The Wrong Path for Desktop GNU/Linux


I've tried to use Unity. I've tried to use Gnome 3. While many others have had success adapting to the these new desktop environments, I find them buggy and frankly...terrible. I know there have been many debates about it, but I want to give my two cents about it as well because it really hits me hard as a long-time Linux user.

Before KDE version 4, I used KDE most of the time. I rarely used another desktop environment. I was used to it. So believe me when I say I'm not afraid of change when it comes to Linux. When KDE 4 came out, it was different, but it wasn't so different that I couldn't have kept on using it. What made me switch to Gnome was the fact that KDE 4 was still in beta and very buggy. I couldn't use it because of the bugs. So, I switched to Gnome and grumbled about how change for the sake of change isn't that great.

KDE could have waited until it was ready for production before releasing it. Many distributions continued to use KDE 3 for a long time, but KDE 4 scared me away from it. I switched to Gnome and was happy with a desktop that worked well. I wasn't alone. Many people switched to Gnome. I became a staunch advocate of Gnome and tried to steer every new Windows convert away from KDE because I didn't want them to have a bad first experience with Linux.

Enter stage left Gnome 3 and Unity. These two flaky pieces of garbage have been pushed on every major modern distribution. I say modern to refer to the distributions that use more bleeding edge software packages. Debian Stable is still using Gnome 2, but Debian Testing (which will become Debian Stable someday) uses Gnome 3. If you want to use Debian Stable, you'll be stuck with older versions of many software packages. If you want to use modern packages, such as VLC 2.0 (which has minimal support for bluray playback) you'll need to go with a more modern distro.

The problem with going with a more modern distro is that most use Gnome 3 or Unity, and they don't really have a choice. Gnome 2 and GTK2 will no longer be supported or developed.

The philosophy, as I've heard it, from the developers of Unity and Gnome 3 is that users don't migrate to Linux because of all the software choices. Too many desktop environments create confusion for new users. Should they use XFCE4, KDE, Gnome, FluxBox, or something else? The claim is that this massive amount of choice scares away new users.

This is a terrible philosophy. The competition is what helps drive free software. People love having a choice, especially the type of users that actually USE LINUX. The main reason more people haven't adopted Linux is because MOST PEOPLE DON'T EVEN KNOW THEY ARE RUNNING WINDOWS. They just know they have a computer and they use what it came with. They don't know which version of Windows they are running, and they don't care, as long as they can get on Facebook and talk about how bored they are. People don't flock to Linux because Manufacturers don't put Linux on their new computers.

Manufacturers have deals with software vendors which lets them cut the cost of their computers. They get paid by software vendors to install their "crapware" onto the new computers. Computer manufacturers actually get paid to put all that junk on your new computer. If they start installing Linux on their computers, they will have to raise the price of their new systems, because they will no longer be getting the "crapware" income.

An example of how Linux on new devices actually increases market share can be found in Android. There are millions of people using Android on their phone right now oblivious to the fact that it's Linux. They have no idea, and they don't care. There are many internet browsers they can install on their phone, but most will never do so. It already comes with one. There are many software choices out there on Android. That doesn't scare away Android users. They install something if they want it. It's as simple as that.

This whole notion that unifying user interfaces will bring people to Linux is garbage. More and more people use Linux every day. In time, manufacturers may install Linux on more of their computers. Only a few do it today. As that happens, however, the number of Linux desktop users will grow exponentially.

While we are waiting on that to happen, though, why not listen to the users who are actually USING the software right now. Most HATE unity and Gnome 3.

And now that KDE 4 is pretty solid, most, like myself, will be moving to it. I installed it yesterday, fixed a small distortion in the audio, removed the blue shadow from the active windows, and will not be looking back. It's working flawlessly for me. I'm very happy with what it has become, and I'm glad it's available for me at this time when Gnome developers apparently have their head stuck where the sun doesn't shine.

I don't mean to badmouth the developers because I know they have a tough job and they do it all pretty much for nothing. Perhaps the problem is with the project management. I'm not sure where the problem lies. Did the Gnome project get taken over by Microsoft or Apple? I have this curious feeling that it is being led by a bunch of suits instead of developers.

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  1. #1 by Ilya on March 27, 2012 - 9:50 pm

    Hi! I disagree that unified user interface is bad. It is good. What is bad is whan instead of highly-customizable, or at least, classical and universal UI they push nailed primitive smartphone-like interface through our throats. The other problem being is that with removing the old interfaces that already became standard they remove also all the software that was designed for them and make a typical Linux system a mix of applications designed for different desktops, backends and toolkits, little integrated with each other even by their look.

