One of the major UNIX flaws: lack of the user-friendly GUI

I already told several times why UNIX is so good.

But now, when I stumbled upon www.joelonsoftware.com (an invaluable resource indeed!) and read about “Biculturalism“, I finally realized one thing is terribly wrong about UNIX. That is exactly what Joel writes about:

“Aunt Marge can’t really use Unix, and repeated efforts to make a pretty front end for Unix that Aunt Marge can use have failed, entirely because these efforts were done by programmers who were steeped in the Unix culture.”

That is it! It is not that UNIX lacks good software (not talking about OCR here), it is not that UNIX installation procedure is too complicated for an inexperienced user (the same could be said about Windows as well). The main problem is different and that is exactly what Joel had written. Unix is just user unfriendly. It is very obvious thing, actually, but I realized it completely only now, because for me it is not unfriendly – it is exactly opposite, actually.

What do I mean here. No, it is not only that KDE really sucks. I new that for a long time. It is something much more deep. UNIX lacks “average user layer”. I mean, on Windows we have a nice desktop, “My Computer”, “My Documents” and such. I know that disks “C” and “D” is not a part of any logical unit in the file system that could be called “My Computer”. I know that “My Documents” is just another directory on the hard drive, so there is no reason to give it a special icon or to make it a default directory for a lot of operations. But Windows pretends that it is all different. It pretends that we really have something in our PC that could be called a “desktop”, “My Computer” and such. The bad thing about it is that it makes things more complicated than they should be – I mean, why the hell we should give some directory (which even has space in its name!) some special status just because Microsoft thinks so? The good thing is, ironically, the same – for average user it is easier to work with “My Documents”, “My Computer” and “desktop”. No, not because he is too stupid to know what directory and file is. No, those who are really stupid have a lot of troubles with Windows too, so we better leave them alone, hoping that they will do the same thing to us, heh. What I am talking about here is not just a matter of knowledge. The key point (the point I came to understand only now) is that people feel more comfortable with familiar concepts. That is, while I do not really care whether it is named “docs” or “My Documents” and therefore choose former because it is shorter, lowercase and have not spaces, at the same time Aunt Marge will just get scared of “docs” because it looks too weird and too similar to all those “lib”, “etc”, “bin” and stuff. As you can see, it is not only problem of the good desktop environment – the nature lies deep within system, even in such simple things as directory names.

So what do we need in UNIX for it to be able to beat Windows completely? First thing, we need an ideal Windows emulation. Yes, just like something Wine gives us, but much better. Well, the good news about it that Windows API seems to be completely abandoned so we can hope that Wine catches up to it someday. Now we have another evil weapon called .Net, but it already has UNIX implementations like “Mono“. Second thing, we need a lot of good software, better open source, but good commercial software will probably do as well. And third thing, we absolutely, undoubtedly need something called “average user interface” layer. No, this is not a reason to rename all those sacred directories as Apple developers did. UNIX is UNIX. “bin” should stay “bin”, and there is no reason to move away FreeBSD’s /etc/rc.conf file just because it scares Aunt Marge. After all, we have a lot of much more awful stuff in Windows – just look into system32 directory! But no users really see this stuff, so that is okay. And that exactly what we need on UNIX. We need file manager that not only resembles their favorite Explorer – it behaves like it, and it hides anything that users are not used to see. We need desktop environment, that is not so complicated and buggy as KDE and that enables people to do that they are used to do – like dragging their files from disk “A:” (well, it does not have to be called “A:” but it should have very similar icon to that in Windows and should be called in their native language (like “Floppy Disk”), not “fd0”) to their desktop. We need something similar to dreadful Autorun feature because very many people are used to inserting disk in the CD drive and waiting for Something Good to happen. And we need a lot of another stuff – and the main point that it all should work, should not be more buggy than Windows, and should make people feel comfortable! And to achieve it all, it should be done by people who feel what is “user friendly” like, not just by good UNIX software developers.

In ideal world, this should look almost identical to Windows, but be free, run faster, require a lot less RAM and disk space, should crash less often than Windows (easiest part, even when comparing to modern stable versions of Windows) and at the same time it should be UNIX – I mean, that pressing some magical key sequence like “Ctrl+Alt+Scroll Lock” or choosing “Switch to classic UNIX” in “Log out” menu should bring us back our favourite OS without any weird attachments like “/My Documents” directory. You say it is impossible? Well, I am not so sure about it, but even if it is, then it just means that Windows will remain most popular OS for a while. Bear with it or fight with it. Not by screaming “Microsoft sucks and is not fair!”, but by giving people what they are expecting, not what you are thinking they should expect. This is a reality, not your dreams.

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