Thursday, September 14, 2006

Linux Desktop a pipedream, says former Linux evangelist

Martin Gerard makes quite a persuasive argument -- which is likely to be considered flamebait by hordes of Linux enthusiasts -- that Linux will never become popular on the desktop. He writes,

Linux is an operating system that was designed and implemented from the ground-up by geeks and nerds—let them be "technology enthusiasts" if you think it sounds better or less offensive. My point is that the brain of these people is wired very differently from the brain of the average Joe. Whether this is good or bad is irrelevant; what matters is that they are bound to have different perceptions and values, causing a rift between them.

In order to make the Linux desktop appealing to the average Joe, technology enthusiasts would have to betray their core values to such extends that it would be the operating system's undoing. In other words, they would have to make the phone's case opaque so that we can no longer see its insides, remove all the extra keys (yes, all the cool ones) and strip it of every prominent feature that makes it superior to but more complicated than the average phone. What geek would want to use—or develop—such a boring phone?
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The truth is that most people [regular folks] cannot visually grasp the entire screen at once, let alone an interface of fifty icons or user controls. In order to be attractive to them, the interface needs to be dumbed down to the average automated bank teller's level. Yes, they find the simplicity attractive, not disconcerting or dull.
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Geeks spend hundreds of hours tweaking their systems and reading documentation because they love to learn how it works, just like they enjoyed playing with Lego TECHNIC (they would love the MINDSTORMS now) or science fair kits when they were kids. Needless to say the crowd finds these things rather uncool (yes, even the Lego MINDSTORMS). Most people don't like to read the user manual or learn fifty new concepts before getting started. They like when it just works and it's intuitive—at least to them.
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Get real: the Linux desktop has been designed and implemented by technology enthusiasts, for technology enthusiasts. If they were to seriously try to make it appealing to the masses, the effort would collapse halfway because they would be dismayed by the result. My take is that things are just fine the way they are, and the Linux desktop for Dummies an utopia.
Persusive argument, if you ask me. Then again, you have MacOSX, which, with its Unix underpinnings warms the cockles of the geek heart, and yet is no harder to use than the original Mac ("computers for the rest of us"). The question is, does the Linux community have in its midst the kind of enthusiasts who can build outstanding interfaces that pass every usability test out there? To my mind, the community is outstanding when it comes to adding features and functions and plugging holes, but it unlikely that you can herd together a bunch of geek cats under a charismatic if authoritarian leadership to build a unified interface.

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