Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Complacency will be the death of Linux

I doubt anyone who uses Linux will really disagree with the title of this post (but I could always be wrong). If there's one thing that I've learned about Linux users, it's that they like everything to stay the same, especially the Debian/Slackware/Gentoo fanatics. Sure, they might like updates, but for the most part, it seems like they just like things exactly as they are, and to hell with you if you want to change it!

Example 1: Linux FS
While browsing around a while ago, I found an Ubuntu Brainstorm about a "New Directory Structure" because the suggester "think[s] it's pretty clear that the standard Unix directory structure is outmoded."

Here are a few of the responses. See if you catch a few trends:
  • If you want something like that, use OS X or even GoboLinux as you recommended.
  • It's worked fine for decades and I think it should stay the same.
  • The current standard has worked for decades, it's a radical departure from the way windows does things, but it makes sense once you understand why it's done that way.
  • The Unix file structure is very intuitive. What's wrong? 

I may be a newb, but I know that the filesystem is the way it is for a reason. Irregardless, it disturbed me that almost all of the negative comments I said basically fell into
  1. That's how it's always been.
  2. If you don't like it, don't use it.
It just still shocks me that people can be that obtuse today about something like Linux. Comments like that always remind me of a comment by Ben Collins from an article I mentioned.
"Look, we can go back and forth on who should be "cool enough" to use Linux, but that's not what I'm writing about. It's easy to say "we can't make it dumb enough for you, so you go use the lame Windows/MacOS". However, it takes real talent to make something simple, and powerful."
That addresses the "don't like it=don't use it" response, and as for the "that's how it's always been," I just find it astounding that people actually think that just because something is still functional it's not worth tweaking/redoing. Unix was first released in 1969, when machines had 700kb of memory; things have changed. I again want to emphasize that change in technology =/= a required change in method, but it should at least require a second look at the method.

On the flip side, here are a few positive comments:
  • People need to start facing reality and just start admitting, that the linux directory structure is only friendly to experienced users (it takes a while to understand it fully, and many experienced users I still doubt knows what opt is used for).
  • Maybe not the same structure as Gobo, but renaming things to /programs /config may be a start.
  • Yeah the unix structure has *worked* for decades, but so has my gasoline engine.
  • What part of /usr/local/bin do you immediately understand without a manual? 
  • Linux is the only "user friendly (tryhard)" OS with an non-intuitive filesystem now. 

Example 2: Unity
Another perfect example is Unity. Let me perfectly clear: I don't mind Unity. It's definitely not my first choice, but from the moment I booted into it, I enjoyed using it. Of course not everyone shares my thoughts on it, and one such video I happened upon entitled "Unity: 3 Rants And a Tip" was a perfect example of someone who doesn't like Unity.

He does make some good points, I'll concede that. But throughout the entire video, he continually just keeps comparing Unity to his GNOME2 layout, which is pointless because Unity was not designed to be GNOME2. He basically just picks the three biggest changes in Unity and say that they "bother him," with the reason ultimately boiling down to them being different. And that really is the heart of what alot of reviews and opinions of new features that many people have: different = bad.

I'm definitely not saying that Unity is flawless; a good yin to the above yang is the guys on the Linux Action Show who review Ubuntu 11.04. The guys are really good about stepping back and viewing things as a usable experience, not comparing it to what their used to. They cite specific examples as to why Unity is less-than-ideal such as:
  • the new menu system suggests completely random uninstalled software
  • the search is slow
  • the launcher is hard to use with a touch screen
  • the menus is invisible until you mouse over them
  • the menus only work for GTK
  • making a system more friendly to the novice user does not exactly coincide with departing with the Windows-esque way of doing things
All of those are extremely valid points and actually point to certain examples of why Unity is hard(er) to use, which is alot different than just saying "Uh, well, it's different."

The thing that I like is that Canonical is trying new things (new to Linux, anyway). I don't particularly like GNOME 3, but I'm still glad that GNOME is trying new things, rather than just sticking with the same status quo just because they know users will be content with what they've always used. Call me naive, but innovation rarely happens from just tweaking; it takes something big. Yeah, sure, Canonical could release 11.10 reverting back to GNOME2 or GNOME3 or maybe even a vastly different Unity2 and basically say "Uh, yeah, that didn't work out so well for us." But at least they're thinking outside of the box.

It seems like I'm always trying to clarify my position on issues because it seems like people always jump to extremes. For example, just by the title of this post, many people would probably think that I believe Linux needs to change drastically, or that we should never ever question any change in Linux. I don't. I just dislike the people that disagree with a change before they even know what it is, or just because it's a change.

As an un-wishy washy statement, I'd definitely say that yes, I do believe that complacency -if allowed to thrive unabated- will be the death of the Linux desktop. The good news is that companies like Canonical, GNOME, and Novell seem to be quelling the urge to keep everything just as it is, the bad news is that there are still a crap ton of people out there that disagree with them.

If you feel differently, feel free to leave a comment below, or toss a note in a bottle out to your nearest sea. (The first one would probably get to me quicker.)

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