It’s Time to Retire ‘Ready for the Desktop’

It’s one of those catch phrases that never really seems to die out. Wherever you look in the operating systems world, at personal blogs written in crummy English, or at high-profile quality websites, there is bound to be someone, somewhere who used it. Even I, myself, used it in articles in a far and distant past, and I’m not particularly proud of it. “Ready for the desktop” is no longer acceptable – in fact, it’s on its way out.“Ready for the desktop”, mostly in conjunction with Linux, is a catch phrase that never really served a purpose anyway. The problem is that it is undefined; what does it mean to be “ready for a desktop”? Is there a set of rules? Are there stone tablets somewhere with ten requirements on them that you need to fulfil before you’re “ready for the desktop”? Is there a standards body somewhere that has written a 10000 page specification detailing what you need to do to be ready for the desktop?

There isn’t, of course, and that’s exactly the problem. What makes an operating system ready for my desktop doesn’t mean it’s ready for anyone else’s desktop. I’ve lived an entire year with QNX 6.1/6.2 as my desktop operating system; it fulfilled all my needs, and I was happy with its stability, speed, and looks. It allowed me to browse the web, read my email, listen to music, you name it. For me, QNX and PhotonUI were “ready for the desktop”. However, I was only one of the three men and a cow who could use QNX as a desktop – the rest of the world wasn’t completely crazy and dismissed QNX as a desktop operating system.

In other words, being “ready for the desktop” is a relative term, and in and of itself means absolutely nothing. It needs a proper context, a set of rules put forth by the person uttering the phrase. What does it mean to him? What are his requirements that the operating system in question does or does not fulfil?

So, I would like to join Jeremy LaCroix when he says “it’s time we officially retire this criterion”.

In the article, Jeremy LaCroix points out a new trend in reviewing operating systems, one that we’ve seen linked to on OSNews a few times already as well: a “normal user” forced to do a set of tasks on an operating system she (mostly she) never used before. LaCroix is clear: “If one person is not able to be productive in Linux, does that really mean anything to the rest of us?” Of course it doesn’t.

My university has a campus-wide wireless network with all sorts of fancy security stuff. This is quite a hassle to set up, but at one point I could configure Mac OS X to connect to this network from the top of my head, without any configuration guide or whatever. Contrary to popular belief, OS X is not always easy and user-friendly; configuring advanced wireless networks was a pain on Tiger, because the dialogs and configuration utilities were rather messy. For Leopard, Apple completely revamped the dialogs and tools.

Which brought me back to square one. I’ve been using Mac OS X for a long time now, and I consider myself a power user on this system. Yet, when Apple changed how to configure an advanced wireless network, I was lost. It took me hours and hours of fiddling about before the thing would work.

You can imagine that pulling an inexperienced user from a Windows environment, and dropping them in an Ubuntu environment is sure going to give them headaches. It’s only elementary, and does not really say anything about how easy to use Ubuntu, or any other system, is.

In conclusion, I agree with LaCroix. Let’s not talk about being ready for the desktop any more, and let’s not regard helpless users’ responses to a few dialogs as an end-all-be-all way to determine ease of use.


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