Unity

I read SJVN’s blog today, “The new Linux Desktop: Ubuntu’s Unity” and agree with most of it. SJVN is reflecting on Ubuntu’s moves to make an “easier” interface for the young, old, newbies to PCs, just about everyone.

I wanted to see what Unity was about so I watched Mark Shuttleworth introduce it:

The audio was choppy for me but I have several take-aways:

  1. the user interface does meet some basic design goals like preserving vertical real-estate
  2. applications are run full-screen
  3. one searches instead of pokes through hierarchies
  4. search is context-aware

During the presentation Shuttleworth goes to great lengths to discuss the rational basis of choices made and the history of the project. That helps me understand what it is about. The goals of Unity and how they are progressing towards them seem appropriate and likely to succeed.

I agree mostly with SJVN’s reflections, too, except the part about the GNU/Linux desktop going nowhere as it is. “I do know that the traditional Linux desktop, much as I may love it, has reached about as broad an audience as it ever will.”There are probably about 1.5 thousand million people, perhaps more, on the planet very familiar with that other OS and because people are reluctant to change going to a radically different user interface will be difficult for them. The GNU/Linux desktop as it is is easier for a user of XP than “7”. Because there are so many XP machines still kicking, GNU/Linux has a huge market in which to grow as those machines are cut off from life-support by M$ and attacked by malware. Even if only 5% of those machine are converted to GNU/Linux, usage of GNU/Linux could gain a huge following in short order. The Unity project is longer-term, 2 to 3 years at least.

We have seen that other OS adopted by newbies more or less easily for more than a decade, so I do not see that radical change in GNU/Linux user-interfaces is a necessary step to growing share. For myself, I cannot see Unity offering me anything on my huge monitor. I will never touch it. I need a bunch of windows open and ready at a single click. I have at this moment ten tabs open in my browser and 12 other windows open to other applications and machines in my system. I also have a second virtual desktop in use. I like the search idea and get good results with Google on the web and the Google Desktop. Context-awareness might be helpful.

Unity is a neat idea because it can run on anything from a Dick Tracy wrist radio to any size/format PC and it will definitely be easier for newbies to use but until the retail damn is broken that will be irrelevant. The GNU/Linux desktop languishes in part because of eye-candy/features but mostly because M$ and its partners want it to languish. That is gradually changing. The damned dam is leaking but there is no torrent rushing though this year. The GNU/Linux desktop as it is has made progress in the market and a new interface will not arrive soon enough to win the war/be decisive in the war. It’s perhaps the future for the mass market and so it is good that it is being developed but GNU/Linux as it is will win the battle of market share. The monopoly is crumbling and the GNU/Linux share is increasing due to hard work and merits, albeit slowly.

That GNU/Linux is ready for the mass market desktop is not just my opinion.

On the contrary there is no evidence that shipments of GNU/Linux PCs are declining or stagnating, so there is no basis for concluding that GNU/Linux is going nowhere on the desktop without a revolutionary interface. New does tend to sell well but so does fast, cheap and reliable.

About Robert Pogson

I am a retired teacher in Canada. I taught in the subject areas where I have worked for almost forty years: maths, physics, chemistry and computers. I love hunting, fishing, picking berries and mushrooms, too.
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2 Responses to Unity

  1. I use XFCE4. It has everything I need and nothing I do not need. I do use a few apps from the heavier GUIs like I prefer Klipper to Clipman. I use Squeeze. Except for a couple of driver/kernel issues earlier and a few black screens it is working very well for me now. I have it on about 50 machines. That was a mistake because it needs a lot of updating but I wanted to play with the new apps. Several new apps are working much better than Lenny.

    The ease of use of APT has taken a hit. I now cannot safely run apt-get update;apt-get upgrade from scripts because so much damned user-interaction is required. I hope that gets reduced. Perhaps it’s just a problem because Squeeze is in flux.

    Minimal is good. I like CLI and PASCAL for that reason. I get to feel the raw power of the CPU and I/O. I lived when computers were so slow you could see the lights flicker. I really appreciate the speed we have now even in P3ish stuff. I like to show kids that the PC that is “slow” booting XP is a whiz at maths. They are amazed by how much maths a CPU can do in the blink of an eye. With the GUI all that is hidden in bloat as things are throttled by file-seeking. That’s why I like thin clients. Give a machine less to do and it is as fast as it needs to be. On a terminal server loaded with RAM is where you want your data to be.

  2. Dann says:

    I don’t believe or remember you mentioning which desktop environment you use. Not to start a flame war, of course, but out of pure curiousity.

    What do you find does your job the best? Debian Squeeze would be KDE 4.5 right?

    Consider yourself a minimalist?

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