/etc/rant - Separation of Church and Choice

When did “choice” become the god of the Open Source community?
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Freedom from MS behavior

FreedomWare's picture

Here are some concrete examples of how open software is like MS instead of being better.

1. My machine is cranking away at something during booting, and I have no idea what it's doing, and the interface is unresponsive. Classic MS behavior, never acceptable. I remember when Netscape had a "stop" button that actually worked! My Mozilla browser still has a stop button, but it doesn't actually work. I have to wait for the cranking to stop before I can click on it. You know, just like IE's stop button. It's useless. The machine belongs to the user, who paid hard-earned money for it. Give the machine back to the user!!!

2. Pull-down menus that have items that are "grayed out". A very frustrating "feature" for a user. It says you can't do what you want, and nobody will tell you why not! Again, classic MS behavior. If I can't do what I want, the software needs to have a way to tell me why not.

They say that "Free Software" is "Free as in Freedom". When does the user get to enjoy some freedom? Freedom to do what he wants with his own machine? Freedom from software hijacking of his hardware?

I have to agree with Nick on some level. I see a lack of imagination. The thing I hate most about MS sw is that it wants to take my machine away from me and use it for some unknown, unstoppable purpose. When I have my linux bash prompt, I feel empowered, but when I use open source desktop sw, I get that old unempowered MS-abuse feeling.

I do use Gnome, and there are many things I like about it. But I want to see it improve, and rise above the, um, winfluence of its roots.

What is a "desktop" supposed to do, anyway?

Jack Carroll's picture

The article is useful as far as it goes, but I, for one, could have used a little background to understand what it's about. I generally don't bother changing the UI that the distro installs. I've used fvwm under Red Hat, icewm under Libranet, and Gnome under Debian. If Gnome does anything fvwm and icewm don't do, other than bring a 486 to a crawl, I sure can't spot it.
So I'd appreciate any info that would help me make an intelligent choice. What's the purpose of a "desktop", and the distinction between that and a plain window manager? On what criteria should a desktop be judged? How do the existing ones measure up? And is there a good reason to even install one?

choice is a dumb reason

Fred Arnold's picture

hey mr new editor, you sure start off with a bang. As usual, most folks missed the main point, which is "choice alone is not a good enough reason." As you also mentioned, and is demonstrated in the comments here, no one can come up with reasons why Gnome is desirable. What about quality? What about technical excellence? And meeting a need? How does Gnome address any of these questions?

I don't much care for Gnome because Havoc Pennington and whoever else guides its design have made a very basic, very stupid mistake: they have confused removing features with streamlining/simplicity. In its present form, Gnome is nearly non-customizable, and almost non-functional. You don't need a big bloated environment like Gnome to duplicate its functionality- any small lean window manager will do the same thing, which is start programs, and not much else. In fact a number of much leaner, more efficient WMs run rings around Gnome, like IceWM and Xfce. You get ten times the features and customizability in a considerably smaller footprint. XFce is especially easy to use and customize.

PCs are complex, general-purpose devices. It is impossible to satisfy all users with a single configuration. However, it is possible to create a default configuration containing sensible defaults, and preserve customizability. Like Kubuntu, which did an admirable job of slimming the KDE desktop into a very usable, yet still fully-customizable, environment.

As far as I can tell, Gnome users like the way it looks. Other than that, there is little to recommend it- not technical excellence, not customizability, not efficiency. The last great Gnome was 1.4- since then, it's been a steady whittling away of all the useful features.

Someone asked why the big vendors only support Gnome. Actually they don't. SuSE has been a KDE shop from the beginning, and Novell officially supports both. Red Hat is still a Gnome shop, but that goes back to the original Qt license debates, and licensing may still be an issue. GTK is free, Qt costs money for commercial devs.

Choice is enough.

Anonymous's picture

"choice alone is not a good enough reason."

Yes, yes it is. In my experience, those who say choice isn't enough often want to dictate what choices I have. Consider the car analogy. Corvette versus Porsche, for example. Both will get you from point A to point B. Depending on which models and environment, both will get you there in the same amount of time, carrying the same number of people. So why have one or the other? Why not just one, after all, choice isn't reason enough, right? Wrong.

Our entire history as a human race is about choice. From choice in where we live to whom we mate with, or even if we mate at all,choice has been the single greatest factor in human existence. To say that it bears no place in software is bordering on absurdity.

