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Ask Slashdot: Are Linux Desktop Users More Pragmatic Now Or Is It Inertia? 503

Posted by Soulskill
from the beards-give-a-+50%-modifier-to-inertia dept.
David W. White writes "Years ago ago those of us who used any *nix desktop ('every morning when you wake up, the house is a little different') were seen as willing to embrace change and spend hours tinkering and configuring until we got new desktop versions to work the way we wanted, while there was an opposite perception of desktop users over in the Mac world ('it just works') and the Windows world ('it's a familiar interface'). However, a recent article in Datamation concludes that 'for better or worse, [Linux desktop users] know what they want — a classic desktop — and the figures consistently show that is what they are choosing in far greater numbers than GNOME, KDE, or any other single graphical interface.' Has the profile of the Linux desktop user changed to a more pragmatic one? Or is it just the psychology of user inertia at work, when one considers the revolt against changes in the KDE, GNOME, UNITY and Windows 8 interfaces in recent times?"
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Ask Slashdot: Are Linux Desktop Users More Pragmatic Now Or Is It Inertia?

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  • Classic Desktop (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BasilBrush (643681) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:10PM (#46130655)

    What is a "Classic Desktop" and in what way are the other GUIs being discussed not "Classic Desktops"?

    • Re:Classic Desktop (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:15PM (#46130671)

      I RTFA and didn't quite find the answer to your question.
      I think it means users are conservative. Other than KDE users, most people are using something that undoes GNOME's "upgrades".
      Me, I use KDE. But that doesn't mean I don't use several GNOME apps. Disk space and RAM are cheap enough nowadays that you don't have to choose one or the other.

      • Re:Classic Desktop (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2014 @09:00PM (#46131305)

        I RTFA and didn't quite find the answer to your question.
        I think it means users are conservative.

        Exactly. Once you have a setup that works for you, you don't change it. There are enough other things to tinker with anyway. (New kernels, interesting applications, even games.) Then you get older. I have used icewm for 15 years, why should I change? Many things have gotten better over time - even LaTeX has improved. But "desktops" haven't. The alternatives are just different. Not better. Not more efficient. Cooler perhaps, but I won't bother re-learning anything just for cool.

        They waste so much time developing GUI stuff, when positioning is all I use the window manager for. Work is done on the command line, or in a few graphical applications. The window manager is just for positioning stuff. Not for effects, not for configuring "look and feel" or anyting else. Configuration is in /etc/ where it belongs - and is accessed exclusively via command line.

        • Yeah, seriously, start my applications, don't crash, and get out of my way. I do like how in Windows 7 sanity prevailed and we were able to hit one key start typing a few characters...hit ENTER, and you have what you need. The best advancement in desktops was getting rid of that damned silly mouse.

          • ...that pressing the super key (aka windows key) and typing is not an innovation exclusive to windows 7 don't you?

            IIRC win8 retains that ability though I don't use that os. My regular desktop is GNOME 3 and it works just like that too.

            The thing with Win8 and GNOME3 is that there is so much angst over what amounts to the introduction of a full screen launcher to replace a stale but familiar cascading drop down menu launcher. In both cases once you launch the same old apps all that crap is out of sight.

            Of the

            • Re:you do know... (Score:5, Insightful)

              by 0123456 (636235) on Sunday February 02, 2014 @02:56AM (#46132427)

              The thing with Win8 and GNOME3 is that there is so much angst over what amounts to the introduction of a full screen launcher to replace a stale but familiar cascading drop down menu launcher. In both cases once you launch the same old apps all that crap is out of sight.

              If the change is really so insignificant... why the hell would you change it?

              Oh, because it's 'stale', and God forbid, we can't have anything 'stale' when we could have NEW and SHINY.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by maxwell demon (590494)

                Because everyone is going crazy on the idea of using the exact same interface for desktops and mobile phones. Even though it simply doesn't make sense. They are different devices, with different physical interfaces and different usage styles.

                I mean, it makes very much sense to use the same underlying technology. But one user interface to rule them all does not work well.

              • Re:you do know... (Score:4, Insightful)

                by cascadingstylesheet (140919) on Sunday February 02, 2014 @10:30AM (#46133751)

                If the change is really so insignificant... why the hell would you change it?

                Oh, because it's 'stale', and God forbid, we can't have anything 'stale' when we could have NEW and SHINY.

                Great question.

                People are always telling objectors that the changes are both insignificant, and also so absolutely essential that they just need to get with the program. Doesn't make a whole lot of logical sense.

        • by pmontra (738736)
          Exactly me too.
          After a lot of tuning my Ubuntu desktop is down to this: a bottom bar with the names of the open windows; the Applications and Places menus; a very seldom used icon to minimize all windows; the Netspeed and the System Monitors applets; the generic applet that collects application icons for Skype, Shutter, Dropbox, keyboard layout switch, network manager, logout and the HH:MM clock.
          I use ALT-F2 to run Firefox, Thunderbird and Emacs in the rare cases I have to close them. Basically they boot
    • Re:Classic Desktop (Score:4, Informative)

      by aliquis (678370) <dospam@gmail.com> on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:20PM (#46130711) Homepage

      Yeah, KDE is a freaking classic desktop. At least as long as you don't switch to the tablet look of it.

