I suppose year of the Linux desktop is still not here and it might not come so soon and to be honest, in many ways, that’s just fine. Couple of percent more indeed wouldn’t do any harm, but to get the majority on our side, I suppose we’d need to make some sour choices. We’d need to put fences and safe paths in our lovely, wild and raw environment.
Limited “user friendly” desktop operating systems do exists, so why at least one wouldn’t be open? Why wouldn’t we allow users to really mess things up if they desire so? Let me put it this way: is popularity more important than freedom? Can we have both?
Disclaimer: for reasons of simplicity, I’ll be using terms Linux and a GNU+Linux distribution interchangeably. When I’ll have in mind Linux kernel, I’ll point it out.
The openness and modularity leads to interesting results.
Some users will have a great need to fiddle with their system, they’ll overestimate their knowledge and as a result of it, things will break. I never understood where such a confidence comes from. Yes, Linux is easy, but, messing with underlying architecture, like a display server, the kernel, or an init system might be a bit too much for a newbie.
Think of it this way: your brand new Mercedes really is easy to driver, but, you’d probably not mess with its engine, except if you’d knew what you’re doing.
Now, I love the fact that Linux is very modular, that I can change pretty much everything, I always understood though: with great power comes great responsibility. When I broke something, I had myself to blame, and I actually didn’t mind learning something new, when fixing the problem.
Experimenting is very much encouraged, but it’s not a must. I do not understand why people feel it is. I’ve seen more than once that, after obsessive distro swapping and extreme customization of look and feel, being frustrated with the results, people happily returned to the good old Windows, where they changed the wallpaper and call it done.
Excuse me Sir, but, what’s wrong with this lovely operating system:
Why wouldn’t you install it, change the desktop background, and then forget about it?
While we’re at it, customization of UI by an average user, who has no sense nor knowledge of basic design principles and usability, will lead to utterly broken UX and lots of frustration; and I’ll dare to assert, majority of people has no sense of design or basic usability, remember MySpace? Or look at some Tumblr pages! The horror.
There’s more to it than “I like how this looks like”, there are readability and usability problems which will cause conscious or subconscious discomfort. When user who designed a terrible experience for himself will return to, say, Windows he’ll feel relief, even if he will not understood where exactly is it coming from.
Should we hence blame GNU+Linux for being too open? Should we lock it down, so that we get a bigger percent? I wouldn’t. It’s selfish, indeed, but I care not for a user who designed for himself a terrible experience, or for a user who though he’s ready to to mess with a core component of an operating system and failed doing so. I care not if these people quit in the process.
But some will stay and learn and appreciate openness and possibilities. Those are the people I care about.