In the above example, I chose Corvette over Porsche. Why? I like it better. Why does there have to be anything more than that? Granted, the Vette has many technical reasons going for it, but do does the Porsche.

Why is choice enough? Because we are all different in what we want.


You don't need a big bloated environment like Gnome to duplicate its functionality- any small lean window manager will do the same thing, which is start programs, and not much else.

I have to say, Fred, you don't know what you are talking about here. GNOME is much more than just an application launcher. If you think that is all it does, then clearly you've not used it much. No I won't explain all the differences here as that would not be a proper use of this space.

Many people "try" the other DE. I put try in quotes because loading it once to look around is not trying it. In order to do a full evaluation of the DE you must use full immersion, and do it for a while. I've periodically done this with both GNOME and KDE for years. Up until recently KDE never lasted more than the month of evaluation I gave it. Why? It never met my needs. It never allowed me to simply change a config option to run my preferred window manager. And further, the features it did have were not enough to warrant a conversion. I'm still undecided as to whether or not it does today. I've got another 6 weeks on the developer side of the evaluation to make a determination.

By way of example consider someone who "logs in to KDE", then proceeds to use the following applications:
* Evolution
* Firefox
* OpenOffice

What did KDE get him/her? Nothing that fluxbox, fvwm, or even just *shudder* twm could not have.

Consider instead that same person logging in to a recent GNOME environment. Their appointments in Evolution are available by checking the clock applet in the taskbar. No need to launch Evo just to check your calendar appointments. No basic or even advanced window manager handles that. Heck that isn't available in KDE. KDE, likewise, has things that are not available in GNOME.

As far as customizability ... where in KDE can I set my window manager? Oh, that's right, you can't. Without hacking xinitrc or *dm session files you *must* run kwm w/KDE. With GNOME, I go into preferences and set it.

Regarding technical excellence and efficiency ... my wife liked KDE but it ran far too slow on her system compared to GNOME 2.10. She runs on an older system. A P3 800 w/256MB RAM. I tried it out as well on her machine and sure enough, KDE 3.4 was truly a pig on that system. And yes, eye candy was set as low as possible. GNOME 2.10 was much faster. What does she use it for? Email, web browsing, bookkeeping, kitchen management, task/calendar operations, IM, and word processing. Why should KDE be that much slower for these things? And yes, kmail and konqueror were substituted as appropriate (as well as Kopete for GAIM).

They each have advantages and disadvantages. But to say that one or the other is totally devoid of purpose is arrogance in the extreme. So KDE has DCOP. So what? My wife doesn't need it. *Nothing* she does would require or even be improved by use of DCOP. Same for most of KDE.

Just as choosing to NOT run a graphical environment on a server is a valid choice, so too is choosing to NOT use/require/install features a given desktop environment has a valid choice. And therein is where KDE proponents fail in their logic: "We have such great stuff, why would anybody not want it?". Perhaps they don't need it. And to echo another great UNIX mindset: if I don't need it, why install it? Again, choice *is* enough.

GNOME works for a group of people. KDE works for another group of people. There is even a group of people for whom either would work equally well. And finally there is a group for which neither work as well as something else.

Yet this will not stop those vocal few who believe that the other side isn't good enough to warrant survival. Those few who believe "choice isn't enough", or that their choice is so much better that others don't deserve existence, will still rant on about the other choice.

Honestly, what *technical* reason is there for there not being choices? There is none. And therein lies another failure of the "ours only need exist" mentality. Those of you who argue that {KDE|GNOME} should just pack it in never produce technical arguments as to why, just your own personal opinion and hold that as sacrosanct.

Fred, you should know that not everyone agrees with KDE's defaults being "sane". I am *still* making many changes to the defaults because IMO they completely suck. This, again is a reason for competition. Perhaps some people prefer GNOME's defaults? Generally speaking, if all the defaults that you are affected by meet your needs, then what does customization get you? Answer: nothing. The person who finds the GNOME defaults to fit the bill will care not a whit whether or not they can set their text color to the same color as their background color. I suspect you'd be very suprised by the number of people who will never even open up the settings/preferences dialogs/pages/screens. And they will be perfectly happy as well.

Thus, your assertion that "it is possible to create a default configuration containing sensible defaults" is faulty and demonstrably untrue. What each of us considers sensible is far too variable. If anything, when following reason and logic, your arguments, as well as those of Nicholas', leads to the conclusion that choice is enough, and that railing against the existence of an alternative is without merit.