    If Linux sticked to Qt2 in the early days and evolved it evolutionary it would surpass windows in popularity by now. But the folks behind Qt defer author from writing for linus by promising a new, non-compatible version of the toolkit each time. So when Qt3 was the most popular the authors had to start new projects for Qt4 and this practice continues.

  2. #2 by Mars047 on April 19, 2012 - 9:23 am

    I normally don’t post on blogs, but this time I thought I’d add something to your post. As one of those “suits” in my field, I also hate what they did with gnome and this unity garbage. In operations or business you need stability and proven form. So it’s not just devs that don’t like it, the power users and business people don’t like it either. I know every piece of software that I utilize, and don’t like being told what to use. Anyhow great article, your points are great. FYI I’ve also instructed my SYS Admins to deploy KDE to replace xp and 7 around 2013. Gnome was going to be the replacement de, but gnome 3 and unity shot that down. Cheers.

    • #3 by Randy on April 19, 2012 - 9:39 am

      Thanks for the comment! It’s good to see a “suit” making some good calls. You may want to look at Cinnamon from the folks at LinuxMint as well. I’ve also worked through some of the bugs I found in Gnome 3 and Unity over the past couple of weeks. I found that old AMD/ATI drivers were causing a lot of the problems. That doesn’t fix the intuitiveness of the interface, but it did help with some of the stability issues with the DEs.

  3. #4 by Barry Schinnerer on August 16, 2012 - 6:12 pm

    I am Joe Linux user and Mr Windows hater at the same time and I firmly believe Gnome 3 was made to ruin Linux. There isn’t a better OS than Linux Mint 9LTS and when I can’t use that I will give up and live off my Ipod. I can do just about anything with Mint 9LTS , except games and I don’t do games. You have to be stoned to use Gnome3. Gnome 3 could be the death of Linux yet.

  4. #5 by Nick on January 31, 2013 - 6:05 pm

    The problem? Gnome 3 is garbage. (I agree).
    The solution? xfce

    Freedom is pointless if you don’t make use of it!

  5. #6 by Reinaldo C. Filho on February 17, 2015 - 12:33 pm

    I was a happy Ubuntu user since 9.04, I found it amazing, used 9.10, 10.04 and 10.10, wow, 10.10 was brilliant, I managed to run everything, configure everything, unfortunately it wasn’t a LTS like the 04’s ones, so, I decided to test 11.04, at first glance, I found it fancy and I was excited about what could these changes will affect positively my user experience, but I was wrong, I never saw a GUI crashes so much as Unity, I tried to put the Gnome 2 but it was glitchy too since a lot of Unity base stuff was interfering into Gnome 2, then I uninstalled Ubuntu and came back to Ubuntu 10.10, so, when Ubuntu 11.10 was launched I gave it a try, same Unity garbage, glitchy, apps disappear without I’m closing it, but these apps were keep into RAM, it was a total garbage, glitchy as hell, neither AMD or NVIDIA drivers from modern GPU’s worked well, so, I abandoned it and I lost my patience with Ubuntu, then I gave a try into Linux Mint, unfortunately it was already with Gnome 3, that’s a total garbage too, maybe not so garbage as Unity, but it has the same problems of apps disappearing, GPU drivers glitching and corrupting the screen, after some updates the system became unbootable, then I came back to Windows since Ubuntu 10.10 wasn’t quite well supported, I like Windows 7, used it so many time, I found that they finally fixed the Windows OS, so, Ubuntu 12.04 came, same garbage, tried older distros, and found it nicely but without modern support for newer apps, tried Ubuntu 12.10, tried newer Linux Mint distros, always in a hope that they stop using Unity or Gnome, tried Ubuntu 13.04, 13.10, 14.04 and finally I lost my hope into Linux, I tried a distro that I don’t remember the name with XFCE but the GPU drivers for R9 280x couldn’t be installed, totally glitched OS too, so, I gave a try to Windows 8.1 and I was really impressed, the best OS by far, boot in 2 seconds, I gained 38FPS compared to Windows 7 in gaming, better than MAC into Audio/Music/Video production, I definitely think that I’ll never come back to Linux again if they doesn’t come back to Gnome 2.

(will not be published)