What is the best distro for my business manager?

marbux marbux at gmail.com
Sun Nov 25 04:41:13 UTC 2012

On Sat, Nov 24, 2012 at 7:04 AM, Christopher Chaltain
<chaltain at gmail.com> wrote:

> I don't think Ubuntu switched to Unity just to change something for no
> reason though. MS, Gnome and Ubuntu all realize that the personal
> computing world is changing and mobile devices are more and more
> important. I can't believe three organizations would all be changing
> there interface for no reason. You may not agree with the reasons, and
> you may not see a benefit in running the same interface on your cell
> phone, your tablet and your PC, but not agreeing with someone's
> justification doesn't mean that the change was made for no reason. I
> know for my part, I would have felt more productive when I got my iPhone
> if I hadn't had to learn a whole new interface. I also don't think we're
> going to get to a converged interface by making incremental changes.

I agree that there are reasons for the Unity interface beyond eye
candy and gadgetry, but not so for the Kubuntu switch to KDE 4 and the
Ubuntu switch to Gnome 3. The switches to KDE 4 and Gnome 3 were far
too radical changes in the user experience. And most of the radical
change was due to eye candy and gadgetry, change for the sake of
change. In both cases, it would have been made far easier had their
been a one-click change to a KDE 3.5-style desktop or a Gnome 2-style
desktop, as Mint has done with the Mate desktop. But it wasn't until
KDE 4.4 as I recall that KDE finally got around to making it easy to
return to something like the KDE 3.5 desktop. Until then, it took a
huge amount of tweaking to slim down the eye candy and gadgetry that
had shipped with Plasma.

And at least with KDE, the destruction of the 3.5 experience was
deliberate. I recall a gushing essay by the Plasma lead developer
about their goals of redesigning the desktop from the ground up so it
would break the mold of the traditional desktop experience and be far
more beautiful. Not a single mention of the productivity hit that
would be thereby inflicted on users. It was purely a case of the KDE
community allowing the eye candy and gadgetry crowd to assert
leadership when such creatures in reality need to be confined to a
cage of restrictions that places maintenance of user productivity as
an immutable law.

> I also hear this a lot, that Unity and Windows 8, are dumbed down and
> full of eye candy and gadgets. Frequently, I hear this label applied
> with no details or justification what so ever. Again, it seems to be a
> label people toss out when they don't like something. I guess I don't
> see a problem with an interface looking nice, and I can see where the
> right kind of gadgets would be great productivity tools.

I can't speak to Windows 8 because it will never be installed on any
system I own due to its UEFI bootlock and the app store atrocities it
is inflicting on developers. Windows 8 is a radical change in
Microsoft's business model and restraints imposed on users and
developers, driven by Apple's approach that has proved to be such a
financial success for Apple (not for app developers). I wouldn't
describe them as "dumbed down.

But Unity I can speak to. I wouldn't describe it as "dumbed down"
because settings can still be changed or apps to replace features can
still be downloaded. Rather I would describe it as needlessly complex
because the methods to access settings were needlessly broken and the
default apps and utilities are so woefully inadequate for a productive

Example: the file manager defaults to display of large icons (as does
Mint) but the settings to change to a default list view are no longer
in a Preferences option on the file manager menu bar. They are
elsewhere in the system and must be tracked down. The menu bar now
includes only the minimize, restore, and full screen options plus the
name of the current directory. All controls that were formerly on the
menu bar are now hidden outside the window that is affected by the
controls or available only by downloading and install a real file
manager. This is idiocy, change only for the sake of change that
breaks the continuity of the user experience and thus trashes
productivity while the user hunts down how to change the setting or
searches for and installs a file manager that can do the job.

And why a default large icon view if the goal is to use it on
small-screen mobile devices too? Large icons burn up scarce screen
real estate and are horrible to work with when a directory contains a
large number of files. A list view with larger type size would be far
more appropriate on mobile devices.  (In my opinion, large icons in a
file manager are a major PITA  even with a large screen.)

I could of course download and install a full-featured file manager.
But that doesn't cure the problem that the default installation is
geared for people with scant understanding of computing. This kind of
mayhem on productivity echoes throughout the Unity desktop. E.g.,
where is the familiar task bar and menu? It's dropped in favor of a
radically different "dashboard" approach that imposes its own steep
learning curve and is wholly unsuitable for a system with many apps.
Again, a task bar can be downloaded and installed and the dashboard
disabled, but we're talking again about time being subtracted from the
work the user wants to do with the computer.

And the time spent on restoring something resembling the previous user
experience all comes out of time better spent on the tasks the user
wants to use the computer to fulfill.

