It consistently awes me, sometimes to tears, to see how consistently wrong some Free/Open Source Software commentators are about things like the current state of the desktop. To hear some of them tell it, it’s a hand-wringing, brow-furrowing situation in which the fate of the entire paradigm rests in the delicate balance.
Let me explain this in simple terms: It’s not. If anything, it’s an invitation to a front-row seat to witness digital Darwinism at its finest.
So stop acting like this is a crisis. It’s not.
Unity is a dog — it’s a textbook case of incredibly bad judgment by The Mark to make a cookie-cutter, all-in-one user interface across a wide range of different hardware. But that’s all it is. Is it the death knell of the desktop? Hardly. It’s not even the death knell of Ubuntu.
The same with GNOME 3: Arguably a bad move, but not one that is forcing GNOME to fold up the tents and go the way of the Studebaker or the hula hoop.
KDE thriving? In my opinion, it is. That’s a good thing, and they have weathered some bad times recently to come out stronger and with a good product for those so inclined to use it.
Xfce making progress at GNOME’s expense? Tough if you’re a GNOME guy or gal, but not bad in the grand scheme of things. Xfce has always been a good desktop environment which is finally getting the recognition it deserves — it will be interesting to see how they take advantage of this (and good luck, guys and gals).
There is even more attention now toward window managers like Openbox and Fluxbox, as the current desktop environment “crisis” ushers in a sort of renaissance for window managers that gives users a new look at a facet of Linux that is not often discussed.
The bottom line is that’s what it’s all about: choice. Choice is good. Having choices is a virtue, not a vice. It’s simple: Get that and you get FOSS.
[Note to the Linux Foundation: You may think that firstname.lastname@example.org works, but I'm still getting bouncing e-mails across a wide variety of machines using various e-mail programs on FOSS and non-FOSS platforms. Tell you what: I'll just print out my blog from yesterday and mail it to you. Watch your mailbox.]
(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.)
I love Brussels sprouts, and I’m blessed with the ability to eat fields of them in one sitting. Some people hate them to the point of legislating against them.
Some people crave eggplant. I would rather eat dirt and will only eat eggplant at gunpoint, which of course makes for some interesting dinners at my household. But I digress . . . .
Having said this, allow me a Captain Obvious moment to say that folks have different tastes, likes and dislikes, which in the final analysis boils down to a subjective smorgasbord of opinion rather than any resemblance to objective fist-bearing, knuckle-bashing fact.
I loathe Unity with a heat of a nova, but some people absolutely love it to the ends of the earth. And that’s great, but it’s not for everyone. What about those Ubuntu users who don’t like Unity because it’s a brain-numbing, unintuitive desktop environment that’s has a my-way-or-highway range of tweakability (or do I overstate it?), or what about an Ubuntu user who can’t use it because they’re using older hardware?
What’s an Ubuntero to do?
Use another distro is always an option — I’m beating Fedora‘s Juan Rodriguez to the punch here (touche, Nushio!) — but if you’re truly a dyed-in-the-wool, adjective-before-animal-loving Linux user, you have Ubuntu options that don’t include Unity, and for this many of us are truly thankful.
In my order of preference, they’re:
Xubuntu: Ubuntu with the Xfce desktop environment is probably my favorite ‘buntu; it was my first Ubuntu distro several years ago, and you never forget your first distro. Or maybe you do. But anyway, I have always had an affinity for Xfce’s smaller footprint, especially since I am usually using hardware that is not — how can I put this tactfully? — the latest model. My sincere hope is that with GNOME fumbling away much of its user base with GNOME 3, Xfce can pick up users and developers. But of all the ‘buntus, Xubuntu is probably the best of the pack in performance. Of course, if you have hardware old enough (in computer years) to occasionally scream out, “Get off my lawn,” then Xubuntu is ideal if you have to use Ubuntu.
Kubuntu: I have an interesting story that I always tell when the issue of KDE and Kubuntu come up. Years ago, the principal at my daughter’s school was inspired so much by using Kubuntu that she wanted to convert the computers at the school to the distro. She didn’t succeed — a lot of inside baseball was at play there — but if a woman just introduced to FOSS and Linux is that inspired by a distro, then it’s speaks volumes on its behalf. I have a love/indifference relationship with KDE — on the odd-numbered Fedora relases, I use the KDE version and I’m generally happy with the 4.x version of KDE, even though I probably only scratch the proverbial surface on the desktop environment’s abilities (the even-numbered Fedoras? Now, Xfce, but previously it was GNOME until I was unable to use GNOME 3 due to hardware restrictions).
But wait, there’s more:
Lubuntu: OK, Lubunteros, don’t flame me. To be honest, I’ve never tried LXDE. I’ve seen it, it looks nice, everyone I talk to who uses it loves it, but the reason I have had neither the chance nor the inclination to use it is because the Xfce desktop environment seems to be my go-to DE when it comes to hardware with, um, limitations (yeah, that’s it, limitations). If anyone would like to give me a compelling reason to try it, I will.
