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).
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.