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.comment: Guys Named Stephan and Matthias - page 3

Two Years Ago....

  • July 12, 2000
  • By Dennis E. Powell

It's easy and accurate to say that Linux on the desktop is at a crossroads, just as it would have been easy and accurate to say the same thing pretty much anytime in the last five years. But today the stakes are much higher, and KDE has had a lot to do with that. Because of KDE, people who would never have dreamt of moving to or at least experimenting with Linux now are doing so by the millions. With KDM, one can be in KDE from bootup to shutdown. (I think that this is a rotten idea, because it's simply not that tough to type startx at a command prompt after having logged in in text mode. A total reliance on X can be more trouble than its marginal worth. There is a difference between "steep learning curve" and having to know a little bit. Linux for Dummies is a book, not an operating system.)

These many new users did not for the most part emerge yesterday in loincloths from the jungle. They have already used something else, and often that something else was Windows. They are accustomed to the Windows way of doing things. They refer to desktop links as--shudder--"shortcuts." They grow angry sometimes when there's no Windows-style application installer and they instead have to open tarballs manually (which, though not as pretty as the graphical Windows installer, differs, too, in that it works). They not unreasonably feel a powerful desire that their Linux desktops be as much like what they're used to--as much like Windows--as possible. They are a powerful lobbying force.

As are the commercial software developers who are becoming increasingly involved in things Linux. They quite reasonably want customers to feel at home with their applications, and often this, too, drags software toward Windows in look and feel and other ways.

As more and more systems are trashed by abuse of the "features" of Microsoft's notorious Outlook, the mailing lists become more and more clogged with requests for those "features" under Linux. Yes, Linux is secure in that the fundamental system files and configurations are protected from misadventure. But that doesn't mean that a macro can't nuke your entire home directory. In that your home directory is where you store, well, everything that you've done, this is effective trashing of your system. There comes a time when popular demand is ill-advised.

When KDE-1.0 was released, the pressures to be like Windows were not there to the extent that they are today. KDE's developers wisely anticipated an influx of Windows users and not only provided for them but showed how the Windows UI could be greatly improved upon. But now there is real, full-time pressure for there to be what amounts to a Windows UI clone for Linux. Much of that pressure is applied to KDE, because KDE is the standard.

This isn't to say that it wouldn't be just nifty if somebody were to crank out a graphical tarball installer, maybe with a form that asks the user whether the program should go into /opt, /usr, or /usr/local, perhaps with an explanation of why one should be chosen over another. Perhaps this could be combined with automagic compilation of source. The thought grates a little, but that could just be me. What it is to say is that it falls to the developers, not just of KDE but of Linux desktops in general, to resist the cry for the Linux desktop to become as much like Windows as possible and instead to show how it can be so much better. Remember--if Windows were as good as it can get, we'd all be using it. Remember, too, that if users really wanted to be treated like children, Microsoft Bob would have been a success. Dumbing down is the process whereby a thing is made less than it can be. It would be a shame for the Linux desktop to be dumbed down.

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