i-830c036e77c61895e51f4a6cb2080591-windows_vs_linux.jpgSome current news in the Linuxosphere, and some things going on on my very own desktop, have me wondering about the nature of the Linux Desktop. Here are a few questions to ponder.

Are Gnome and Ubuntu ruining the Linux Desktop? And if they are, what do we do about it?

Is Linux currently at a fundamental disadvantage that people are often not considering, having to do with how computers are set up?

Is it possible that the Linux Desktop is going to surpass the Mac in use? And why or why not?

Let’s start with the first question.


Why am I asking if Gnome and Ubuntu are ruining the Linux Desktop? Because they are. There are two trends that we are seeing in both Ubuntu and Gnome development, that we also see in other areas (like The Gimp). In order to appreciate these trends, it is important to remember the fundamental Unix philosophy, which of course applies to Linux and other *nix systems as well:

Break problems down to constituent parts.
Do a kick-ass job of solving whichever parts you can solve.
String the parts together to ultimately reach your original solution.
Stick to a plan by which you can string the parts together.

This last part is especially important but it is also fairly easy to do in a scripted and command-line environment, but probably gets hard in a GUI and object-oriented environment. But that’s not what I want to talk about.

The trend in Gnome and some other development areas seems to have two parts: 1) add on more stuff with every release; and 2) redesign rather than accumulate changes.

Both of these things could be good. Adding more is always good, as long as the user has a chance to un-add or opt out. By adding more I mean, obviously, features, eye candy, dohickeys, and so on. More stuff might equal more functionality, but it may also mean more drain on resources. It is very important that the added stuff not involve added overhead even for users who do not want the added stuff. I’m concerned, though, that this may be happening.

Redesign may be a good thing when the design that is evolving is getting clunky and hard to work with. But redesign also sets the user back on the learning curve, and can cause other problems, like, with how systems function together.

I’ll give you an example. The Gimp has been somewhat redesigned. Not very much, but the current version, to which I just (apparently) upgraded, has a couple of changes that I did not expect. Previously (like, last week), if I wanted to free select then wipe out a bit of a graphic, I would select the free select tool, outline the area of interest with it, then grab the area with the cursor and move it off the graphic. Now, the mode that the free select tool defaults to does not allow me to do that grab and drag step without selecting some other option or pressing some button that I don’t know where it is…. My work flow is damaged and now I have to go searching around in The Gimp documentation to find out how to change this back or do it more efficiently. (I found a way, but this was still annoying). That is the kind of thing a Microsoft Office application does … change how it works with every iteration.

You know, I sometimes use Emacs. Actually, I sometimes wish I was an emacs user. I go back and forth between thinking that it is fundamentally cool and thinking it is an atavistic ancient paradigm that we need not be saddled with. However, this is true: I have an emacs manual that tells me what I need to use the software, and the manual is twenty years old. And still works. Emacs is capable of doing a zillion times more today than it was twenty years ago, but the fundamentals are the same. This is a drastically different situation than, say, Microsoft Word.

If redesign is needed, so be it. But please, don’t let redesign occur as a directive of marketing desires. Only redesign when necessary.

The Gnome environment talks to me more with every iteration. It pops up tips nd windows telling me shit I do not want to know. It is getting more and more Windows-like with each iteration. I hate that. KDE is no better, maybe worse.

What do we do about it? Complain, of course. But another option is something we Linux users have that Windows users simply don’t have and Mac users claim to have (but they don’t either).

Options.

If I don’t like Gnome, I can use a different windows manager. When I first started using Linux, I experimented with a bunch of different ones, and I ended up chosing and using Gnome because it worked better and had the look and feel I wanted. But there were a couple of other projects out there that were developing nicely and that I think might be worth a try now. Xfce and Enlightenment come to mind. As Gnome converges on Microsoft Windows, Linux users will diversify their choices and I predict that at least one of the ‘minor’ desktops will emerge as the mean and lean choice.

What is Ubuntu’s roll in this? There really isn’t one. Ubuntu is not just a distro, it’s also a community, and Ubuntu has shown a fair degree of responsibility to the different directions the community seems to want to go in. But by suggesting that “Ubuntu is ruining Linux” in the title, I figure I’ll catch more trolls.

Please see a continuation of these remarks here.

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Haubrich, FCD
    July 25, 2008

    I’m wondering if Ubuntu has a Mac emulator, so that when my son gets games designed for Windows or Mac’s I can choose the Mac option instead of the Windows. That’d be nice.

