Maybe it’s because Summer is traditionally quiet for tech news.

As everything in the tech world (and the real world) settles down from a rather disappointing (weather wise) Summer [1], I find myself writing another rebuttal post of sorts.  This one is a little different, it’s a rebuttal of a rebuttal of Jono Bacon’s comments written by a Susan Linton.  Confused? You will be, give me time.

Susan Linton blog is on OSTATIC.    Ms Linton explains how she thinks Jono Bacon is wrong, which is fine – Her implementation of that in my view I think ignores some points about Unity and the benefits to Linux/Ubuntu/Canonical.  Its probably best if you read the article in question first: and I hope you will entertain my own thoughts on Unity, Ubuntu and Canonical.

I should start with a little disclosure/disclaimer – I am not connected in any way with Canonical and/or Jono or indeed the Ubuntu project.  My only “real” contact with Canonical was a telephone conversation a few years ago with Jono (about numerous topics) and an interview which he kindly came on TechBytes for.   I myself don’t even use Ubuntu on my main rig (Sabayon) however I do deploy a lot of Ubuntu and derived distro’s so feel I can add my views to the  battleground of whats ironically called Unity.

Lets get straight onto some quotes, heres Susan commenting on Jono’s opinion of “hiding buttons to encourage exploration”  You can read her full blog post here:

I particularly liked the one assertion that hiding the window buttons and the menu is a great idea because “people learn by exploration.” Well, when did it become an operating systems’ function to teach people to learn?

And my response would be, when wasn’t or should it be? In fact why are we not still stuck in the UI 80’s? If people in general are so adverse to learning new things then we wouldn’t have any progress at all would we?  What was Microsoft thinking when XP became Vista? Maybe (and I can’t believe I’m justifying Microsoft direction) just maybe, they considered their vision to be an improvement and the short-term cost of encouraging the user to explore would reap rewards for further improvements in the future?  A little encouragement is needed I believe in order for you to present your vision of a product to users.

I’d suggest Ms Linton, that there’s a happy medium.  Whilst I wouldn’t agree that revolutionary changes are thrust upon a user to learn and explore in one hit, you can’t simply let your product go stale either and even the tech uninterested are happy to engage in a little learning if it reaps benefits later; or does Ms Linton believe the average user doesn’t have the intelligence to learn or want to learn a little?  In addition I think its only right that Canonical has its own vision for what it wants Linux to be, as does every other distro, if they didn’t then everyone would just be releasing exactly the same UI’s/distro’s just packing a different name.

Generally speaking – What Susan, would you say to a Gnome user? Don’t try KDE you have to learn some new ways of doing things? or how about Xfce? or any others.  As I said before, if we followed her ethos then a desktop UI would never offer diversity because nobody would want to learn anything new or a companies new vision of what the Linux desktop interface should be.

software can help a user learn any number of things, but the operating systems’ job is to provide the stable environment and then get out of the way. 

And that I would agree, but Susan, we are talking about a UI here.  Canonical (I assume) are looking to appeal to a wider audience.  Did you know Susan even if you discount the plethora of Ubuntu derived distro’s, there’s also many different flavours of Ubuntu itself?

“People like to explore,” he says. Well, thanks for the condescending dime-store analysis. Besides after the first “learning” experience, it just becomes more work to get to the basic function.

Susan, if what you say is right, why would people switch from years of a Windows PC to a Mac? Surely the thought of learning something new would have been too horrific to even contemplate.  What about Android or the iPhone…those different UI’s, all those things to learn.  By your reckoning people don’t want to learn OS specific interface features or have to change anything.

Without your users, you have no reason to be. Like many of your ilk, you’re under the impression that us lowly users are sheeple and must therefore follow your most exalted and elite judgment. You know best, right?

The first part is true (in regards to users) and that applies to any firm offering a product.  I distinctly remember Jono on numerous occasions mentioning choice and freedom of it, so the suggestion that Jono thinks of users as “lowly” is either ill-informed or just an attempt to be confrontational.  Maybe Susan is trying to create hits for the OSTATIC site by trying to flame? – Since Susan has made an implication, I feel fully justified to make my own.  What is being suggested? Canonical is developing Unity to get rid of its users? Maybe Susan, Canonical is developing Unity FOR its users.  It may be right it may be wrong with its Unity vision, but it’s certainly trying to appeal to its users.  Of course Canonical would stand behind their vision.  You would with yours.  What do you want Canonical or Jono to say?

We can’t possibly think for ourselves. He sums up with, “Personally I think the latter looks far sleeker, less cluttered and pleasant to use.

And my wife holds that same viewpoint (in that its sleeker and less cluttered) since my wife is not tech interested in the slightest, would Susan Linton like to call her judgment “exalted and elite”… I am certainly not that brave and I don’t think my wife is tech interested enough to call her elite!


I would assume that Unity is developed to appeal to the mainstream masses.  It’s easy for us that are tech interested to believe that Linux and its associated packages are written to cater for and pander to us.  The vast majority of users on this planet have no interest in tech other than it’s a medium in which they wish to get tasks done.  They don’t care about open source, they don’t care about patents they merely want to use a PC to get a job done.  Conversely though, they are happy to learn a new way of working if the benefits are presented to them, it’s a natural progression that any product will undergo change which will require a small investment of time on behalf of the consumer.  Compare a smart phone to that of one from the early 90’s.  A company’s vision of a product with many competitors is something to be encouraged, not scorned because you think that people can’t or won’t be interested in something new.

I think that Unity is progressing very nicely and I think that the mainstream user will appreciate the UI, the error I think Canonical have made (as I said recently on the TechBytes show) was having it as the default offering on new Ubuntu releases when clearly it is still in development/progression.  What is wrong with Classic Gnome default and a Unity option?  That way you would still get people using it, but the developing status of Unity would not rub off on Canonical’s flagship product Ubuntu.

A comment from a reader of her blog sums up my views about diverse opinion perfectly:

Although it took me a little while to find where to access a few things I vastly prefer the new Unity interface to the previous Gnome setup.

I’ll leave it with this thought.  Could Canonical and its Unity encourage more diversity and choice in distro’s? I say this considering how many distro’s  are derived from Ubuntu.  Presumably not all of these will share Canonical’s vision of the future and strike out in different versions of their own.  How often have I opened distro review with “derived from Ubuntu”.  Maybe Unity will assist in introducing more creativity and diversity in alternatives?

[1] Based on UK weather to date.

Tim (Goblin)

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