I have been a Linux user since at least 1995. That was the year I bought my first distribution copy of SlackWare 96. I have fiddled with almost every distro you can think of over the years. I can remember going through all the dramas with Linux: the Window Manager wars, the libc mess, the Gnome wars, the growth of Redhat. During all of these moments I honestly didn’t hold it against Linux that I always needed to have a copy of Windows available to get real work done sometimes. Linux was usually the best environment to get development work done for Java or LAMP so I never had a problem not having a proper Office Application. The Dual boot thing was annoying, but, I could get over it with the rock solid stability and close compatibility with other Unixes.
In the last 5 years I have somewhat settled on using “Desktop” distributions. My reasons:
1. Easier to update so I could see new features without having to do some funky configuring.
2. Less maintenance. I like to pretend that my computer is not a hobby that requires constant caring and feeding like a house pet.
3. Easier installation of addons and new software.
I know I’m losing patience with my old age and quite frankly I don’t have the time for spending overnight to get printing to work.
Honestly I was in a state of Détente with Linux because I wasn’t really happy with a few things. Driver support in Ubuntu has always been atrocious and this distro had some of the best driver support. I hated how simple things would not work like my HDMI port. Don’t even get me started on Linux’s lack of support for the Hybrid Graphics in my Dell laptop.
This weekend I updated to Ubuntu 11 with its new Unity Interface and I just realized that I had been using Linux for 17 years and I was still unable to do something very basic: Upload images to PicasaWeb that were loaded on my laptop. First off, all my years mucking about with fstab made me know to load my windows partition as a mounted drive when I installed Ubuntu (that saves a lot of headache, but, frankly why doesn’t Ubuntu mount every partition it sees on the drive automatically?). So getting to the pictures wasn’t the problem. The problem was the the new Nautilus interface that popped up inside of Mozilla Firefox was complete indecipherable. Now, I am something of a UI geek (its why I went to Ben Schneiderman’s school for my undergrad and tried to get a job in that lab) and I have worked with computers with all sorts of weird interfaces (look, I programmed doom into my TI 85 calculator, so I know how to get things done). Its hard to admit, but, I couldn’t figure out how to get to my windows mount inside the file list window. I thought I was losing my mind so I tried another browser, but, they all default to using the Nautilus file browser. I’m sorry, but, after trying for about 15 minutes I gave up.
Good job Ubuntu, I just gave up on Unity at that point. Its clear they never tested this with any user groups. I had Gnome running pretty nicely with CompWiz (Desktop Cubes, extra effects, :)). I switched back to Ubuntu “Classic”, but, I decided to boot into Windows to upload my pictures. The funny thing is that I see how quickly Android has gotten away from the mistakes of Linux. For one thing there is only one GUI for Android (though folks implement add-ons). I find it very satisfying using the stock Android 2.2 Ui on my G2X (drool). Over the years I have been forced into liking stock interfaces and I can say that Android is a nice one. The travesty that is Unity is not ready for prime time. If you can’t bring in a user group consisting of basic users and see how productive they are in using the UI then you can’t make that UI the default. Regardless of Shuttleworth’s feelings about Gnome the decision should have been made to keep users productive even if you are using a messy code base.