    Yup.

  2. #2 BJN
    July 25, 2008

    Why don’t call the other user and take a poll?

  3. #3 Jeff Darcy.
    July 25, 2008

    I’m getting a bit concerned about the two major desktops too. I’ve been a KDE guy for years. When Ubuntu Hardy rolled around I installed the GNOME flavor because the KDE flavor wasn’t ready yet. I’m familiar with GNOME from work, and I figured it couldn’t be too bad. In fact it hasn’t been too bad, but I want to scream every time avahi-daemon – for which I have absolutely no use at all – nukes my network configuration. I’d get rid of it, but some complete moron made the whole GNOME desktop depend on that POS so I can’t. What excuse is there for making a *desktop* depend on something like that? None.

    OK, so maybe I should go back to Kubuntu. Or maybe not, since the KDE folks have made even bigger asses of themselves than the GNOME folks lately. KDE4 was simply broken, and after seeing some of the “blame anybody else” BS online from some of the KDE project’s so-called leaders I’m tempted to avoid KDE from now on just on general principle. They don’t deserve the credit of a large user base.

    I used to use Xubuntu on my upstairs machine. I wasn’t wild about it, but at least it wasn’t a complete clusterf*** and the developers weren’t total jerks. Maybe I’ll just go that route next time I do a round of upgrades.

  4. #4 Mike Widner
    July 25, 2008

    When I upgraded from 7.10 to 8.04 I switched from Gnome, which I had been using for years, to KDE. I’m glad I did. Under Gnome, my system was starting to demonstrate noticeably slowing, but the integrated PIM suite in KDE has things running fast again. Kmail also seems much faster than Evolution.

    But, beyond the performance boost, the little I’ve used KDE 4 has me very excited. It looks beautiful and I like the functionality so far. Of course, I’m waiting until at least 4.2 to actually use it regularly, but I suspect that once it’s mature it’ll be a much better window manager than Gnome or KDE 3.5.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    July 25, 2008

    Anybody looking at Enlightenment?

  6. #6 Todd
    July 25, 2008

    I’ve been running GNOME ever since installing Hardy and I must say that it does not seem all that better than Xfce, except that it chews up resources. Xfce is lightweight, stable, and unobtrusive. It’s what a Linux desktop should be. It’s only downside is the smaller collection of apps that are available, requiring installation of GNOME or KDE junk to fill in the gaps.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    July 25, 2008

    Todd: You mean like Evolution and stuff? I suppose the use of the Gnome libraries by such apps means that gome is kind of installed even if you are using XFCE but that may not actually be entirely true. I think XFCE has worked with Gnome to carry over some efficiencies. I read something about this … running some of the Gnome apps under XFCE is not as bad as it might seem. and yes, it otherwise seems to work like gnome…. It is really like Gnome light.

  8. #8 Todd
    July 25, 2008

    Both GNOME and Xfce are built with GTK+, so GNOME apps work very well under Xfce, but you still have to add a lot of libraries to support GNOME apps running on Xfce.

  9. #9 J S
    July 25, 2008

    I’ve used bot Kubuntu and Xubuntu since 5.10, and on some really old equipment (like P2-266Mhz up through P4-3Ghz).

    There is a real performance drag between the K/X/Ubuntu flavors – most easily observed on desktops running slower than 500Mhz (and not using full eye-candy settings). I usually recommend a 1Ghz cpu for Gnome, 700Mhz cpu for KDE, and 300-500Mhz for Xfce. Of course, someone converting an XP or Vista box to Linux won’t be anywhere as old as those boxes and probably won’t see any difference between WM speeds.

    I have a P2-500mhz that I use for travel and client presentations that works fine under Xubuntu 8.04. However, I have noticed some slight “bloat” since 5.10 on the Gnome/KDE front. I could also see some speed differences on a P4-2Ghz with on-board graphics – wouldn’t run Sauerbratten at much over “5” fps on Kubuntu 6.10, but ran reasonable in the “30” fps range on Xubuntu 6.10.

    I usually recommend anyone using Windows to start with Kubuntu, if they lean toward Mac then they should use Gnome, and if they want speed but are not averse to manually making some tweaks then go for Xubuntu – though Xubuntu 8.04 is far ahead of 7.10 in a lot of ways.

    J

  10. #10 Stephanie Z
    July 25, 2008

    Grrr. Pointless tips = pet peeve. Thank you, but I can read my menus and I can use help if can’t figure out where a function is buried. Otherwise, I can already do it, and any “tips” are just getting in my way.

