PCs

The Linux desktop circus

Jack Wallen has grown concerned with the state of the Linux desktop. Could there be trouble on the horizon, or is this just a period of growth? Read on and chime in.

At the end of last week, I decided to toss caution to the wind and upgrade my running-like-a-champ Ubuntu 10.10 desktop installation. I had hesitated for a number of reasons, but eventually some of the pros far outweighed the cons. I did the upgrade online (instead of using the installation CD) and I have to admit, this upgrade went better than any other operating system release upgrade I've ever witnessed. Everything worked. I have yet to experience a single problem.

I still, however, do not like Ubuntu Unity. That's okay because, at the moment, you can still enjoy Classic GNOME on Ubuntu 11.04. Or you can opt to install KDE (by installing Kubuntu Desktop). Right now I'm enjoying a close a representation of the desktop I had before the upgrade occurred (sadly, minus Compiz).

After this upgrade experience, I started thinking, "It's time I look for a new desktop distribution." Although I do enjoy Ubuntu, there are aspects about my GNOME/Compiz desktop I don't like working without. I could, of course, wait until 11.10 which will include GNOME 3 (instead of Classic GNOME), which is a pretty good desktop. But what about openSUSE (with either GNOME 3 or KDE -- no Classic GNOME). Or, I could migrate to Fedora 15, which already uses GNOME 3 and does a bang-up job with it. Or, there are a couple of projects attempting to bring GNOME 3 to Ubuntu...but the current state of the GNOME libraries on Ubuntu makes this a huge challenge. Or...what about Bodhi Linux (which I've covered here and really like); it's Ubuntu combined with E17 and Ecomorph...

Okay, okay...this is getting crazy. The introduction of Ubuntu Unity and the evolution of GNOME to GNOME 3 has turned the Linux desktop into a circus. It use to be that one could just pick a distribution, based on which package manager and admin tools they liked, and then install whatever desktop they wanted. But now, that's not always possible. I'm starting to worry that this fracturing of the Linux desktop is going to wind up having repercussions the Linux community is not going to like. Let's face it, some do not like Unity, some do not like GNOME 3 or Classic GNOME, some do not like KDE. I understand why distributions are centered around a specific desktop -- it would be a big challenge to support every desktop out there. But, in all honesty, not all desktops have to be supported. What I see is a need for every distribution to offer the following desktops for installation:

  • GNOME 3
  • KDE
  • Enlightenment
  • Xfce

Those four desktops cover such a wide range of styles that they should please just about any type of user. You will notice that Classic GNOME is not listed. Although I really feel Classic GNOME is one of the most solid desktops I've ever used, it cannot be an option if GNOME 3 is to continue and flourish. That would be like insisting KDE 3.5 still be an option.

Now I'm not saying every distribution should offer ISO images of their desktop for each desktop. I am saying they should have each desktop included in their repositories, so that installation is as simple as searching for the desktop in Synaptic (or the Ubuntu Software Center, or Package Kit) and installing it.

Figure A

What I see happening is a collision course with another desktop war heating up -- only this time it won't be GNOME vs. KDE, it will be GNOME 3 vs. Unity vs. KDE and distributions will start getting caught in the cross fire. Users will start jumping ship because of the confusion and challenges brought about by attempting to get what they want (a task that has always been relatively simple on the Linux desktop.)

As you can see (in Figure A) my current desktop is a conglomeration of a number of elements. This is Classic GNOME with a single, auto-hide panel, Cairo Dock, and a couple of Screenlets. Of all the iterations of the Linux desktop I have used, this setup has been the most efficient for me. As you can clearly see, it looks somewhat similar to the layout of Unity -- with a few changes. If Unity would offer up a few configuration options I might be able to settle down with that desktop. Unfortunately Ubuntu is going the way of Apple and saying, "This is how you will use your desktop." The good news is that I can get that same desktop layout, with quite a bit of extra work, using an Ecomorph-enabled E17 desktop. But that extra work shouldn't be necessary! With Classic GNOME that desktop is ready in under five minutes. With Unity - it's not possible. KDE? No way.

I'm not saying that the only desktop with any merit is the one that I use. What I am saying is the current state of the Linux desktop is starting to bring a bit of unrest to the Linux operating system. I would hate to see either of these scenarios:

  • Users abandon Linux out of frustration with the desktops.
  • Distributions start locking down their releases so that no other desktop can be installed.

A year ago I would have said no way would either of those scenarios happen. Now? I'm not so sure.

What do you think? Does the state of the Linux desktop excite you or concern you?

About

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

176 comments
charlie204
charlie204

When I first investigated Linux distros, it took 3 to nine CD's to get the needed software for an install. With Ubuntu, one disk does it (assuming that you do not do a zero-disk upgrade). The new software installed without a hitch. My computer is a Dell 8200 also running Windows XP, and when I installed the latest version of Ubuntu, it told me that I needed to run the classic version (because my video card is too old for Unity). The beauty of Linux is to get additional years of useful life out of machines which cannot run the latest MS-Windows software. Additionally, I really like the Gnome interface. In my view, it just looks nicer than others. (I tried Kubuntu, but did not like it, and went back to the standard after a few hours, on 8.04 or 8.10, I believe.) Having a choice, and not being forced into one flavor fits all, is one of the main reasons why I have kept with Ubuntu. Additionally, it is really convenient to use. I have had OpenOffice on both my Ubuntu setup (before LibreOffice) and on a MS Vista machine, and it just works better on the Ubuntu machine than on my MS Vista. We all want choice. From the future of Linux's point of view, the ability to install the software EASILY and get it running properly is of the utmost importance. (I have never gotten Samba to work properly, so I email stuff to myself or put it on an external drive and plug the USB in whatever machine I want to send it to.) To assume that every user is going to be knowlegable in the process of getting software to work in an integrated fashion is somewhat naive, I think. The one-disk to install is an extremely important part of the means to expand the linux world to new users.

