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Mark is right, and Mark is wrong

November 1, 2011 24 comments

Yesterday was one of those days. Though I’m not terribly proud of it, I wrote three different blogs items during the course of the day — staying up past midnight this morning to finish the third — and posted none of them. In fact, I took the unprecedented step in just dumping them into the abyss of /dev/null, rather than putting them aside to pick them up later.

The first was a reminder about how developers should remember to send patches upstream. Some distros are good about this — Fedora, tip your hat — and some aren’t. The “aren’ts” know who they are, and those who don’t send patches upstream in a timely manner need to get on it. Now.

The second was a comparison of Unity, and to an extent GNOME 3, to the Edsel; comparing those desktop environment releases to how Ford had built up an enormous curiosity around this new “E-car” in 1957 — a car of the future — they were developing amid a shroud of secrecy before revealing to the world, well, the Edsel — which nearly everyone hated once they saw what Ford’s idea for the “future” was.

I wish I could remember the third one. It didn’t get far and it was just kind of ramblin’ — that’s R-A-M-B-L-I-N-apostrophe.

So thank you, Ubuntu SABDFL* Mark Shuttleworth, for your usual pithy observations — right, wrong and ad hominem — made yesterday at the Ubuntu Developers Summit, which will allow me an opportunity to write about something today.

I had planned to give Mark a pass yesterday. Anything I say about Ubuntu or Unity is going to be taken with the grain of salt that a.) the common perception, albeit completely untrue, is that I am incapable of saying anything nice about Ubuntu, and b) another common perception, admittedly somewhat true, is that I hate Unity with the heat of a nova. Until I use something smaller than a laptop — and let’s say for the sake of argument that would be never — I’m not going to need an interface that’s suited for a mobile device on any piece of hardware I use.

There was Mark yesterday in Orlando, doling out some observations in an article by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols (complete with “Ubuntu Linux” in the headline, remarkably). In it, The Mark points out that Canonical/Ubuntu will be expanding to smartphones, tablets and smart TVs, and that’s where Mark gets it right. Oh, it speaks volumes about why Unity is as it is, and it sounds like a plan that has spread-too-thin written all over it, but far be it from me to be the proverbial wet blanket — go for it, Mark.

However . . .

Mark gets it wrong when he promotes Unity as the one-size-fits-all UI solution across the hardware spectrum. It would be laughable except there are legions of Ubunteros ready to drone on about how this is gospel going forward when simple common sense would dictate otherwise, to say nothing of developers being drawn from a more balanced approach to large-hardware and small-hardware development rather than what seems to be the current course in putting all the proverbial eggs in the small-hardware basket.

But let’s go to the subtext here, shall we? There’s a grave philosophical misconception gaining traction over the last couple of years that goes something like this: People are using smart phones and tablets more, so let’s forsake the desktop and laptop and embrace smaller hardware. I think this they call this the “Post-PC era,” or some other remarkable cliche. The fact of the matter is that the advent of smaller hardware ushers in a “PC-plus era,” where you use your personal computer AND something smaller and portable in tandem with it.

Know why? Simple. Try using Blender on your smartphone or tablet. How’s that working out for you? It’s not?

My point exactly: While you can get away with some tasks on your smaller hardware, you’re still going to need to do things on something larger. So to shift focus from proven hardware form factors, albeit the larger and less portable ones, in order to develop for the flavor-of-the-month smaller hardware is textbook myopia.

Also, in an ad hominem statement typical of Mark Shuttleworth in defending Unity, he says that some of the more experienced users are “too cool” to use Unity. I think the quote goes something like this: “There is going to be a crowd that is just too cool to use something that looks really slick and there is nothing we can do for them.”

No, that’s not it, Mark. The reason some people don’t like Unity is not because it looks slick (which is completely debatable). It’s because it doesn’t work for them. By the way, actually there is something you can do for those you mistakenly think are “too cool” for Unity when all they really want is something that works: Make Unity work and make it tweakable.

Once you reach that point, would you mind coming back and letting the cool Linux power users know? Thanks.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is a blog item that’s a keeper.

*SABDFL — Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator for Life, a moniker picked up from Steven Rosenberg’s recent blog item. Thanks, Steven.

This blog, and all other blogs by Larry the Free Software Guy and Larry Cafiero, are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs CC BY-NC-ND license. In short, this license allows others to download this work and share it with others as long as they credit me as the author, but others can’t change it in any way or use it commercially.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and has just started developing software in his new home office. Watch this space.)

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