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:
- the user interface does meet some basic design goals like preserving vertical real-estate
- applications are run full-screen
- one searches instead of pokes through hierarchies
- 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.
- Gartner said so in 2009 when they published “The IT Market CLock for Client Computing”. According to them GNU/Linux is about to become a standard for business. That is happening. Not all the XP machines that are disappearing from share are being scrapped.
- Dell said so when they began to sell GNU/Linux PCs. They continue to sell more and expand models particularly in emerging markets where they are building infrastructure. Does anyone believe the Chinese will wait on Unity?
- Dell has been shipping no-OS or GNU/Linux PCs on demand for big customers since 2002, they have steadily done so and they ship millions each year now.
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.