  11. #11 Mario Pineda-krch
    July 26, 2008

    Gnome, KDE, yada yada yada… Humbug! FVWM beats the pant off all those bloated windows managers. I have been using FVWM for the last 15 years and would not exchange it for a million dollars. Sometimes, less is more.

  12. #12 Paul
    July 26, 2008

    Does Gnome really add on more stuff with every release? Maybe there’s new applications, but that’s not a bad thing. But I’ve noticed that Gnome has a terrible habit of removing features from newer releases of software.

    Look at Epiphany; there’s been so much removed from it, that it’s getting to the point where it’s next to useless. You can’t even tell it to open up all popup windows in a new tab, now.

  13. #13 Rob
    July 26, 2008

    The thing I don’t like about GNOME is that it seems like it’s a bunch of stuff thrown into a package. It doesn’t feel like things are meant to complement each other. In KDE things all the programs fit together to form an environment. It seems like GNOME doesn’t.

  14. #14 Brian X
    July 26, 2008

    My personal preferences lean KDE (which is a little iffy when I’m used to working in a Mac environment, but whatever). But KDE is not as polished as I’d like. GNOME has the polish, but it’s a moving target — current GNOME looks nothing at all like the last version of it that I used, oh, five years or so ago. And it’s the nature of the open source community to fight over things — like any form of idealism, everyone has a different idea of how to accomplish the mission, but no one has an interest in synthesizing and compromising. Short of Linus himself endorsing one desktop over another (something that would neither be expected nor sensible), the desktop war will likely never end. This, more than anything else, is what’s hurting desktop Linux, especially inasmuch as they render the kernel issue largely moot (let’s be honest — KDE/GNOME are KDE and GNOME on Linux, *BSD, Solaris, and any other related systems they run on).

    I’ve been thinking a bit over the past few weeks about a feature that would probably be a very, very good idea for Linux to have. Mac OS (at least the Classic version, not sure about X) has a function called the Gestalt Manager — it’s a bit of code tucked into the operating system API that allows an application program to query its environment for various system resources and tailor its operation accordingly. (Apple added it to the standard libraries for System 6 and then rolled it into the OS for System 7.) This is a very cool feature that is absolutely impossible on Linux — there’s at least half a dozen major windowing toolkits (GTK+, Qt, wxWidgets, Xt/Xlib, Tk, oh lord where does it stop), numerous underlying APIs and services (CUPS, ALSA, JACK, Mono, Perl, Python, the shells, and those are just the common ones), and any number of other things, all of which are essentially first-class citizens that somehow manage to coexist with each other and are more or less necessary to any Linux environment. Let’s not forget how it’s not entirely out of the question for a single Linux box to have three different libcs and multiple userlands (though the latter wouldn’t come up much outside someone’s home directory).

    Even if a Linux Gestalt manager was practical (something that using large numbers of shared libraries makes difficult at best), it would be impossible to enforce — cross-platform API developers would ignore it, someone would have run a central repository for gestalt codes, and overall developers wouldn’t even be able to count on it being there at all, never mind being reliable. It becomes a problem of herding cats with no catherd.

  15. #15 Sven
    July 26, 2008

    @Jeff Darcy

    You can disable avahi completely without any side-effects like this:

    sudo /etc/init.d/avahi-daemon stop
    sudo rm -f /etc/rc*/*avahi*

    It won’t start up next time you boot.

  16. #16 Luca Bruno
    July 26, 2008

    I think you can fit in one of the following:
    1) Never used GNU/Linux
    2) Newbye GNU/Linux user
    2) Hates GNOME
    3) Hates Ubuntu

    I’ve stopped reading this blog post here: “The trend in Gnome and some other development areas seems to have two parts: 1) add on more stuff with every release; and 2) redesign rather than accumulate changes.”

    Neither of the two are right.

  17. #17 Daeng Bo
    July 26, 2008

    I disagree with the premise that Gnome is more Windows-like with each release. Since Gnome 2.0, it has been about creating defaults which work for most people, but those defaults are unrelated to how Windows does them.

    If you watch the Gnome development list, you’ll see this situation often:
    Outsider: New users expect Behavior A because that’s the way it works in Windows.
    Developer: Behavior A isn’t compatible with the Gnome HIG and it goes against the consistent behavior of other Gnome applications.
    Outsider: But we’d get more users if …
    Developer: End of discussion. Next!