As with Ubuntu with the Gnome 3 desktop, it's far easier and faster to
switch to the Mint Mate desktop instead where continuity in the user
experience matters to the desktop developers.

> I don't see how you were burned by Canonical twice. I see the switch to
> Unity as only happening once. I wasn't burned by Unity because I had already switched to Mint. I was burned by Canonical when Kubuntu switched to KDE 4 long before KDE 4 was ready for prime time and again when Ubuntu switched from Gnome 2 to Gnome 3 long before Gnome 3 was ready for productive use. That's when I departed for Mint, whose development team had publicly committed to maintaining and extending the Gnome 2 experience.

I also think your characterization of
> Canonical is pretty one sided. Canonical does care about productivity
> and doesn't change things just for the sake of change.

It doesn't care enough. As I said, its radical changes to Kubuntu and
Ubuntu cost me tens of thousands of dollars in the productivity of my
shop and I was ethically required to cut billing rates as a result. At
the same time, the radical changes offered precisely zero increased

Canonical has run
> quite a few human factor studies on Unity and incorporated that feedback
> into their design. True, people who don't want to change are going to
> see this as a betrayal, but if Linux is going to compete with Windows
> and Android, and if it's going to become a viable OS across all personal
> computing platforms, it's going to have to move beyond the 90's.

Which is why so many hundreds of thousands of Ubuntu users switched to
Mint both after the introduction of Gnome3 and after introduction of
Unity, yes? :-)

I am not against change that boosts productivity or expands
capabilities. E.g., when technology originally developed for the
newspaper industry was redone as a successor to the electro-mechanical
typewriter (word processors), the productivity gains from being able
to edit work already keyboarded without rekeyboarding the entire
document and to automatically process footnotes made the learning
curve imposed by word processors well worthwhile, so I was an early
adapter in the CP/M days and kept only one typewriter for addressing
envelopes until word processors and printers were able to handle that
task too.

And in my experience, all IT innovations that succeed build upon what
has already been done and offer increased productivity or new
capabilities that offer a competitive advantage to their users. They
don't succeed by scrapping what users have already learned to do
without any corresponding quid pro quo.

True, there can be some future advantages in using the same OS and
desktop on all devices. But Ubuntu Unity isn't going to be it. The
Ubuntu web site guesstimates that there are 20 million Ubuntu users
(not just Unity users). Compare that with nearly 900 million Android
Linux devices that have been activated as of February 29 of this year
and a projected 1.5 billion some time next year.
So there hasn't exactly been a stampede to the Unity desktop on mobile
devices. In fact, Unity severely slowed the Ubuntu adoption rate.

My best guess based on available evidence is that the majority unified
Linux/Desktop will be based on Android (and its Ash window manager,
which runs atop the Aura hardware-accelerated graphics engine), with
Apple and Microsoft's walled gardens in the minority. But Android
isn't completely ready for the desktop yet, although Google is working
toward convergence with  its Chromium desktop OS (both use a lot of
the same code, including the same Linux).

Put another way, I strongly suspect that the convergence of devices
and the Linux desktop will come from the world of mobile devices, not
from the world of traditional Linux desktops, with Android being by
far the major contender, which, in my opinion, is why both Apple and
Microsoft are trying desperately to acquire a share of the Android
revenue stream via patent infringement lawsuits filed against Android

Given that this is my opinion on the likely convergence of a single
Linux desktop for multiple types of devices, I see no net gain in
hitching my shop to Unity, only loss of productivity. I'll worry about
convergence when the market establishes one or more winners in that
particular arena and consolidates.

So I don't at least in my view qualify as one of the "people who don't
want to change [and therefore] see this as a betrayal." It's just that
in my business, the revenue stream comes from the billable hour; time
is money and as a businessman I can't invest in change that does not
result in a net gain in productivity and/or capabilities, that brings
only a hit on productivity. And that is precisely all that Canonical
delivered with its radical switches to KDE 4, Gnome 3, and Unity.

I might feel differently had Canonical produced forks rather than
switches and continued support for KDE 3.5 or Gnome 2 until they had
minimized the impact of migrating on user productivity, as Mint is
doing with its Mate and Cinnamon desktops.  But Canonical ceased
package development support for the prior desktops instead and
presented radical change as the only option.

A computing hobbyist who doesn't value his or her time might feel
differently; after all, learning is a lot of fun. But in general, only
applied learning can produce income. There are very few jobs out there
where you get paid for self-indulgence.

But if you're in the universe of people whose main concern is work
product and deadlines rather than hobbyist experimentation with
software, radical change is only justified for a solid net gain in
productivity or capabilities. Canonical's managers have zero respect
for that user requirement.

Best regards,


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