Convoluted Rebuttals – Unity: The War Without End?

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: http://ostatic.com/blog/bacon-justifies-ubuntu-decisions 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: http://ostatic.com/blog/bacon-justifies-ubuntu-decisions

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!

Conclusion

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)

If you are new to this blog (or have not yet read it) please take time to view the OpenBytes statement, here.

Mail: bytes4free@googlemail.com
Skype: tim.openbytes
I can also be found in #techrights, #techbytes on freenode.net.

6 Comments Add yours

  1. Jay says:

    Very good article. I’ve been using some from of LInux for six or seven years now and reading. There is one phenomenon that I still don’t get. Why it is that many, maybe even most, Linux users are so unreceptive of change. I can understand if one doesn’t care for some change here or some change there, but the flaming of those making the change is unnecessary. There are so many choices in the Linux world, if you don’t like one thing, don’t use it. It’s that simple.

    1. Damon Conway says:

      Jay, I have been using Linux for 17 years now, and I’ve used it professionally day in and day out for 14 years. One of the things I love about Linux is that 95% of the command line that I learned then is still relevant now. That is a huge plus because I can just get work done and not worry about having to relearn a tool just because I updated it. Having to relearn all the time slows me down, and is a big reason why I don’t like Windows. They change things too much, and for reasons that baffle me. Although Windows 7 is finally a reasonable OS, and I agree with most of the changes they made.

      I allow that GUIs are different and they have been evolving. I appreciate that Ubuntu is trying something new to make it even easier for new users. I’m really glad they gave me the easy option of just using the interface that I am used to. I don’t really care about most of what Unity has to offer since it’s way too simplified and difficult to customize. Obviously, I’m not the target audience. As long as they keep giving us the option to turn off the new and keep using the interface we’ve crafted for years, then I’ll continue to be happy with Ubuntu.

  2. wangker says:

    I am so surprised about what you said or responded here.

    It showed how narrow or close-minded or a proud soul is.

    “I’d suggest Ms Linton, that there’s a happy medium. “. Have you ever done any survey about the change? Where is your base for this sentence? And they are happy? How did you know?

    Your argument about the difference between MS Windows and Mac OS X is quite lamb and laughable. They are totally different things and people will know they will face a whole new system if they change the OS and they are prepared and expect to learn it, not the OS teach people to learn. The teaching function is not built in the OS or the purpose of the OS (except some help hints or help document or program).

    The existing OS is a different story. If it CHANGED, it caused its users rethink or relearn the thing or the UI. They HAVE LEARNED it before and thus had a existing impression or experience, other than a blank sheet to draw.

    Yes, any company has the freedom to update/modify or release new software or UI if it is not against come contract. But please do not think users or people should follow, and take it for granted. Do not think you are smarter and. Luckily users still keep the freedom to change, maybe to another system which keeps them more in mind when it wants/needs changes.

    “And my wife holds that same viewpoint”? you only have one wife and that person lives together with you and is formatted with/by you and was/is accepted by you. What is your point?

    “Maybe Unity will assist in introducing more creativity and diversity in alternatives?”
    —thanks to Canonical’s kindness and good willing, if this your point.

    1. openbytes says:

      It showed how narrow or close-minded or a proud soul is.

      Not sure what you mean, I commented on Ms Linton’s views on Jono and Canonical. Maybe you could explain. Proud? What for? For daring to challenge an opposing opinion to Jono Bacon? Close minded? What because I dare to suggest that there is no clear cut answer or solution?

      As a testament to Ms Linton, she even linked my article on the excellent Tux-machines. I’m sorry if English isn’t your first language and I’ve misinterpretted what you’ve said. Your first statement made no sense at all. Please explain.

      Your argument about the difference between MS Windows and Mac OS X is quite lamb and laughable.

      I haven’t made any arguments about differences between Windows and Mac OS. Are you confused? I did mention that people were enticed by the Mac OS, not sure where I listed differences…maybe you could quote where I have. The only other thing I said was that if change was so frightening to the mainstream masses, we would never have seen as many migrations from Windows to Mac….that is all.

      They are totally different things and people will know they will face a whole new system if they change the OS and they are prepared and expect to learn it, not the OS teach people to learn. The teaching function is not built in the OS or the purpose of the OS (except some help hints or help document or program).

      Rubbish. Firstly have you actually used Unity? There’s hardly anything taxing in it, regardless of if you like it or not. Nobody has said about teaching built into the OS. All that was said was that there was no reason why there could not be a happy medium. Compare the progressions of Workbench for example on the A500….

      But please do not think users or people should follow, and take it for granted.

      I didn’t think that. Youve got plenty of choice should you not share Canonicals vision of Unity and Linux…Have you actually read the article?

      you only have one wife and that person lives together with you and is formatted with/by you and was/is accepted by you. What is your point?

      That was my point. Ms Linton based her views off one person (Jono) which is fine, I did the same (my wife). I have also gone on record saying that Unity has been well recieved by many I deploy linux to. I deploy alot of Linux too….Ive been documenting that for the past 3 years.

      —thanks to Canonical’s kindness and good willing, if this your point.

      And now you’ve lost me. First of all you challenge my view of Canonical’s new direction being a good thing, then you end your post by saying (and agreeing) that it will be due to Canonicals kindness and good willing…..forgive me for being confused.

      As I say, I appologize if your first language is not English (I wish you had said) your post niether makes sense or shows any evidence of coming from someone who has read my post.

      1. openbytes says:

        I should just also add….My “critique” here (“wangker”) seems to want me to justify my opinions in terms of surveys. If he/she had read the paragraph before they would have seen:

        ” 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.”

        So I think its rather clear where the views of others which I reflect here comes from. Disagree? Fine. But I’m not prepared to rely on survey’s et al, when I have a cross -spectrum of users who Ive deployed Ubuntu to and still have contact with.

        Is this userbase representative? Thats the opinion of the reader, however I make it view clear where my opinions on “mainstream users” comes from.

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