Open Source GUIs Are Awful
I’ve been studying this pretty closely for about fifteen years now, and I find the development of the Open Source GUI, particularly on Linux, is really depressing. I no longer suggest Linux to folks because I care too much about the people and their needs, and Linux as a community can’t be bothered.
First, a reminder: I run Debian Squeeze and it’s unlikely I’ll change anytime soon. Barring dramatic improvements between now and the next release, I’ll probably run Squeeze until it’s “old-stable.” I’ve run Red Hat 6.0 and it’s almost as good for my purposes, but lacks a few conveniences. Still, when CentOS 6 comes out (the developers have opted to push out 5.6 first), I will highly recommended it.
I’m exceedingly happy both of them chose to grab GNOME at the end of the 2.x series. After viewing the screenshots and reading about the changes coming in GNOME 3, I feel like it’s KDE 4 again. At one time KDE was my favorite. Now, the developers and hobbyists win and regular users are the enemy. Yes, I’ve seen hobbyists and developers both flame and disparage folks who don’t like the new versions, and it’s the one reason computer users as a whole will never take Linux seriously. There will never be a serious adoption of Linux (or BSD) by the masses because the insiders hate the masses. At least, that’s how the masses feel when they encounter the insiders. It is certainly the feeling I got when I’ve tried to communicate with the developers.
Throughout my the entire time I used KDE and GNOME starting with the initial releases, the one thing I always wanted, and never got, was just once get things fixed without adding a bunch of new breakage. It never happened, with GNOME and KDE, it never will. Sure, they work, but there is always a large amount of breakage and glitches because for every thing they fix, they add three more problems with some new feature. For me, KDE died with the introduction of the 4.x series, and GNOME will die with 3.x. No, they aren’t trash, but they are evil. They demonstrate for all the world to see there is a severe shortage of user love in the Open Source GUI development community.
So for at least the next two years, I’ll have with Debian something fairly useful. RHEL and clones will have their useful interface for the next seven or so.
The next best hope is XFCE. Yes, it’s short on features and convenience, but it’s soon going to be superior to everything else by a long shot. That is, superior when measured by the needs and expectations of the vast majority of people who use computers — the folks willfully ignored by the GNOME and KDE developers. It’s possible something will arise which makes a lot more sense, something actually friendly and useful to the masses, but I’m frankly cynical about it. This won’t keep me from using Linux. If I have to go back to the simple window manager way of things, or even reduce it all the way to the command line, I’ll do it, because Windows disappoints me even more.
Let me get this out there for everyone just once more, on the off chance anybody with influence reads this. There is no such thing as the average computer user. That’s a moving target. But throughout my entire Linux experience, GNOME and KDE have never quite hit that target. Once or twice they’ve come close for a short span of time, then drifted off again. I know because I’ve spent most of those same fifteen or so years helping people. I love people. You know, those odd creature for which computers exist, who sit at their keyboards hoping they can get something useful from their investment in time and money. It’s bad enough with Windows, but at least they do get things done, when viruses and other malware aren’t eating holes in or hijacking their OS.
In biblical terms, they are the lost sheep, simply doing what they understand best, and the shepherds are too busy to notice the whole flock is wandering off and getting eaten alive. That’s because the commercial software vendors are predators who pretend to be shepherds. When I ran across Linux and understood how it resisted the virus and malware games, I thought my shepherd’s heart finally had some hope. Well, the GNOME and KDE games proved beyond all doubt my hope was misplaced. Sure, there’s Mac — bizarre and utterly foreign to most folks, and even more predatory in terms of prices. It will always be a niche product, as will Linux on the desktop. That’s because the folks who pump out the software, while not predators, they simply have no clue about the care and feeding of sheep. They could get a clue, but it’s not nearly so exciting as talking to themselves or joining what amounts to a circle-jerk with all their own kind, and doing all this nifty visionary stuff.
It’s almost as if they have never met a real human. They are wonderful at computers and utterly senseless with humans. That’s supposed to be a joke, but it’s too close to the truth. Linux geeks are wacko, but it’s a sad elitist wacko, not a fun and loving wacko.
Real people, the folks who use computers, would rather not have to install their OS, but they might be willing if it’s enough better than what comes installed from the factory. Most of them would actually embrace the challenge of getting Linux to do all the stuff, particularly with online multimedia, that Windows does, if they didn’t have to face that constant change. I mean big changes. That’s because Open Source in general, and Linux developers in particular, are hostile to the notion of supporting what they have already released. You see, those users would not mind installing once, but they balk at doing it every six months. That’s because there are too many radical changes, too many new things and losses of old things, and this awful snotty attitude they are somehow ungrateful when they complain they don’t want to spend all their lives chasing the next release. These people have work to do, and they don’t want to work on their computers, but do their work on computers. They should be able to get one OS for the life of the computer, with no substantial changes in user experience until they replace that machine.
The one thing in all this which is most often broken, never fixed except in the next release, and always with a bunch of new breakage, it’s the GUI. After briefly flirting with sanity, KDE has gone off into hyperspace. GNOME is right behind. Enjoy your voyage, but don’t you ever let slip from your mouths or keyboards some vain hope you can replace Windows as the dominant OS. Stop lying to yourselves. You don’t care about people. Linux will always be it’s own niche computing environment, always superior in most aspects to Windows, but always completely hostile to user needs. I can’t even get folks to accept Ubuntu any more, because Canonical has gone wacko in it’s own anti-user ways. It’s like a disease; give it time, and the folks in charge start chasing clouds in the sky and babbling about “pure computing” and similar terminology.
I give up. I’ll never go back to Windows, but most of the people I serve in my computer helps ministry can’t be served by Linux any more.