posted by Eugenia Loli on Wed 9th Oct 2002 04:52 UTC
IconArguably, the new unified UI on Red Hat 8 was the talk of the town for the whole summer since the Limbo betas. Today we talk with two of the leading people behind Red Hat's enhanced usability and UI found on 8.0-Psyche, Havoc Pennington (also known for his work on the Metacity window manager) and Owen Taylor (lots of cool stuff on XFree's side). We discuss about XFree and its capabilities, about Linux's ability to fullfil a modern desktop for every user, about the unification of Qt and GTK+ and more.

1. Red Hat 8 has just been released. How do you feel about the progress Red Hat has made since its last version in the desktop and UI field?

Owen "OWT" Taylor: It's definitely a big step forward. I think we've really gone from a collection of applications to something that looks and feels integrated with this release. And visually, I'm really incredibly impressed by what Garrett Lesage, our new graphic designer, managed to do with this release. I flinch now every time I see a screenshot of an older release.

Havoc "HP" Pennington: I think it's great. There are so many cool enhancements. Of course lots of work remains, but I'm amazed by how much we got done for 8.0.

Owen Taylor
Owen Taylor
Havoc Pennington
Havoc Pennington

2. What kind of changes you did or wanted to do for the RH desktop, but they did not make it to the final release (if any)?

OWT: You never get everything in that you want to, which is good, since then you'd have nothing to do for the next release. Garrett had a lot of visual tweaks that he wanted to do still... he has the real attention to detail of a graphics artist. We thought it looked great, he was upset that an icon was blurry - that text here or there was off by a few pixels.

One thing I'd like to see for future releases is a way for system administrators to be able to easily change the default applications.

HP: Tons and tons of things. Printing and multimedia are at the top of my list for things I want to work on.

3. What is your opinion about offering a single X11 desktop environment with a desktop OS, instead of a plethora of them?

HP: As long as there's demand for more than one, in my opinion there's a benefit and not a lot of cost to having choices available. However I do think it's necessary to hide choices by default in many cases, to avoid confusing new users. "GNOME or KDE?" should not be the first thing a new user sees.

Also, the choice has to be a choice of desktop shell or environment, not a choice of two different sets of applications -- thus the Bluecurve integration effort, which is in part about breaking the link between the desktop shell and the applications.

We can't have a situation where an application only works properly if it's running in a specific environment. (And for the most part we've avoided this problem.) Even if GTK+ or Qt went away tomorrow, we have to deal with VCL (OpenOffice), XUL (Mozilla), WINE, old Motif applications, and so on. The same is true on Windows, where I'm told there are multiple generations of the standard GUI toolkit, plus third-party toolkits such as OWL, Qt, and Swing.

So any time an application is going to have runtime dependencies, those dependencies should be properly expressed in the form of a specification that lays out the protocols, file formats, conventions, and so on that are involved -- enabling multiple implementations to interoperate. This is just good engineering, and is pragmatically necessary for us to make sense of the Linux desktop platform.

4. How well integrated Qt and GTK+ are now, after your changes? For example, do shortcuts, copy/paste or drag-n-drop work adequately now between applications created by the two popular toolkits?

OWT: In general, I'd say that interoperability between a Qt application and a GTK+ applications is just about as good as betweeen two Qt applications or between two GTK+ applications. A lot of the remaining work is really stuff like agreeing on file formats and what is on the clipboard when pasting between applications. There is also work to be done in standardizing how toolkits interact with the desktop environment for things like changing the theme.

HP: Copy/paste and drag-and-drop have been fully interoperable on the toolkit level for years now - the protocols are standard. If you see problems there, they are bugs in the specific applications you're using. A bug should be filed against each application combination that doesn't work. If people don't file bugs against the specific application combinations, they won't get fixed.

Keyboard shortcuts have to be synchronized shortcut-by-shortcut. We've started on this, and have a substantial head start because both GTK+ and Qt are using a lot of shortcuts inherited from Windows/Java/Motif. I certainly hope to see more progress there over time, ideally on the upstream level (the GNOME and KDE UI teams seem to be talking about some shared style guide stuff, which is nice).

Table of contents
  1. "Interview with HP and OWT - Part I"
  2. "Interview with HP and OWT - Part II"
  3. "Interview with HP and OWT - Part III"
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