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What's missing from desktop Linux (hasenj.org)
19 points by hasenj 1689 days ago | 35 comments



As a Linux user I wish what was missing from Linux was elegance. What's really missing is drivers. Or at least non-buggy ones. I, and I'm sure many other hackers and "normal" consumers, could live with a slight lack of elegance if sound, 3D graphics, and WiFi all consistently worked without hours of fiddling while reading wikis and obscure forum posts.

I quake in fear every time I approach a projector for a presentation because I know the chances of it Just Working with my Ubuntu laptop are slim to none. Few people are willing to tolerate a UX like that.

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I read this article and couldn't figure out what the author thinks is missing from desktop Linux except some vague idea of elegance.

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I think the article was spot on. This vague idea of elegance you mention is the "magic" that Steve Jobs refers to.

To make that happen on the Linux desktop, a really talented developer with good design skills, have to start over from scratch. Leave the legacy toolkits.

He will have to be a dictator, uncompromising in the design vision. Good user experiences cannot come out of a committee, or the "open source development model". GNOME and KDE is great, I use them, but they sure do lack the "magic".

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You have to buy all your OS X apps? Where is that coming from? The only paid app I have on my Mac is TextMate. Everything else is FOSS.

I have no idea what the OP is trying to say here.

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I can't agree with you more. I have Logic Pro because I do a bit of audio work, but other than that it's all FOSS. (BTW, I use TextWrangler instead of TextMate. It's a reasonable free replacement although not as good.)

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And it's not as though there's an open-source alternative to Logic (or Final Cut etc) anyway.

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Audacity? (I'm not a musician but know musicians who use Linux)

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Audacity (cool program though it is) is to Logic as Notepad is to Office. Which is to say, a tiny, tiny subset of the other's functionality.

Edit: I just checked up on Wikipedia. Audacity has made a good deal of progress since I last used it. It's still not Logic caliber, but my analogy is definitely an exaggeration.

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The best desktop linux is Android. Wait a few years. I can already hook my phone to a tv via HDMI.

It's just a few steps to full desktop love. It's got most of the features I need, now I just want a bigger screen.

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> I can already hook my phone to a tv via HDMI. [...] now I just want a bigger screen.

Bigger than your TV? What are you planning on doing?

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I would presume he has in mind more pixels, regardless of area. see http://xkcd.com/732/

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Here is where you see that open-source doesn't really attract ux experts or designers. I also miss the final touch on my linux that would make it truly enjoyable experience.

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I think you hit the nail on the head by saying that Linux doesn't attract UX guys. To ne feels like open source projects are always about getting good code that runs well and the user-interface is very secondary (if even that). Apple (and now Microsoft [finally]) have enough resources to throw around to invest in the user interface, where as open source projects tend to only have enough resourses to get the actual program running. Investing in a better GTK is less of a priority. Apple clearly makes one of their main priority. Even if the prgram sucks / buggy / whatever, they will make sure that it looks beautiful because it's important to the average customer.

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Well, trying to make linux more like OSX or win (which is what xfce, KDE and GNOME do) is bounded to fail. I think there are qualities on linux that are both unique and elegant, for example tiling window managers. This is where most research in UX should go. Users of others OSs are not stupid, they long for enhanced productivity. If they see it in say a tiling WM, they may want it, and currently the only way to get it is in linux (more or less).

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Um if I remember correctly, Windows 1.0 had a tiling window manager. In fact even now if you right click the taskbar you have the option of tiling windows.

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That's not what "tiling window manager" means in this context. See for example http://xmonad.org/

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Running Ubuntu 10.04, I have a desktop that I feel is simple, elegant and beautiful. I used to envy my brother's nice looking desktop on his MacBook, but now when I look at it I think Ubuntu actually looks better.

Ubuntu runs smoothly, with simple but nice effects, clean windows and (since 10.04) some very nice themes. Perfect? No, but definitely in the same league as OS X.

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I'd say all the things you mention – nice effects, clean windows and nice themes – are examples of where Ubuntu is beautiful. I agree that Ubuntu is quite beautiful, and it is getting better and better.

I'd say what is lacking most in Ubuntu is elegance, which I define as it having strong vision about how things should look and behave. On a Mac you can quite clearly see when an application does not fit, for example Google Earth and Firefox. I think this is in large part due to the elegance of the platform.

Ubuntu is also somewhat lacking in simplicity. I think in large due to their attempts to hide accidental complexity instead of working to fix it. This has gotten a lot better, but as an example, Ubuntu still spews files for applications all over the place instead of having them as an application bundle as on a Mac. Then you get desktop files to give you a single icon to click, but they hide the complexity instead of removing it.

Reading what I wrote I realize that there is quite a bit of overlap between simplicity and elegance. App bundles are both simpler and more elegant than spewing files for an application all over the place.

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It sounds like he's trying to solve the problem that desktop Linux, in its current state, is used almost exclusively by hackers, and not at all by 'normal people'.