Mmm, nope

Fred Arnold's picture

I did not say that KDE delivers a sensible default configuration- I said that Kubuntu has a sensible default configuration. I also did not make this a KDE vs. Gnome war- you did. And I never said that KDE alone deserves to exist. And you contradict yourself- you claim that Gnome's defaults are fine for most folks, then you claim ""it is possible to create a default configuration containing sensible defaults" is faulty and demonstrably untrue.""

Choice alone is not a good enough reason for anything to exist. Crap is crap, and I think that Gnome is crap. Where is the menu editor? Where is the printer dialog with actual useful options? Have you looked at the file dialog lately? Yeah, it's real intuitive to type in ctrl+l or whatever it is to be able to type in a filename. Who cares about making it easy to change window managers, which is not a daily task for most folks, when common tasks are dumbed down to the point of uselessness, or removed entirely? It doesn't hurt anything to leave in functionality. Users who don't want certain features can ignore them- taking them away is just plain stupid. By the time Gnome 3 rolls around, it will be a single button that does nothing.

Sure, lots of people like crap- Windows, Britney Spears, McDonald's, 98% of television and movies proves that. A better comparison than Corvette vs. Porsche is Yugo vs. any good car. Yugos are junk- customers do not benefit from more choices when the choices are junk. The world is full of junk software. Most folks stick with whatever they learn first, and don't even know how much more efficient they could be, and how much more pleasurable their computer time could be with a bit of training, and a better computing environment.

I would rather see excellence be the primary standard, rather than "hey, it's dung, but by gosh it's another choice!" So the bottom line is, if you think Gnome is good and useful, then the question of choice is moot. But if you agree that Gnome is junk, but it's another choice and choice alone is enough, then we shall never agree.

Some people just don't understand what choice means

ucntcme's picture

And sadly, Fred you are apparently one of them.

Your opinion of GNOME is just that, an opinion. It bears no merit it whether or not others use it, or have the choice. Yes, crap is crap. That turd in the toilet *is* crap. But whether GNOME or KDE, or Ubuntu, or Gentoo, Vette, Porsche, or Yugo are crap is an opinion, not a matter of fact.

What you fail to understand is that to those who prefer it, it is by definition more preferable. So if it is crap but preferred the inference is the other option(s) is(are) crap. Hence by inference if GNOME is crap so is KDE, or it is worse than crap. And that may well be true. Given that there are many people who feel about KDE the way you feel about GNOME. Your problem is that you take your opinion as sacrosanct and that the opinions of others are irrelevant: your mind has been made up.

I also did not make this a KDE vs. Gnome war- you did
Uh no, Nicholas did that and you followed suit. I replied to you, your post about GNOME vs. KDE and how you thought KDE was good but GNOME was crap. If you look, my original respons to npetreley was about choice. It was entitled "It has always been about choice".

you claim that Gnome's defaults are fine for most folks,
No, you misrepresent what I said, perhaps intentionally. I specifically said: "Perhaps some people prefer GNOME's defaults?"

I never qualfiied how many other than to suggest "some" prefer it. I never even ventured close to "most", or even "many". Why must you misrepresent things so?

And I never said that KDE alone deserves to exist.
Yes you are. You are arguing that GNOME does not deserve to. Since there only two DEs, the inescapable conclusion of arguing that GNOME does not deserve to exist while KDE does is that only KDE is deserving of existence. It's basic logic.

Who cares about making it easy to change window managers

I do. Why is it relevant? because you rant about taking away features. If you don't care about it, Fred, then don't use it, right? Why take it away? Oh, but the problem is it isn't GNOME that took that feature away, it was KDE. Thus, it must not be important. If GNOME took it away you and Nicholas would complain to the gods themselves about dumbing down the interface. Yet KDE did it. By your own twisted logic above, KDE must be stupid because it took it away or never let it exist. After all, why not just leave it there and let people ignore it, right?

As far as "daily operations" such as changing a window manager, how many times do you change your fonts, your colors, your window styles, your backgrounds? How "daily" do you change your printers, or any myriad of other options? The sad irony is that you actually argued in essence for what GNOME has done. "Who cares about changing window managers, it isn't something you do on a daily basis, so why have it there?" is your implication. The GNOME folks may well argue the same thing for other options.

Yugos are junk- customers do not benefit from more choices when the choices are junk.
Again, take out your opinion an your argument fails. People (there are no customers here KDE and GNOME are not businesses) benefit when a choice provides somethign they want or need that the other choices do not. It is demonstrably true that GNOME is appealing to some people given that they choose GNOME over KDE. Therefore it is demonstrably true that having GNOME as a choice is a benefit.