      Gnome to has always tried it's best to show a familiar look until 3/shell.

      • by PopeRatzo (965947)

        At least as long as you don't switch to the tablet look of it.

        Why would you want to do that?

        Is there a new rule that desktops have to look the same as tablets now? Why wasn't I consulted?

        • by aliquis (678370)

          One reason for doing so would be that you're running KDE on a tablet.

          Another one could be that you're running it with a touch monitor. Either at home or say presentation kiosk somewhere.

          A third alternative because you like the clean look of it.

          A fourth could be that you decided to develop it because it could be done using Plasma and you're checking it out.

          A fifth that you by accident / curiosity clicked the Activities widget and picked it.

          And so on.

          Lots of reasons. I'm totally fine with such an option exist

        • KDE Active is a version of KDE that is designed to work on tablets. It's pretty nice, for tablets. It sucks for desktops, which is why it's not installed by default for desktops. You CAN install it on a desktop easily enough, for development or masochism. Unlike Gnome 3/Shell/Windows 8 where they integrated the tablet and desktop OSes KDE kept them separate, though using the same base code.
      • by Rich0 (548339)

        Yup - this is why I run KDE. It is about as clean as xfce interface-wise, but it has the searchable launcher that most of us like, and it is extremely tweakable with applets/widgets/etc. You can basically stick anything anywhere (a desktop in your task bar, a window pager on your desktop, etc).

        I keep it fairly classic, but I appreciate the fact that in any of the native apps I can just use a fish:// URL to browse files on remote ssh servers, automounting works, and all that. I still tend to use the comma

    • Re:Classic Desktop (Score:4, Insightful)

      by transporter_ii (986545) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:25PM (#46130733) Homepage

      Posting this from Ubuntu 10.04 LTS, and I consider pre-Unity as a "classic desktop," and it is Gnome.

      Seriously, I have nothing against change, but I think there should be a cross-distro standard desktop that JUST FREAKING STAYS THE SAME. There should also be bleeding-edge environments for more adventurous people. Why shouldn't people have a choice? But it would be nice to install most any popular version of Linux and get a standard desktop.

    • by aussersterne (212916) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:39PM (#46130837) Homepage

      using too many words. He means that users of personal computers (as opposed to mobile devices) want simply a "desktop."

      As in, the metaphor—the one that has driven PC UI/UX for decades now.

      The metaphor behind the desktop UI/UX was that a "real desktop" had:

      - A single surface of limited space
      - Onto which one could place, or remove files
      - And folders
      - And rearrange them at will in ways that served as memory and reasoning aides
      - With the option to discard them (throw them in the trash) once they were no longer needed on the single, bounded surface

      Both of the "traditional breaking" releases from KDE and GNOME did violence to this metaphor; a screen no longer behaved—at least in symbolic ways—like the surface of a desk. The mental shortcuts that could draw conclusions about properties, affordances, and behavior based on a juxtaposition with real-world objects broke down.

      Instead of "this is meant to be a desktop, so it's a limited, rectangular space on which I can put, stack, and arrange my stuff and where much of my workday will 'happen'" gave way to "this is obviously a work area of some kind, but it doesn't behave in ways that metaphorically echo a desk—but I don't have any basis on which to make suppositions about how it *does* behave, or what affordances/capabilities or constraints it offers, what sorts of 'objects' populate it, what their properties are,' and so on.

      I think that's the biggest problem—the desktop metaphor was done away with, but no alternative metaphor took its place—no obvious mental shortcuts were on offer to imply how things worked enough to allow users to infer the rest. People have argued that the problem was that the new releases were too "phone like," but that's actually not true. The original iPhone, radical though it was, operated on a clear metaphor aided by its physical size and shape: that of a phone—buttons laid out in a grid, a single-task/single-thread use model, and very abbreviated, single-option tasks/threads (i.e. 'apps' that performed a single function, rather than 'software' with many menus and options for UX flow).

      Though the iPhone on its surface was a radical anti-phone, in practice, the use experience was very much like a phone: power on, address grid of buttons, perform single task with relatively low flow-open-endedness, power off and set down when complete. KDE4/GNOME3 did not behave this way. They retained the open-endedness, large screen area, feature-heavy, and "dwelling" properties of desktops (it is a space where you spend time, not an object used to perform a single task and then 'end' that task) so the phone metaphor does not apply. But they also removed most of the considered representations, enablements, and constraints that could easily be metaphorically associated with a desktop.

      The result was that you constantly had to look stuff up—even if you were an experienced computer user. They reintroduced *precisely* the problem that the desktop metaphor had solved decades earlier—the reason, in fact, that it was created in the first place. It was dumb.

      That's what he means by "classic desktop." "Linux users want a desktop, not something else that remains largely unspecified or that must instead be enumerated for users on a feature-by-feature basis with no particular organizing cultural model."

      • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:25PM (#46131079)

        After 20 years of experimentation, the conclusion is that the desktop metaphor is probably too complex for the average user. Power users appreciate floating windows, file hierarchies, multiple screens, notification bars, hierarchal menus etc. Meanwhile the more typical user maximizes one window at a time, clicks icons, and saves everything in the same place. The "phone/tablet" model is much closer to the average person's mental map of how a computer should work.