While 'normal people' may desire a clean look and fancy animations, there is a more fundamental problem. Linux is not easy. It's not easy to set up, it's not easy to use, and it's not easy to maintain.

A normal person can go into a store today, buy a computer with Windows on it, start it up, and be on their way. You can't do that with Linux. And if a normal person somehow discovers how to download and burn a disk image, once they get it on their machine, they will be presented with the inevitable task of getting everything to work. I have never installed a Linux distro that had functioning drivers for all of my hardware. I usually have to spend a few hours just configuring everything to work properly. It is ridiculous to expect that a nontechnical person is going to be able to do this.

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"if you’re a consumer, you are, by definition, not a hacker."

Does this not make sense to anyone else?

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It makes perfect sense. Consumers consume. Hackers create.

See also: iPad vs. Netbook. iPads are strictly for consuming other people's creations. Netbooks are open-ended.

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There's nothing mutually exclusive about hackers vs. consumers.

I both hack and consume in prodigious amounts.

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>It makes perfect sense. Consumers consume. Hackers create.

So if you write your own OS then you build your own computer from scratch, dig out your own toilet, build your own house, make your own clothing, grow your own food?

I'm certain that most hackers are also consumers.

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Why do people believe that the iPad can't be used to create anything? There's apps available for all kinds of creative endeavors, and more appearing every day.

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Consumers are to Hackers =/= iPads are to Netbooks.

Hackers can still be consumers. In fact, I challenge you to find a single Hacker who doesn't also consume.

Consumers can be hackers. Hackers are consumers.

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Hackers also read everything way too literally. A consumer is someone who mostly consumes and mostly doesn't create.

Everyone creates, be it an email to their friend, or a picture for their photo album. Everyone consumes, perhaps reading a book from time to time or watching a movie.

But some devices push you in one direction, and others push you in the other. Log into a Linux box with xmonad, emacs, and rxvt-unicode, and you have no choice but to create. That makes you a hacker.

Get an iPad, and with easily-available movie downloads and an infinite supply of blogs and no way to enter text efficiently, and you aren't going to be doing much creating. That makes you a consumer.

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"Log into a Linux box with xmonad, emacs, and rxvt-unicode, and you have no choice but to create. That makes you a hacker." And, assuming you're the same beginner who doesn't know what to do with a Mac (the comparison was with a mac), stare at the display with no clue about how to start an app.

Log into a Mac, with iLife with Garage Band (what? Creation != programming), easily installable XCode and cheap, good graphic programs and you can create whatever you want.

By forcing people to code you're not creating "hacker" nor "creators". You're replacing musicians, graphic artists, designers and other creatives with frustrated code monkeys.

"Get an iPad, and with easily-available movie downloads and an infinite supply of blogs and no way to enter text efficiently, and you aren't going to be doing much creating. That makes you a consumer." Also, with graphic software, many ways to relax, and a Mac or PC that you sync to.

And a system that gets out of your way so that you can do what you want, possibly something more interesting that 10kline .vimrc.

I'm going to go the other way - for most people Linux is counter-creative. Instead of either making that (possibly stupid) clip, they have to configure the damn thing and somehow get the network drivers and the touchpad work at the same time. Effectively, they are consuming forum posts. Instead of relaxing by consumption they get frustrated, the only skill that's really developed is hard-core toner replacement and desktop computer troubleshooting.

In contrast, MacOS (usually) gets out of their way, even brings some fun, creative software OOTB. And the iPad is all about relaxing and finding fun stuff. You know, inspiration.

Linux is good for people who actually know what they want to do with it. So is an Arduino, a guitar and a large block of marble.

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Whoa there! My post was not some slight against non-programmers or Mac users.

To make help make my argument clear, I picked two extremes of creation and consumption -- you aren't going to be buying anything from iTMS on that Emacs machine, and you aren't going to be reprogramming your OS on the fly on your iPad. The idea was to show contrast.

I also wasn't making a value judgement.

(Also, nice description of Linux from 15 years ago. Do Macs have non-cooperative multitasking yet?)

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> Hackers also read everything way too literally.

How true is that! =)

I think the problem is your making it sound like a hacker or a consumer is just a person, rather than a person using a particular tool at the time.

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I have to wonder if the Linux desktop would benefit from giving up the ghost that is X Windows. I don't think you'll ever have that elegance that you see on OS X and Windows 7 sitting on top of X Windows. I tried Ubuntu last year, well I'm still using it, and I had some of the same feelings described in this article. I was impressed with how far along the Linux desktop had come, but still sad that it just isn't quite as good as OS X or windows. I think some of that quirkiness comes from X Windows.

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What is missing from Linux:

* Auto-configuration that can avoid requiring the users to manually fix rough edges.

* Innovative or at-least consensus following UX designers.

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There's nothing "missing." Anything you want can be installed.

Other proprietary OS's provide you with a desktop environment that is more about fashion than usability.

Linux has choice. That's a good thing.

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"it’s effectively a locked, proprietary database"

Nope. It's XML.

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Photoshop, Starcraft 2, I'd switch yesterday

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