In case you wonder why I’ve been choosing this topic: see this talk. I’m refering to “UNIX” as alias for Linux/BSD and so on, at least in this very context.
“The mindset from the 1970s UNIX” … at the end of the talk your hear this “argument” of Lennart Poettering. He is some guy from Red Hat responsible for PulseAudio and systemd. You know, the company, that supports developers like Ulrich “libc” Drepper and others. Red Hat isn’t the easiest to cope with if it comes to changes to the Linux kernel or the system itself, it’s most of the time a crusade for them or similar to the search for the Holy Grail. Boiled down to their Linux-distro Fedora: they have got many bright people at their company, but their distro is just a huge mess. I was a huge fan of Red Hat in the 90s, well aside of my beloved Slackware, but today it’s just the testing ground for mostly hasty developed technologies. Their race for more glimmer on the desktop, together with Ubuntu and OpenSuse, destroyed in my opinion every attempt to gain momentum on the desktop for the non-administrators.
The new credo is “it’s just good enough” compared to the former “it’s just better”. “Plug’n pray” once a synonym to Microsofts crappy attempt for the detection of devices is nowadays the hallmark of Hal. The latter was for some time the “Holy Grail” for Linux and Nemesis to *BSD systems. A pain in the backside since the beginning and today just history. For good? No, “the king is dead, hail to the king”, Linux just gave birth to another experiment we have to cope with in future.
Today the desktop is still ruled by companies like Microsoft and Apple. Why? Because they do it right to some degree. Sure, Microsoft had lots of serious problems in the past and nowadays the company is just a shadow of their former self, but have a look at Windows 7. They did it, maybe too late, but you see real advancement. Or have a look at Apple, it just works out of the box — well, most of the time.
My desktop is a desktop of the 90s, maybe I have got the mindset of a UNIX of the 70s. But what’s wrong with it? UNIX is a child of the 60s/70s and most of the things you see in it aren’t compatible with the “mindset of 2010″. UNIX follows the K.I.S.S.-principle, keep it simple stupid, trying to attach something complex to something “simple” under the hood is prone to fail. It’s that easy!
Again, have a look at Apple and their Mac OS X. Mac OS X is a UNIX, it uses FreeBSD and portions of NetBSD to build the base, the things under the hood you usually don’t see, and attaches some GUI-mumbo-jumbo to it, to get the attention of the masses. Some people talk of a “GUI on roids” and similar to those anabolic steroids, you get “something”, but at what expense? In terms of Mac OS X you have to pay the price in form of many “layers” between the “glimmer” on the desktop and the UNIX in the cellar. If you e.g. mess with something under the hood, you’ll have sometimes unpredictable results at the desktop. Administrating Mac OS X like some UNIX is prone to fail, it’s not made for such tasks. Stick to the fixed desktop and you’ll be happy most of the time. Windows tries to get more power on the desktop, make it a less fixed experience than Apple, with the result of more problems.
Now the free “UNIX”-desktop again: don’t try to mimic Apple or Windows. We cannot win with this silly attempt. You have to choose between the power of a “UNIX” or the simplicity of a Mac OS X desktop. Try to mess with those attempts and you’ll get something like KDE, Gnome and lots of “layers” like PulseAudio etc. pp. to get Linux/BSD in shape. Maybe there is a path to more usability for Linux/BSD, but playing the copycat just renders those free operating systems less attractive for everyone. Free operating systems need a path of their own, compatible to this “UNIX mindset of the 70s”. If you want something different, then build something new.
As you can see one size to fit them all is just not possible. We have to say good bye to the masses, we have to find different paths, more suitable for the “UNIX-mindeset of the 70s”, ready for a “UNIX”-future with “UNIX”-usability.