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An appeal to reason

A little over an hour ago, I was giving the final read on what was originally this blog item, under a different title and with a metric ton or two of humor, cutting criticism and the high quality of commentary that you’d expect from this blog. It was in derisive and cutting response to what Mark Shuttleworth considers “innovation” as outlined in this morning’s ZDNet blog item by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols.

Having the ability to use the English language to slice and dice the ridiculous with the accuracy of a Benihana chef with a complete set of Ginsu knives — whether it’s an idea or a person or both — is both a blessing and a curse. The Mark served up some pretty meaty fastballs right in my wheelhouse — a baseball metaphor now that we’re in spring training — and if he puts them where I can hit them, they’re gone. And I tattooed them, right into the next time zone.

But reading the blog item over again before deleting it, I felt like Bill O’Reilly. That alone forced me to take a shower and rewrite this blog item.

In any case, rather than put you through an eye-rolling, arm-waving rant on this screen about how The Mark’s vision of reality differs from — well — reality (to say nothing of his uncanny knack for hyperbole and a penchant for exaggeration, followed by responses to criticism that redefine ad hominem), I’m just going to appeal to reason and let the reader decide.

Quoting Shuttleworth from the ZDNet blog: “Yes, we are moving beyond the desktop, but we are also innovating to make the desktop itself, better.”

No, you’re not, Mark. Here’s why.

Unity: This is a one-size-fits-all solution to a situation that requires a wide range of flexibility, unless of course you don’t consider the user interface for a tablet any different than that of a 17-inch monitor, and everything between. How this can even be remotely considered innovation when, for all intents and purposes, it’s a round peg trying to go into different shaped holes?

Wait for the improvement? No, thanks. I tried Unity for an entire day, and I wanted to like it. I spent a couple of hours tweaking it, reading wikis (thanks, Google) and getting it to where it would best work for me. But it got to a point where its functionality failed on so many levels, in large part to a UI that was not suited to my hardware. I wanted very badly to say something nice about it — “Um . . . it’s a nice color” — but I even couldn’t do that. Unity is a digital cowpie, and no matter how many improvements you make to a cowpie, it’s still a cowpie.

As a result, I’m glad to use Xubuntu on one of the lab’s machines, which is the one distro in the ‘buntu universe that shines.

HUD: Head-Up Display — no, I’m not going to ask “head-up” what? Nope, I’m not going there. Having tried this (HUD, that is, not . . . um, never mind), I can’t see how this is an improvement: I have to type the name of a program I want in order to get the program I want. Couldn’t I do this — oh, I don’t know — from the command line? And if so, doesn’t this make HUD a GUI for the command line?

A more important question: This is innovation? The only way this is innovation is that Canonical had this ill-advised, counterproductive concept of doing things this way before anyone else did. Being the first to do something counterproductive is not innovation; arguably, it’s regression.

If you like Unity and it works for you, use it. Like HUD? Same thing. I have no problem with people using what they want — that’s a key to using Free/Open Source Software — and you should be glad that FOSS provides a wide range of choices on many levels, including the user interface.

But innovation? No, that’s not a good word for what Canonical is doing with Unity and HUD. Or at least it’s not a word that describes it.

(Larry Cafiero is one of the founders of the Lindependence Project and develops business software at Redwood Digital Research, a consultancy that provides FOSS solutions in the small business and home office environment.)

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  1. Jef Spaleta
    March 7, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Larry,
    Take a step back and define what innovation means to you. Definitions for abstract concepts can be personally and culturally nuanced. Definitions for concepts are a bit more fluid in that way and make the prone to miscommunication when we discuss them. Even without suggesting that some sort of word twisting spin is being used to pervert the language, personal differences in conceptual definitions cause all sorts of heat generating miscommunications. When emotions seem to be running too hot, I always cycle back and try to assess how much divergence there is in conceptial definitions in what is being discussed.

    And reading this, I’m under the impression that your definition for what innovation means is very different than what perhaps Mr. Shuttleworth I think it means, and what I think it means, or even what the strictest textbook definition of the word state as its meaning.

    It appears that you feel that innonvation only happens when a new concept is found to be popular and widely adopted. I’m not sure that’s the currently commonly understood meaning of the word, nor the historic meaning. But definitions evolve. Just make sure you define for your readership what you mean when you say innovation so we can make a judgement as to impendence mismatch. And make sure you have a good grasp on what the other people you are reacting to think it means. I lot of your emotion here is probably directly related to very different definitions for the concept of innovation being talked about.

