way to have its nose rubbed in how many people uninstall gnome-screensaver (which you can't do in Ubuntu without removing an important meta-package) and continue to run xscreensaver. Anyone have a good idea about how this kind of feedback can be seen?
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