    If you think that Ubuntu has Windows-like attributes and these reflect Gnome, then you should try vanilla Gnome in some other distribution. Get Nautilus in the spatial configuration and spend a week getting used to it, hating it every second, before you realize that it’s really a better way to work.

    Gnome has had the same HIG since 2.0 or so. It follows the same user interface. Some things have changed, but they are largely related to Freedesktop.org’s specs being updated and Gnome trying to be compliat. KDE also tries to be compliant. Openbox is also on that train. It’s a good thing. Standards make the desktop better.

    Unix. Piping together programs. These are great strengths.

    Totem sits on top of GStreamer which sits on top of ESD (or Pulse Audio) which sits on top of ALSA which sits on the kernel module. Plugins extend it.

    GStreamer itself uses plug-ins to extend itself and is command-line able. Totem uses plug-ins to extend itself and is command-line able. They now are DBUS-aware.

    Some applications on Gnome go against the Unix way of doing things, and that bothers me. Evolution is too monolithic. F-Spot is too monolithic. These applications should be layered the same as Totem and Rhythmbox are.

    If you don’t like Gnome, theat’s fine. Don’t use it. Please don’t call Gnome Wondows-like or non-Unixy.

  18. #18 DaveB
    July 26, 2008

    We seem to be falling into the “Linux=Ubuntu” trap. Everything I’ve seen in this article and the posts refer to Ubuntu or a derivative.

    I’m certainly NOT a Ubuntu hater, but it’s not my choice as a distro and it is by no means the only viable distro out there. Beyond that, there are many distros that work better on different PCs than Ubuntu.

    If this article is about LINUX and GNOME and KDE – why has it dummied down into a discussion about Ubuntu derivatives?

  19. #19 Jenny
    July 26, 2008

    Sir, that is an incorrect picture of Tux. Please see: Will the real Tux please stand up?

  20. #20 Mikey
    July 26, 2008

    Sorry that the geek squad is suffering while Linux, Ubuntu, Mandriva and others become more mainstream to appeal to us in the great unwashed herd.

    We don’t care about all the bit twiddling. We want to install it easily. Turn on the computer and have it work. And be able to do basic task. Ubuntu, with Gnome, is the best of the breed at this point.

  21. #21 Vanilla Gnomeboy
    July 26, 2008

    KDE is just a Windows pimped up clone. Gnome has every bit of variety – just check http://www.gnome-look.org. Or use emerald/compiz. Gnome is simply less complicated and thus more mainstream.

  22. #22 Aureola Nominee, FCD
    July 26, 2008

    I’ve been using Puppy Linux for a couple of years now, and frankly I find it much more user-friendly than Ubuntu. Oh well, to each his own.

  23. #23 Greg Laden
    July 26, 2008

    what desktop does the puppy use by default?

  24. #24 David Canzi
    July 26, 2008

    Sven recommended the following solution to Jeff Darcy’s problem with avahi-daemon:

    /etc/init.d/avahi-daemon stop
    rm -f /etc/rc*/*avahi*

    The second step is not easy to reverse. I’d suggest this instead:

    chkconfig avahi-daemon off

    Then if something breaks, you can undo what you’ve done:

    chkconfig avahi-daemon on
    /etc/init.d/avahi-daemon start

    chkconfig is in /sbin, if your shell can’t find it.

    There’s a lot of crap in /etc/init.d. (Or maybe that’s just because I run Fedora.) You can try turning things off to see if you notice anything different afterwards. As long as you can su, sudo or log in as root, you can reverse what you’ve done.

    Many things done for our convenience turn out to be nuisances. After one system upgrade, when a familiar command behaved in an unfamilar manner, I tracked the problem down to an alias defined in /etc/bashrc. The following lines became a permanent addition to my .bashrc:

    # Aliases provided for our convenience mostly
    # cause surprise and inconvenience.
    unalias -a

    Perhaps when they’re adding any new feature to a system they should ask themselves: will this feature that I think is so cool really be helpful to end users?

  25. #25 David Canzi
    July 26, 2008

    After I posted the preceding message I went and looked in /etc/init.d and saw two things there that you should not turn off: iptables and ip6tables. If you shut them off, you won’t notice anything different, but your computer will be more vulnerable to attacks over the network.

    Before you turn something off find out what it does and what you might need it for. For most people there is no reason to turn off a service unless it’s actively a nuisance.

  26. #26 Debianero
    July 26, 2008

    I use Xfce, Enlightenment and KDE3 series.