        The problem is that Linux users are 'power users' almost by definition so KDE/Gnome were terrible places to experiment with replacing the desktop metaphor.

        • by E-Rock (84950) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:40PM (#46131167) Homepage

          I wish I could disagree, but I help so many users that run one program full screen. I just sit back and shake my head as they constantly switch from one program to another instead of arranging the program windows to see everything they need at one time.

          It really start to piss me off when they have two monitors and switch between two programs, both on the main screen, both full screen. Then they wonder why it takes so long to get things done.

        • by aussersterne (212916) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:40PM (#46131171) Homepage

          Except that the desktop cannot work using the phone/tablet model because user expectations do not suggest that metaphor when they sit at a desktop.

          Even if the desktop metaphor was too complex to master, users still sit down at a desktop and think, "now where are my files?" because they intend to "do work in general" (have an array of their current projects and workflows available to them) rather than "complete a single task."

          As was the case with a desk, they expect to be able to construct a cognitive overview of their "current work" at a computer—an expectation that they don't have with a phone, which is precisely experienced as an *interruption to* their "current work." KDE, Gnome, and most recently Windows 8, made the mistake of trying to get users to adopt the "interruption of work" mental map *as* the flow of work. It's never going to happen; they need to be presented with a system that enables them to be "at work." In practice, being "at work" is not about a single task, but about having open access to a series of resources about that the user can employ in order to *reason* about the relatedness and next steps across a *variety* of ongoing tasks. That's the experience of work for most workers in the industrialized world today.

          If you place them in a single-task flow for "regular work" they're going to be lost, because they don't know what the task is that they ought to be working on without being able to survey the entirety of "what is going on" in their work life—say, by looking at what's collected on their desktop, what windows are currently open, how they're all positioned relative to one another, and what's visible in each window. Ala Lucy Suchman (see her classic UX work "Plans and Situated Actions"), users do not have well-specified "plans" for use (i.e. step 1, step 2, step 3, task 1, task 2, task 3) but are constantly engaged in trying to "decide what to do next" in-context, in relation to the totality of their projects, obligations, current situation, etc. Successful computing systems will provide resources to assist in deciding, on a moment-by-moment basis, "what to do next," and resources to assist in the construction of a decision-making strategy or set of habits surrounding this task.

          The phone metaphor (or any single-task flow) works only once the user *has already decided* what to do next, and is useful only for carrying out *that task*. Once the task is complete, the user is back to having to decide "what to do next."

          The KDE and GNOME experiments (at least early on) hid precisely the details necessary to make this decision easy, and to make the decision feel rational, rather than arbitrary. An alternate metaphor was needed, one to tell users how to "see what is going on, overall" in their computing workday. The desktop did this and offered a metaphor for how to use it (survey the visual field, which is ordered conceptually by me as a series of objects). Not only did the KDE and GNOME not offer a metaphor for how to use this "see what is going on" functionality, they didn't even offer the functionality—just a series of task flows.

          This left users in the situation of having *lost* the primary mechanism by which they'd come to decide "what to do next" in work life for two decades. "Before, I looked at my desktop to figure out what to do next and what I'm working on. Now that functionality is gone—what should I do next?" It was the return of the post-it note and the Moleskine notebook sitting next to the computer, from the VisiCalc-on-green-screen days. It was a UX joke, frankly.

          The problem is that human beings are culture and habit machines; making something possible in UX is not the same thing as making something usable, largely because users come with baggage of exactly this kind.

    • What is a "Classic Desktop" and in what way are the other GUIs being discussed not "Classic Desktops"?

      Tail fins & Chrome.

      Well, scratch Chrome.

  • by Michael Krummel (3521527) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:16PM (#46130675)
    Linux users just haven't fell victim to the mass hysteria of solving a problem, which never existed. Apple designed an appealing desktop, and as their market share increased, Microsoft began throwing UI designs against the wall. Then people started buying phones and tablets, so designers decided no one wanted a functional desktop anymore. Gnome 3 decided to screw everything up, then Ubuntu decided they wanted everything screwed up in a different way. KDE made the same traditional desktop demand more resources, making it unusable.
    • by jbolden (176878)

      Microsoft was talking about the shift away from desktops towards tablets in 1999. What happened in 1999-2008 was that sales were still solid and no one wanted to endanger the core product by making the radical shifts needed for a dual purpose system. You can agree or disagree with Microsoft but let's not pretend that tablets were not something Bill Gates was focused on heavily as the next step of the GUI from pretty much the time the Windows 95 GUI got the kinds out.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        If they had such a head start, why have they failed so miserably?
        • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

          by Billly Gates (198444)

          They didn't want a Windows 8 disater so they made the UI as desktop one complete with a non touch friendly start button.

          The Office team sabotaged it too by making sure the fonts were not LCD friendly for freaking 7 years. They didn't like the tablet.

          The infighting at MS was INSANE during Balmers tenure. Now it is starting to change but out of necessity as the fruity company they laughed at and left for dead is more powerful.

          If I wrote that last sentence in 1999 I would be laughed at and modded down as a -1

      • by Entropius (188861)

        Why is "dual purpose system" a good thing?

        It is no sin to make a different GUI for a device with a 7" screen that is controlled by a touchscreen and runs on a few watts, a device with a 21" screen that is controlled by a keyboard and mouse and runs on a hundred watts, and a device with a 4" touchscreen whose power draw is measured in milliwatts.