cheth
cheth

Choice is a great thing. Standardization will remove choice, but it makes using an operation system much easier for everyone. We may not agree on the best standard interface for Linux, or another operating system, but most operating sytems only offer one GUI at one time. That is until, a new version of the OS comes out. If Linux eventually comes out with one GUI for all versions of Linux it only proves that Linux is maturing as an operating system. I think that is a good thing as long as the command line option is available. Most of Linux's source code is available which can be changed if someone does not like it. We can't say the same thing for Windows or other operating systems, so in the end we still have control over the Linux operating system. We should be greatful some corporation hasn't taken control of Linux lock stock and barrel. We still can make Linux ours through the many versions of Linux available. If we aren't programmers we can pick the distriubution that suits us. If we can program we can change the distributions that we use.

drednot57
drednot57

by offering ISO's using KDE 4.6, Gnome, XFCE (PCLOS-Phoenix), LXDE, E17, and Openbox; one of the very few distros, if not the only distro, to offer this wide variety of desktop ISOs. There is an independent remaster using the WindowMaker desktop manager also, so if one chooses PCLOS, a person may choose an ISO from no less than seven different desktop managers according his or her preferences. Linux and FOSS is all about choices, and PCLOS offers them in spades. I primarily use the default KDE desktop, but have installed PCLOS under VirtualBox both the XFCE and E17 variants to try them out. I also have Unity Linux installed as a VM to test drive that distro. The freedom of choice is a wonderful thing.

mikifin
mikifin

New users, most of them from Mac and Windows, need some form of unifying guide to learning about Linux and all the sound and fury gets in the way. All I hear from the Linux community is how they want Linux to play in the big leagues. Well, anything you do that makes it hard for new users to switch to Linux works against this goal.

Kent Lion
Kent Lion

"Upgrade" implies improvement. What I'm reading above doesn't sound like improvement, it sounds like change for the sake of change. When I tried to upgrade my Ubuntu machine to the newest version with Unity, I was informed my hardware wouldn't support Unity. Hardware that can run XP Pro won't support Unity? That's improvement? The purpose of a computer is to manage the machine and to run applications that perform useful tasks, as efficiently (which includes quickly) as possible; not to wow with eye candy. Do you turn on your machine (Windows or otherwise) to gaze fondly at the effects of opening windows (on this machine, I fume while MagicJack tells me to have a moment of patience for at least 7 minutes it ties up my machine when it starts from a cold bootup). If Linux wants to compete with Microsoft and Apple in the eye candy department, they'll discover that eye candy isn't the future of computing at the same time Microsoft and Apple do. When people finally get fed up with being repeatedly forced to upgrade machines that are more than fast enough for everything they do; and to forget ways of doing things that had finally become efficient and logical, for ways of doing things that are noticeably less efficient and logical; Microsoft will be the first to feel it...unless Linux is really serious about going the Microsoft route. The error is thinking that everything can be drastically improved indefinitely. A new technology improves rapidly until it "matures" to a fairly stable level of functioning that doesn't change much because it can no longer be improved much. That's how life the physical world works. There's little point in improving the fidelity of sound equipment beyond the ability of the best human ear to hear the difference between a sound system and a real Steinway grand piano. For some reason, only programmers haven't figured that out. The purpose of an operating system is to efficiently, securely and transparently manage the machine and the programs that run on it, not to constantly intrude on the user or to massage the user's ego...or to keep programmers employed writing new software to replace software that may or may not just need to be debugged...

ron
ron

that Unity gets easier to tweak. Just installed Natty and don't like the default search/menus box (huge icons; categories instead of links.) Especially want to add/remove stuff to the taskbar (right-click doesn't do anything)

laferrieren
laferrieren

I switched from Ubuntu 11.04 to debian 6 because of unity and the lack of configuration for the desktop. It was faster to just copy my old config files and install debian and put the packages I wanted on it than it was to get my desktop to work right in ubuntu. To me it looks like Ubuntu is trying to look like apple and copying what they are doing. To me that just doesn't appeal to me at all. If I want an apple OS I will buy a mac.

