Friday, March 30, 2007

Linux, Windows, Mac, and Usability...

Today (2007-03-30), there was a post on OSNews.com concerning the difference between Linux, Mac, and Windows and what Apple and Microsoft got right, but the Linux community doesn't get...

While admittedly, I did not read the article it linked to, reading the summary and some of the comments on OSNews brings about a bit of a stench. Why? Because it is the same arguments over and over and over. Don't get me wrong, the Linux community has come along way on the Desktop, but at the same time they just don't get it. That is...

I've used Windows for years, and dabbled with a Mac from time to time. (I'm even thinking about getting a Mac for home use now.) And I use Linux full-time at home, and part time at work. I do have a Linux Desktop system at home, and I do love it. But at the same time there are numerous things that I hate about it. Any how...going back to using Windows...

Windows has had usability guidelines for a long, long time. It use to be part of the requirement for being able to become a certified Microsoft Developer (MCSD) - it might still, I don't know; the last I looked at that was 1999 and I haven't considered it since. Part of those usability guidelines ensure that users can use the system multiple ways - keyboard AND mouse by default - and define a very specific set of standards (ALT+F4, ALT+F1, ALT+F3, WinKey, ALT to get the menus, etc.) and they make Windows very easy to use. In fact, I can usually do a lot of things faster in Windows than I can in X under Linux because of the keyboard shortcuts - X is very dependent on a mouse being available for use - God help you if your mouse dies in the middle of an X session. Mac is pretty good too - they have standards behind how the Guis are designed and layed out, and standardize their keyboard/mouse intersction as well, though it does not work quite like Windows does (e.g. the menu is not so easy to get to [last I checked], so it can be harder to figureout what the keyboard shortcuts are to do stuff).

Linux, on the other hand, is this wonderful world of customization - which is fine for experienced users that have used the system for years. But what the community simply does not get is that you have to have some kind of standard. Customization is great, but you can't drive the system by default using both the mouse and the keyboard - one or the other. KDE and GNOME and the other Windows Managers and Desktop Environments simply do not do that by default. So unless you spend the time to get the entire system configured to do so (which will take a long time to do) you don't get it.

The Linux Desktop could be greatly advanced by the managers standardizing. Even Mac and Windows are quite similar is many respects; but Linux is way out there on its own. Of course, Linux probably inherited that from its Unix brethren, with whom it shares a lot of its idealogoy.

So please, for the sake of the Linux Desktop make the standard UI sane and usable. Make it work by default so that I can hit the Penguin Key (or Windows Key, for those of you with a Windows Keyboard instead of a Linux/Penguin Keyboard) and bring up the KDE or GNOME menus. Give some continuity to the interfaces by default and make it well known. It's great that you adopted ALT+ to get to menus, but now give us some standardization to other programs besides ALT+TAB. Give us access to the system, and make it easy to use.

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