    I don’t like Gnome and probably I’ll hate KDE4 ;)

  27. #27 notzed
    July 26, 2008

    I think part of the problem is new developers come along and think they have the answer and because they are more keen/pushy than existing projects (which probably just work well enough) they replace older ones.

    So you go from a relatively stable product with a few flaws to an unstable one (often with a radically different interface cloning the latest crap from windows or macos) with the potential (only the potential) to fix those flaws in the future. By the time it gets to a stable point (after a torturous route of discovery) it’s developers are sick of it, and the whole cycle repeats. See PulseAudio for example.

    GNOME is way too fat. Even xfce isn’t very slim. Also, writing desktop applets/apps in scripting languages like python might be good for some developers but it just leads to slower and fatter apps that will not stand the test of time. And this is one thing ubuntu IS encouraging – to the detriment of linux users everywhere. Windows core apps aren’t written in visual basic (or c#), why should it be that way in gnome?

  28. #28 finid
    July 27, 2008

    Damn, you beat me to it! I was just about to write something similar, but other matters got in the way.

    I totally agree with you, Ubuntu and distros based on it, are doing a dis-service to Linux, It’s really sad. As for the latest KDE, and the Plasma look, I am disappointed. It’s almost as if Linux distro and desktop devs do not understand the desktop.

    Anyway, I’ll leave the rest of my thought for my article

  29. #29 thomas
    July 27, 2008

    I’ve been running Enlightenment for many years now. I started with Red Hat and KDE. KDE was nice back then, but I disliked how similar it was to CDE and that there wasn’t a lot of creativity in it. I used Gnome after that for a while, but I found it to cluttered and messy. While using Gnome, I used Enlightenment as the windows manager. When I got tired of Gnome, I just felt Enlightenment was natural. I like how clean I can make it and how simple it is to modify user menus. I’ve been using Enlightenment DR16 for years, and I figure that I will go and see how DR17 works.

    As for Ubuntu, I have been a Debian user since 2000 or so. I never even knew what this Ubuntu thing was when I first started hearing about it. I think Ubuntu serves a role, the same role as Mandrake/Mandriva did at one time. I just thought it was funny when people would suggest I try Ubuntu even after I explained that I was more then happy with Debian. I also thought it was funny when they explained how great the .deb packages and apt were.

    I also get annoyed when The Gimp modifies the UI. I hate updating it in fear that I will have to relearn where a tool is located.

  30. #30 Greg Laden
    July 27, 2008

    Enlightenment seems to have no easy way to change the font size of the menus and such.

  31. #31 llewelly
    July 27, 2008

    I dislike both Gnome and KDE – mostly because they take up lots of resources and mostly interfere with my working style. This doesn’t necessarily mean they’re ‘ruining the linux desktop’ – as far as I’m concerned, as long as I can replace them ratpoison or wmii, I’m happy. (Yes, I know, Gnome & KDE are ‘desktop environments not window managers’ – but the window manager is the only part of a desktop environment I find useful. ) As for emacs, once you get used to dabbrev-expand, there’s no going back. (If you’ve used the tab-completion feature of bash, tcsh, or zsh, dabbrev-expand is something similar for random text writing. For example, while writing this post, I didn’t type out ‘dabbrev-expand’ three times – I only typed it once. The other two times I typed ‘da TAB’.)

  32. #32 Han
    July 28, 2008

    Gnome or KDE, it’s purely your choice. I like Ubuntu, but I still use KDE-based softwares like Kile and Kdevelop, and they run under Gnome with KDE library just fine. The problem for some Linux developer is that they don’t look at the big picture. When M$ is having like 70%+ of the desktop market share, it is unbelievable to see people likes Gnome/KDE have to fight each other.

  33. #33 Lachild
    July 28, 2008

    “Enlightenment seems to have no easy way to change the font size of the menus and such. ”

    It does, however you have to pick from a set of default options. My problem is the font size of “Default” is too small and the next one up “Large” is way too big. You have to remember that tt’s still in beta and I imagine that as we get closer to release this will correct itself over time.

  34. #34 rob enderle
    July 28, 2008

    ENTIRE COMMENT DELETED AND TROLL BANNED FROM THE INTERNET FOREVER

    Funny too, he was a Canadian.

    .. the management.

  35. #35 Monzo
    July 28, 2008

    Don’t use it if you don’t like it.

    Greg, thank you for trying to break open a discussion that will never ever be solved.