        Microsoft's failure was to think that we wanted a consistent user experience for all these things.

    • by fnj (64210)

      Linux users just haven't fell victim to the mass hysteria of solving a problem, which never existed. Apple designed an appealing desktop, and as their market share increased, Microsoft began throwing UI designs against the wall. Then people started buying phones and tablets, so designers decided no one wanted a functional desktop anymore. Gnome 3 decided to screw everything up, then Ubuntu decided they wanted everything screwed up in a different way. KDE made the same traditional desktop demand more resourc

  • Productivity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mrbluze (1034940) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:16PM (#46130681) Journal

    Everything has to do with productivity. Sure we all like a bit of novelty and it's fun to tinker with new features of a desktop or user interface, but the majority of these innovations are never used (if the user has the choice), but the recent Linux desktops (Gnome mostly) have forced a new set of heuristics on a user base that increasingly uses Linux for productivity and not just tinkering.

    It's a waste of time to have to learn a new way of doing everything when the existing ways work already. That is why 'classic desktop' is favored. It works, and although new things might work, they have not proven to work better.

  • by Camel Pilot (78781) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:17PM (#46130687) Homepage Journal

    I don't see it as a "revolt against change" but a revolt to changes for the sake of change (enter gnome 3 and windows 8 as exhibit A and B).

    • I smirk and giggle when I see XP users all pissed off and furious at MS in slashdot of all places which *historically* gets excited about change and new things. I think in my eyes it proves people will resist change no matter what as there is no reason to actually go out of the way and install XP on a new i7 after spending 2 weeks running hacks and reversed engineered drivers to get it to boot?! It is because they like the pretty blue taskbar and green hills and being in a familiar environment. ... do not t

      • by Pentium100 (1240090) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:42PM (#46131187)

        Most XP users use it because their current PC is good enough for what they do and they do not want to reinstall Windows or buy a new PC. If not for DX11-only games, I would still use XP (built a new PC in November) on my old PC. The 3GB RAM was a bit limiting, but not enough to 1) spend a lot of money on new hardware and 2) the pain of reinstalling Windows.

        As for why Metro is bad while Android UI is good: Metro UI is good UI ... on a phone or tablet, but not on a desktop. Just like I would not use Android UI on my desktop, I will not use Metro UI too.

        A tablet has a relatively small screen and is operated by touch. You need big buttons so that it is easier to touch them. A desktop has a large screen and is operated by keyboard/mouse. Metro UI places 5cm x 5cm or larger buttons, while I can easily click 1cm x 1cm icons, so it wastes screen space and makes me move the cursor further.

        A tablet is usually used for one task at a time. I use my desktop with many windows open, most of them overlapping. If I had to use one full screen window at a time, I would be much much slower. I full-screen only two types of software - video players and games, everything else runs in windows that are usually considerably smaller than the screen.

        The start menu takes up a small portion of the screen, but allows me to choose from many items. The start screen takes up the whole screen (there goes my context) and allows me to choose from a smaller list of items. Oh, and desktop programs are not on it by the way (at least for RTM Win8, don't know about Win8.1).

        Another gripe just with Windows 8 UI - it gives no indication that some text can actually be clicked to do something.

        Different interface for different devices (that have different uses). After all, I would not want to use this [theonion.com]

      • by Ardyvee (2447206)

        Different devices, different expectations. Then again, I haven't really made much use with metro. What I saw from Unity (briefly interacted with it at school) is that it works well enough for using one or two applications at a time. It seemed confusing, though. Specially trying to find some things.

  • by Nutria (679911) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:18PM (#46130695)

    I'd like to have something like the Win 7 Start Menu, but XFCE with the Panel on the bottom is (a) Good Enough, and (b) easy on the brain, since I frequently switch between my Linux box and the company's Windows 7 Enterprise laptop that sits right next to it.

  • Pragmatism (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bscott (460706) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:20PM (#46130709)

    If you can't have a consistent experience across even one day, why get too reliant on customizations and shortcuts?

    Back in the day, I had to switch between Data General (terminals), MacOS, and Amiga keyboards and UIs on a daily basis between work and home. These days, of course, everything has changed - now I bounce from Linux to Android to OSX, and more than occasionally Windows too. It's just never paid off to build a super-custom setup when you can't stick with it.

    I use Linux for my main desktop at home partly because it is so quick and easy to reinstall - just keep your data on a backed-up server and you can virtually forget about maintenance or troubleshooting. Get used to the default setup and just reinstall whenever you run into something you can't work around - 15 minutes to get back to a familiar desktop is quicker than any full restore-from-backup I'm aware of. (I actually like Linux internals but every time I learn something, I end up forgetting it before I need it a second time; it gets frustrating...)

    I'm aware I'm giving up a fair amount of potential productivity and convenience. I don't care any more. I'm just happy when I remember not to try and touch the monitor on my wife's iMac.

    I got friends and colleagues who, for example, use Dvorak. More power to 'em. They're younger and more stubborn than I, and most of the time they have one laptop they use both at home and at work. As a wise man once remarked, I'm older now, I got to move my car on street-sweeping day, I can't be doing just anything I want any more...

