Heated battles between supporters of the GNOME and KDE desktops are a
longstanding tradition in the free software world. This tradition has
somewhat fallen into neglect in recent years; the relicensing of the Qt
libraries took away the most readily available flame fuel. Still, one
needs to have a good desktop fight every now and then, if just for old
times' sake. It's traditional, after all.
The end of the year is approaching, and work is slowing down on a number of
fronts. The 2.6.15 kernel is well into the stabilization phase, so there
is relatively little work to be done on that front. As a result, it seems
that Linus Torvalds had a bit of spare time to engage in a nostalgic flame
exercise. In response to a question on printer configuration dialogs,
his desktop preference clear:
I personally just encourage people to switch to KDE.
This "users are idiots, and are confused by functionality"
mentality of Gnome is a disease. If you think your users are
idiots, only idiots will use it. I don't use Gnome, because in
striving to be simple, it has long since reached the point where it
simply doesn't do what I need it to do.
Those who are interested in the discussion that resulted can read the
full thread. Some of it contains language which is not necessarily
work- or family-safe.
GNOME developers often complain that their approach to user interface
design is misunderstood. But the fact is that they have, indeed, left
behind a certain subset of their user base which has grown tired of seeing
features and options disappear in the name of usability. The low point for
the de-featuring of GNOME applications was probably early in the 2.x
series, but the fact remains: GNOME does not allow things which certain
types of users want to do.
This gap is there explicitly by design; Jeff Waugh put
it this way:
We're not aiming for "powerfully extensible". We're aiming for
"Just Works". Some people will hate that. Some will love
it. Personally, I'd rather have passionate users, lovers and
haters, than be than average and ignored, and I think you'll find
most GNOME developers feel the same way.
Havoc Pennington also compared
the implementation of one often-requested feature (the ability to
arbitrarily rebind mouse buttons in Metacity) to selling maternity clothes
for men. One can only assume he is not implying that people who want to
rebind buttons are, in fact, pot-bellied transvestites.
Havoc notes that he has never encountered anybody wanting to rebind
mouse buttons who was not a "historical Unix user." Whether that is
because these "historical Unix users" are, in addition to possessing
questionable taste in clothing, just unusually fussy about mouse buttons,
or whether the rest of the user base simply is not used to the idea that
this sort of behavior can be changed is not clear. What is clear is that
the GNOME project has chosen to target the subset of users who are content
to have a number of user interface choices made for them as long as the
result "just works."
Flaming the GNOME developers for this decision is a mistake. There is
clearly a user base for the GNOME desktop, and who can say that it is wrong
for the GNOME developers to create a system which works for those users?
Over time, these developers may also figure out how to support both the
"just works" crowd and the small minority of dress-wearing Unix relics;
there is some evidence that this might be happening. In the mean time, the
"just works" users may become hooked on the free software experience, and,
eventually, discover the power of being able to optimize the desktop for
their own needs and workload.
But, even if GNOME truly becomes the "desktop for idiots," there are other
desktop alternatives out there, including (but not limited to) KDE. One
might well ask why we should have multiple desktop projects if their end
projects are indistinguishable. Let them, instead, choose their user bases
and provide those users with the best desktop they can. If the desktops
diverge from each other, the result will be more choice for users - and
plenty of material to feed our GNOME/KDE flame war tradition well into the
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