It’s Awkward, Inconsistent, and Far Too Fleeting

Wondering about the title? It’s in reference to a comment made by Red Hat CEO Matthew Szulik that Linux on the desktop is “like teenage sex. Everybody’s talking about it, but nobody’s doing it.”

Not necessarily the comparison I would have drawn. Maybe it’s like soccer: big in Europe, but not glitzy enough for American crowds.

I wouldn’t agree entirely that no one is doing desktop Linux. Certainly there aren’t many. Novell recently launched as an area for shared usability research. Check out the data section for some videos of first time Linux users performing routine tasks on a Novell desktop. There is some valuable insight here, and some of the people’s reactions are very funny. (Finding Firefox installed as the default browser, for example)

I will agree with Szulik on the point that the Windows desktop might not be the main reason people stay with Windows. OpenOffice is neat, but using it for an MS Office user can be very challenging. Unseating these legacy applications seems to be the biggest challenge for Linux in the desktop and larger enterprise market.

And since I can’t resist, unlike teenage sex, using Linux can actually protect you from viruses. Also, unlike teenage sex, when it comes to Linux, only the geeks are doing it. Go ahead, be a voyeur.

No comments yet to It’s Awkward, Inconsistent, and Far Too Fleeting

  • The current state of Linux is fine for most managed (business) desktops, but until X11 is replaced, it won’t become a “mainstream” OS. X has gotten better since most distros moved to the Xorg version, but there are still huge performance and usability issues that need to be dealt with. For example, you still can’t change resolutions on the fly. You have to change the config (atleast there are GUIs for this now) and then kill and restart the Xserver to see your changes. I know this is a minor thing and 90% of people would never notice, but it represents the bigger issue: X is a 20 year-old technology and wasn’t designed to handle the typical usage of today’s user.

    I think Apple has the right idea: use a Unix base with a custom-built GUI that has X11-compatability available. If the Linux equivalent of Aqua is built and picked up by the major distros, I think Linux on the desktop could be a reality.

    However, with the up-coming release of OS X-x86, this discussion may be moot. Most of the people who want a stable, virus-free OS with the power of Unix probably don’t care if it is Free or not.


  • CS Weenie

    I’m pretty sure I was able to switch resolutions on the fly back in the XFree86 days — CTRL-ALT-, IIRC. Has actually removed this feature? Although it is true that all the potential resolutions have to be defined in your server configuration, you can’t switch to a resolution that hasn’t been configured yet.

    Anyway, I think X makes a great GUI research framework but a hopelessly chaotic desktop for the average user. Unified systems like GNOME and KDE are on the right track, but they aren’t quite there yet and possibly never will be.

  • CS Weenie

    Ok, I guess that looked too much like HTML. The key combination was supposed to read CTRL-ALT-(numeric pad + or -).

  • I forgot about CTRL-ALT-minus. It does still work — sort of. Your display does change to the new resolution, however, none of the current applications are notified of the change (I don’t think there IS a way to notify them of this), so if you decrease your resolution, your Gnome/KDE menus are outside the viewable area of your display.

  • Casimir

    Xorg did break down some serious barriers and allowed newer features into the xserver, which helped, at least in the eye-candy department, accelerated compositing and anti-aliasing, for example.

    Duplicating what Apple has done with the desktop is far from a simple task, though. There are people toying around with the idea of an X server built on top of GL rather than the other way around. Something like X Resize, Rotate, and Refresh does what you’re considering with resolution changes, as well as more advanced things like screen rotation for tablet PCs. Xgl looks promising as a X server replacement as well, and after spinning some windows around in Looking Glass, I’ve determined that it’s a neat technology, though not particularly useful.

    The Freedesktop Project Page is a good start on transforming X into a next-generation desktop.

  • CS Weenie

    Lack of eye candy isn’t the problem, IMO. Offloading graphics work to the GPU is a neat idea and worth doing, but personally I don’t need my desktop to look like a bubblegum wrapper. I use OS X on a daily basis because it sucks a bit less, but both Apple and MS are spending too much time adding gadgets with each release and not enough time raising the state of the art (Looking Glass is a real step in that direction; not necessarily the right step but how else can we find out?)

    To be honest, I’m nostalgic for Mac System 6 or twm in X11… simple, doesn’t get in my way, with the interface distilled down to basic principles. OS X has at least three or four different widget “themes” even between Apple-provided apps! What happened to the Human Interface Guidelines and consistency of look & feel? Sad.

  • Eric: OSX/x86 will be the same, compatibility-wise, as OSX/PPC: locked to Macs, at least officially. Of course, the crackers will break any copy protection scheme Apple can come up with, but your Aunt Tillie isn’t going to use it if she can’t get it off the store shelves. Shame, since it’s inordinately better than Windows.

    Also, C-A-plus/minus changes the X server’s viewport size, not its resolution, technically speaking. The screen’s still 1600×1200, but you can only see 1024×768 of it at a time. Move the mouse against the edges of the screen and the viewport will move. Apparently, KDE has a mechanism to get Xorg to change its resolution (properly), but that doesn’t work through hotkeys.

    Keep in mind that X11 was designed to be network-aware, first and foremost. The original display mechanism for X11 was not an X server on a computer, but rather a dedicated X terminal. All apps ran on a host computer and connected via a network. It’s an asset in the right circumstances but a liability for Aunt Tillie, since many of the flashy effects GUIs use today require more bandwidth than a network can provide. (Heck, most of them require more bandwidth than old video cards can provide.)

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