    • Dvorak frightens me in much the same way as people giving me new types of oranges to eat. It is a brave new world, and I may be a coward.
  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:25PM (#46130737) Journal
    I'd say it has less to do with any change in user tastes and more to do with the apparent move from a situation where the present state of interfaces is bad; but improving (which, fairly obviously, creates enthusiasm for new stuff) to a situation where most of the improvements have been mined out; but there are still UI designers around, so they've just been changing random things in some horrible mockery of genetic drift.

    When version N+1 was probably an improvement, getting motivated to go poke it until it works was easier. Now version N+1 may have some cool new feature; but it'll probably have 8 regressions, the pointless removal of something you liked, and probably tentacles. Why bother?
    • by Uecker (1842596)

      I wasn't really unhappy with Linux 10 years ago and a few years ago Ubuntu and other even started to polish it up to be really nice (remember project 100 paper cuts?). I don't know what happend then, but at some point it all went downhill.

      They started to constantly break my user interface, by randomly changing things, removing features, or just creating new bugs. Now I am even scared to upgrade, because some programm I rely on might not work anymore (or just disappear because it was coded against some obsol

    • ...they've just been changing random things in some horrible mockery of genetic drift.

      The first time I encountered Ubuntu Unity, I did think of Aliens 4: Resurrection and the lab full of failed clones begging for death.

  • by Freshly Exhumed (105597) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:30PM (#46130765) Homepage

    "Pragmatism" versus "Inertia"? What a strange choice that doesn't align with pro/con argumentation.

    FWIW, let's look at a continuum of Linux/Unix desktop users instead. We know that a core group will tend to prefer a minimalist X-Windows desktop such as IceWM for the least impact on hardware performance. Many users prefer desktops like XFCE, Razor-QT, LXDM, and others that offer lightweight but fuller and more integrated experiences than the truly minimalist ones, acknowledging that the load on a system tends to increase as more features are included and deciding strategically to suit their usefulness-efficiency preferences. At the other end of the spectrum are those users who want an entire desktop environment in which all the bells and whistles are integrated into a particular look and feel, as characterized by KDE and Gnome, but understandably with a heavier load on the underlying hardware. So, I suppose pragmatism enters into such choices. To each their own, and having such choices is wonderful. Inertia? There are those who will say "I use KDE because I learned on it and I'm used to it", but this also is a pragmatic choice and not one of "inertia".

  • by Anonymous Coward

    GNOME: the desktop that COULD be awesome, if only the dev team actually cared about performance, polish and a reasonable feature-set. Overall this desktop has the best feel and most potential, but sadly it is never quite realised.

    KDE: at first this desktop seems powerful and feature-rich, but after a week of using it you realise how little its devs care about usability and sane defaults. Not everybody wants to make a career out of tweaking their desktop.

    Unity: has SOME nice usability aspects, but it is only

    • by caseih (160668) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:18PM (#46131053)

      Mate devs, however, aren't resting on their laurels. Mate is being adapted to integrate with the OS more, and use more modern, up-to-date, and maintained libraries. No one was maintaining GConf anymore, and GTK+ and Gnome moved on to GSettings with a Dconf backend. Now Mate 1.6 uses Gsettings instead of Gconf. A natural progression (though I wish gsettings used plain text files instead of dconf), and it works well. Also there is movement to migrate Mate to GTK+3.

      Whether or not this duplicates effort with regards to Cinnamon, and if it can be kept up I don't know. But Mate is fairly feature complete even as it stands. GTK+2 still works fine for now. It's not going to stop working on its own accord. Things like Wayland will likely force its abandonment, but time will tell.

    • Summary: if GNOME would stop reshuffling the deck chairs and spend a few releases on performance, polish and features real-world people care about, they could easily become the most popular desktop. They've done 99% of the work, but for some reason are blind to that crucial last 1%. Given that this is probably never going to change, the Linux desktop is pretty much an exercise in futility and inefficiency.

      You may want to take a peek at elementaryOS. A few of my friends, on seeing what I've done with my laptop, have described their "Pantheon" desktop as "Gnome that doesn't suck". Pantheon was originally forked from Gnome, though it's taken a life of its own... as of now, it's only officially supported on elementary, where it's the default DE.

  • by atari2600a (1892574) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:30PM (#46130773)
    Whenever I leave my [former-]chomebook in the bathroom when I take a shower & everything's still running right except for the mouse, I can get by until the next reboot without using it. IMO, that's a clean interface. That said, out of the box you already pretty much require unity-tweak to fix all the shit they got wrong. The opacity settings, the workspace layout, etc....
  • When I look at all of the major variants mentioned - Gnome, KDE, Windows, Apple - I honestly don't see any great difference.

    All of them offer:
    - A desktop
    - some kind of task bar (top, bottom, left, right - doesn't really matter)
    - some form of menus for getting to stuff
    - some kind of file manager application

    There may be some things that are very different from one to the other (Lord knows that when I switched to a Mac I found some of their choices thoroughly obscure) but in the big picture most desk
    • by M1FCJ (586251)

      Actually it is more political than you imagine.
      KDE was not pure (L)GPL, it had dual licencing for money etc. It was the biggest FUD ever pulled successfully, even Microsoft failed to do something in this scale.

