Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Linux desktop

I wrote this a week ago and wasn't sure about posting it, but since others seem to be sinking the boot in, why not as well ... Boy Sam Varghese has some 'GNOMEic issues' and doesn't pull too many punches.

So now BN is back to updates, I see Miguel is at it again - blaming others for things he had a hand in. He has arguably had more of an impact than any other individual on the "linux desktop", so we all know where the buck stops. About time he manned up and admitted he was a good part of the 'problem'.

However - there are a few big problems that Linux really has fucked up - sound is the prime example here. Removable and network disks could definitely be better too. Unfortunately by not fixing these things properly where they should be fixed - it has left a vacuum which has been filled by the 'desktop' application developers. And not surprisingly, taking a desktop approach to a system problem leads to the sort of rubbish we have infecting our systems these days. Witness the continual parade of shitty audio solutions; from esd onwards. Compare this to DVB-T, or video drivers: there's just no comparison.

Otherwise, the kernel together with GNU libc has done enough to isolate applications from internal changes, as one would expect from an operating system kernel. It's job is to isolate software from hardware, and both the api and abi is part of that isolation.

The poisonous idea?

So when it boils down to the argument seems to be that the "idea" of not worrying about binary compatibility is the root of the issue of the failure of GNU/Linux desktop's failing to gain traction.

It's a strange argument; the kernel is distributed in source form, so internal binary compatibility simply isn't an issue by design.

And It's no different from any other internal api for an application. So long as the external interfaces remain compatible (if that is important), it should be up to the application's designers to re-arrange the internals as they see fit. Forcing some arbitrary and meaningless internal-binary-compatibility layer there would just be a costly waste of time.

So this 'stance' is simply common engineering technique, it is nothing special at all.

Perhaps it's just a language or translation issue.

Nothing to fix anyway ...

Of course, the base of the argument is coming from the premise that there is something technically wrong with the GNU/Linux desktop to start with; a premise I believe is simply incorrect.

A decade ago we had a usable stable desktop, and by now I really cringe any time I have to use a lesser one - that's the one that's slow, cumbersome, out-dated, and feature-limited compared to what I'm used to day to day.

There is simply nothing wrong with it technically.

So it just comes down to popularity. There are other measures but that seems a popular one these days amongst the kids ...

And how soon some forget that the thugs at Microsoft gained their premier position simply through illegal activity - which has been successfully prosecuted several times around the world. There certainly seems to be circumstantial evidence that they are still using questionable practices to keep their position - for example by paying "ISV's" one way or another not to release software on competitive platforms. Or bribing educators to use their software as "training tools". Or other questionable contractual terms in government and business deals.

Developers Developers Developers

If there are issues with the lack of developer resources on modern 'desktop' solutions, it may be because most of them see it as a solved problem. Whilst it was fun at the time, i'm not terribly interested in that kinda shit anymore myself. And if we had even a fraction of the resources today available - it wouldn't really be much of an issue. But rather than leave a solved problem solved, those working on these systems seem hell-bent on either copying something else which keeps changing simply to justify repurchase (e.g. apple, microsoft), targeting new platforms which aren't all that relevant (tablets), or just making busy work for the sake of some ethereal goal they will never reach.

At this point, gtk+ should be stable and mature and stop changing, and it's up to the vendors who make money off this shit to supply the labour for it. Which is the current state afaik (although why Federico recently changed the default file requester location to 'recents' is beyond me - totally worthless feature i never used anyway). Qt was pretty much always there.

As for Miguel, his projects have all been basically 'copying microsoft', so excuse me if i'm not very interested: and i'm sure i'm not alone here. If i was i'd just use the real thing. The same for GNOME's Apple-filled fantasies. It might be different if we had nothing and were looking for inspiration, but we don't really need another weird version of FVWM ... yet again ... which is all they seem to end up being.

Most software written is in-house special-purpose software: this stuff doesn't need to 'integrate' with the desktop any further than cut and paste and a file requester (if that). Actually apart from a few simple desktop utilities, no software really needs to - for it to be valuable, usable software. And on a platform like GNU/Linux which has no unified `desktop', tying yourself to one or another is a bit of a risky approach. For such software the platform is already decided, and not a particularly important factor.

So the other tiny part of the software pile - 'isv's writing boxed software - will just go where the money is. And that's either where the volume is - which will depend on the operating system - or high value niche markets where the operating system is not an issue. GNU/Linux will only have a small part in the former for the foreseeable future, but has a place in the latter.

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