    -jef

    • March 7, 2012 at 1:14 pm

      Good points, Jef.

      You say, “It appears that you feel that innonvation only happens when a new concept is found to be popular and widely adopted.” Actually, I don’t feel that way. Innovation doesn’t necessarily have to be new, nor does it have to be popular or widely adopted. But it does have to be an improvement, and uplift whatever is/was the status quo.

      My point, one of several probably lost in the shuffle: Just because something’s new and different doesn’t make it innovative. It just means it’s new and different, and not in all cases an improvement. To trumpet something solely on these merits smacks of hucksterism.

  2. March 7, 2012 at 1:12 pm

    “…..it’s still a cowpie.” Yes. The problem with that is most people do not
    know it is a cowpie until they step in it.

    “………If you like Unity and it works for you, use it. Like HUD? Same thing. I have no
    problem with people using what they want — that’s a key to using Free/Open Source Software………” Yes, Free and Open Source Software is big, real big on choice.
    Canonical does not say it is FOSS on the package. Canonical Does not use the
    word Linux. My question is: “Is Ubuntu Free and Open Source? Is it Linux?
    If it is, why hide it? If it does not want to be part of the Linux/FOSS world why not
    just say so? You Canonical guys with us or not?

  3. 2euro
    March 8, 2012 at 12:32 pm

    … oh noes this again……
    well you gotta hand it to the guy, he’s flamboyant. i can picture him wearing a feather boa. and he also makes for great fodder for online bashing. but – if you don’t like ubuntu, don’t use it, that’s what i (don’t) do. stop promoting canonical into relevancy. who cares what they do, think, or believe. it truly is just another struggling company out there, and ubuntu is just another distro. best of luck to them and i hope to read less and less about them as people ask themselves this question: do i actually care?

  4. March 8, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    So, how do your Ginsu knives do against a 90mph fastball?

    • March 9, 2012 at 1:05 pm

      Can it be a large model, as opposed to the classic small ones?
      If you were holding it right and had batting gloves on you could probably put a decent nick in the ball and get away with some slight abrasion on your non-dominant hand.

      They use good steel and have a full tang, so…

      • March 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm

        Well, it sounds like a “do not try this at home” situation, anyway.

    • March 9, 2012 at 1:06 pm

      Touche, Adam. Very funny. That’s what I get for mixing metaphors so early in the morning.

  5. March 9, 2012 at 12:48 pm

    hud is just the microsoft windows 7 start-button monstrosity applied to application windows.

    the only reason it could possibly make sense is for voice control, and probably on mobile devices.

    and even that sounds unwieldy. ‘ubuntu open file’?

  6. Jeff Albertson
    March 9, 2012 at 2:20 pm

    My problem with Unity goes beyond the ‘one size fits all’ mentality which I abhor.
    Asking me to like your Linux desktop only is like taking me to Baskin Robbins and telling me, ‘Here, have some vanilla.’ No, YOU might like vanilla but I dont.
    But having one solution for desktop, laptop-netbook and touch devices just doenst make sense.
    KDE has done a great job having the desktop and netbook version available with one switch of the button, Throw in that KDE Plasma touch version Ive seen run on the Spark demo which looks really nice and you have the same desktop project offer a variation of their KDE/Plasma/Qt offerings. THATS how its should be done. Shuttleworth has it backwards and wants to use a 7inch touch tablet like he would an 11inch netbook-laptop or my 27in screened desktop. No. No. No.

    And I dont get the point of HUD. I mean I get what it does (boosted version of Krunner) but I dont see how it fits in a touch centric world which the geek magazines keep saying is among us (go to soccer tournaments, martial arts festival and other places where parents gather for hours during the winter and its still netbook-laptops at 80%+, about 4-5% tablets and the rest phone playing. maybe geek gatherings its different.). HUD brings you back to the keyboard which seems opposite to where things are going.

  7. March 10, 2012 at 12:11 am

    Canonical’s Chase Douglas is one of the major contributors to the new multitouch extension to X11. That’s real innovaion, no? Read Douglas’ article in LWN recently and judge for yourself.

    • March 10, 2012 at 1:23 am

      And that’s translating into what Canonical is doing how, exactly?

  1. March 9, 2012 at 1:13 am

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