      All of this is now over 10y ago but that's what really created the GNOME project. And they won't be finished until all functionality of KDE is completely removed from your desktop, leaving you with a single mouse pointer, single mouse button and a single window, full screen.

      • by pla (258480)
        Actually it is more political than you imagine. KDE was not pure (L)GPL, it had dual licencing for money etc. It was the biggest FUD ever pulled successfully, even Microsoft failed to do something in this scale.

        And here, you make the mistake most FOSS advocates make - You actually believe (or at least, "care about") what you just said.

        I like open source. I use open source. I've rolled my own kernels, I've even modified them to fix an early broken multi-PCI bus enumeration routine. And yet...

        I don'
        • by csirac (574795)

          Nothing the GP said was incorrect - perhaps you've misread it. I thought GP was referring to the FUD/backlash against KDE which lasted many, many years longer than the actual licensing dillemma itself (less than a year?).

          So yes, politics/belief/FUD drove the creation of Gnome, and that mis-maneouver by Qt/KDE project - despite being quickly rectified - had repurcussions that lasted much of a decade, despite the indifference of pragmatic users such as yourself.

  • Linux users have the option of choosing a different desktop environment or window manager. So, if a concept is unwanted or immature, users can and will migrate elsewhere. There's usually not a great risk involved, maybe the programs you use will be less integrated in your new DE/WM. Part of this is a resistance to change. It's something that happens to basically all humans. Another part of it, though, is that end users have a fairly reasonable choice in the matter, unlike on Windows or OS X, where ther
    • Linux users have the option of choosing a different desktop environment or window manager.

      I predict that 2014 will be the Year of the Linux Desktops. ;-)

      unlike on Windows or OS X, where there is only one path forward, at best having some kludge solution that may or may not be reliable.

      As a recent victim of Windows 8, I've just tried the"Start 8" add-on, and it looks promising. I hear that "Classic Shell" also is good. So, it looks like we have multiple paths forward. I don't know if the add-on approach is what you mean by "kludge", but that seems to be quite popular in other cases, e.g. Firefox. Since I'm used to the Windows 7 interface nd basically like it, it's nice to have a form of choice that helps me get back to whe

  • Counterpoint (Score:5, Informative)

    by Tailhook (98486) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:38PM (#46130829)

    I just (five days ago) spent two days huddled with a half dozen other developers in the corner of a large conference room filled with IT people in Chicago. We were testing our various implementations of a new protocol that we expect to see in wide use during the next two years.

    I had brought a brand new laptop, for various unfortunate reasons, on which I had just installed the complete stack of software I needed night before in the hotel room. I put Ubuntu 13.1 on it because I happened to have that particular distro on a flash drive that was at hand just then and I was in a hurry.

    Things worked out. The laptop worked well and I got my part done. Thing is, I spent that rather intense period of time using Unity. For development and testing of software. Really.

    I get it. Unity is fast and effective, particularly on the limited real-estate of a laptop screen where you end up switching rapidly among full screen applications.

    I've avoided Unity like the plague on desktop hardware were I have multiple, large displays, and I think I'll continue doing that. However on a laptop that is not running external displays Unity works pretty well. You can navigate quickly with mouse or keyboard and avoid fussing with things. The fixed position of the large icons (although too large by default) on the sidebar is particularly useful.

    So, bust out the fangs and hate me down with your mod points; I found a use for Unity and said so on Slashdot.

  • by shellster_dude (1261444) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:39PM (#46130835)
    I always end up going back to a customized XFCE, but about every 6 months, I decide to try something else, and usually end up wiping my system and reinstalling before I'm done.

    My wife has a mildly customized XFCE setup, and she loves it. It almost never gets changed or tweaked.
    • I've been using the same since about 10.04, but I really wish they'd solve the "panel crashing on login" issue. I put a shortcut on the desktop to re-launch it, but it's kind of annoying.

      Still, its my only real complaint, which puts it head and shoulders above the other options.

  • by Greyfox (87712) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:52PM (#46130903) Homepage Journal
    What do you need a desktop for if all you ever do is launch a browser? Ok, that's a somewhat simplistic version, but I have about 4 applications that I ever launch from icons. Everything else takes place in a terminal. So I don't need some sluggish-ass desktop environment. I just want a reasonably fast, reasonably intuitive window manager that has the ability to do focus-follows-mouse. Every time I've tried Unity, it's failed in at least 2 or possibly all three of those requirements. Gnome 2 with a decent window manager used to work reasonably well, but even back then the configuration process was a little too much like editing a Windows registry for my taste. I don't know anyone who likes the direction they've been going. KDE seems to work reasonably well, but has a long startup time and is still really more than I need. I'm currently back on Enlightenment, which loads in about 2 seconds on my desktop and has everything I need installed by default. I have my 4 icons set up, usually have a bunch of terminal windows open, and am able to work effectively in it.

    All those other guys can keep their all-encompassing UI vision. I don't want their kool-aid. I'm glad I get a choice in Linux. I may have to occasionally beat my head on the computer for days at a time when something stops working, but at least I can avoid having some corporate assholes or desktop environment programmers who like the smell of their own farts ramming their bullshit down my throat.

