Linked by David Adams on Mon 24th Aug 2009 09:21 UTC
Linux A reader asks: Why is Linux still not as user friendly as the two other main OSes with all the people developing for Linux? Is it because it is mainly developed by geeks? My initial feeling when reading this question was that it was kind of a throwaway, kind of a slam in disguise as a genuine question. But the more I thought about it, the more intrigued I felt. There truly are a large amount of resources being dedicated to the development of Linux and its operating system halo (DEs, drivers, apps, etc). Some of these resources are from large companies (IBM, Red Hat, Novell). Why isn't Linux more user-friendly? Is this an inherent limitation with open source software?
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When I talked about a clean slate design, I was thinking along the lines of leaving GTK and QT, and every other toolkit, behind forever. Not for linux, just for Chrome OS. If Chrome OS is just another distro, big deal. If it's going to be a whole new system that uses the linux kernel and the GNU userland, that could be very interesting. If they manage to get a deal with a hardware vendor, I think it places them in a position to gain users in a way that linux never has and never will.

If Chrome does better than Linux in general it will be because of its integration and polish and, as you say, contacts with OEMs. Google could get that using existing toolkits and X. If they don't it's their loss, spending a lot of time and effort that they probably don't need to (but isn't it neat?)

Look also at SkyOS and Syllable for systems not even using GNU userland but using the Linux kernel. They don't use X either, but they could. Their pleasant environment is due to having a single vision for how things are put together.

Again, I'm not suggesting that the linux world follow suit, but what is so wrong about a new system that may actually provide a better end user experience?

Nothing is wrong with a new system, except that it's unnecessary. I'd much rather a company direct its employees to work on something missing, like improving existing toolkits, adding points of integration between components of the desktop, and so forth, rather than have them reinvent the wheel. They have to add in all the nice polish that makes the user experience great anyway, so why not do that with existing things under open licenses so that we all benefit? Isn't that sort of the point?

Additionally, a proprietary graphics layer helps no one. If Google contributes to X and existing toolkits then we all benefit even if their product flops. If they release their own closed-source toolkit and graphics layer and it succeeds, that's bad because less free software is in use. If it fails that's bad because a lot of effort was wasted and the community can't pick up the good bits.

You mentioned Be. Exactly. Also MorphOS and AmigaOS 4.x come to mind. All three of those systems boot to a usable desktop in like 10 seconds, look good, and have small memory footprints. I find systems that behave like that very compelling. I'm sure that I am not the only person who would find such an operating system attractive. Can we do that with X? I don't know. It just seems like my linux and FreeBSD systems in 1996 were a hell of a lot spunkier than any Ubuntu distro I've tried in the last couple of years, and that was on much slower hardware.

Of all the things that have gotten slower over time X is not one of them (quite the opposite). You can still get that blazing fast speed today if you shut down a lot of the handy but not essential background services and limit yourself to the kind of bare bones window manager you had in 1996.

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