Miyamoto Musashi
Miyamoto Musashi

Jack, you have pointed out the obvious fact (or at least the obvious fact for us bleeding edge users) that the desktop GUI war is heating back up and the the OS' and users are going to be the ones that suffer. I have been a HUGE Fedora fan, since I got back into Linux with FC6. Even with all the growing pains that Fedora has experienced, I think the worst advancement was Gnome 3, before it was ready for prime time. I have always been a big fan of Gnome. For me, it was the easiest to customize and "make it do what I wanted it to do". (Truth be told here; Gnome was the default for FC6 and I just haven't explored anything else, until recently.) This last weekend, I did a full complete wipe and rebuild of my Fedora 14 system to Fedora 15. The installation went as well as I have come to expect from the Fedora team. However, when I logged into Gnome and was greeted with this strange and (for me) confusing GUI landscape, I almost ran from my office, screaming my head off. Okay, so I don't do well with major changes. And, the Gnome 3 shell is a MAJOR change. Gone are the Gnome panels, gone is the simple menu bar, gone is the task tray to be replaced by the notification pop-up. At this point in time, I am thinking to myself, "Okay, this is an advancement to the newest Gnome GUI. Give it some time to grow on you." It has been 4 days since I installed F15 and Gnome 3, and I still am trying to figure out where everything is. I am not willing to use the Gnome fallback mode (which is Gnome 3.0.2, kind of) as anything I get working on that desktop will just be broken in Gnome 3. I know, I've tried it. So, it is time to knuckle down and just deal with it. Then the thought hits me. Wait, isn't there another "standard desktop GUI" out there? Hey, KDE, yeah, that's it. So, I yum install the KDE packages and reboot. Log into the KDE desktop and start to customize that. However, KDE is now crashing with every-other application I launch. I know, I know, it was probably something I told Linux to do, that I wasn't even aware of telling it to do. After all, it's just a computer and it does what I tell it to do, even if _I_ don't know what I'm telling it to do... I have done a little bit of research on KDE and have noticed there were similar gripes and growing pains for it when KDE went from 3.5 to 4.0. I'm going to now play with both GUI's and see where they take me. As of right now, I think I have the Gnome 3 shell customized to look and function sort of like Gnome 3. Who knows, time will tell. I understand that many people here will suggest something like Xfce or E17 or Enlightenment. I have yet to test drive each one of them, however, for the last several years, the mainstream desktops GUI's have been Gnome and KDE. At this time, KDE is behind the eight ball as far as design and functionality, Gnome 3 is way to rough around the edges; so it may be time for an up and coming GUI to take over as the defacto GUI for Linux. Who knows? With the Linux community, loyalties run very deep, however, innovation does tend to leave others in the dust. With Linux, as they say, "Lead, follow, or get out of the way!" "It's me desktop and I will do with it what I want!" The more Linux tries to become like MacOS or Windows, the less customization they take away from users, the more users they will likely lose. A suggestion, in parting. Leave the development, cutting edge software and desktop stuff to a distro like Fedora and possibly Ubuntu. Pass the stability of tried, tested, and proven applications and desktops to distros like CentOS. There will always be niche Linux OS', that will probably never change, and I hope it doesn't as that is a primary attractor to Linux. As I said above, keep cutting edge stuff to some of the "big boys" and pass the stable stuff on the distros that will attract users to Linux, not drive them away. When someone asks me about Linux, I usually recommend: Ubuntu, CentOS, then Fedora. In that order. Fedora to a newbie may very well scare them off. Ubuntu has been rock solid and seems to offer the best "it just works" experience. CentOS, from what I have seen, has probably the best stability, if lagging a few versions behind on everything to ensure that stability. Just my two cents. Oh, by the way, Gnome 3 still sucks. We will see if my opinion changes over the next several weeks.

jj3666
jj3666

This is just the reason why FOSS exists. While I like G3 for most my relatives, KDE4 is where my brother and I live, being power users. We can not do our professions using G3. Unity, having a close start to wayland could pull off an option that will be more modern, cross device, and offer new options to coders for reaching the new generation. Use what works for you, and if you decide to change, feel privileged that you have the freedom to.

ps.techrep
ps.techrep

The #1 problem with Windows, Mac, and the other OSs is that they're OS-centric, not user-centric - too tightly integrated with a predetermined GUI. Linux has the unexploited advantage that the GUI is a separate component. I say unexploited because except for a couple of touch-oriented gestural functions, there's not a lot of difference between the various Linux desktops. No desktop on the market provides a natural interface to Homo Sapiens V1.0. (Ever see a monkey in the wild use a keyboard touchscreen or mouse). The handheld interfaces are better, but still not that great - voice input/output with actual smarts in the interface is what's needed, not yet another rearrangement of virtual buttons on a screen.

AZ_IT
AZ_IT

I'm a windows professional by trade but Linux has begun to grow on me more and more as we've been looking for the most cost effective ways to deploy new servers. The biggest con to Linux that I can see thus far and the reason I believe Linux doesn't hold more market share is that there are far too many flavors. If the Linux community could unite behind one or even two flavors of Linux that would consolidate the development to those one or two flavors it would cement Linux's place in the OS race. I believe as it is now there are just too many options for traditional windows users to jump off into the unknown. Linux is a great platform but even I get bogged down by all the different options out there and until the Linux community can change that it will not be a viable option for the masses. I tend to think Linux will grow out of this awkward finding itself stage but it could be that it never will. I have seen a tendency in the Linux community to be very fickle and volatile. If some change is made that someone doesn't like they abandon Ubuntu, or Debian, Red Hat, or Fedora and jump to a new flavor or even worse start their own. The one thing Linux really needs is a William Wallace who could unite the clans. United we stand! *Edited to standardize capitalization.

dtwaling
dtwaling

"This whole topic is amazing. You all carry on like the desktop will make or break Linux use." (lsasadoorian) I agree with your first statement here, but what is the real purpose of the continued work being put into any OS using the Linux kernel in the first place?? all the squabbling may as well be over what everyone likes and dislikes about Windows and Mac. But there is something Linux enables that the others do not. We ALL tend to get so wrapped up in what WE are doing and what WE want out of our OS that I think we may be missing the point. Let's look at the "customers" and users of any given OS. Placing all users on a scale, we find the average users right in the middle going after Windows and Mac type OS for everyday use, they don't want to know how things work or how to configure anything, they just want to get through their daily tasks. And gear-heads fall into both extremes of the scale: - as tinkerers and hobbyists playing with new ideas and side projects - as power users that make Linux their workhorse It is out of the two extremes where Linux resides that come the greater benefit we are all missing here... from both ends of the spectrum we find the AH-HA moments that grow into the polished-for-consumer-use products like VMWare, Untangle, ChromeOS & Android... As Randallizm stated, REMEMBER the OPEN part of open-source. The openness of the kernel has allow developers to produce appliances and applications that can run independent of the added weight of a resource hungry base OS underneath (i.e: Windows server). It has given us systems that install and run on minimal OS based products, like NAS devices, fun things like LiberKEY, etc. It has allowed small business to dabble in systems that, for a long time, were financially unreachable, like Trixbox VoIP systems, WebGUI, etc. The examples could go on and on. Most of the complaint and opinion responses sound like average users trying to be gear-heads, meanwhile all the gear-heads and developers I know put their heads down and make Linux work for them and find ways to make their developments work for everyone else, like the examples above. This is where Linux shines, and the hardworking minds out there are able to showoff how cool and powerful Linux can be. Linux was never intended for the faint-hearted, that is what Windows and Mac are for. the Linux kernel is there for those willing to work and study hard in the trenches, on infrastructure, and for continued development. My colleagues who work in Linux daily, on daily tasks or development, have never complained about any particular Linux OS; they understand it for what it is and utilize it accordingly. So you can operate within the strict boundaries of MS or Mac for everyday PC use, or even dev and work on projects that run on their OS; OR, if you really want to work with Linux, you can see the forest for the trees and realize the reason Linux became so prominent and is still so today, then put up or shut up. -(edit)- Here is a great, and current, example of the true benefit of Linux and all those diligently working with it everyday - "New local Cloud built with Linux-based KVM hypervisor" http://www.cio.com.au/article/390056/new_local_cloud_built_linux-based_kvm_hypervisor/?fp=4&fpid=5

