Face to face with Karmic Koala

One thing that does irritate the heck out of me with the new Karmic Koala release of Ubuntu is the new “face greeter” that Gnome have introduced with version 2.28. This shows up when you boot your system as a list of users that you might like to login as, with a customisable icon next to each. You then have to click on one of these entries with your mouse before an input field opens up for you to enter your password into, allowing you to login.

Although the screens are pretty, it’s nowhere near as convenient or as fast as being presented with an input field into which you just type your userid and then your password. It’s also almost identical to the login process that Windows XP introduced a few years back, which I always felt (perhaps uncharitably) was designed for people who couldn’t remember their userid, and needed a little picture instead.

Anyway, me being me, I want my login process back the way it was thank you.

However, the GUI that Gnome have provided to customise the login screen is somewhat deficient in this area, despite a bug report asking for some improvements. You can either have the “face greeter”, or you can select a userid to be logged in automatically without any user interaction (optionally after some time-delay). And that’s it.

Fortunately they provide a command line tool which allows you to customise many, many characteristics of the Gnome environment, called gconftool-2. And after some digging around it turns out that there are some settings related to the login panel (also known internally within Gnome as “gdm”) which can be adjusted using this tool, including one setting which disables the new “face greeter”. So if you, like me, don’t like this new behaviour, simply open up a terminal and type (on a single line) :

sudo -u gdm gconftool-2 --type bool --set /apps/gdm/simple-greeter/disable_user_list 'true'

The result still isn’t exactly the same as it used to be, as the login screen now comes up with a single button, labelled “Log In”, which you must click before being given the old, familiar password/userid entry field. Which is also deeply annoying, as this breaks a fundamental of user interface design, namely why ask the user to press a button when there are no other options available? Just take them to the next decision point in the process. Fortunately, a bug has been opened against Gnome to fix this, so hopefully we will see it resolved, but whether it will be in time for the final release of Karmic Koala Ubuntu is another matter entirely.

4 thoughts on “Face to face with Karmic Koala

  1. Another example of GNOME stealing liberally from OS X, I think you will find. When I was a GNOME developer I was ironically unaware of just how much my then-chosen desktop of choice was taking cues from the Mac, but I guess since I’ve migrated Mac-wards I’ve seen just where the ideas come from.

    Inclined to agree with your usability assessment, I have to say!

    • Surprisingly, despite 20-odd years in IT, I’ve yet to actually use a Mac, so I’m woefully unaware of the features and functions available (to be “borrowed” or otherwise!)

      I should really keep an eye out for a cheap(er) second-hand apple notebook to play with, but the prices seem to remain sky-high 😦

      • Aye well, that’s quality for you, Richard 🙂

        Next time you’re in the office you’re welcome to come and have a prod around Mac OS X – I think you’ll find a lot of commonalities with GNOME.

        And yes, I should really have used the word “borrowed” there – GNOME is being inspired by the best ideas from both Windows and OS X in many ways. It is interesting that there are few things which are truly unique in the Linux desktop environments, in my opinion.

        • Very true – sometimes you just have to pay a little more. Will look forward to catching up with you and your macbook soon!

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