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gnotebook: Nautilus Revisited: Unhappy Users Make All the Wrong Demands - page 2

Building GNOME 1.4, Nautilus 1.0 Provokes a Bad Reaction

  • March 23, 2001
  • By Michael Hall

Some of the hand-wringing also comes from a misplaced hysteria we've been dealing with for several years in the Linux world. The whole point of these desktop environments is to "make Linux accessible to everybody" and "provide a rich computing experience for non-technical types." To a certain extent, these concerns are as faddish as "ease of installation" was three or four years ago, when that was the mantra everybody was mumbling to summon Linux onto desktops everywhere.

"If we can just make it easier to install, a significant bar will be lowered," went the wisdom (true, a significant bar was lowered) "and no one will have any excuse not to install Linux."

And along came some very nice installation tools. People who wouldn't have otherwise bothered took heart and gave Linux a try. How many? We didn't take over the desktop, if that's an adequate answer in the absence of hard numbers, because installation's only part of the puzzle, and what ends up installed is sort of important to the person doing the installing, regardless of whether they could play Tetris while they were doing it or not.

So the remedy to the lack of readily available copies of "Big Bass Fishin'" for Linux on the shelves of the local Babbages has become desktop environments, and we're all pinning our hopes on the notion that with a "compelling" and "rich" experience dangled in front of corporations and consumers, the desktop will be ours.

I think we're already "there" in plenty of ways, and have been for a while, and I believe the unhappy story waiting to be told is that beyond ease of installation, ease of maintenance, ease of use, and ease of just sorta moving the mouse around the screen and stuff happening that you like, there's momentum. I don't want to place bets on whether Linux will ever get that momentum on desktops. There are signs it's breaking in here and there, but I don't think it's FUD to say that Linux isn't invested with a special magic in this arena: there have been other compelling computing experiences available in the past, and they've failed for a variety of reasons, including their inability to generate the sort of momentum it takes to break into a market 90% dominated by an agressive, underhanded opponent. I look forward to being roundly reviled as a fence-sitter and forced to watch the Penguinista victory dance on the tables of the corporate palaces of Microsoft through a window, my grubby nose pressed against the glass.

In the mean time, there's still time. Nautilus will get better, GNOME will get better, KDE and Linux will get better. We'd all love to get those copies of "Big Bass Fishin'" for our Linux boxes from Babbages, but building momentum is a slow process. Upset over one's inability to go hassle the guy in the cubicle next door because Eazel hasn't categorically demonstrated the superiority of Linux in all things reveals too much stress over an unhappy short-sightedness better relieved by dwelling in the bug reporting pages of one's favorite project.

Quit Reading the Talkbacks and Chase the Dream

There's also some KDE watching going on in the hand-wringing camp. Konqueror is, at this point, faster, and it's as usable as Nautilus, too. I know because every time I notice that the Debian maintainer for KDE has updated his distribution, I try it out for a little while to see what's up.

For people who think in terms of horse races, KDE has lately posted some impressive gains that have left some of the GNOME faithful a little shaken where their bets are concerned: Qt's support for XRENDER extensions and the resulting anti-aliasing it brings to the Linux desktop was widely celebrated, provoking plaintive queries from several desktop watchers wondering when GTK+ would catch up (it will, by the way, in its next iteration: version 2.0). Reading the LinuxToday talkbacks on my own review of Nautilus, it also became apparent that many are also convinced Konqueror's embedded browser components are more than up to the task for many users, where Nautilus' own use of Mozilla is a strategy that's a few months from paying off, when the browser and its underlying components are more fully optimized and declared stable.

Far from sounding the death-knell of GNOME, though, these advantages will likely do what something else being a little better has always done to the developer camp at a temporary disadvantage: spur them on to improve more. GNOME's developers are a capable bunch who've provided a good desktop: they'll only get better with experience and time.

Screeching too much about how far behind GNOME is presumes that GNOME's developers are sitting on their hands. I trust them more than that.

Support Your Local Bugzilla Page

So we're left with a few things:

Nautilus is less-than-optimal at this point, despite being a product of good design and high promise. GNOME is back on a few design points. GNOME 1.4 was wisely numbered, because my own use of the release candidate and betas over the past few weeks reveals that the changes it represents are incremental and not profoundly apparent to end users. The talkbacks will be flooded, once GNOME 1.4 has been out in general circulation and the reviews are coming in, with the inevitable lack of graciousness the end user camp will display when given an opportunity to do what it does best, which is post in talkbacks.

The answer, though, isn't to demand Nautilus' removal from GNOME, or even to fork the project in a panicked attempt to make the design trade-offs required to make it faster quicker. It's a good piece of software, it has a lot of promise, and its developers have worked hard on it. It deserves more than to be rendered down into gmc redux. It deserves the benefit of "Torvalds' Law", with an active community of many eyes continuing to look at it, and many fingers clicking 'submit' on its Bugzilla page.

I said the same thing about Mozilla I'll say about Nautilus here, which is that these projects require active, engaged user communities to make things happen. Not carping whiners who've staked their meager credibility in talkback pissing matches over the desktop wars or daily harassment of the nearest Windows fan they can lay hands on.

World domination is a community responsibility.

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