russoisraeli
russoisraeli

There are plenty of distributions offering choice. Many of these require knowing what you're doing though. On Gentoo I have several desktops installed, and they all work just fine. However, I used to have the same thing on Fedora. I never liked the huge KDE or Gnome, except for maybe some applications they come with (klipper, knotes), so I had Fluxbox, Openbox, and XFCE working just fine. Ideally, a user friendly distribution like Ubuntu, should offer a choice of desktop environments to install/start during the installation process, with some default. That's probably what many distributions will end up doing.

MrRich
MrRich

Hello Linux users! I think a different strategy is needed. Abstract the desktop from the OS, and make it run on Windows, Chrome, Linux, BSD or Apple. Because what we need is a zero client with a common desktop experience. The current business of virtualizing OS's is very inefficient and does not recognize the potential of cloud computing. Ciao!

delphi9_1971
delphi9_1971

Those of us who read tech blogs, like this one, are the kinds of people that like choice. We like to tweak every last little setting and turn every dial. We want to install and play with each OS. We want options, choice, freedom and all that Linux stands for. However, the people that don't read tech blogs, or your everyday computer user. Does not care about options. They just want it to work. They don't want to think about questions like: Do I choose Gnome 3 or Unity. Rather they just want something simple to get running that has a lot of support and doesn't require endless hours of configuration files and command line syntax to get working. So the question is, which user is Linux going after? Personally, I've always viewed the OS wars (MS vs. Mac vs. Linux) in this way. Those that want options and freedom, and endless configuration choose Linux. Those that want simple easy to use eye candy, choose Mac. Those that want something in the middle tend to choose Windoze. I think that if you want simple easy to use Linux for the masses, I think Canonical is doing it correctly. I think they're trying to make Ubuntu an easier to use, streamlined Linux to lure the Mac/Win crowd to Linux. In that regard, I applaud them. However, being a member of the endless configuration crowd and Gnome fan. So as an Ubuntu user, I will be shopping for a new Distro. For me this is the power of Linux, that there is room for all user types. Room that does not exist in the commercial OS market. I think the community should focus on this strength rather than argue of the minutea of detail of which desktop is better. They're all good, just for different reasons. And with a focus on that, we could build a stronger community and truly make this the "year of linux".

aflynnhpg
aflynnhpg

I don't see Linux users abandoning Linux over a desktop. They may abandon one version of Linux in favor of another that uses a desktop they prefer, but the desktop is not the reason most Linux users choose Linux in the first place. The fact that there are so many flavors to choose from, that they are not tied down by unbelievable licensing agreements, that they can opperate a stable system that is both powerful and flexible, will all work together to keep people that prefer Linux using Linux. The opposite of this would be to believe that because I don't like Unity for example, I'm going with Windows.... Yeah, that sounds absurd.

sam
sam

If anything, Ubuntu's move to Unity has had the opposite effect - I love it, it lets me get my work done without getting in the way. Sure, a few things need polishing and enhancing, but for a first release, it shows immense promise for the future. It may not be for everyone, but since when was that ever the case with Linux? Gnome and KDE wasn't for everyone either. We're told one of the best things about linux is the choice. Choose another distro! Besides, I'm sure it wont be long before we see "Gubuntu" available for download. It's not like all the work from the past is just thrown away.

kjmartin
kjmartin

I think us lowly windows users and the Mac fanboys can agree that we all just about fell asleep reading about this. This would be like futzing over where the drink holders are in my car. It might increase my driving productivity if the drink holders were arranged differently, but not so much that I should join a user group and talk about it.

apotheon
apotheon

> Standardization will remove choice, but it makes using an operation system much easier for everyone. Not necessarily. 1. Standardization could focus on a default, but still make it easy to change the default (preferably before the default is actually installed) -- thus, not removing choice. 2. Standardization does not make things easier for everyone. Those whose workflow and normal usage patterns conflict with the new "standard" will find things made more difficult by that standardization -- even if you take the approach to standardization in my first point, though such difficulty might be confined to having to take an extra step to say "No, I don't want the default." > If Linux eventually comes out with one GUI for all versions of Linux it only proves that Linux is maturing as an operating system. Unless that "one GUI" happens to be the best configuration for my needs, it won't mean maturing in my view. From where I'm sitting, it would mean Linux-based systems are becoming obsolete, and I'll be even happier I'm using FreeBSD instead. > If we can program we can change the distributions that we use. It has not historically been anywhere near that difficult to change many things about most Linux distributions, and this is one of the strengths of Linux-based systems (and open source Unix-like systems in general). Making it universally that difficult -- requiring programming expertise to change basic configuration -- would be abandoning such strength, which is why I find the approach Ubuntu takes so disheartening. It's not just Ubuntu, either: most distributions are increasingly limiting our options, and making it more and more difficult to change defaults. It's just one reason among many I prefer BSD Unix systems over Linux-based systems.

