Is the 'perfect desktop' attainable?

Jack Wallen found many people had strong opinions about his claim that Ubuntu 12.04 nailed the desktop to near perfection. As a result, Jack questions whether the "perfect desktop" is attainable.

After my review of Ubuntu 12.04 last week, I received a lot of email responses.  Some of these missives agreed with me and some did not. But all of them, regardless of stance, pointed toward one simple idea: The perfect desktop is a lofty, but unachievable goal. How can I say that, after my slurping proclamations of Precise Pangolin? It's pretty simple actually. Let me ask you a question: What makes up the perfect desktop?

That, my friends, is the killer question. Tucked within some of the emails I received were clear and precise reasons why 12.04 was or was not the perfect desktop -- for the writer. Some writers needed multiple desktops to behave in very specific ways (ways they grew to love from another desktop UI). Still, others enjoyed the slick new HUD of 12.04 and felt it one of the best application menu systems to date.

But how do you answer a question ("What makes up the perfect desktop?") that is so user-specific? You can't. What you can do, as a designer/developer, is shoot for the result that best suits the majority of users. You know, in the end, there will be users who aren't satisfied with your results, but you have hope they can either find peace in what you bring or figure out how to modify your work enough to fit their bill.

But let me answer that question and you can compare my answers to yours. What makes up the perfect desktop for Jack Wallen?

  1. Must make efficient use of keyboard shortcuts.
  2. Must be clean in both look and feel.
  3. Must offer quick access to applications, files, and searchable items.
  4. Must have a user-friendly, powerful, and extendable file manager.
  5. Must be aware of applications, media, and other files.
  6. Must have a solid notification system and system tray.
  7. Must be aware of mounted external hardware.
  8. Must have a centralized, easy means to find and install software.
  9. Must be theme-able.
  10. Must offer effects of various sorts.

That is the short-list of what is important to my daily usage. Most of the above is fairly universal -- the majority of users, I believe, would agree. Many desktops can meet some of the above criteria, but not every one. For example: Windows 7 misses out on numbers 8 and 10 (though 10 isn't exactly a show stopper). Mac OS X misses out on 9 and 10. Both Windows 7 and OS X do not succeed as well as Precise Pangolin at 3. Also, most Linux desktops can be made (with varying degrees of configuration) to hit all of the above (with the exception of maybe Fluxbox and other intentionally-minimal window managers).

Even within the world of the Linux desktop, there are disagreements as to what is the perfect desktop. For KDE 4 users, some cannot do without Activities. For Classic GNOME users, some cannot do without the tried and true desktop metaphor. For Unity users, some cannot do without the Lenses.

One person's trash is another person's treasure.

My point is this -- calling something the "perfect" anything is a very individual thing. For me, the "perfect" desktop is the one that works best for me. That happens to be (at this moment) Ubuntu Unity. Prior to that it was Enlightenment E17. The nice thing about open source is that it enables you to easily manipulate and massage the desktop that you are using into that state of "perfection" that you demand.

I don't know if there will ever be a universally accepted ideal desktop. Why? Because everyone's idea of ideal is very different. I could hone a desktop to Jack Wallen perfection and hand it off to someone only to find they hate it.

Now, here's what I'd like to see -- everyone comment on what it is about your current desktop that makes it ideal for you (and which desktop is it). I can almost guarantee the list will be filled with amazing variety -- yet will offer up a few universals.