    I use Ubuntu 8.04 on my notebook because it just came out when I bought the thing and a colleague of mine told me ‘everything worked out of the box’. He was right.
    Do I like it. No

    I have used Debian since Sarge (started in about 2003) and nowadays I have two desktops and a server running Lenny (the upcoming stable)

    The reason I don’t like Ubuntu is not important. The distribution’s choices are definitely not mine.

    There is a new development in Debian: LXDE (http://lxde.org/)
    Will this succeed? No, because it is based on GTK+.
    Developers don’t realize that using a library / libraries is a trap that you cannot get out of. Once in, you’re stuck with the methods and every bit of (un)logic thought of. Therefore lxde will become the new Gnome.

    Why are people who use FVWM, WMII an other windowmanagers happier?
    Because they look for the tools that work, according to the UNIX way. (see above for an explanation)

    Window managers tend to be graceful, aware of their surroundings and generally independant of sound, browsers and other userland software.

    Why did ubuntu become successful? Because it is based on Debian.
    Who will use it? People who don’t know what they are doing (just like in Windows)

    Once a person will realize that control is not scary, but can be learned… he will use a distro upstream (Debian, Slackware, whatever) and not look back.

    The same goes at the level you have achieved when you understand more about GNU/Linux: “Don’t use it if you don’t like it.”

    p.s. When Lenny is stable, it’s byebye Heron!

  36. #36 Matthew
    July 28, 2008

    Incredibly funny. I remember back in the late 90’s, that the stated goal behind the Linux Desktop development was to make it more “Windozie” stating that if we were to do such that it would gain greater acceptance among the throng of win2k/98 users. Now that Linux has had a somewhat mainstream approval, we’re saying it needs to be unique and retain ideals that we had when?

    Microsoft is a tight lipped cold corporate closed door evil juggernaut, but some layout things have been done right. They’ve already spent millions on the research of user preference. Why reinvent the wheel? Why present an alien atmosphere for possible convertees?

    Has the attitude of the commmunity become something that says, “Hey all possible linux users are already here!” Have we given up conversion for a sense of being elite?

    I am a Ubuntu user. But I have had many other flavors. I’ve built LFS dozens of times and tried just about every thing linux iso’s could throw down the pipe. Yet I chose Ubuntu. Why? Because it has a nice balance of hackability combined with tools for automation of those mind numbing repetitive tasks. And hey, it looks nice. This is coming from a reformed KDE user. KDE 4.0 huh. Next!

    We need to focus on what is wrong in the Linux world currently. We are about as far as we need to go with the eye candy. Lets start unravelling this dependency hell.

  37. #37 joe ferrare
    July 28, 2008

    I keep coming back to Fluxbox because I want to focus on what I’m doing, which means the application. Fluxbox gets out of your way — not only screen real estate-wise (important on my 12.1″ laptop), but otherwise. It gives you the time, a way to switch between desktops and applications, and a menu. I use multiple desktops to keep my apps separated, so I don’t miss the fancy task bars, pagers and all that. I use the scroll wheel over the task bar or the desktop and get to what I want. I do have fbpanel on my desktop machine (after all, I’ve got 1680 pixels to work with), but more often than not I don’t use it, and don’t miss it when I move to my laptop.

    I think the problem with Gnome (and I was a big Dropline Gnome fan for a while) is that they use the OS to do things an application should be doing. For example, the Places and System menus. They should be icons that launch Nautilus or a control panel. Throw all those shortcuts on the application you’re inevitably going to open. Assuming people want or need that convenience is the same as assuming they need a little window to pop up and tell them what their cursor is pointing at. Maybe they could have a couple of modes: Newbie; OK I Get it, Turn Off The Tool Tips, Already; and Shut Up, I’m Tweaking Here!

    And as for all the associated PIMs and whatnot, it’s all collapsing into the browser anyway. Since I started using Google Docs I’ve stopped using a word processor on my machine, and days go by when I only open Firefox, Thunderbird (which could go away any time), Rox and aterm.

