Monday, October 17, 2011

My Desktop Is Changing

The Growing Pains Of An Evolving Desktop
Written by 1ROXTAR

Hello to everyone in Linux land. As you know by now, Ubuntu 11.10 codenamed Oneric Ocelot, has been released into the wild since October 13th. There have been many changes since 11.04 made it's controversial debut featuring Unity as the default desktop, instead of the standard Gnome. This has continued with Oneric, with the biggest factor being that the traditional Classic Gnome 2x will no longer be available, as the new fall back will be the newly refined and integrated Unity 2D.

This release has added a lot of spit and polish with a lot of work going into Unity and, in my opinion, is looking like a beautiful and efficient desktop. The dash is coming along with elegance and integrated with Scopes and Lenses, making finding applications easier and quicker. So much has already been written about it's features that I will include the release notes because my goal is to tackle other issues with this particular blog.


I have been following the Ubuntu 11.10 development process through the Alpha releases and continually updating all the way through until the final release, filing bug reports, participating in forum discussions and reading through many blogs. One thing that I have noticed consistently is that since Ubuntu 11.04 debuted with Unity as the default environment, there has been nothing but grumbling and Ubuntu bashing everywhere. You cannot read through Linux forums without coming across many threads entitled, “Goodbye Ubuntu”, “Going to KDE...XFCE...LXDE...etc” or the proverbial, “That's It I'm Moving To Arch”.

As I have stated in another blog, whenever some new adopters post that they love Ubuntu with Unity, they are greeted with much disdain by power users who hate having their customizations limited and locked down by default. This is where all the chagrin is stemming from. In previous versions, Ubuntu used the standard Gnome 2x or “Classic” desktop by default. What made the 2x series so popular was that you could tweak and customize it to your heart's galore. I, personally, was one who enjoyed making my desktop more unique than the next guy by adding various themes, indicators, docks and widgets. I can understand the root of those strong feelings because our desktops became an extension of our own individualities. Linux is about choice. Take that away and you get your hand bitten off.

Now we come to 2011 and the Linux desktop horizon is changing with the rise of smartphones and tablets. As our data becomes more mobile, developers are working to synchronize everything we use and need across all platforms, from your phones and tablets to your laptop and desktop computers. It is believed that by having a unified interface, it will help users avoid confusion and create a productive synergy. As handheld platforms are quickly becoming the dominant tools for accessing data, computer operating systems are following suit.

Take a look at the the two major platforms, Apple's OS X and Microsoft's upcoming Windows 8. OS X is quickly adopting an iOS look and feel along with a planned integration of code. Microsoft is taking the Windows Phone 7 Metro tiled interface and adopting it as the default desktop for Windows 8. On the Linux front, we see Gnome dropping the 2x series and replacing it with Gnome 3 and it's new Gnome Shell which looks like it's also moving towards being a touch-centric interface. Ubuntu seems to be going the same route with it's homegrown interface, Unity and cloud technologies.

Each of these platforms has a very passionate, dedicated user base and community. I believe the major backlash stems from the feeling that these new interfaces and technologies are being forced upon their longtime users with little care as to how they feel or how it affects their productivity and work flow. This is especially felt within the Linux community who came to Linux because of it's freedom to control how their computers work. When you restrict them from their freedoms it stirs the ire that drove them from those other locked down proprietary operating systems. In contrast, Linux distros are built by their communities, even Ubuntu who has a commercial sponsor in Canonical, was built upon the genius of many dedicated programmers and hackers who contribute code with no thought towards monetary gain.

Nevertheless, change is here. It's everywhere and it's evolving every single day. We are heading into a whole new world of technologies and everything is becoming more integrated on every level. To me, these are very exciting times. In some ways it's frustrating because I want more, but it's also very uncomfortable. Just as I am getting used to something on my computer, a few months later I am having to learn it again. A few things are certain to me, though. As far as Gnome 2 goes, as much as I loved it, it's not coming back. Yes, it may get forked, but so did KDE 3. Where is it now? Only a handful use it today, but the majority learned to adopt and enjoy KDE 4.5 and onwards. It's a technology that stirred up controversy, but as it matured has settled in nicely. Gnome 3 and Unity were very disruptive because the changes came at the same time, with nothing familiar to fall back on. The big distros are moving forward with Gnome 3 and Ubuntu with Unity. With one more cycle all their derivatives will have make the tough choice and move forward too.

It may seem like we are living in a Star Trek:TNG episode and the cybernetic Borg are declaring that “resistance is futile” but assimilation doesn't have to mean dealing with a grim future. After all, we still have our Linux and because it's open source, there will always be a freedom that goes beyond the “free as in beer”. On a personal note, my hope is that Canonical will not forget the user base that made Ubuntu so popular, while in pursuit of the 200 million users goal. I say, meet us in the middle. I'm sure we can accept whatever defaults, so long as we can still make our computers extensions of our individualities again. To the Linux community I ask, if you do not like Unity or Gnome Shell, or any other desktop environment, use the one that suits you and tell the world how great it is. Stop the tearing down and trolling if someone else likes one that is different. As Mark Mckenna once said, “Taste is subjective and may very well change with time.”


IGnatius T Foobar said...

While your argument in favor of Unity is well reasoned and well written, it does leave out one important fact:

Apple and Microsoft may be turning their desktops into big clunky smartphones, but that doesn't mean Linux has to follow in their footsteps. It's a bad idea when they do it, and it's a bad idea when we do it.

I want my desktop computer to look and act like a desktop computer. If I want to use a smartphone, I'll pick up my smartphone.

xfce for me.

matthekc said...

I am hoping that XFCE 4.10 proves to be nearly a match for the later versions of Gnome 2 in Ubuntu 12.04.

1ROXTAR said...

@matthekc I would love to see the same, as well. I want for every desktop environment available on Linux to be top-notch and a great experience for everyone who uses them.

alan.orth said...

Unity's not THAT bad.

Virtual Desktop 1: Chrome + Rhythmbox.
Virtual Desktop 2: Terminals, text editors, etc.
Virtual Desktop 3: Thunderbird.
Virtual Desktop 4: Virtual Machines.

Change Alt-F2 to launch something simple like gmrun (has reverse search support, tab completion etc).

All apps are maximized all the time (except VMs)... Unity's not THAT bad!

What are your specific gripes?

Dan said...

Too bad both Unity and Shell are shit. Total wastes of programmers time.

Anonymous said...

Did you realize Ubuntu's traded aptitude in favour of their own appstore (with apps in it, commercial ones) starting with Oneiric. Somehow ressembles a certain MacOS X, in a cheaper fashion. If you want programs on your desktop, then maybe your better off grabbing a recent Debian.

Daniel said...

Shell script is not idle and now gnome 2x is not available in ubuntu 11.10.
Thanks for the information.
virtual desktops