Linux Desktop: Change vs. Conservatism: Page 3

Despite the conservatism of users, innovation hasn't died on the Linux desktop. It's just become very cautious in the last few year.


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For now, Lefebvre seems to have put aside this idea. However, what is interesting is that he proposed it at all. Linux Mint has spent so much time re-creating GNOME 2 that observers might wonder whether the distribution would do more than minor innovations.

Lefebvre's trial balloon suggests that Mint might be able to innovate more than its recent pre-occupations suggest. If nothing else, the goodwill that Mint is accumulating by giving users what they want might mean that experiments by Mint would be tolerated more than any by the other major desktop environments.

Ubuntu's Unity

For several years, the changes to Ubuntu have centered on Unity. The next year or two seems unlikely to change that.

So far, the upcoming 13.10 ("Saucy Salamander") release is known to have several new features. These features include some largely unspecified customizations of Compiz, and an additional 50-100 scopes or filters for online searches for the dash, which will be supplemented by an in-dash payment system.

So far, details about the payment system are lacking, but considering the controversy that online searches have sparked in the past, it is likely to revive privacy-concerns in some circles.

More importantly, the next few releases will see more efforts to make Unity a single code base that works across multiple form-factors. The 13.10 release will include the first touch-screen applications, such as a web-browser and a media player, although relatively few users are likely to be able to take advantage of them on a workstation or laptop in version 13.04.

Touch-screen support, which lacks the distinction of two mouse buttons and a scroller, is also believed to be behind the changes to some basic changes to Unity. In the upcoming release, applications will take two mouse-clicks to open links in the dash, and one will present a preview or thumbnail.

Previews make searching on the dash more practical, since they allow users to explore search results without closing on the dash. However, the change is fundamental enough to be controversial, and seems to have more to do with encouraging people to purchase items from the dash than with improving design.

Over the next couple of years, these attempts to unify Unity implementations are scheduled to continue. However, how these changes will be received on the traditional desktop is uncertain.

On the one hand, features planned for the Ubuntu Touch phone such as the Welcome Screen, with its user summary, or the edge-swiping to change screens, could be welcome additions.

On the other hand, some features might be more questionable. It looks, for example, that the Head-up Display (HUD) might replace menus, despite its lukewarm reception when first introduced several releases ago. Probably, the reception of such features will depend on whether they can be turned off or not.

The Coming Linux Doldrums

If these descriptions are accurate, then users are in for a quiet period on the Linux desktop. The only environment in which major changes are being made is Unity, and its changes are so little wanted and so focused on consumerism rather than usability that they are more proof of persistence than of a desire to improve the user experience.

Otherwise, so far as innovation exists at all, it does so because of industry trends that are too big to ignore -- for instance, the rise of mobile devices and touch screen. Even then, the desktop environments other than Unity are approaching the inevitable with a caution that suggests lingering trauma.

The only bright spots are the tentative possibilities that GNOME may focus on making security easy, and that Cinnamon and Mate, having given users what they want, may be able to offer practical innovations.

I can only hope so. Otherwise, the Linux desktop looks as though it will be a dull place for the next couple of years, until developers and users alike lose their distrust of change.

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Tags: Linux desktop, Gnome, KDE, open source community

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