  38. #38 HLG
    July 28, 2008

    Mikey don’t hate on the “geek squad” too much… remember.. those are the people who will get you the results you want, ie: “install it easily. Turn on the computer and have it work. And be able to do basic task”. In the process though don’t expect them to mindlessly shot themselves in the foot… making distros into little more than clones of Windows in terms of look-n-feel. Its a balancing act. I use Linux exclusively at the office and at home. Everything except web surfing, email and document writing is pretty much done command line. I don’t ever use Nautilus, I run mplayer from the command line, I edit my config files by hand (gasp) in emacs, running in a terminal. I wipe away the GUI as often as I can and I get things done twice as fast :-)

  39. #39 Eric
    July 28, 2008

    I just want to say I strongly agree with the position that Gnome is damaging the linux desktop. Let me give a personal example…

    Being a resource-conscious user, I switched to the OpenBox window manager. This means that I no longer use the NetworkManager panel control for my Wifi, since of course I don’t have any of the Gnome panels on my screen. This in turn made Firefox think that I was not connected to the internet and so it always started in Offline mode. In order to solve this I had to “apt-get remove” the NetworkManager entirely, meaning that if on some occasion if I ever need it in a Gnome session, or someone else using this computer decides to use Gnome, the Wifi panel control isn’t available. Checking for connectivity should be a function implemented at least two layers lower. It was short-sighted and very poorly engineered.

    I could go on and on, but my point is that the Gnome-way of doing things really loses sight of the UNIX-way of doing things and is certainly a liability to linux. I love linux, and I use it on a daily basis, but the fact that Gnome is such an integral part of the desktop experience (regardless of what window manager you use) is a very sad reality. Thank you for writing this article.

  40. #40 Christopher
    July 28, 2008

    You don’t like Gnome. There is a novel idea! You postulate some theory that all open source software uses some “fundamental Unix philosophy.” Then you whine about GIMP changing a command. Then complain that Gnome is getting more “windows like.” And wrap up by saying that you put “Ubuntu” in the title to catch trolls? Is there a point here?

    I guess if I blogged about biology you’d think “what a dumb ass” too…

  41. #41 chemicalscum
    July 28, 2008

    1. To switch off avahi-daemon in Gnome you don’t need any command line tricks. You simply open System|Administration|Services then uncheck “Multicast DNS service discovery (avahi-daemon)”.

    2. Linus has endorsed KDE which he personally uses and has roundly criticised Gnome for being too dumbed down. This doesn’t stop people like me who prefer Gnome to KDE from using Gnome.

    I am an old Unix user from my days in grad school before Linus had made his first OS release and a Linux user now for over seven years and I just prefer the ease of use of the default Gnome Ubuntu with the ability to delve in deep when necessary.

  42. #42 David Canzi
    July 28, 2008

    Using the command line is not a trick.

    I just searched through KDE’s menus and found out that you can use them to disable and enable the services in /etc/init.d but, knowing already how to enable and disable services from the command line, I never had any motive to search the menus for this other way to do it.

    And now. having found it, I see no advantage in it.

  43. #43 Jeff Darcy
    July 28, 2008

    The problem with the suggestions for disabling avahi – I do know this stuff, really I do – is that it tends to come back the next time the system is updated, but package managers tromping all over users’ expressed preferences is a whole different rant. The point here is that the pseudo-dependency on avahi should never have existed in the first place. It’s just some stupid GNOME developer who couldn’t be bothered separating a true dependency from some other cruft he happened to have on his own system for his own convenience or entertainment. FOSS is supposed to be about choice, but lazy developers routinely make some choices much harder than they need to be.

  44. #44 Jeff Darcy
    July 28, 2008

    Oh, and BTW, I meant to mention that the menu method of disabling avahi simply doesn’t work. People who suggest things they haven’t actually tried themselves are yet another rant, though. I’ve got a million of ‘em.

  45. #45 Greg Laden
    July 28, 2008

    Have you considered replacing the avahi executables with null code dated to one thousand years into the future? Then it won’t be updated, and won’t do anything.

  46. #46 chemicalscum
    July 28, 2008

    David I was referring to being able to switch of in Gnome. Jeff Darcy said in his early post:

    “I’m familiar with GNOME from work, and I figured it couldn’t be too bad. In fact it hasn’t been too bad, but I want to scream every time avahi-daemon – for which I have absolutely no use at all – nukes my network configuration. I’d get rid of it, but some complete moron made the whole GNOME desktop depend on that POS so I can’t. What excuse is there for making a *desktop* depend on something like that? None.”

    My point is that not only is Gnome not dependant on avahi-daemon being active, it provides a fairly obvious way to switch it off from within Gnome. It’s just that the Ubuntu desktop requires it to be installed. If you don’t like what a program is doing, trying to uninstall it is not always the best way of solving the problem.