  • by jbolden (176878) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:54PM (#46130919) Homepage

    I think it has a lot to do with when you came up. When I came up with computers in the 1980s and 1990s we had hard problems and solved them. It was a world of rapidly growing IT spending, with IT taking on more and more tasks. After Y2K the technology sector began to get very conservative, the focus was on cost cutting and reliability. Far more like the world of the late 70s and early 80s in Mainframe and Minis that the PCs had replaced. What's exciting now is that mobile devices have brought back that enthusiasm for change and excitement again. They haven't caught up with desktops but at least they are creating a generation of developers who are used to a market that grows and expands rather than stays put at minimal cost.

    I watch the threads on any kinds of change whether it be ubiquitous computing (Windows 8), IPv6 (networking), Wayland, the new hardware designs... and there is a pervasive pessimism among younger IT, a terrible can't do attitude.

    Back in the 1990s when Linux was coming up we had sorta GUIs die: FVWM, AfterStep, SawFish, AMI-wm, Openlook (olwm), blackbox... Systems grow change and die leaving behind better ones. What's terrible is that the new generation wants stagnation. Either Gnome 3 succeeds or it doesn't. But regardless of what happens the work on Gnome advances the ecosystem.

    • ... and there is a pervasive pessimism among younger IT, a terrible can't do attitude... What's terrible is that the new generation wants stagnation.

      That is silly. Some old codgers are terrible at programming and only got there because they got in early, then decry that the world is going to hell in a hand basket because of "new generations". From what I've seen, young people are often the most sane (except those from overseas that come because they are cheaper) and have been robbed blind by older generations that pass the buck onto them. Young coders have to deal with all the problems that old people foisted on them because they couldn't solve, as well

  • Does the summary make sense to anyone?

    • by fnj (64210)

      No sense at all. And the article makes damn little sense either.

  • The more I look at the whole changes in OS-UIs lately, the more I get the impression that the whole cross-platform thing got lost it's grip to reality.

    Sure I like my tablet, my smartphone, my laptop,... and I live with the smudged display I have on my tablet and my smartphone, since the do not really bother me. Probably because I can easily overlook these smudges, but since I can't overlook them on my normal monitor (or laptop display; or my glasses for that matter), I'm no friend of UIs which seem to be de

  • What exactly is a "classic" desktop anyway? Are we talking classic Windows? Classic Mac OS? There's a constellation of UI paradigms which work. Some of them are mutually incompatible, you can't use them simultaneously. If you want to come up with something new, it has to actually work better than what we had before. If it merely works "as good" as what it's replacing then users won't be happy. You're changing things for the sake of change. So from those choices you pick the ones you think work best together

  • by EmperorOfCanada (1332175) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @08:17PM (#46131037)
    In the past(late 90s early 2000s) the various machines that I had barely worked. So I noodled and fiddled until the machine was just the way I liked it. But then at some point, I largely stopped. Basically the machines were powerful enough that tweaking didn't buy me any critical functionality or performance to make it worth my time. Also the defaults for almost any OS are close enough that my total "tweaking" might take 5 minutes or less from a default configuration.

    In many ways I think that it less that we don't tweak as the machines are coming pre-tweaked.

    Obviously this is not for everyone as we all know those people who must spend a full day getting a new machine just the way they like it.

    But if I had a new machine built from scratch tomorrow I would say that 50 percent of the few minutes of tweaking would be spent changing the IDE defaults for a few keys and whatnot. The bulk of the rest would be eliminating stupid default icons and putting up a few that I frequently use (Terminal, etc)

    I just spun up a raspberry pi and with the arduino IDE sitting right on the desktop I'm not sure that I'll make a single change at this point. Any changes going forward will be 100% in support of critical functionality.
  • by enter to exit (1049190) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @09:01PM (#46131313)
    For the most part i spend my time in browser, terminal, pdf reader, word processor and occasionally a dedicated IDE.

    All i really want in a UI is the ability to switch between these apps without having to mentally switch contexts. On a non-touch computer, a menu list of installed apps+taskbar with a stacking window manager is ideal.

    Linux users are not the only ones who are rejecting the new UIs. Everyone hates how windows 8 works.

    There is clearly a need for new UIs for touch based machines. The mistake is trying to create one UI that works for both worlds - this is the mistake Win8 and GNOME3 made.
    • by Arker (91948)

      "All i really want in a UI is the ability to switch between these apps without having to mentally switch contexts. On a non-touch computer, a menu list of installed apps+taskbar with a stacking window manager is ideal."

      Try WindowMaker. There is no desktop, it's the 'root window' - a floating thing of light and color. There is no button to get your cluttered list of apps+taskbar, there are two buttons with which to get whichever one you need at the moment, and they are both on your mouse. Just click the appr

  • We grew up (Score:4, Insightful)

    by snookiex (1814614) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @09:26PM (#46131407) Homepage
    15 years ago, it was [kind of] cool to play around with config files, compile kernels and install different Linux distros the way women change their purses. Now we have other priorities in life, kids, pets, mortgages. We just want to get the job done. Sometimes I enjoy hacking some config files for fun, but it's not anymore something I'd do on a Friday night.
  • by Swampash (1131503) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @11:40PM (#46131863)

    Years ago ago those of us who used any *nix desktop ('every morning when you wake up, the house is a little different') were seen as willing to embrace change and spend hours tinkering and configuring until we got new desktop versions to work the way we wanted, while there was an opposite perception of desktop users over in the Mac world ('it just works')

    If you want a UNIX desktop that just works, then you get a Mac.