One more thing: A few years ago, there used to be a fledgling distro on the runway called Fluxbuntu, which had the Fluxbox window manager atop Ubuntu. I used it briefly when I had a larger computer lab and loved it, and while it looks like they’re still going, they’re probably going to need a little help there, if you’re so inclined.
(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.)
OK, it’s crunch time. At the end of the week, you should be in Columbus, Ohio, at Ohio Linux Fest — if you’re going to a Linux show before the year’s out, make it this one. This is the last big show on the North American continent until SCALE in January. At OLF, Bradley Kuhn and Cathy Malmrose are keynoting — along with Jon “maddog” Hall — so you’ll not want to miss that (especially Cathy — Go ZaReason!).
KDE’s Aaron Seigo, “a shift-key-challenged KDE hacker,” wrote an interesting blog item this week where he outlines where KDE is going with Plasma Active. While the blog item itself may not be terribly earth-shattering, the significance of a member of the KDE project leadership taking the time to outline where things are going, so there are no surprises down the line, is significant.
Most telling and reassuring, at least to me, is this paragraph: ” . . . [W]e do not believe in the ‘one interface that runs on both your desktop and your tablet’. We believe in code reuse, in component-reuse (and, where beneficial, drop-in-replacement), compatibility and interoperability; but we also believe that a tablet interface and a desktop interface are not, and should not, be the same thing. The use cases and form factors are just too different.”
He adds later: “So those who are concerned that we’re going to do something nasty to the desktop interface: breath easy.”
Amen to that, Aaron. Thanks for bringing that up and I’m breathing easier as a result.
“Hue and cry” is something at which various Linux and FOSS communities excel. When we find something going amiss, usually a controversy of biblical proportions ensues, where the end of the whole Linux/FOSS paradigm — not to mention yet another delay in the Year of the Linux Desktop — is inevitable unless said problem/redirection/error is fixed, and fixed now.
But while wailing and gnashing of teeth is a hallmark of Linux and FOSS communities, so is the ability to overcome these missteps and improve the programs, or if improving is impossible, forking the program to make a new one. Think LibreOffice, which was trapped by Oracle before being released into the Apache wild. Or this: Not that it’s a fork per se, but my Fedora colleague and friend, Juan Rodriguez — who wanted GNOME 2.32 on his Fedora 15 — stated his displeasure of GNOME 3, but rather than harping on it, he went to work and created the BlueBubble respin of Fedora which has the older GNOME desktop atop Fedora 15.
So amid the upheaval of desktop environments, we have a precedent to look at with KDE having gone through this before. Fortunately for GNOME, KDE’s experience serves as a cautionary tale. KDE seems to have ridden out the rough spots after their release of version 4, though there are some that are just not going to be happy with anything other than their KDE 3.x, and they aren’t shy about saying so.
Arguably, GNOME has stepped in a steaming pile with GNOME 3, and it would bode well for them to take a page from KDE’s playbook here and recover in the same manner. Frankly, I’m expecting GNOME to get over this rough patch, circled as they seem to be by angry users (and ex-users) with torches and pitchforks. The folks at GNOME could learn something from Aaron’s blog item about not making one desktop fit all, but I digress.
Meanwhile, back at the point of this blog . . . the point of this blog today is to remind those KDE users who are constantly picking on KDE because 4.x is not 3.5, as well as to the army of GNOME 3 enemies throughout the shire mercilessly beating up on GNOME, to heed these words: Stop already — we get it.
For better or worse, or for good or evil, both KDE 4.x and GNOME 3 are here. The barn door is open and the horses are in the pasture. The toothpaste is out of the tube.
Get over it and move on.
While I remember the “false start” that accompanied KDE 4.0 and the problems and complaints that KDE users made at its release, I don’t know the situation first hand because I was an intermittent KDE user at the time. I’ve clearly warmed up to the KDE 4.x series and, to be honest, I don’t get what all the hubbub was about, since KDE 4.6 works pretty well on my Fedora 15 laptop.
I understand the animosity toward GNOME 3 — I can’t use it (I have old hardware), and I consider the “fallback mode” the digital equivalent of sitting in the back of the bus. On the few occasions I have had to use it on newer hardware, I want to like it, but I just can’t — it’s an interface that doesn’t seem to belong to the laptop or desktop.
However, that’s all I’m going to say about it, except that I hope GNOME 3.x will fix some of the problems I have with it, making it usable for me. If not, I won’t use it. That plain, that simple. As an aside, I am warming up to Xfce quite well on the whole, so I may be splitting my time between KDE and Xfce from here on in.
But I don’t plan to bludgeon GNOME every time it comes up in a forum or an on-line discussion, because beating dead horses gets you nowhere.
So the choice is yours: You can keep harping on this great injustice, picking at the scab so the unkind cut doesn’t heal, or you can move on by either accepting the way things are or adapting them to what suits you, as Juan did with BlueBubble.
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.