Yet that is the problem that GNOME 3 set out to solve, with "distraction-free" computing as one of its main selling-points.
More recently, Jono Bacon has defended Unity's proposed title bar icons that only appear when you move the window as "a far less cluttered interface." I could almost imagine that the non-existent problem of clutter has taken on a life of its own, with one desktop discovering it because another one has used it as a selling point.
A basic principal of typography -- a craft next door to interface design -- is that the best layouts are the ones that don't call attention to themselves. Instead, the best layouts enhance the text and make it easier to read.
By contrast, on the free desktop today, looking good has become a primary goal. In fact, at times, it seems more important than anything else. GNOME 3 was initially promoted as "simply beautiful" and as "the most beautiful GNOME desktop ever."
Jono Bacon is more balanced in talking about the new Unity release, emphasizing the need to balance beauty and function. However, like the GNOME 3 developers, he talks about beauty as an end in itself, instead of something that arises out of function. "We don’t just want to build functional technology," he writes. "We want to build desirable, pleasurable technology." In other words, he advocates a design that does not work behind the scenes, but calls attention to itself.
I'm sorry, but effective interfaces don't work that way, any more than effective layouts do. If non-experts spend more than a few moments exclaiming over an interface the first time they open it, then something is wrong. More -- the interface has become inefficient, because it is distracting you from your work instead of helping you get on with it.
Not everything is bleak on the Linux desktop. Many lesser-known desktops continue to be efficient and attract interfaces. Among the best-known, KDE often manages touches that are both elegant and functional.
However, for the most part, the free desktop is currently suffering from over-reaction. For a decade or more, the free desktop focused on functionality, with results that were often unreservedly ugly.
Now, the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme, with design that seems based on whim, then hastily defended by evoking abstract design principles.
Like a new word processor user who throws a dozen different fonts and colors into a document simply because they can, free desktop designers today seem mostly giddy at the discovery of new possibilities. They commit excesses of design for no better reason than they can.
With luck, much of this excess will disappear as the designers settle down and become more responsible. Greater usability testing might help. But, for now, the desktop design offers all too often a lack of restraint rather than any genuine improvement.
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