There *are* people who don't need extensive customizability. Why force them to have it there?

Users who don't want certain features can ignore them- taking them away is just plain stupid.
So it is stupid for a webserver to not run a graphical environment if the sysadmin only uses the command line interface over ssh? She can ignore that "feature", right? So taking it out and having the option of not running it is stupid then? How about not providing an interface for changing window manager? is that not stupid then?

And finally, it is funny you argue that technical excellence be the gold standard, yet fail to acknowledge that there are indeed areas that GNOME excells over KDE at. I specifically gave real world examples and you promptly ignored them. You see, outside of objective measurements of performance, and even those are dodgy at best, there is no technical standard, and neither you nor Nicholas put forth any proposals for such. You merely label GNOME as crap and proceed to use that as an argument against it's existence. You have provided no technical reason against GNOME. You just don't like it. That's fine. But dont' go couching your dislike or hate for GNOME in alleged "technical arguments" about existence and choice being a bad thing.

How about you simply do what you say users should do. If a user doesn't use/like a feature they can ignore it. Fine, how about you ignore GNOME?

What does it hurt you that others have the option of GNOME? The only harm I can see is to your ego. Judging by your posts here, you clearly have plenty of ego so don't worry so much about some of it getting bruised, m'kay?

It isn't whether or not you or I think GNOME or KDE is "junk" or "crap". Choice matters because we are not all the same. We all do not have the same requirements. We do not all think that GNOME or KDE is crap. What you and Nicholas seem to fail to grasp is that very principle. At least Nicholas paid lip service to it.

Choice is good because we are not all identical. Choice is good because people have different wants and needs. Choice is good because you can not meet them all, there is no one size fits all. That is what people who say that it is good to have a choice mean. People who argue for choice like their freedom to choose and don't want it taken away. That desire is just as valid as a desire for their application windows to display or move in a certain way.

To paraphrase Shrek:
People like choice, many even need it. That's it, end of story. Bye bye, see you later.

oops

ucntcme's picture

Sorry, wasn't logged in. The above comment "Choice is Enough" was me. Ironically, w/Konqueror I couldn't log in. Firefox showed me everything I needed, and am now logged in.

Cheers,
Bill

The tongue is a two-edged sword, Nick

mknepher's picture

"From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brethren, this ought not to be so."

You know, Nick, I've had a lot of respect for you over the years since the old InfoWorld forums and your long-time Linux advocacy. But one thing I remember from those forums was Brett Glass's near monomania regarding the BSD license vs. the GPL. When I got to the back of this month's issue and started reading your column, I couldn't help but remember those old license flamewars and what a sad distraction they were. I hope this is not going to be typical of your contribution to an otherwise fine magazine. If this sort of tone stays in your column, I suppose I can just skip it, but if it affects the other content in the magazine, it will be something I have no interest in subscribing to.

I, too, remember those

cdhopp's picture

I also remember those flamewars. And, I consider myself -- as well as most of the Linux community -- well beyond it. I think /etc/rant might better be described as /etc/troll. It's like going back in time five years. Petreley's "sad distractions" stand in stark contrast to Linux Magazine's well-balanced and informative perspectives. I'd much rather find out about what direction KDE and GNOME developers are going (both collboratively as well as individually) than to read more of these negative, counterproductive "rants."

I've had just about enough of it, already, and have decided to exercise my CHOICE: I've just cancelled my subscription to Tux. I won't be renewing my subscription to Linux Journal, this time, either. The great part is I can now recommend a single magazine to new Linux users -- and it won't be anything published by SSC.

For the record: I am a KDE user.

choice

dan's picture

Choice is one of the main underpinnings of open source software. The fact that I can go and do it (whatever 'it' is) differently is one of the main advantages. Open source applications truly exist in a 'survival of the fittest' environment, and if they dont measure up to user expectations, they will naturally fall by the wayside, rather than being propped up by marketing campaigns and/or FUD like we see in other markets.

While you are not advocating that we should not __have__ choice, I find it suprising that you suggest we dont exercise one of the greatest aspects of open source.

Gnome vs KDE and choice

Tom Davidson's picture

Nicholas, while I agree with some of some of the comments made, esspically that is seam like more of somthing for tux than for LJ. Bu hey, who made me the Editor :)? I would realy rather understand Gnome vs KDE and am hoping that some more experianced users can fill me in.

