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I am soo Tired of the Endless Desktop Flame Wars - Can we Please all Stop This?

Since the inception of Gnome, there seems to have been a never ending flame war about desktops in the FLOSS community. I am really getting tired of it, because it not only is boring, but also continuously diverts us from being productive.

During a presentation about the Ubuntu Canada LoCo, and an ensuing unconference session at a conference this weekend, valuable time that could have been used trying to discuss ways how the Ubuntu LoCo can be more effective to promote Ubuntu, was instead lost by arguments about Unity and its direction.

The biggest asset of FLOSS is choices for the user. One of the essential aims of the FSF through the GPL is to grant the user rights that enable them to have choices. The right to modify software enables people to fork and to create different directions. The ensuing competition fosters an environment of innovation. This distinguishes us positively from Apple and Microsoft.

I have been sitting on the sidelines about this topic for a long time. I remember the discussions about the original license of the Qt libraries (which were and are an integral part of the KDE desktop) that led to the commencement of the Gnome project - Interestingly, today some Gnome applications use Mono with its patent problems, while Qt is now licensed with FSF promoted GPL licenses.

I also remember, and was in the middle of the change of the KDE desktop from version 3.5 to 4, and the endless discussion at the time about the direction of the KDE desktop.

Unfortunately, the same mistakes seem to be made again and again. And even worse, the effect always seem to be a panic in the community about the ensuing apocalypse.

Please let's put things into perspective! We are engaged in a world of technology. Technology moves in a fast pace. Changes are inevitable, changes are good. Good technology aids people in democratic principles like self-determination and control of their own paths. I will always argue the biggest success of FLOSS, Linux and Ubuntu is the fact that it enables people to have a choice, instead of being locked-in in a world of Microsoft, or Apple.

This choice is realized by the fact that anybody who does not like Unity can easily choose a different desktop on Ubuntu. We have Kubuntu, Xubuntu and Lubuntu. Neither even install Unity. Even when Ubuntu Desktop is installed, it does not take any substantial work to install the Gnome3 shell. If there is a substantial community who wants to keep Gnome2 alive, I am sure, this can be made possible too. I remember, KDE 3.5 being supported for some time after KDE4 originally came out.

I really would like to see people to put their efforts into making the best of an already very good situation. Follow your preference and help more people to do the same. Window and Apple do not grant their users these choices, we have. There is no reason not to promote Ubuntu and its derivatives even if you do not like Unity, or like myself do not use it.



As far as I know, Gnome does not use Mono, and Mono does not have any licencing problems (when people spread Mono FUD, they talk about patents, not licences).

I find it ironic that you bring up a controversial topic (and take sides) in rhe middle of a post akong people not to waste time talking about controversial topics.

I did not intent to make a legal argument or take sites here, but rather tried to show an example how things change over time. I have changed this part a little to hopefully make it more accurate and less a contentious point.

The problem is that the community is fracturing severely. Ubuntu (and as such Canonical) is in a leading position to provide the glue that holds that fracturing community together.

Yes, there are desktop choices and on this we can agree. But to completely destroy the faith of it's user base in order to push out their interpretation of a desktop interface is not only adding pressure to the fracture but it's a move I for one would only expect from the "Evil" empire we as *nix users love to hate.

The chosen standards by the larger user community are KDE, X and Gnome. And yet Canonical sees fit to throw another (crappy IMHO) interface at it's user base.

I would completely understand and even agree if they stuck with the current Gnome instead of Gnome 3 as in your KDE analogy. But to pull a new interface out of the rabbit hole without really looking at what the user base is... it's a total farce and shows that Canonical as an entity is losing, or has already lost, touch with its user base.

I am a Canonical customer (yes a paying one) as are several enterprise deployments that I support. We never once received a survey or anything from Ubuntu/Canonical on what our preferences were. I'm in a precarious position because I fought to get RedHat and CentOS out of the network(s) and brought Ubuntu in on both the desktop and server ends.

The included GUI in 10.04 (duh) was phenomenal and required NO user training.

We recently fielded 6 test PC's with 11.04 and ALL users required training to make heads or tails of Unity. This is one facility out of 26. With a user base of ~3200 employees - who is going to foot the bill to train them? Certainly not Canonical or the Ubuntu community at large.

Gnome and KDE are for better or worse user friendly. Unity looks like some kid with an iPod said "I can make a GUI".

We can not do a custom build of Ubuntu (12.04 is our next jump cycle inline with LTS) and deploy it to our PC vendors for deployment on desktops in order to maintain Gnome in the enterprise. Sure, Canonical will do it at a cost but that's of no benefit to us. We chose Ubuntu because it's a canned out of box experience that's universal across and entire enterprise and is easily understood.

Any who... I'm starting to rage :-)

What stops you to use KDE or Gnome3 on the Ubuntu system?

I understand the argument of fracturing. However, this is what often happens in the process of innovation. We had beryll and compiz split and later re-unite. The result was a superior product.

In the same way, I see good things in Unity that will probably will find its way into other desktop. As will happen in other directions. This cross-pollination will help all users in the end.

