Linux desktops... too much too late

My marketing director's twitteration induced me to click on a link to a ZDNet article which asserted that Linux desktops, have missed the boat; Good though they are, blah. The article was fine, but what is this obsession with the GUI?

I have clicked a lot of mice since that rainy day in 1985 when I wandered past a department store and saw a funny little one-piece computer being demonstrated by a girl (gasp had computers come to this) clicking away on what was, it turned out, a knitting pattern program (double gasp). Of course I had to have a go and clicked away on words and menus and icons.

My ZX81 suddenly just didn't do it for me any more; I wanted a GUI, I wanted a mouse, I needed icons.

  • Apple: Macintosh-to version 9 Classic; OSx Panther, Tiger and Leopard
  • Acorn: I've forgotten exactly but think it was an ARM Risc 5000
  • Windows: 3.1/95/98/CE/2000/ME/XP/Vista/7 Beta
  • Sun: Solaris 9; Open Solaris
  • Linux: KDE 3/3.5/4.2: Gnome 2.0/2.2x; ICE wm; Fluxbox; XFCE; Evolution 32

That number is in excess of 20. Guess what? They all do the same. The GUI was 'done' ten years ago but nothing can stop the developers.

Trackball mice, multi-button radio-controlled mice, rotating cubes, wobbly windows, sticky bits, widgets all designed to look pretty and slow your computer down and ideally stop it altogether with a system-crashing bug. Now we have touch-screens so we can do exactly the same as before but without a mouse.

When I first met a Windows GUI, I could program in machine code (yep the ZX81) and felt pretty confident about all things PC. I was told simply, don't worry it's intuitive, you'll have no trouble. Never has a word been so misused. 'Intuitive'? Oh yeah? Took me ages.

The GUI has to be learnt like anything else, now it seems obvious just like driving my bike seems obvious now, but intuitive? Try changing the GUI radically (eg KDE4) and you'll find out just how intuitive your users are. Like QUERTY the GUI is done.

It seems to me that GUI development now exists simply to fill those embarrassing geek moments in the pub when without a GUI flame war there would be nothing else to talk about. If you really want to discuss (heatedly) something really irrelevant just say to a bunch of geeks that in your opinion Windows 7 is way cooler than KDE4 and that Mac has just got a bit samey.

Alternatively, entertain them with the anecdote about the Mac iPhone that embarrassingly dialled up from your pal's top-pocket just by using nipple-erection (true story*).

My point is this. If you change the GUI radically it will be sufficiently different to expose the 'intuitive' fallacy and no-one will use it. If you don't change it radically then you're just having fun with hairstyles.

For the record I think the only decent graphical development over recent years have been:

  • the right-click
  • the tab within a window; Google's Chrome probably represents the final word on that
  • multiple monitors, that's it really. The rest is just hairdressing, eye-candy that's all. There is nothing wrong with this per se; it's just not very important, that's all.

If you don't believe me ask Ubuntu, just how sexy is a brown Gnome?

* of course it's not true, just how gullible are you?


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