Fixing a Hole

Okay, there aren’t many holes to speak of in GNOME, but continuing the Beatles motif was irresistible.

Since I have been drooling over the new features of Ubuntu Linux, I thought it only appropriate to attribute some of the more stylish features to their source, GNOME.

Ubuntu development tracks GNOME development almost exactly, so the new release of Ubuntu should coincide perfectly with the release of GNOME (just a few weeks away now)

Davyd Madeley has his perennial preview of GNOME 2.14 out and the new features are worth more than my perfunctory GNOME lovefest.

For the first part, remember GNOME Love Day? Well, some people more talented than myself succeeded in making GNOME faster; much faster. From font rendering to memory allocation, there are some drastic speedups in 2.14

From the taking-eye-candy-from-strangers department, we have a composite-enabled Metacity now, incorporating many of the more impressive features of Luminocity, the technological testbed for future features. Wobbly Windows are only the beginning. Think Mac-ish people, it’s coming.

Home users will also enjoy fast user switching, enabled from the desktop. I know the members of my family that use Ubuntu have been wanting something like this for a while. The wait is over.

Beagle searching is implemented from Nautilus and the Panel now, and searches can be saved like folders and called back instantaneously. Run two searches on your computer, files returned by both searches will be in both “Saved Search folders” without changing location. This is the beginning of the end for hierarchical organization of data as we know it. For example, files related to Ubuntu and/or Novell could both be stored in one GNOME folder and organized by dynamically updating “Search Folders”. Cool, huh?

Features friendly to a corporate environment, like H.323 for voice and video over IP, seamlessly integrated with Evolution’s contact list and LDAP directory, makes videoconferencing a trivial implementation. CalDAV makes scheduling the aforementioned videoconferencing relatively pain free, since everyone works around the same calendar server.

So what are we left with? A speedy, pretty, full-featured and stable desktop with lots of extra stuff for productivity neatly packaged inside it. With a $0 price tag.

Which makes one think: if Windows Vista isn’t stunning, and I mean thoroughly amazing, the word “entrenched” might not mean what it used to.

No comments yet to Fixing a Hole

  • CS Weenie

    There’s a saying: “Mental illness is repeatedly doing the same thing, but expecting different results each time.”

    I sometimes wonder, then, why the Linux-on-the-desktop people spend so much time reimplementing the competition’s features years afterward rather than innovating. Don’t get me wrong; taken individually, the features you list sound good and useful. But I’ve been in this game long enough that I’ve heard predictions of imminent success on the desktop a number of times, all just one feature away from world domination. Yet here we are, using Windows (or OS X, there’s little practical difference).

    Or, to spin this rant in a more positive way: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” (Alan Kay) I think getting people excited about a better future is a superior strategy to reimplementing the same old 20 year old GUI (this time with racing stripes!).

  • While I agree with the statement that innovation is superior to reimplementation in theory, it doesn’t seem like a viable strategy for capturing desktop users. Sure, there may be several better ways to implement a mouse and keyboard GUI than what we’re currently exploring. Things like Looking Glass and 3dwm are examples of how developers are testing the existing GUI paradigm.

    The thing is, for a desktop computer user, switching operating systems is a huge step. When *nix has a larger share of the desktop market, we exercise the freedom to really shake some things up. On the other hand, if someone is interested in switching from OS X to a Linux desktop, the transition will be more facile if the Linux desktop implements an Expose-type feature on F12 (Xgl does, and it’s pretty too) Likewise, other software like MS Word only added features after it reimplemented Word Perfect, and the same for Word Star before it. To take a play out of the MS handbook: embrace and extend.

    The open-source community is based on reimplementing System V Unix and that worked pretty well for us. Only when we had a working open-source Unix system did we start innovating. I think the desktop will follow much the same pattern. First we implement the features that we know work, then we start experimenting. For the record, innovations are coming, for casual desktop use, natural language parsing for search seems hot.

  • CS Weenie

    The problem is, MS and Apple have very focused development efforts pushing these new features in their desktop environments. Linux will never achieve perfect feature parity, it’s just too difficult to keep up.

    I guess my fundamental difference of opinion is that “capturing” users by offering them the same thing they have now (only one step behind, in reality), is a losing strategy when fighting an opponent with such huge market share.

    To make a wild comparison, Ruby didn’t succeed so quickly by offering a “better Perl than Perl”; it’s just useful and interesting in its own right, and technical people gravitate towards that. Get the geeks using your stuff, and they’ll evangelize it and create market share out of thin air.

    Sun fears new languages like Ruby and Python, not because they are a “better Java”, but because the geeks prefer them! And within a couple years, the mainstream will shift as a result. *That’s* inventing the future.

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