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Kernel Development, Desktops, and Scooby Doo: The Alan Cox Interview - page 3

A Connoisseur of Indian Food and Scooby-Doo

  • February 10, 2000
  • By Paul Ferris

Alan: And the user interface is going to be more and more important because you're going to try and push not just Linux but all sorts of other technologies to people who basically want the Internet to work like a TV set.

If it's got any more buttons than a TV or if you can't just turn it off when you get confused, then it's not going to fly. It's not just really about people who are not inside of the tech community, or people who are too clueless to learn. These people have more important things to do with their time then to try to learn to run a PC.

They just want to be able to send e-mail or look on the Internet. They don't want to know about disk partitioning or most of the things that go in PCs

LT: And I think that some of the new Linux boxes that are already set up for the user are already there. There's no question that KDE or GNOME are both user interfaces that are very easy for people to use.

Alan: But that's still only the PC. The PC itself, for a lot of these things is still too complex. I think that a lot more important things will be things like set-top boxes.

One of the things I like about the Palm Pilot--I hate it for a lot of reasons, like the handwriting--but when you use a Palm Pilot and have no clue what you are doing, you have a set of basic functions that anybody can use. Yet as you get to know a bit more about it, as you learn to use it, you discover all of these extra features and all these extra clever things you can do.

They're not thrown in your face, so it doesn't intimidate you. You can simply treat it like a very simple notepad. And it works like a notepad. It's sort of the first PC you can give to your grandmother, in many respects.

That's the kind of interface technology we need in Linux to go beyond the PC world.

LT: So that we attract the people that are at the very beginning.

Alan: Not just the people who are at the very beginning--the people who simply do not want to know.

LT: I think that this likely runs contrary to the wants of people that are into Linux because it's cool or whatever right now.

Alan: Linux should be flexible. It's no good having that kind of dumbed-down interface on your main Web server.

You can't fix the problem because there isn't a button for it. It's an area where open source should be good--because it's extremely tailorable. You're not stuck with the user interface that came with the product.

LT: It's not a marketing decision either, it's a democratic decision.

Alan: Right. If you get something like the GNOME desktop and there's lots and lots of icons and the file manager and so on, and all you want to do is give people four icons, four applications, and an e-mail package to use, you can take all of the rest off and get rid of the panel. You can burn it on a CD, and you can sell that as part of your own product. You can actually customize Linux to a particular niche environment. You can build a business on it. You can see people starting to do that, the TV set-top boxes are only one example.

There are people building Linux on one floppy-disk firewalls. People are building businesses on this kind of technology.

LT: It's pretty freaky. It's partly because you can get in there and take out things that you don't really need.

Alan: Not only that--you're allowed to sell, support and to modify the product for other people. It gives you the flexibility of the control.

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