Most of Ubuntu's user base are people who need a stable, pragmatic Linux distribution, to use it to perform a daily computational tasks, sometimes on large scale, in large companies with many users.

You can not "just switch to KDE" if you have hundreds of users, most of them not computer specialists.

Problem here is, that a lot of us, like Mike Fernandes in earlier comment, switched to Ubuntu several years ago mostly because we perceived it as a distribution that can be relied upon not to force us to switch desktop.

What I expected Canonical people would do in a situation like this, Gnome 3 going crazy with the shell, was to offer us a shell for Gnome 3 that would let us CONTINUE our work uninterrupted, by building a Gnome shell similar to the one we use. That would be the only pragmatic, user friendly thing to do.

And I feel greatly disappointed with what Canonical did instead, building this Unity thing, forcing desktop users to use a tablet UI! I'm sure they will loose desktop users with this, and I don't think they will get many tablet users.

Back to the point, if Ubuntu developers force me to switch desktop now, I'm not sure I will continue to use Ubuntu.

I think this is a very important problem, that can decide future of this distribution if not addressed properly, so it is perfectly understandable that we always switch to it.

Not sure what I should say about this anymore.

1) Windows has dramatic changes from release to release too. According to this hypothesis, Microsoft should lose users in the 100s of millions every new release.

2) Change of UI does not mean loss of stability, just change of how apps are started. IMHO the desktop is rather irrelevant for my usage (I use Linux for > 10 years, used early versions of Gnome and KDE since version 3.x. I have gone through the KDE3 -> KDE4 change (and had to listen to all the whining at the time too), and did not have a lot of problems to adapt.

In any case. I did not say anybody needs to like the changes. However, Canonical or Ubuntu does not force anybody into a change. Gnome decided without any input of Canonical to change the Gnome shell, otherwise anybody who likes could use what is provided by Gnome instead of Unity. Furthermore, there is an LTS release which will be supported for quite a long time too, which does not force anybody to change.

Nevertheless, I do not take sides on this issue, I merely have stated, that the fact that this issue is forced onto everybody who is not interested at every possible opportunity, when other topics like how to make a LoCo more effective are the appropriate topic. This ubiquitous existence of this rather irrelevant topic of Unity is rather off-putting to me.

A little consideration about the fact that other important issue are also existent would be appreciated!

>> Windows has dramatic changes from release to release too. According to this hypothesis, Microsoft should lose users in the 100s of millions every new release.

That's how I ended up using Ubuntu to begin with! I was tired of paying more money to re-learn UIs.

It seems that Ubuntu has enabled me to do this for free.

True, but
1) Microsoft lost a lot of what little "trust" they had left with the community when they introduced things like the Ribbon, not to mention the abomination of the new Vista/Windows 7 interface (how many clicks do you require to change your IP address in either?). Ubuntu now faces that same loss of trust.

2) In the corporate environment, your users are EXTREMELY adverse to any change, so a massive shift like Unity represents a huge hurdle in training costs to be borne by anyone who make the change.

There are way around this - XFCE, or LXDE, but they bring their own headaches in terms of testing. Workarounds for corporate proxy servers, suspend/resume settings or global configuration tools like Landscape or Puppet which may have worked in Gnome 2 may not work reliably in Gnome 3, or at all in LXDE. Either way, the cost of training, testing and implementing becomes massive.

On my Fedora 16 laptop, which uses GNOME 3.2, Mono is not included by default. In the actual GNOME FTP repositories, none of the applications there use Mono.

Of course, this assumes that Mono actually has some kind of licensing issue---it doesn't. ASP.NET and Windows.Forms can be revoked, but the popular applications on Linux (i.e. Tomboy and Banshee) are written with Gtk#, which has no such concerns.


Well. Even if that is the case. Wouldn't it better? Friendly competition is good and helps everybody. The goal to destroy the other side or demean its users is not.

I agree that that's immature and unproductive, but I feel that saying "Can't we all just get along?" is demeaning as well. Some people on the other side may be misbehaving, but they feel that way because they feel like things they depend on are being taken away from them, both by Unity and by GNOME's simultaneous decision to pull the rug out from under its users.

I'm in favor of change for the better, even change that abandons old ways of doing things. But I think it's insulting to tell the people who are adversely affected by it that they have no reason to get upset.

I am not saying this at all. I am saying there are better ways to deal with it. When Microsoft or Apple change the UI, users have no other option but to complain or to accept what is happening.

In FLOSS there are lots of productive possibilities including baning together and forking if this is necessary. Nobody is stopped to start a community that forks Gnome before the changes of Gnome and Canonical that are so disruptive to them and create another alternative for anybody who needs it.

Forcing a discussion on people who have nothing to do with the the decisions of Gnome or Canonical is what I am pointing out. At the right place and time constructive criticism is good. However, not every event or session or forum which has something to do with Ubuntu is the right place for this.

I think is going to far to say that GNOME uses heavily Mono, in fact only few apps are written in mono. And they usually have an alternative written in another language like Banshee/Rhythmbox or Tomboy/Gnote.

Moreover, mono is free software, all the concerns are related to patents.

