The Linux desktop is boring again, which is a good thing

1640113577 The Linux desktop is boring again which is a good

Jack Wallen has been crazy about Linux desktop days in the past. What does that say for the current state of the UI?

Image: Jack Wallen

I hope the title captures your interest, because that was the intention. With the upcoming release of GNOME 40, I recently found myself in a rather thoughtful and witty way. I remember, back in the early 2000s, I read about a new desktop in development called GNOME. Curiosity got the best of me and introduced the beta version of the environment.

To be honest, I did not like it. My creative years with the Linux desktop were spent using the likes of AfterStep and Enlightenment E16. If you are familiar with one of these desks (or Window Managers) you will find it. They were both very capable of arranging and could look very elegant. At one point, I had tricked AfterStep to the point where everything had different levels of transparency and the decoration of the window was as much sculpted as they were coded. When people saw my desk, they were amazed. It was a work of art.

I spent countless hours tweaking it. Eventually, it had become part of my daily routine. What could I do to improve this desk?

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Within the realm of software, things rarely stay still. Eventually, I switched over to GNOME 1 and embarked on a new journey - one of integration and efficiency. Even with those early days of GNOME, there was still a lot of tweaking that could have been done on the desktop, which I took advantage of.

Even though that shiny new desk was more cohesive and complete, it was exhausting by comparison.

Index

    Move on so far

    Now, I am a completely different consumer. Where I was once a stable "fiddler" with my desktop, I now want the interface to work the way I want it to work, but still look the way I want it not to look at it. I’m less of a minimalist now, so GNOME fits my needs on every level well. However, I'm bored with the Linux desktop.

    What denied my poverty

    It surprised me. One day I was working at my desk (using the System76 Thelio with Pop! _OS), reading and writing about the latest open source news. I was actually writing a piece about GNOME 40, getting a little excited about what's to come in the next release.

    That’s when it occurred to me: We’ve reached the point where we need to dig through the changelog to find features for excitement. GNOME 40 is a perfect example. Now, before you take a break, let me know that I'm excited about the future of GNOME 40. I tested the new horizontal version for the Action Review and it makes workflow much more effective.

    Is it inspiring? No. When people look at that desk, are they going to be woken up? In fact, we'll return to that time when the Linux desktop is boring.

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    Do you see the pattern here? Outside of outliers (like Enlightenment), we have almost two Linux desktop metas:

    So there's GNOME, which's going for a minimalist post - modern take on the desktop and everything else is a variation on the Windows 7 metaphor of:

    • Desk table

    • Taskbar

    • System train

    • Desk sculptures

    Even within the context of that metaphor, the available subjects were nothing more than changes in darkness or light. Deepin Desktop has grown into the same boring metaphor - the developers even moved away from the spiffy sidebar configuration tool to an old regular configuration window that inspires yawn.

    This is not a bad thing

    I hope you continue reading, because what I expect to say will reduce your frustration. Finding this sad state of the Linux desktop itself is not a bad place to be.

    The Linux desktop once had to deliver drag-and-drop features to entice users to play. Back then, Linux was in its infancy and was not even considered an operating system for the average user. Developers and designers felt no hindrance in their work and their work yielded glorious results. Now, Linux desktop developers and designers are realizing that they need to target users who value efficiency, ease and experience of slow down psychology. For the most part, they deliver. It's been a long time since I experienced a desk spread that felt like a step back, broken or out of touch. They all just work - that's a good thing.

    I still miss the early days

    That doesn’t mean I don’t often go back to the days when I could customize my desk into something very special. I miss the days when users would share images of their desks and you would think, "I need to know how they accomplished that!" Now, when I see people sharing images of their desktops, it's just, "That's GNOME. Nice wallpaper on KDE. Cinnamon ... yep." Even Pantheon (beautiful desktop) is lucky to be getting, "Sweet!" from me.

    It may be just me, but I definitely miss those early days of Linux desktop computers. While I would not want to look back on that time, I certainly would not want to go back to a time when Linux was not always "just working."

    I love where we are with Linux, boring desks and all, but I would still welcome a modern take on AfterStep or the Lighting revival. Until then, I will continue with my old GNOME desktop - but very efficient and effective.

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