aroc
aroc

Most of us like to think we are a few steps ahead of monkeys based on what we can do with our brains guiding our hands. Also, just imagine the chaos of voice input in crowded environments such as offices with cubicles, or with the new mania for "open" offices. There are uses for voice input/audible output, but not for ALL I/O. That includes user differences - my hard-of-hearing condition makes me quite averse to a sound-based mode for I/O. As another example, arthritis of the old, and the similar lack of fine motor control by the very young can make touch input quite challenging. Your "futuristic" preference for sound-based I/O is not necessarily universally applicable.

hydroment
hydroment

I have boxes running about 8 different versions of windows, and about 6 different distros and or flavors of linux or unix. This is for a reason. Different OS's unarguably perform different tasks better or even worse, not at all. I don't think we need to take the flavor out of linux, We needn't debate them either. A draft horse is used to pull a plow sheer and a burro is used to carry the pack.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

It tends to be much easier to change between distributions while retaining your own user data and finding common application titles in the distro repositories. While two distributions are desctinct seporate products that happen to use the same brand of commodity OS kernel, changing between the two is nothing like changing between Windows and osX. In your particular case; what is your intended use? Do you require a comercial distribution or comercial support? Do you just need a general purpose system or are you going to be wanting a security, development, multimedia or similar primary focus? A few around here can probably suggest a pretty good short list of distributions to look at give your needs and preferences. You can also try this: http://www.zegeniestudios.net/ldc/

AZ_IT
AZ_IT

Bear with me for this first paragraph it encompasses all of my frustration at this thread, Linux, and open source projects in general. If you want it may be prudent just to skip to the last paragraph. After reading through all the various comments here I believe I was misinformed. I was under the impression that users by nature do not program they simply use the programs of others. Based on the many comments made here a Linux user must also be a programmer? No wonder I've had such a hard time learning Linux I never knew that being able to program my own kernel, drivers, desktop, and applications was a prerequisite. With my new understanding I see that Linux is an exclusive club for programmers only and I should get off the boat before I get pushed off and drown. Based on my new understanding I also see that everyone who uses a computer according to the "open-source mindset" must also be able to program. Has general education been replaced by computer science since I graduated? Obviously I was unaware that computer science encompassed all knowledge in the known universe. Thank you for an eye opening experience! Now I know that open-source is not a realm in which I or the other 90% of the worlds population who don't program belong. But as is the common theme in the open source threads I should put up or shut up so I am now choosing to do the later. Granted the above was oozing sarcasm but I am hopeful that maybe just maybe it will have opened some eyes to how the above conversation could have affected a common man. I am as common as they come. My goal is that more people adopt Linux and open source projects. I mean isn't that the goal here? Or is the idea to have a community only for the elite who also develop the project? Maybe I really have missed the boat. You do realize that good ideas can come from anyone, anywhere right? I am not one of the elite who has chosen to program for a living, I am just a simple man trying to support a family and hold down a job where I support other simple men and women trying to support their families and live their lives. I guess that was my mistake.

apotheon
apotheon

> all the gear-heads and developers I know put their heads down and make Linux work for them and find ways to make their developments work for everyone else, like the examples above. I, for one, do that with FreeBSD instead of any Linux-based system. It's easier to make BSD Unix systems do what I want, because their maintainers don't expend so much effort trying to make me accept their choices for "best" default configuration.

dtwaling
dtwaling

All due respect to you Jack, I appreciate your review. My impression, on target or not, is that you are taking on the Linux Desktop arena on a very specific level. I agree with your analysis, whether everyone agrees on how the desktop options should be paired down is practically moot; it seems that is essentially the point you are addressing, and the very reason for the circus. The source of the GUI Linux desktop environment is the same as the source for any consumer product, it came from all the hard work and development in response to fill a need. BUT, I reiterate my previous statement, Linux is not for the faint-hearted. As Long as anyone chooses to utilize an open-source solution in production or for their OS, they WILL be facing a very large realm of choices. It is then up to the individual to discover and choose the options that fill their need (personal or business). - Additionally, they will be buying into self-service - unless they choose a more polished open-source product that offers a list of "approved/certified" options and/or paid service & support. So back to the beloved GUI desktop - the Linux desktop arena may see a few options become so convoluted in answer to the outcry of user desire that they crash and burn, and others may just fizzle out. And the complicated, ever accelerating spiral of desktop options will hurl the extra baggage into the vacuum of space, making and opening for a new option to come in (that may or may not start by getting back to basics). It seems the need fulfilled by the Linux desktop was, originally, for people who worked in Linux regularly to have an environment that allowed them to reside in the Linux environment without the need to switch back to another OS for daily tasks and communications. - i.e.: This provides an avenue to operate and collaborate with colleagues working in more prominent consumer operating environments while never leaving the work preferred or required to be performed in Linux. - Due to the openness of Linux, and therefore the greatly varied and specialized focus of Linux gear-heads, there will always be many desktop options to choose from to fit the needs. One major effect of making a more user-friendly GUI for all these purposes is that many people who not typically likely users of a Linux OS, from average PC users to borderline gear-heads, are attracted to the product. - PRIMARILY, because the grass is always greener - They see something (a "new toy") that looks very usable, ---- and they don't mind tinkering) - They hear that Linux runs on the same PC they have Windows on ---- AND runs faster... ...Hence we have another group of users that is large enough to have a loud enough voice to affect the sway of various desktop options (and sometimes in ways that many in the IT world don't care for, or are out-right annoyed by). To the point, the Linux desktop arena has become a circus as of late. But, things like this seem to ebb and flow a bit over time, so I don't see any major demise of the Linux desktop, let alone the Linux kernel. - It is here to stay, although some of us are still looking for the caped-crusader Linux, and the cape may have been traded in to try out the masked-avenger role; Just like tight jeans, the cape will come back into style (and for some it never went out of style).

