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

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"?

  • 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.
  • 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).

  • 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...

  • 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 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".

  • Re:Productivity (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gronofer ( 838299 ) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:33PM (#46130797)
    It's a waste of time learning new ways to do things if the old ways actually work better and are more productive. I wouldn't mind going through a learning curve if there was actually a benefit at the end of it.
  • 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 JMJimmy ( 2036122 ) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:56PM (#46130929)

    good for you. To answer the question though I think it's psychology of efficiency. If the tools aren't efficient for the brain to categorize/understand it's not practical as an interface (desktop or otherwise). The problem with Metro isn't that it's different, it's that it's too much visual clutter for the brain to process quickly. This is reflected in GNOME/KDE in that, while neatly organized, it relies on memory association of images to functions. Icons are everywhere these days so those associations aren't as strong or that part of the memory is overloaded to access efficiently. Non-graphical interfaces suffer from something similar in the ability to remember all the commands and their associated flags.

    The classic desktop organizes things in groupings, lists, etc and while there's icons associated the overriding organization of alphabetical text gives shortcuts for the brain to compartmentalize information where it can or to simply analyze because all the information is there (where KDE/etc you must hover to get all the info one icon at a time)

  • by crutchy ( 1949900 ) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @07:59PM (#46130943)

    My car has four wheels. Works best at the moment.


    what about if a car came along that didn't have wheels? would you not buy it simply because it didn't have wheels?
    wheels on cars only works best because you haven't experienced anything better... but that doesn't mean that wheels will always work best.
    change for the sake of change sucks, but innovation stems from change and innovation can also lead to change for the better.

  • 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.

  • 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 []

  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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 Oligonicella ( 659917 ) on Saturday February 01, 2014 @10:29PM (#46131615)
    The way other people prefer to work pisses you off? Seriously? Frankly, other people telling me how to work pisses me off.
  • 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:you do know... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by maxwell demon ( 590494 ) on Sunday February 02, 2014 @08:52AM (#46133301) Journal

    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:Classic Desktop (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pmontra ( 738736 ) on Sunday February 02, 2014 @09:22AM (#46133385) Homepage
    Experts... Very rarely those experts invent something that actually helps me instead of making me waste time to undo their work. They probably have in mind a very different user base with very different needs.
  • 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.

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