I run several desktops, including KDE and Gnome, no it is not multiple personality disorder, I do it so I can help my customers better. I like KDE and use it on my personal machine and on my girlfriends and on my parents...

Oviously I prefer KDE of personal computing, but why, if Gnome is so terrible, is SuSE (ok maybe Mono and Ev for Novell), RedHat, Solaris and Ubuntu along with 137 other active distro useing Gnome rather than KDE? Surly the engineers at Novell and RedHat know more than I.

Mainstream "user" PCs seem to like KDE, Xandros, Linspire... What am I suppose to recomend to business and goverenments, use Gnome (Novell) or use KDE (Linspire????) ?

Gnome is in C and KDE is in Qt. What is the impact?
How important is Mono?
Where can I get escalated commerical support for KDE?

Liking KDE is partly becuase of the applications not so much the heavy integration. I find many of my fav KDE apps will work in other enviroments....

Thanks a ton best regards and just about any comment is appreciated.
tom

What a waste of a page in

Anonymous's picture

What a waste of a page in Linux Journal. First, why is this piece in LJ when it is referencing an article in Tux?

Apparently, Mr Petreley doesn't like Gnome, it's crap or rat feces. He'd prefer it if nobody else liked it, too, but he's not getting his way, so he's having a tantrum.

I don't mind the new Editor-in-Chief dissin' on Gnome, but he's dissin' on the Gnome developers. Not nice and uncalled for. Maybe Petreley is right, but who cares? Choice means getting to make your own mistakes. Choice is personal. We all have our reasons.

But it appears Mr. Petreley wants to be the 'God of Choice' all by himself.

Why is choice good?

totoro's picture

First of all, the importance of GNOME is primarily to the GNOME developers. To them, it is useful, and works better than other alternatives. The same can be said about KDE, or ratpoison.

The GNOME developers are making their work available to you as a favor. You have no compulsion to use it, and if you have not contributed to it, you have no reason to slam them like this. It is around: use it if you like, and ignore it if you don't. Why rant?

Look, I use ratpoison all the time and cannot imagine using anything else. But GNOME must be useful to people who spend their time developing it. Why should they defend their preferences? And why to me? I don't use it, and I don't develop it. GNOME developers don't develop for you, they develop for themselves.

And who made you the final arbitrator of great design? I would really like to see what you have contributed to. In the FOSS world, reputations are made by bug fixes, bug reports and good code, not some hand-wavey assertions.

You say, "it didn't seem like the progress of Linux was roadblocked by the lack of another desktop or window manager". Well, kindly enlighten us about what is blocking the "progress of Linux" in your next article.

And then, do something productive by fixing it.

It has always been about choice.

ucntcme's picture

Choice has always been the mantra of open source developers. Choice of what you have installed, choice of the OS, the kernel, it's features, and the various and sundry utilities included in an OS distribution.

Vi or Emacs? Ford, Dodge, or Chevy?

From having the source and thus the choice of whether or not to modify it, to what utilities, desktop, and even preferences for editors and keystrokes, open source has always had choice as one of it's key montras. Indeed, choice is the underlying principle of free as in speech software.

As far as justifying design chocies, I have to agree with totoro. The fact that people use *and like* a given design is prima facia evidence it is a workable design. Personally, I don't like "spatial nautilus", but then again I'm not fond of gui FS navigators in the first place. So any arguments you might make about why the folder/tree view is "better" are as irrelevant to me as spatial is to you.

That said, since it is used and even liked by some (I know some personally), it is on your shoulders to prove why they are wrong. it is like telling someone they can't walk as the two of you are walking down the street. The burden of proof is on the claimant, not the defendant.

Is the GNOME way "better". Yes. For certain groups it is. My wife prefers GNOME to KDE. Big deal. It is proof that the design does indeed work. "I like it" is *just* as valid as "I don't like it".

Back to the spatial thing, as mentioned I do NOT like it. That said, your arguments are based on what someone *else* did. These arguments are just the kind you claimed to dislike. If you can't make a solid, rational, and logical argument about why a given design or choice is "bad" or "unworkable", it is hypocritical to demand others make counterarguments that are. Hmm I guess I just pointed out that the pot was calling the kettle black?

KDE was a about choosing to have an integrated "desktop". GNOME was about having one that was done in C and not using Qt. Contrary to your claims, it was not done as an alternative to Microsoft's practices and philosophies.

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