apotheon
apotheon

You can run the X Window System on Linux-based systems, BSD Unix systems, and Apple MacOS X. You can also get it running in a Unix emulation environment on MS Windows, though, it's a bit limited there.

pgit
pgit

Get cracking on it and let us know when you're finished. :) Seriously though, it is apparently something the KDE team is taking into account. Their "semantic desktop" is at least partially ported to windows.

rmerchberger
rmerchberger

""" So as an Ubuntu user, I will be shopping for a new Distro.""" Or, you could do what I did[1] - Just install Ubuntu 10.04LTS and leave it. It's the Long Term Support version so there will be security & stability updates for 3+ years without any GUI changes. [1] I'm not a fan of the "update every 6 months" cycle, so I'm just hoping there's still some good GUI choices when 12.04 LTS rolls around... If not, I'll just keep running 10.04 until the security updates run out & _then_ start looking for another distro (or make the time to roll another "Linux From Scratch" installation). Laterz!

hydroment
hydroment

Totally in agreement. I was trying to read to the end of the comments as to not duplicate too many points, but what you said is what I was biting my tongue waiting to say. Others have said too, This is really a non issue. Ubuntu and its flavors typically just work out of the "box" which is tremendous for new converts and those just testing the waters. I remember the first time installing Mandros and the HUGE list of software available to install including the desktops, heck, I was overwhelmed. I didn't know what the packages were, I totally knew what notepad.exe was, but had absolutely NO idea who kate was or vi or gedit or any other other names they could come up with. I might have guessed about gedit, but I hope you get my point. Ubuntu as well as many other distros out there take the guess work out of what to install. or what might even be available for that mater. I commend them for this. For a more seasoned linux user (notice I didn't say geek - yet) who has learned that there are alternatives available she or he :-) is just as capable of downloading another live CD and giving it a go, or using whatever package manager to install different apps or even the desktop that may or not be available. For us geeks who really know what we want we are just as capable of testing software - full install, live, virtual - and then building what we want from there. As far as the concern of bloat, If a computer is capable of running any current MS it will be capable of running a linux distro with bells and whistles. If squeezing every last resource out of a new inexpensive or an older machine is your goal then you are not likely to be a noob in the first place and have the sense enough to research a little of what you want to put on the machine, puppy, JeOS, Ubuntu server etc. If that is your goal then you are quite likely searching for a distro that is also hardware compatable. Just as children we take small steps and learn as we grow to achieve more. introduction to linux is no different.

apotheon
apotheon

> The opposite of this would be to believe that because I don't like Unity for example, I'm going with Windows.... While my abandonment of Linux-based systems came years ago, and was not about the "desktop" per se, it could see people abandoning it for reasons of problems like desktop standardization. The thing is . . . they shouldn't abandon it for MS Windows. They should abandon it for BSD Unix, if they're going to abandon it -- because in the BSD Unix realm, there is still respect for the user's right to choose. At least, that's how I feel about it.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

If the owners of a particular car complain about the drink holder placement, its either because the drink holders are in the trunk or that they have no other complaints of substance. ;)

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

I regularly see customized desktops turn up on the lifehacker website. You can do some amazing stuff to Windows with rainmaker and similar addons. Back in the day it used to just be "do I put the task bar at top, bottom or sides and what colors do I make stuff" except for the few who braved alternative shell replacements (and made sure to know about the system.ini lined "shell=iexplore.exe"). heck, in the dos days it was hex editing to change error messages and displayed text in Dos along with .com apps to change the display font. With Win95, it was renaming win.com to end up with Dos7 loading your GUI manually when running the renamed .com. With win98 there was much fun with doing html backgrounds; I had one that turned the UI into a click through copy of Deckers apartment from Blade Runner with applicable program links in each room. The osX themeing enthusiasts seem to be equally alive still. The real difference is that outside of the Windows/osX worlds it's more common to be able to change the entire graphic UI rather than just use addons to manipulate how the existing one displays.

aroc
aroc

To go along with this point, I would offer my experience of moving my email from OS/2 to Windows 98/NT/2000/XP to Linux of various stripes, currently Mint 7 (the newer versions are not compatible with my older hardware it seems, and that is another can of worms for another rant). The common denominator has been the Netscape email client engine that has been available through all those platforms with SeaMonkey being my current incarnation (could use Thunderbird, but it seems to have gotten too bloated, and I like Seamonkey's continuation of the Netscape all-in-one model). The other key data which have survived through all this have been my checkbook spreadsheets that started in StarOffice on OS/2, and went through the older Windows versions of Excel, and then on to StarOffice/OpenOffice supporting the Excel format, although just this year I have been saving only in ods format, and not in parallel in Excel 5 format (been about 5 or 6 years now since OO 1.x trashed its XML formatting of one year's checkbook, and I had to find an XML editor - Windows-based, ironically - that I could use to restructure the 9,000 character lines - something like that - that made up the internal data layout). Works for me.

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

I went off half cocked. Not only is NS's message decidedly NOT spam, but I've recommended the same site myself in the past.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

I have been a Linux user for many moons, but I have it on good authority that I am not a programmer. This authoritative data came by way if one of my professors where I am pursuing a master's degree double major in IT management and economics.

