Home > GNU/Linux, Kubuntu, linux, Linux, Lubuntu, Mark Shuttleworth, Ubuntu, Xubuntu > Mark is right, and Mark is wrong

Mark is right, and Mark is wrong

November 1, 2011

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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  1. November 1, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    I personally have never seen anyone do any serious work using a tablet or phone, but maybe I’m sheltered or I don’t hang out with marketing “people”. And when did one size ever fit all?

    • November 1, 2011 at 4:17 pm

      You ask that rhetorically, of course, because one size still doesn’t fit all. Also, you might be able to hook up a mouse/keyboard to a tablet and get some work done, but is that the right tool to use? You really wouldn’t do that for the same reason you wouldn’t cook a hot dog with a match. [BTW, don’t forget Felton LUG on Saturday — moved up a week because the firefighters need the firestation next weekend. See you there?]

    • Sean Lynch
      November 3, 2011 at 5:56 am

      I have seen an example of someone using a tablet to get work done.
      Whenever I go to a potbelly sandwich shop there is a person at the end of the customer line entering orders on a tablet. The interface is custom software for that restaurant chain and allows orders from multiple customers to be processed in a timely and efficient manner.

      This person is using a tablet interface to ‘get work done’. It is a highly efficient interface. Therefore, we should make this sandwich shop’s interface the interface for all tablet users.

      Those users who want to play games, watch multi-media, check e-mail, compile source code, write screen plays or multitudes of other activities on a computing device are obviously ‘too cool’ for something as slick as this sandwich shop interface.

    • John Wendel
      November 4, 2011 at 9:29 am

      Have you ever seen a UPS driver using a tablet computer? I’d call that serious work. Very specialized however, like most “serious” tablet applications. And of course one size never fits all.

      • November 4, 2011 at 9:36 am

        That’s true, John. You’ll find that if you have the misfortune of being hospitalized, doctors in some of the larger hospitals are also using tablets as well.

  2. November 1, 2011 at 11:55 pm

    Right on the money Larry. I’ve been using Ubuntu since 4.10. After version 8.04 I became concerned with the direction Ubuntu seemed to be heading. While I’ve stuck with Ubuntu, I no longer use anything but their LTS version having run into too many problems with the stable versions of more recent releases.

    It’s not about being the coolest, it’s getting the software right. I think even Microsoft gets it – Windows 8 will still support desktop PCs (Microsoft is betting on it).

    As you correctly point out some apps don’t work great on tablets/phones. Are you really going to pull 6GB worth of torrents on your wireless tablet? Let’s use that tablet to edit and encode your high definition movies to be sent to family on Blueray – oops no Blueray writer?

    Desktop software is changing, but I wouldn’t count the desktop out just yet.

  3. November 2, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Too Cool? Being cool is a benchmark I use. LtFSG is cool, that is MY assignment
    of cool to Larry, one cannot deem oneself to be cool because that would be uncool.
    For the Space Cadet to use cool as a derogatory term is very uncool. Blastoff Boy
    would probably use Hippie as a put down also? Sorry guys and gals, I am not
    going to follow some Hipster into space. There are lots of great Linux Distributions
    out there that can add to your Coolness and Karma.

    As LtFSG said, he has been a tad harsh about Ubuntu. It was about the culture
    of the Canonical corporate mindset rather than (until Unity) the software. Harsh
    to the point of the Colonel wanting to tell him he was over the top by a good bit.
    The Colonel apologizes, Larry. You, as usual, were right. That doubt was uncool
    of me.

    LtFSG drives another spike into the heart of Vampire Software.

    Be cool, Bob

  4. November 2, 2011 at 1:32 pm

    Variety is the spice of life, and freedom is the very air that we breathe. If you don’t like Ubuntu, you don’t have to use it – there are so many others. I suppose I am ultra-uncool because I actually like Ubuntu, and am loving 11.10 with gnome shell. Its new, its different, and I even liked Unity when it came out. I love to tweak, so any new interface is a welcome challenge. You can use Ubuntu as easy or as hard as you like – and god bless Mr. Shuttleworth for having a vision and going after it – to whatever end. At least he is doing what he loves to do so how can anyone fault him? I do know Windows users who are intrigued by Ubuntu with Unity, and by Gnome Shell as well… intrigued enough to consider switching. And I don’t care the impetus for the switch, I will welcome all Windows defectors with open arms… 🙂

    • November 2, 2011 at 1:55 pm

      You’re absolutely right, MAS — freedom is like air, and the fact we have choices is important. Incidentally, using (or not using) Ubuntu has nothing to do with being cool or uncool, and my issue with Mark Shuttleworth’s statement — and not Mark himself, as I actually do hope Ubuntu succeeds — is that it’s an unfair swipe at everyone who doesn’t use Unity because they’d perfer not to or because they can’t. Ubuntu with GNOME sounds interesting, but I think new users from Windows would be better served having a desktop environment they’re more used to working with rather than using something like Unity (or GNOME 3). I steer people to Xubuntu myself if they want to try Ubuntu, but that’s me.

