Friday April 07, 2017

Former Compiz Developer: Free Software Desktop Might Enter A Dark Age [editorial]

Here is one that sounds a little bit like sour grapes to me. A former Canonical Compiz developer decries Ubuntu's switch back to Gnome in a blog entry, saying it might lead to "a dark age" for open source desktops, with so few large organizations pursuing new ones.

Personally, I couldn't disagree any more. The heart and soul of the open source movement, including its desktops, is in community projects, not in efforts driven by large corporate interests. In fact, if you ask me, Ubuntu foisting its home-brew touch-compatible interface on the Ubuntu Desktop masses starting 6 years ago WAS the dark age. Unity is Canonical's Windows 8 Metro interface, except even notoriously stubborn Microsoft started later and noticed sooner that, while pretty decent for touch users, it more than anything was alienating traditional desktop users. Unity was the reason I stopped using Ubuntu 6 years ago, and there were very many like me.

I fully understand getting close to, and passionate about a project you have spent a lot of time working on, but sometimes you just have to kill your darlings, and I'm glad Canonical has. Not only was Unity an effort by Canonical to drive its interests in moving into the mobile space with a unified interface, at the expense of its traditional desktop users, but it was also an ugly resource hog, with buttons in the wrong places, hurting usability.

As far as I am concerned, desktop usability in Linux hit a peak with Gnome 2 and plunged into an age of darkness when Ubuntu made Unity their default desktop. There is no need to mess with the perfection that was Gnome 2. Certainly modernizing it through such efforts as Mate, or more modern work-alike's like Cinnamon is great, but there is no need to reinvent the wheel. It will almost certainly result in something that is worse.

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Free software on the desktop might enter a dark age soon. There aren’t very many companies in this space now. Intel was out as of halfway through last year. Google is focused on Android and Chrome OS. Novell and Sun folded a long time ago. Nokia fell off a burning platform. IBM is nowhere to be found. And now Canonical is pivoting away too. Samsung’s Tizen is potentially an interesting player, but everyone knows its a plan B. Red Hat remains and so does Endless. An of course there is still Collabora, Codethink, Igalia and other free software contracting firms, though their existence arguably depends on the larger players.

Edit: I wanted to give Phoronix credit for finding this story, but their site seems to be down, so here is the direct link to the blog entry.