Neon Samurai
Neon Samurai

where did you read anyone suggesting average appliance user's be able to write there own kernel, drivers or similar? The majority of the discussion is about the difference in distributions (ie. appliance user versus expert user). The first post simply points out that no single desktop evnironment fits all users and that having multiple desktops spanning the appliance user (kde, gnome) through to advanced task focused keyboard power user is a key benefit to OS families which value choice and customization. If your goal is that more appliance users adopt alternative OS platforms. What are the more "user easy" distributions you'd suggest and is the OS kernel that they'll never interact with really important?

dtwaling
dtwaling

That reinforces the point (indirectly) that the people who are in this to accomplish something make their tools work for them. Your point is well taken, and in my experience not uncommon. We choose the tools we use, and if they don't quite do the job then choose the one that does. I guess a good take away for those serious about these things is 1- if you are truly interested in Linux as your primary tool (or toolbox as it were) then find what fits the need, shut the yap, and git to work. 2- if you want to see changes/improvements to your favorite Linux GUI, instead of complaining try contributing to its development, or find another solution. ...and 3- If it is so import to have a GUI desktop with a significant set of stable defaults and an easy end user experience, then stick with Mac or Windows ...some people should have never moved away from calculator watches ;-p

aroc
aroc

By that I mean all the apps that can be run in a web browser, whether local JavaScript apps (amazing stuff being done with JS these days), or server-based apps "out there" on the Internet grouped under the mystical new name of "The Cloud" (whatever...). These can be the building blocks of a generic "desktop" wherein the browser becomes the glue for the environment, and the OS it runs on becomes irrelevant (theorectially - quirks and problems unique to one OS or another still do intrude on this scheme). Google's ChromeOS is just the most prominent and recent effort at distilling this concept to a purer essence. FWIW

apotheon
apotheon

Maybe it's both. Everything's perfect, except the cup holders are in the trunk! Who puts cup holders in the trunk?!

apotheon
apotheon

> Back in the day it used to just be "do I put the task bar at top, bottom or sides and what colors do I make stuff" except for the few who braved alternative shell replacements (and made sure to know about the system.ini lined "shell=iexplore.exe"). I used the hell out of one of those Explorer replacement (LiteStep) years ago. It started getting less customizable after a while, though, so I gave up on it. Then . . . I discovered the joys of open source Unix-like systems. I haven't looked back. I think most people who do that stuff on MS Windows do so to try to make things look "special" somehow, though. I did it to try to minimize the frippery that kept getting in my way, and to enhance productivity. I liked an elegant, clean interface that made everything clear and obvious while still not eating up all my screen real estate. I also like an interface that did not consume too many resources, leaving my system sluggish or even unstable. It should be no surprise, given those motivations, that I abandoned MS Windows as anything other than a deployment testing platform. Long ago, I changed my DOS prompts to give me useful information that made it easier for me to get work done. Same deal. In Win2k, I actually turned off the "desktop" process (a simple Registry hack). I didn't use desktop icons, so I didn't care about that process other than the resources it consumed and the security vulnerabilities it presented. I was pretty annoyed when I found that this option appeared to have been removed.

Slayer_
Slayer_

I used to have a VB5 app that ran at startup, and generated an HTML file that was simple tables listing off two folders. A games folder, and a misc programs folder. Making my desktop essentially a giant application launcher. Each one was targeted to a batch file that launched the exe. In the filetype properties, I would change .bat to always by default Run, instead of launching IE's "Run/Save/Cancel" dialog. It worked pretty slick, I even eventually changed the text links to use the ICO files if available, and make giant clickable buttons. And, if I wanted to remove this for any purpose, I just had to right click and uncheck "view as webpage" Win98 constantly crashed in webmode, so I never bothered again, so did WinXP, constant "Active desktop has errored" messages. I was hoping Win7 finally fixed this so I could use it again. In thinking back, I essentially built the modern tablet interface for my desktop. Even had an on/off button.

apotheon
apotheon

"One more problem," not "A new problem."

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

This one's been around for a while, and one can always e-mail the PTBs directly. I find it more tolerable than the newly minted crop of problems. Better the devil you know...

apotheon
apotheon

There needs to be a way to un-flag someone.

dtwaling
dtwaling

It is not hard to come away from a thread like this without the impression that you have, but this is a hot button topic for many who use Linux on one level or another. It turns into an argument over what is right and wrong about Linux or how it's used. And there are many whose livelihood can be credited to what they accomplished with Linux, so there is a lot of pride and passion in the Linux "community." The unfortunate side of the pride part is exactly what Hydroment described, it can be very ugly. I have to apologize for my comments contributing to your bad impression; I believe there IS a large number of programmers in the Linux "trenches" whose goal is to provide a product for all users (whether in the hope of making money, or just trying to fill a genuine need). My rant was kind of a long winded way of saying "you make your bed, now lie in it;" basically, if someone chooses a product, they need to know what they are getting into, which conjures another old saying "let the buyer beware." (BTW, I tend to be long winded anyway) Programmers and non alike complain. When you spend a lot of time deep into something, you tend to become opinionated about it. So, to find someone in any field, or community, who doesn't eventually find something to complain about is rare. But the mass gripes and groans are a bit over the top sometimes, and being the father of a kindergartner, and a 1st grader, and 2 teen boys, my complaint threshold is close to the break point on a regular basis. So I posted more out of frustration, and hopefully less out of pride. I certainly have no grand dev achievement to earn that rite, but there are those who merely know enough to be dangerous who are certain they have earned it (and are usually loud about it). - - - - - - - - - - To express myself more tactfully (hopefully): Anybody that chooses an open-source option must come to understand there is a certain level of risk, and often times research involved in using open-source products in a primary or other everyday role. And whether you are a programmer or not, if you use the product, the developers are usually grateful for bug reports, because it helps them improve their work. Therefore, going forward with this understanding, if you are not concerned with waiting for a commercially supported version, be ready to get your hands dirty in case things don't work as you had hoped. NOBODY working with open-source software really has a license to complain, if you are into dev and programming - you should know better! And if you are an end user - you should have been prepared, use the proper channels to help improve the product and move on - this is what I meant buy put up or shut up. ... If you spend money on one of the many products that came from Linux(or other) open-source beginnings and receive no support, you bought yourself a license to complain. It is nothing to do with knowledge of the inner workings of Linux, and everything to do with narcissistic entitlement mentality; "why don't they customize it for ME?" ...if people want to cry to get their way find a shrink, if they have an idea use the suggestion box. - - - - - - - - - - - - No matter how grumbley any of us gets over our once favorite breed of Linux, I like to think that most will always understand that If a stable and supported end user product is the goal for any developer... Non-programmer, un-opinionated (gear-heads that think they know better), users who are willing to trust their day-to-days with an open-source product are actually a very healthy and important part of the user group where development is concerned. That is where developers derive a truer course to their final product. ---and sometimes a product never truly graduates the beta stage, and the cycle of changes seems never-ending, even drastic at times. Whether an avid user or not, it can be frustrating to watch - like watching your favorite movie protagonist make a decision the whole audience knows will turn out bad ;-) Which brings us back full circle and to one more platitude: you can please all the people some of the time, and you can please some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time. ...some developers just get their cross-hairs stuck on the latter, and that contributes to what we all came to read about here, you end up with a circus of Linux desktops.