  • by JDG1980 (2438906) on Sunday February 02, 2014 @12:01AM (#46131943)

    Everyone wants a classic desktop, but no vendor wants to provide one. Microsoft wants everyone on Metro so they can take a cut of sales through the App Store. The KDE and Gnome teams want to experiment because it's more fun than maintaining a tried-and-true design. Apple is seemingly holding the line for now, but all it takes is one bad VP in the UI team and OSX will become a clone of iOS.

    UI designers don't like the desktop metaphor for a variety of complicated philosophical reasons. They think it would be easier for people to learn how to use computers if it was abandoned. Maybe they're right about that – iOS has been very successful among non-technical users because it simplifies things a lot more than a standard W.I.M.P. design – but once you get beyond casual use and into doing real work, multitasking becomes a necessity, and there is still nothing better than a "classic desktop" for that.

  • by ShoulderOfOrion (646118) on Sunday February 02, 2014 @01:05AM (#46132121)

    Give me that holographic 3-D translucent panel that I can throw data at by waving my hands around. As long as it runs a kernel with a UNIX philosophy and I can compile the entire thing from source like my current Gentoo distro I'll be happy.

    All I ask is that you don't F' it up. If you make the decision that I don't *also* need a keyboard and a console window because 'who uses VI anymore to program when you can wave hands around' then you're full of it. I'm the one to decide if hand-waving is better, not you. If you toss out a half-done re-write like KDE 4.0 with regressions on every major integrated application, you deserve the hate. If you break the entire metaphor like Unity or Windows 8 did for the sake of some other platform you deserve the hate. If you abandon decades of proven philosophy on a whim just because, you deserve the hate.

    On the other hand, if you have something truly unique, revolutionary, game-changing, bring it on. If it is truly a step forward the world will quickly abandon the old in favor of your new, my old self included. It's when you try replacing the old way forcibly in favor of your new that you fail. That's not your job. That's my (the user's) job.

  • by phmadore (1391487) on Sunday February 02, 2014 @01:27AM (#46132189) Homepage Journal
    Linus is currently using Gnome 3 again [zdnet.com].
  • What you see is various software packages all reinventing what should only have to be done once, right.
    Various people have invented corkboard ideas, on the mac Stickies is post-it notes and Scrivener is a research and writing system with corkboard as part of it. I have seen various drag and drop style interfaces for drawing uml or configuring networking. One package I am involved in now has a canvas you can drag and drop nodes in a flowchart.
    Personally I had an idea for a tool that would draw on the desktop and define regions of it.
    Currently the desktops I have seen are just a blank screen that inevitably gets filled up with crap which then has to get put somewhere, or it is just a few shortcuts. The manu bar (on a mac), the trashcan and doc are the only actually functioning items.
    I would like to propose that the desktop should be an object oriented scriptable canvas with some intelligence, with storage, networking, layers, ability to transport them between instances and platforms, and something that actually helps you do your work. Smalltalk comes to mind. Anyway, my two cents. There is a lot of screen real estate but none of the operating systems actually do anything useful with it. The drawing tools that are out there in powerpoint, libreoffice or whatever are pitiful and unintuitive, so it takes a lot of work to make something useful and you don't use them in a meeting to illustrate something, you go to a whiteboard and scribble something illegible. Or you get out a big piece of paper. I'm saying a strong canvas with simple unbloated widgets in place of the desktop would be extremely useful as a standard computing component, instead of using the tons of little widgets that solve little bits of the problem.

  • by John Allsup (987) <s@chalisque.gmail@com> on Sunday February 02, 2014 @03:22AM (#46132507) Homepage Journal

    The Windows '95 style desktop captures an ideal well. The MacOS 9 did as well, so does the original MacOs X design. The trouble is that they are far from perfect, but small deviations from the ideal makes for no real improvement, and large explorations away from the ideal tend to be horrible. Kde were probably the first to really wrestle with this horror, and they seem to be past the worst of it, though I have no idea where they're headed; gnome is trying to do the 'HUD Overlay Control / MoreThanAToyDashboard' thing which would be good if they work out how to do it well. But the Windows 95 style, with Gnome2 additions like desktop toolbars you can just stuff what you like in, are a good ideal.

    I wish they would invest more effort in making it easy to repurpose what is there: make a simple Gnome Terminal a 3-line program:
        w = Gnome.Window(menu=DefaultMenu,content=Terminal.Default)
        w.content.run("/bin/bash",["-"])
        w.show()
    and make customising what the terminal window does as easy as this. Do likewise for getting a browse component running (recall the Cocoa browser demo on MacOsX?)

    We should be working less to come up with new stuff, and more on making what we have both rock-solid, dead-simple, and as trivially easy to implement as possible. I wrote a little note about this idea on my Wiki: http://thewikiman.allsup.co/Im... [allsup.co] where the idea is to write your program in your ideal imaginary language, and then build from the language you have towards that ideal, striving to make as much of what you produce reusable in other projects (and to share with others so that they don't have to repeat your progress: DRY is good, DRIP (Dont-Repeat-If-at-all-Possible) would be a better principle, since with proprietary software the DRY principle is violated whenever a different developer has to rewrite functionality because of legal or lack-of-source issues).

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