    The command line is very powerful, I use it a lot as I grew up on SunOS, and System V., but in general I prefer not to get involved in editing the init files as it requires me to think and I have only a limited time for that. In fact I haven’t edited the init files since the the days I was running RH6 and Mandrake 8.

  47. #47 andrew
    July 29, 2008

    if people had access to video introduction to the whole of linux then these would not be problems as most people would see and understand the modularity of this cool Operating System and be able to take full advantage of all its caveats as the ‘guys in the know’ (guys that have usually used linux for more than 5 years) do -mixing and matching all the necessary elements

  48. #48 Jeff Darcy
    July 29, 2008

    Oh, so it’s the GNOME flavor of Ubuntu, and not GNOME itself? That makes everything so much better.

    Greg, are you sure it won’t get “updated” that way? I don’t trust package managers that much, after long experience with several, and wouldn’t be at all surprised if my changes still got stomped. Maybe I’ll try it just for grins. There are several approaches that I have tried and several more that I could try, but as annoying as this behavior is I really do have better things to do. It takes me all of about twenty seconds to open up a terminal window, fetch the necessary commands from my history buffer, and re-execute them to get my network back. If I have to do that ninety times before I ditch this version of Ubuntu and run something else, that’s still less time than wading through the grotty swamp of GNOME/Ubuntu configuration crud would require. I spend all day every day writing and debugging system-level stuff on Linux; I don’t want to spend my evenings that way too. The obvious method of fixing or avoiding obvious brain-damage failed. Anything after that is me cleaning up after them, and they’ve done nothing to deserve it.

  49. #49 David Canzi
    July 29, 2008

    David I was referring to being able to switch off in Gnome.

    It sounds like Jeff Darcy tried that and it didn’t work.

    My point is that not only is Gnome not dependant on avahi-daemon being active, it provides a fairly obvious way to switch it off from within Gnome. It’s just that the Ubuntu desktop requires it to be installed. If you don’t like what a program is doing, trying to uninstall it is not always the best way of solving the problem.

    Agreed… it’s safer to reversibly disable than to remove.

    (KDE will turn off any service in /etc/init.d. If Gnome is similarly indiscrimate, the fact that it lets you turn off a service may not be evidence that it doesn’t need that service.)

  50. #50 Bernhard
    July 30, 2008

    On Debian the problem begins right in the net-installer. The “desktop” super-meta-package carpet-bombs your box with so many convoluted cross-dependencies that you end up with enough conflicts for two boxes.

    For a good (and safe) laugh try this on a Debian system installed with the super-meta option “desktop”:

    “apt-get -s purge evolution”.

    Well, actually you may cry in your beer, depending on your disposition.

    All distros need to learn 2 lessons fast:

    1.) glitz and varnish have never solved problems.
    2.) on a standalone desktop the user IS the admin. So please get rid of all passages in manuals that say “Ask your admin…” and replace them with meaningful info and some working examples presto!

    Q: How can Linux ever rule the desktop?
    A: Make it a step by step well structured and fun learning experience instead of simply trying to dumb down wholesale at all cost! A half hour working demo a la “vim-tutor” can do more for convincing the user than all this abstracting away and hiding.

    Latest greatest. Somebody has infested the Lenny repositories with a ton of apps that were compiled against a version of a library for which there is no shared object yet. Result during a dist-upgrade? A festival of warning messages a la “We’ll continue, but expect problems!” Explain that to Aunt Tillie.

    BTW, re Avahi (which IMHO is a POS). It seems to be a “recommendation” rather than a hard dependency. In Lenny – with “treat recommendations as dependencies” toggled off – Synaptic will remove avahi-daemon – no questions asked. (Well, you have to click OK)

  51. #51 Greg Laden
    July 30, 2008

    Jeff: you are very likely right, but if it does not then one has discovered a cool technque. Or a dangerous security bug.

    But seriously: It takes me all of about twenty seconds to open up a terminal window, fetch the necessary commands from my history buffer, and re-execute them to get my network back. = you need a script. There must be some other things you like to check now and then too. Like, run the disk check utility and reset the number of times since last check to some highish number, empty out a few logs, and check your system email (which is probably loaded with interesting items).

    Bernhard “Make it a step by step well structured and fun learning experience instead of simply trying to dumb down wholesale at all cost!”

    Brilliant. That is my new motto.

  52. #52 Ryder
    January 21, 2011

    Yet another original posting, I like it. I wanted to say I just checked out other topics on here and I have to say it’s pretty good. Good show.