Open Source

Linux desktop progress: Innovation vs. power-user backlash

Jack Wallen has been hearing all the guff GNOME 3 has been getting and has decided it was time to stand up for progress on the Linux desktop. Read on to find out if you agree with him.

Recently word spread like wildfire across the net that Linus Torvalds, Father of Linux himself, had proclaimed GNOME 3 an "Unholy Mess." The hatred for all things GNOME 3 didn't stop there. Pundits, grand-standers, tinkerers, and media-types alike went on and on about how GNOME 3 had become nothing more than a failure. At the same time, Ubuntu Unity had been given a similar title as a nearly worthless desktop.

Let's step back in time a year or so ago when KDE 4 came out of the starting gate. Yes it was hampered by a complete rewrite, but like it's GNOME brethren, KDE was lambasted as too buggy to ever work correctly.

From this I seem to be seeing a conclusion on the horizon — people don't like change. This is especially become apparent in the open source community. But from my perspective, this condemning of change is a bit short sighted. Let me explain.

I want to begin this with a question: Who is the average computer user? Let that question settle in your brain for a moment while I move on.

I think it safe to say that Linus Torvalds is quite far removed from the average user. I would certainly categorize Linus as a power user, a developer, but not the average user. I think it also safe to say the general population spewing hatred for the new Linux desktops are not the average user. Many of them are long-time Linux fans and users who have seen their favorite desktops come and go and are now looking into a crystal ball future they do not care for.

I wouldn't even categorize myself as the average user. I'm not a developer, but I certainly like my desktop a particular way (a way that has been informed by window managers of days gone by). But my penchant for the past does not preclude me from seeing into the future.

These power users and the like tend to migrate to Linux for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is efficiency. It is possible to take a Linux desktop and make it one of the single most efficient desktops you will ever find. These users tend to have fingers flying over keyboards twelve to fourteen hours a day and are, in many instances, the very users that bring Linux to life for the rest of us. Again — not the average user. But it's understandable why they would want/need a desktop so efficient as to not even remotely get in their way of their work.

And then there is the rest of the user-base. Those average users who really only need the desktop to work and work well. Those users aren't so concerned with how many clicks it takes to get to the chewy center of of their most-used applications. They don't tend to use keyboard shortcuts and they certainly don't want to have to mess with that many configurations.

Do you think those types of users would bemoan having to use GNOME3? Especially once they grew accustomed to the interface. I'm thinking "no."

Every desktop evolves. Even though the evolution of Windows has been held at a bare minimum (it still uses the same metaphor it used since Windows 95), it's changed. And with each iteration, users balked. They complained until they realized that maybe the new metaphor was not only "not so bad" but maybe even an improvement on the previous incarnation.

The GNOME developers took a huge chance this time around and decided there were better, more effective ways to work with the computer desktop. Thus was born GNOME 3. Same thing with Ubutnu Unity (although there were other reasons for this change). But with this progress came strong reaction. The Linux community refused to adopt the changes. Instead they wanted to go back to Classic GNOME. And why not? It worked right? Of course it did.

Since the outcry came in reaction to GNOME 3 I've been caught by surprise. I've always assumed the open source and Linux communities to be on the forefront of progress and innovation. But instead it seems they fear change as much as the next guy.

Look, I've used nearly every desktop you can imagine. And over the last few months I've been working with GNOME 3 and it's not an unholy mess. It's merely different. No, it's not XFCE or Fluxbox. It's not the same as Classic GNOME or KDE, but it is a great example of how the Linux community can innovate and do it well. Is GNOME 3 as efficient as some of the other desktops? Maybe not — but to those who place efficiency over all else, there is always XFCE or E17. But to those who want Linux and open source to continue to be on the forefront of innovation, I say load up GNOME 3 and get used to it. I bet after a couple of days (or weeks) of use, you will find it just as comforting and familiar as your old wubby Classic GNOME.


Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website

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