Windows 8 and Linux: The perception of change

Jack Wallen sees the changes in Windows 8 and wonders if the Microsoft community will react with the same displeasure that visited the open source community when GNOME 3 and Unity came on the scene.

Change: to make the form, nature, content, future course, etc., of (something) different from what it is or from what it would be if left alone.

This past week, I played around with Windows 8. One overriding thought forced its way to the front of my consciousness. How would the Windows users react to the drastic change?

Change is a topic that has been much maligned and very heated over the last couple of years in technology. What brought this about? Within the framework of 2011 and 2012, the subject became a hotbed thanks to Ubuntu Unity and GNOME 3. Both desktops were drastically different than what users had grown accustomed to. What really surprised me was that the desktop metaphor had gone with little to no changes since the release of Windows 95. That's quite a long time with little marked evolution. Both GNOME and KDE followed what Microsoft had declared the standard, and even both the open source heavy-hitters played along for quite some time. It wasn't until the release of GNOME 2 and KDE 4 that noticeable change was on the way. When GNOME split its panels into two pieces, there was a little guff, but nothing more than a few ripples were heard. When KDE 4 came out, the Linux community was turned up on its head. But then, when Unity and GNOME 3 were released, one would have thought the Four Horsemen were about to make their apocalyptic appearances.

But now, a change is coming to the Windows desktop that is nearly as drastic as was from GNOME 2 to GNOME 3 or from Classic GNOME to Ubuntu Unity. Windows 8 begins a new era with the adoption of what looks like part Windows 7 and part Windows Mobile (and inspired by open source designs).

Now, it's not my intent to comment on my impressions of the new Windows desktop. Instead, I just want to know if the same community that disparaged the Linux desktop developers (for making change "where change was not needed") will do the same to Microsoft. Or, will they give them a pass simply because they are Microsoft. Will those same naysayers stand up and proclaim "Brilliant!" to a design that is clearly borrowed from other technologies? Or will they put the same kibosh on the Windows 8 design as they did with GNOME 3 or KDE 4?

My guess is this. Unlike Ubuntu Unity or GNOME 3, Microsoft has the power of the all mighty PR dollar behind it and is just as good at Apple at convincing consumers that their product is exactly what they want and need. Microsoft could easily drum up excitement and wide-spread acceptance for Windows 8, where GNOME and Canonical struggled mightily to gain any momentum. But even with that innate ability to convince the consumer, I hope Microsoft can't hold sway over those same people that proclaimed the Linux desktop dead, simply because the designers decided to breathe life into a stale and ancient design.

I'll admit my opinion of Ubuntu Unity hasn't always been the best. That opinion wasn't because of change, but of execution. Recent iterations of Unity have made some major improvements to the desktop. And GNOME 3 is now my default desktop. And it's clear Canonical made the switch to Unity for the sake of tablets (let's hope they follow through with that in the very near future). Windows 8 — clearly designed with tablets in mind.

I understand fully that most users do not like change. But sometimes change is an inevitability. Yes, when such major change as Unity and GNOME 3 are brought to the table, the user has to take some time to get accustomed to the new way of working (And Windows users better be prepared for a major overhaul of how they work.) But that doesn't mean change isn't a good thing. Once KDE 4 was given a chance, the KDE faithful realized the changes were actually positive steps forward. The GNOME community is slowly coming around to seeing the same light. And, as with anything else, the Windows community will eventually get used to Windows 8.

But please detractors — give the changes coming with Windows 8 the same vitriol that was used with GNOME 3 and Unity. Why? Because it's change. And apparently, people don't like change. So, hate fairly, naysayers.

About Jack Wallen

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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