      • November 2, 2011 at 5:35 pm

        I am a computer tech in my area and I actively promote Ubuntu to my customers. I have had the privilege of installing Ubuntu (11.04 & 11.10) on some of their computers with absolute success. These are people coming from a strictly Windows background and they have loved the new Unity interface. They found it easy to navigate and find what they need and the idea of the Software Center is a brilliant tool for them finding new software. I have yet to get a phone call about a crash problem. Most of my calls are simply about Linux alternatives to programs they used before. Because Unity looks different than Windows, they get a “cool” factor feeling. All in all, was it hard for my customers to transition to Ubuntu (with Unity)? No. Was it different? Yes, but not hard. But then again, these were just mindless sheep who never had any choices anyways. Right? 😉

  5. November 2, 2011 at 1:46 pm

    Well another day, the need for another blog post. Now from Ubuntu that any application that does not implement App-Indicators will be blacklisted and not allowed in the Ubuntu Software Center. In their repo? Sure. Available via Synaptic or Muon? Sure. But not in the Ubuntu Software Center.

    Where does Ubuntu get off telling Linux developers how to develop software and what to put into their software or leave out?

    All of this nonsense started out a few years ago. Ubuntu users could make suggestions and vote on them. Well it was working fine, things that got voted up were at least talked about, if not actually implemented. Then Mark came out on something and pretty much said, “Yeah I know you all want this, but I own Ubuntu and I am going to do this instead.”

    Because open source software is so open. It is possible for Mark to get his wish to move the Min/Max/Close buttons to be moved to the left hand side of the title bar. He is also able to convert most apps over to using a Global menu. What does he do with this freedom? He threatens those very same programmers that they should ignore the desktop.org standards and implement his app-indicators or be banished to obscurity in his distro, no matter how excellent their app is.

  6. Bauke Jan Douma
    November 2, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Like I said the other day: Shuttleworth is all tablet yet totally out of touch.

    Bauke Jan Douma

  7. Roszyk
    November 2, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    Unless I completely misunderstand this, no one is suggesting that you edit video on your smartphone or replace their workhorse desktop/laptop with a tablet. It is about having a consistent interface and compatibility across all of your hardware. This is where Microsoft and Apple are going. I don’t blame Ubuntu for taking this road.

  8. November 2, 2011 at 2:40 pm

    @Roszyk whoops. The point is some of us still use tower computers (will we just be calling computers workstations in the future?) which need a more ‘classic’ interface to get the best out of them. The people using these workstations are the people creating the content for the little appliance gadgets (ie tablets, phones)

    Tablets can only go so far. When you need some real power and real control, full PCs are the way to go. If you cut off content-creators why would you need a tablet?

  9. nightmare
    November 2, 2011 at 4:14 pm

    Larry said “It’s because it doesn’t work for them.”

    Hey genius, a lot of things don’t work for a lot of people. I can’t believe I wasted time reading this drivel. Next thing I see written by Larry the Cable Guy will be avoided.

    • Sean Lynch
      November 3, 2011 at 6:07 am

      As an example, many content creaors use monitors in vertical instead of horizontal orientation. Interfaces like Unity and Gnome 3 are cumbersome when the monitor is taller than it is wide. The developers of both of these UI’s refuse to allow the movement of task bars(panels) or docks to be user adjustable to overcome this flaw.

      When you lok at a tablet or smartphone interface, please note how the interface adjusts when the orientation of the device ist changed.

      So Canonical thinks it is creating an interface suited for phones and tablets, but is not. Many of the changes they are refusing to make based on user feedback from desktop users now are exactly the kinds of changes they will need to make in order to accomodate the smaller adjustable screens fond on tablets and smartphones.

      They are not creating a unified experience accros platforms but instead a kind of hybrid compromise that will never satisfy use on either platform completely.

  10. November 2, 2011 at 6:09 pm

    Thanks, Larry. You’re pretty much on the money here.

    The thing that is truly ironic is that after many years of Linux use, I switched to Ubuntu because they provided a desktop that “Just Works” ™ without the need to fuss with it — and then, five years later, I had to dump Ubuntu for *exactly* the same reason — Unity takes away the “Just Works” ™ and replaces it with a labyrinthine perversion of clicking and searching to get anything to work at all.

    Xfce seems to be getting mighty popular with Linux oldsters these days, simply by being a desktop that looks and acts like a desktop instead of a smartphone. Guess what Mark, there’s already a Linux for smartphones, it’s called Android and it *rocks* (my Samsung Galaxy S II is *so* choice; if you have the means I highly recommend picking one up).

    Ubuntu has jumped the shark. It was fun while it lasted.

  11. November 2, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I’m one of those extreme power users, an accountant, not a programmer. The key elements of power users are being able to use many applications, file managers, utilities, etc. simultaneously and switch and transfer between them fast and seamlessly, a hundred times faster than any observer’s eyes could keep up and even know where on a screen to look.

