GTK 3.10 Drops Menu Icons and Mnemonics
At the risk of turning this into the ‘bad news blog’, I have discouraging news regarding the release of GTK 3.10, which has now reached Debian Testing.
While working on SpaceFM recently, I noticed that all of the menu icons are gone.
No menu icons, meaning no app icons in the Open menu. This is the new GTK3 default, unannounced as far as I can tell, and not publicly discussed. I see from an Ubuntu thread back in 2009 that GNOME made this their default back then. That thread indicated that GNOME (which I don’t use) has a configuration editor to turn menu icons back on, and there was rumor of the option being removed eventually. The developers deemed it “less cluttered”.
In GTK 3.10, you can still add the line ‘gtk-menu-images = true‘ to ~/.config/gtk-3.0/settings.ini to turn them back on. Yet if this was already the GNOME default, why make it a new GTK default five years later, breaking current behavior? Are they planning to disable them entirely soon? A quick search reveals no discussion or documentation on this change.
As an app developer, I can tell you that most GTK and GNOME users won’t change that setting, or even be aware that it exists. Thus my app will be icon-less, and the settings for customizing menu icons in SpaceFM won’t have any effect. I thought GNOME was always the icon-driven UI compared to KDE, so this seems very strange.
No Mnemonics Either – At All
In addition, as you can see in the above shot, mnemonics have been removed entirely. These are where eg “Copy” in the menu has an underlined ‘C’, allowing you to press Alt+C to activate it. SpaceFM allows you to customize these too. Mnemonics have also been removed from dialog labels, meaning, for example, you can no longer press Alt+N in SpaceFM’s rename dialog to put the cursor in the Name box, and you can’t click an OK button by pressing Alt+O.
Unlike the missing menu icons, it appears that mnemonics have been permanently disabled. Per the GTK 3.10 docs: “gtk-enable-mnemonics has been deprecated since version 3.10 and should not be used in newly-written code. This setting is ignored.” IOW, it’s also impossible to turn them back on with gtk-enable-mnemonics = true in settings.ini, and themes can’t override this either. I say this appears to be the case, because I can find no further documentation or discussion of this change. [UPDATE: It seems you can press the Alt key once to make the mnemonics appear while the mouse is over an item. Anyone know how to disable this feature and make them always shown? Please leave a comment.]
Good luck to disabled persons with limited or no mouse use. And based on feedback, many people use these mnemonics, myself included. Key shortcuts provide a much faster UI than clicking a mouse, especially for commonly repeated tasks.
Fortunately, SpaceFM users can choose a GTK2 build of SpaceFM (most distros offer packages for both for compatibility with MATE, etc), and I personally plan to drop use of GTK3 due to this change, as well as their breaking existing defaults and behavior. I don’t want to deal with lost and broken functionality everytime I update my system – it interrupts my workflow. Plus I use mnemonics at times, especially with annoyingly slow touchpads. Yet for apps that have ‘moved forward’ to GTK3, such as Roxterm, we’re stuck with mnemonic-less menus and dialogs.
What is the vision and motivation behind permanently removing such core UI functionality, not just changing the toolkit default, which is bad enough, but killing it entirely? All that GTK and app code, debugged and working well, now in the trash bin. Whatever their vision is, I don’t like it. Their rampage of removing functionality is clearly just getting started.
At some point, I believe I may need to drop GTK3 support entirely from SpaceFM, but we haven’t reached that point yet. This change doesn’t require me to re-code anything, it just diminishes the user experience when GTK3 is used. I had planned to make the GTK3 build the default soon, but I believe I will stick with GTK2 as a default, and for stability I recommend that to users. If it comes to a point where I can’t support both, I will drop GTK3. I’m not chasing after all their time-wasting breakage. And many projects have been resisting the move to GTK3, which I think is wise. I guess it’s telling that the GIMP project, the original developer of GTK (GIMP Toolkit), is sticking to GTK2, and they’ve been told not to expect to be able to use GTK3 for such a robust app.
This still presents problems, because using a mixture of GTK2 and GTK3 apps on your system is wildly inefficient. This means that library components of both versions must be resident in memory, as well as all the components related to GTK, such as icon caches, etc. You’re basically doubling the system requirements and slowing it down. For this reason, I strongly advise app developers to support a hybrid GTK2/GTK3 build. While it requires a few ifdefs, it’s reasonable. See SpaceFM’s gtk2-compat.h for some ideas.
Further, developing an app on a toolkit that is no longer actively developed or supported presents obvious problems. Yet GTK3 is supported so poorly, and the developers of it respond to app developers and users so arrogantly and dismissively, that it’s effectively the same. Yet how long will GTK2 remain compatible with changes in X, glib, and other components? Lets hope some forks get going strong.
This solidifies my conspiratorial opinions that GTK is deliberately being driven into the ground by Red Hat, alienating users and developers, both to turn the corporate-developed Qt into THE monolithic Linux UI toolkit, and perhaps to convert GTK into some kind of tablet-only nightmare. “Linux is a government, military product, right down to its core” – the core engineering is controlled almost exclusively by Red Hat, regardless of what distro or DE you use. I guess the military isn’t keen on recruiting disabled persons, so why bother with mnemonics? And who needs icons in a colorless corporate world? I can understand why app developers, even in Xfce and LXDE, are being slowly driven to Qt, yet once everyone is in that corporate boat, where will the captain take it?