We all know them. We all hate them. They are generally overdone, completely biased, or so vague they border on the edge of pointlessness (or toppled over said edge). Yes, I’m talking about those “Is Linux ready for the desktop” articles. Still, this one is different.
Instead of some vague exposition of why Linux on the desktop sucks (which almost always comes down to: “it does things differently from Windows”), this article presents a very simple and clear list of things that are currently lacking or underperforming in the desktop Linux world. No vague idealistic nonsense, just a simple, to-the-point list of what’s wrong with desktop Linux, and what needs fixing.
Written between April 30 and May 18 2009, the document “discusses Linux deficiencies”, however, “everyone should keep in mind that there are areas where Linux has excelled other OSs”. The author also adds that “a primary target of this comparison is Windows.”
While most of the items on the list are fairly accurate and reasonable, there are a few things on there that seem debatable in my eyes. For instance, the note about Gtk+ and QT being unstable is not something I’ve personally experienced – to me, it appears that some applications are simply unstable without it having anything to do with the toolkits. I’m also not sure if bringing up Win32 as an example of a good API is such a wise idea.
The codec complaint is also an interesting one. The author states that there is a “questionable patents and legality status” on Linux (when it comes to some codecs, that is). It goes on to say that “US Linux users cannot play many popular audio and video formats until they purchase appropriate codecs.” I live in The Netherlands, so the DMCA can bugger right off into an abyss – I will install whatever codecs I need on Linux, “clean” or otherwise. No need for me to pay for anything, and I doubt any American Linux users care all that much about the DMCA either.
The list is filled with other interesting items, and I’m sure many Linux users here will be able to counter other points as well. As a result, use this opportunity to discuss the current state of Linux on the desktop (eh…), and of course also maybe introduce some projects or initiatives that might address some of the concerns on this list.
I posted this response at Slashdot, but it got buried quickly:
I’ve been thinking about that maybe it’s time to let Linux be what it is, and start fresh with the goal to make an open source desktop OS that doesn’t get in the way. The world is different now and when Linux was started in 1991. It might actually be a good idea to rewrite the OS every fifteen year or so.
I’ve got some ideas for a new OS.
It consists of a kernel, an UI, a browser and some basic applications. This part of the OS is open source. Then there’s an app store or something similar where the user can buy applications, games, professionally designed typefaces, proprietary codecs etc.
It will be the first OS that is resolution independent. We wouldn’t even need anti-aliased fonts on the screen if monitor vendors started to increase the DPI. So that means that there will be vector graphics from the first pixel drawn after the boot loader. The default settings should favor what’s intuitive and non-intrusive for the average Joe.
I can imagine an UI with blues and grays, light gradients, mostly a flat look and some light shadows. Caching, timing and redrawing will get a lot attention, to keep the feel of the UI rock solid. Hot spots should be made the most of.
I think history has shown that there’s nothing wrong with the start-like menu, task list, clock and a desktop in the background. OS X and Linux have got the tray right for the most part. It’s for wireless networks, volume changes and similar. The user can install a program by clicking a link on a website or by using the app store-like program. The app store (or whatever it might be called) should keep track of the updates. Distribution of packages could get done by BitTorrent or similar technology. This means the death of mirrors and package maintainers.
I think the most important part is that you shouldn’t think about that you’re using an OS. Microsoft have experienced with browser integrated into the desktop. Most people didn’t like it. KDE 4 placed the desktop icons in a box. Most people didn’t like it. Let’s draw from operating system experience since the beginning, and use what worked. Throw away what didn’t.
And then, let’s talk about how it should be organized. One centralized website with an unified look. It should be easy for people to suggest ideas and comment on them. The ones who are making decisions will have to favor the public opinion rather their own. The feedback from the user should be taken very seriously. A release schedule will be set up that in the best way benefits the whole system. The Scrum process might be used as a model for the development in general.
The challenge is to convince people that this is a good idea. I will donate my time for free and lead the project, if there’s any interest. I’ve waited for an usable Linux desktop for over a decade, and I’m done waiting. That’s not to say that I don’t respect the work that has been done in Linux-land. A new OS would benefit from a lot of the Linux kernel source that has been written, and all that the world has learned about Linux. And Linux won’t die. This will be just another experiment, but with different organization and goals.
Edited 2009-05-18 19:31 UTC