    The essential *means* by which this can be done and has been done for ~20 years is keyboard shortcuts. That means 95% of things that might be done with a mouse *will not* be done with a mouse because a mouse is radically too slow.

    Unity is great for keyboard shortcuts. Not only that, and unlike most other DEs and WMs, but it is geared towards transitioning users towards power user status. I knew about “Gnome-Do” before Unity, but never bothered with it. Now with Unity, it trained me to use that functionality with its Dash. I type the ‘super’ button and a few letters of what I’m after, and launching a known program or file never takes a single second. True, I won’t always know an application name the very first time I use it, but every time after that I will… that’s what being a power user means.

    So this is what power desktop users have in common with smartphone and tablet users… they don’t rely on a mouse. They know that 95% of the time a mouse is a crutch of technophobes, but the other 5% is enough to avoid window managers like “ratpoison” (a WM specifically designed to not use a mouse at all.) The screen space savings of Unity makes Gnome2 seem insanely wasteful. If E17 could add the global menu like Unity, then Unity might have a real competitor because E17 is more efficient, but till then, Unity has little competition if you have the RAM for it.

    Unity is already there. The only major advance it should have is to add the Expo functionality viewable within the Dash, maybe in a tab to alternate with the search functionality like Gnome-shell does.

  12. November 3, 2011 at 6:56 am

    The difference isn’t between big hardware and small hardware; it’s between data production and data consumption. PCs are used to create data. Smartphones-tablets are used to consume data. PCs have keyboards. S-T do not. Any UI that forces users to switch between the keyboard and the pointer, back and forth, just to open one app, will be hated by power users. Why? Because power users produce data. The ability to do everything from the keyboard is a must. Having to use pointers (mouse) or gestures just slows them down. No, one UI does not fit all.

  13. November 3, 2011 at 8:48 am

    Larry, am I the only one who noticed the Steve Martin homage? It made me laugh. I heard him saying it when I read that.

    I do agree with your comments about Mr. Shuttleworth dissing people by calling them too cool. I also strongly agree with your PC-also assessment.

    As for Unity or GNOME 3 being usable or not… I think that is left to the user and it isn’t a way to really get an objective measurement on that. Some people hate one or both of them, others seem to like them. People are different.

    Since I got the Steve Martin reference I’m obviously an older (47) person and less fond of smartphones and tablets. Maybe that is over generalizing but hey, it’s true for me. I don’t think there has to be one interface to rule them all.

    To me Mr. Shuttleworth is just Steve Jobs(RIP)-lite. Ubuntu has really turned into a commercial distribution even though it is still free of charge. I don’t use the word “commercial” to disparage Ubuntu, I’m just trying to be more accurate at describing it. I happen to use / like commercial distros for certain use cases… as long as they retain the free software ethics I prefer. I don’t think Ubuntu has moved beyond the free software ethic but there are some who probably think they have. The things that Canonical has put in Ubuntu that a truly community-oriented distro would have trouble pulling off are fairly obvious. Software Center, Ubuntu One, and the integration of Banshee with their own music store as well as Amazon… I don’t think you’ll ever see that sort of stuff in Debian or Fedora… but maybe I’m wrong. Those things have the stated goals of making Canonical profitable which does not apply to community distros. Like you, I wish them success with it… just don’t call it a community distro anymore… because it isn’t.

    There were rumblings in recent LWN comments declaring that Unity should be picked up by Red Hat and put into Fedora as well. Jeff S. pondered if and when Unity would make it into Debian… which seems a much easier first step than jamming it into Fedora. When will that happen or has it already?

    In the mean time I think I’ll “get small” but not by using smaller devices. 🙂

    • November 3, 2011 at 10:19 am

      To be sure, Scott, since I am slightly older, I wrote this item with an arrow through my head and with rabbit ears 🙂

      I don’t think you’ll be seeing Unity on Red Hat or Fedora anytime soon — not on Fedora on my watch, anyway — since Red Hat has too much invested in GNOME. But we’ll have to see.

  14. Anon
    November 4, 2011 at 12:22 am

    You express some very good points in your post, this is why I don’t understand why there isn’t more development to get gnome-shell fall back happening. I mean think of it this way, MS have the whole metro thing happening in win 8, but you can still go back to a win 7 type of interface as well.

    Come on, you can’t tell me Canonical hasn’t got the people to do that or even Gnome.
    This whole Gnome3/Unity thing is out of control, to the point where it’s starting to damage Ubuntu.

    Forget about the power users. Right?

    The power users are the ones that do contribute and are there too show new users what to do. Canonical, these are the people that have looked after you and have promoted Ubuntu, so don’t just push them aside, for goodness sake. (Lets just force people to use our new DE because we know better than Gnome does, or vice versa).


    I mean seriously can’t we just get along, it 2011 and we still squabble about stuff like this.
    Wake up, swallow your pride and make Linux an effing awesome product.
    Honestly we have the know how and the resources, don’t we?

    Just my opinion on something that really should be common sense as a whole.

  1. November 1, 2011 at 2:48 pm
  2. November 3, 2011 at 4:46 pm
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