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Stop the presses

February 24, 2012

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 events@linuxfoundation.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.)

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  1. February 25, 2012 at 5:56 am

    I think having Ubuntu give up on GNOME, then see GNOME give up on GNOME 2 was too much for much of the community to take.

    I’m not sure the “works like Windows” desktop metaphor is still as compelling in terms of really bringing new users to free OSes as it used to be.

    The teams behind these new UI paradigms need to do a lot of marketing to let users know what the advantages are.

    GNOME 3 is something I can live with. I’m hoping for great things by the time we get to 3.4.

    And there are always a dozen other UIs to choose from.

    • February 25, 2012 at 7:41 am

      I think Ubuntu giving up on GNOME — a bad move on the whole — coupled the other bad move of GNOME giving up on GNOME 2, if anything, were just badly timed, happening so close to each other. The community did what communities do in this situation — they state their objection and “vote with their feet,” as it were.

      Speaking of GNOME 3, I am hoping that the folks at GNOME are now listening to those who use the desktop instead of telling the community what we want. I expect that of people like Mark Shuttleworth — GNOME, not so much.

      I can write volumes about how this whole change has hamstrung us moreso than helped us, and the next blog item will bear me out. However one of the key points in this whole situation is that the strength of FOSS — or Free as in Freedom software — is choice and flexibility.

      • February 28, 2012 at 11:19 am

        Debian Wheezy is scheduled to freeze in June (the two-year “cadence” to borrow a term from SABDFL Mark Shuttleworth, lives), and it will ship with GNOME 3.4 and KDE 4.8, as well as Linux kernel 3.2. So if GNOME 3.4 turns out to be a sweet spot in the development of that DE, we’ll have a couple of good years and then some to enjoy it (as we are GNOME 2.30 right now in Squeeze).

  2. Bruce Byfield
    February 25, 2012 at 8:56 am

    It’s not a crisis — just fascinating in its unpredictability.

    However, I have to disagree that it’s an opportunity for other alternatives to come to the fore.
    Instead, a vacuum seems to have been created with the disappearance of GNOME 2. Those alternatives that come closest to delivering a GNOME 2-like experience — Xfce, MATE, Cinnamon — are exactly the ones that people are flocking towards.

    • February 28, 2012 at 1:19 pm

      Where’s the Ubuntu spin that ships with GNOME 3? If Canonical had any stones, they’d make it an official project and let GNOME and Unity fight to the death.

  3. February 29, 2012 at 7:43 am

    This conversation should never have taken place. It is a case of over thinking
    on the part of several groups. Remember when we first had computers and
    were able to choose between a bezillion different fonts? And we used them all?
    The people who make this magic can do a bezillion new and different things and
    they do. Hope it calms down someday.

    Everybody should be working on the replacement for flash damnit!

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