My contributions to GNOME as a non-coder and how you can too!

The power of suggestions in open source software.

Last week I shared my user-facing contributions to elementary OS and it was received well. So this week I’m sharing my contributions to GNOME that didn’t involve any coding whatsoever! GNOME is the interface+apps suite powering Ubuntu, Fedora and many more Linux-based operating systems.

I’m an open source enthusiast who thinks while Linux is great and works for me, it isn’t ready for the masses yet. So whenever possible I do my part and contribute. But here’s the thing, I don’t know how to code. Instead, since I have a thing for good UX, I file bug reports with UX suggestions. It turns out that if the project owners like your ideas, they go ahead and implement said features which then reaches all their users!

I must note beforehand that unlike elementary, I haven’t had much success in getting GNOME to even consider my ideas, but that’s alright. I’m sharing the few ideas that did get implemented because even a small change in GNOME benefits the majority of the current Linux users as well as new ones.

File transfer notifications

I love the feature in elementary’s amazing file manager where it notifies you on completion of file transfers if the app is in the background. I thought it’d be great to have it on GNOME as well, so I filed a bug report suggesting the same. I’m happy to say that as of one week ago, a commit to that effect has been merged!

Notifications on completion of file transfer tasks in elementary OS’ Files. The feature will soon come on GNOME as well!

I’ve filed a report for GNOME Disks to send notifications too, seeing that it has many such actions that can take a long time to complete. If you are a developer, you can pick it up for implementation. If you’re not, you can weigh in with your thoughts on the idea.

Better Nautilus

Nautilus, GNOME’s file manager, didn’t allow you to “add bookmarks” from the right-click context menu. Turns out the option existed, lying in the location bar’s context menu instead, which was odd. So I filed a request to add it in the context menu where more people will find it and it was implemented.

Another small feature that I suggested and was added is showing tooltips on action buttons upon hover, because their icons were difficult to tell apart from one another for new people.

Confusing action button icons in GNOME's file manager with no labels/tooltips to help either. Guess which icon does what!

Improved unit conversions

GNOME has a really good universal search feature, invoked by hitting the “Super/Win” key or pointing the cursor to the top left of the screen. It can search apps, files, the software center, do mathematical calculations and more. I accidentally discovered it can do unit conversions too, powered by GNOME Calculator in the background.

But the unit conversion feature only worked when typing say “10 m in cm”. It didn’t work when using natural words like “10 m to cm” or “convert X to Y”. So I filed a bug report and voila, both GNOME Search and Calculator now do unit conversions in a more natural and discoverable way.

GNOME's unit conversion feature only worked when using the word "in", not "to", but now it does!

Conclusion

I was able to contribute a few but meaningful user-facing features to GNOME by merely suggesting changes and not knowing how to code. Remember, all those features reached thousands and thousands of users as GNOME is the most widely used Linux Desktop Environment!

Overall though, I must note that I had a rather frustrating experience with contributing to GNOME. Not accepting feature suggestions because they don't match "your philosophy" is fine, but the rather rude way in which many things are shot down and issues closed with no explanations whatsoever doesn’t inspire me to contribute in the future.

Anyway, I hope my post inspired you. Go contribute to your favorite open source project! Open source is an amazing thing, everyone can contribute in ways that suits them and the resulting product works better for all. 🙂


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