hydroment
hydroment

AZ has a point, maybe for a thread of its own. In a lot of places you see or read comments by linux users and programmers and get a sense that are in the trenches, on the front lines, or in a battle contending with MS and Mac. I don't think the comments are necessarily directed at the users of these other OS's but the users of these other OS's reading the posts might read them as though they are the innocent enemy. I know that I have felt the gloat of accomplishment in linux or unix when a colleague with so-called better education failed in the same situation. there is a pride that is common amongst linux users that at times can act as a shield, or worse, a sword threatening would be noobs or converts. I should add in here cross-over users as well, who work in both almost daily. Don't get me wrong, not all linux users fit the description given above but there are enough of them out there that it makes a difference. It's called bad advertising. to AZ.... There is no house divided here. It has never been called the linux house, to my knowledge. It has however been called, quit frequently, the linux community. There is a comradeship among linux users as well. Over all we are working toward bettering the linux experience, (oops, sounds like those other guys ;-) ) be it in a homey feel for the average daily desktop user or under the hood for the power user. I haven't heard the phrase, windows community or mac community, used nearly as often.

apotheon
apotheon

The fact one person said something like that should not give anyone the impression that everyone is saying it.

AZ_IT
AZ_IT

My first comment was my first impression after reading only the first few posts. My second comment was based on my feelings after reading the entire thread. This was a general overall impression but based specifically on a few of the comments, two of which were by dtwaling and randallizm. Those two comments opened up old wounds based on past discussions about proprietary verses open-source, questions on the security of open-source software, etc. The general attitude of some seems to be that only programmers have the skill to use a computer or that using a computer requires an in depth knowledge of programming, the OS, all the configurable options, etc. The computer was designed to simplify common tasks for everyone not just programmers. If Linux ever has a chance at appealing to the masses we need to make it easier for them to try. To borrow the car analogy from earlier when you teach a teenager to drive you don't take them down to the dealership and outline all the different features, specs, variations between the cars and ask which one they want. You use the family car, a vehicle they are already familiar with and teach them about everything as you go. Linux by comparison does not have the family car. For an Apple or Windows user you are just thrown into the dealership with discussions of a plethora of distributions, desktops, packages, customizations, etc. And quite frequently while trying to wrap your head around it all you are insulted and belittled because you don't know anything, aren't an actual user because you can't program, aren't involved in the development, or because the thought of configuring an OS/desktop/app in a command-line is terrifying. This is where the common man comes from so until the open-source/Linux community is more welcoming, more understanding, more patient, and more united they can't appeal to the masses. It seems to me that appealing to the masses is a goal maintained by a very small group of the actual community and that the rest are content to tinker for and by themselves (thus all the different distros, desktops, packages, builds, customizations, etc). Unless that changes there is no hope for Linux. You think Windows and Apple users like paying an arm and a leg for their computers, OS's, and software? We don't like it anymore than you. But there has yet to be a better offering from the Linux community. There is no Unity, only division. How can we trust a house divided? The answer is we can't. *Edited for readability

CharlieSpencer
CharlieSpencer

"Linux was never intended for the faint-hearted, that is what Windows and Mac are for. the Linux kernel is there for those willing to work and study hard in the trenches, on infrastructure, and for continued development. My colleagues who work in Linux daily, on daily tasks or development, have never complained about any particular Linux OS; they understand it for what it is and utilize it accordingly. So you can operate within the strict boundaries of MS or Mac for everyday PC use, or even dev and work on projects that run on their OS; OR, if you really want to work with Linux, you can see the forest for the trees and realize the reason Linux became so prominent and is still so today, then put up or shut up." Quoting from dtwaling, in the next thread above this one. I believe that is who AZ_IT is responding to, and that AZ_IT's post directly above yours is misplaced.

apotheon
apotheon

I hadn't thought of that. Good call.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

This was a thinly veiled attempt to remind folks of OS/2 Warp... Or perhaps it was Vista when they moved the add remove program dialog I'm sure just to get my goat.

apotheon
apotheon

That sounds familiar (and twisted), but I'm trying to avoid thinking about it. My head already hurts.

Alpha_Dog
Alpha_Dog

Remember the "shell=calc.exe" gag?