Well, I have changed this part. It was not my intent to create a Mono discussion, but point to a change of perspectives.

The problem with this is that only the Unity desktop is tested by Canonical developers. The other desktops in Ubuntu are put together by volunteers and it really shows. I have spent the past six months looking for an alternative to Unity, and my conclusion is that the old Gnome 2 DX in Maverick was superior to anything available in any current distro, even the ones that still ship Gnome 2 as their primary desktop. Building a good user experience is about more than just compiling the packages, and even though Unity has several show stopping bugs and design flaws, it is still better than anything anyone else has done - with the exception of the aforementioned Maverick desktop. Therefore, the logical thing to do is to try to influence the direction of Unity. Also, the message about the community being able to influence things is one that Canonical pushes at every possible opportunity, so it should not come as a surprise when people try to put the message in to action.

Without taking sides, this is not the issue. Canonical is a private corporation. Canonical is not the Ubuntu community. I use Kubuntu for a long time and have also contributed to it. I cannot follow the argument that Kubuntu is inferior to Unity because it is not tested by Canonical staff. This is rather an argument against community based software development (which most FLOSS is). There is nothing that stops a professional organization to test any other desktop on the Ubuntu platform.

Making constructive criticism is one thing. Getting hung up on the mere existence of Unity is not productive.

This is not an argument against community development. Just because every community effort so far has utterly failed to deliver a product of similar quality to ubuntu-desktop does not mean it could not happen in the future.

But that is entirely missing both the points I wanted to make which are firstly that as terrible as Unity is, it is still better than either Gnome 3 or KDE regardless of which distro you run. And secondly that even if you disagree, Gnome 3 and KDE work much better when run on Fedora or OpenSUSE respectively, because those distros are designed from the ground up to run them, while on Ubuntu they are both tacked on afterwards, with the maintainers having to play catch-up with Canonical's changes to the core distro (like patching Qt and Gtk to support all that weird Unity stuff.)

And this is where the choice comes in. If you think that, contrary to what Canonical says, attempting to fix Unity by getting involved with the community is a waste of time, why are you still using Kubuntu when you could be using OpenSUSE? Perhaps you have other reasons for not switching. Perhaps the people who want to fix Unity rather than switch to something even worse also have good reasons.

The wars go back beyond that. Before GNOME it was Enlightenment vs tvtwm vs fvwm vs... before X it was emacs vs vi. Human beings have built in needs to know who is with them and who is against them. If they don't have that they feel uncomfortable and will make up things to make "my people" better than "your people." Some people have a stronger need for this than others.. usually the most vocal ones.

Just go back to KDE. They addressed people's concerns so there is no reason to duplicate effort. If everyone goes back to it, the deduplication of effort should yield some very nice results.

>>Please let's put things into perspective! We are engaged in a world of technology. Technology moves in a fast pace. Changes are inevitable, changes are good.

Does anyone bother to examine these assumptions anymore? Are there not exceptions? There must be limits to innovation, or we'd all be eating our cornflakes with an electronic spoon. KDE4 may not have been the apokolypse, but it was a lot of pain for a desktop that I still find to be less usable than KDE3, though I respect a lot of the work that was done, I respect those who prefer it, and it wasn't all bad.

Inevitably, making big changes to established Desktop GUIs that users depend on causes users a lot of pain, and I can't imagine why developers should be protected from that.

Too many people are in the crossfire where there are no developers that have anything to do with it. The problem is that this topic dominates everything and not that there are limited places where the discussion would be appropriate when held reasonably.

Thanks for the excellent points made in your blog post.

Speaking for myself, I started off as a KDE user. I quickly moved to GNOME because despite installing KDE, I also used applications that required GNOME libraries, so I decided to bite the bullet and simply jump into a full GNOME desktop environment and replace all KDE applications with GNOME ones. I found I liked the switch and the changes between the individual applications between themselves did not bother me too much. I have not gone back to KDE since and I was not even curious about how KDE evolved. I try to stay away from distros that are based on KDE simply because I do not want to relearn everything.

Before Unity: I tried (in the following order over several years): Slackware, OpenSuSE, Fedora, Gentoo, and finally Ubuntu. Each distribution, except Ubuntu, broke something critical in my daily workflow (wireless networking, Flash, 3D graphics) each time a new release of that distro came out or the distro refused to support something that I wanted because the distro wanted to be ideologically pure from closed software taint. I got frustrated with each distribution until Ubuntu. In fact, prior to Unity, I no longer cared what other distributions did because Ubuntu gave me everything I needed and yet kept themselves fairly up-to-date. I also noticed another interesting feature: regular, mom and pop folk, within the Ubuntu community kept hammering away at sloppy reviews written by renowned journalists (see dot.Rory post on 24 Hours with Ubuntu) who needlessly gave Ubuntu bad reviews simply because that journalist was used to a proprietary environment and unfairly compared something that was essentially free (as in beer) with something that one was forced to buy.

After Unity: I have not upgraded from 10.04 (LTS) on one machine and I have moved to Linux Mint Debian Edition on the other. I take your point well, and I am in the process of moving to XFCE and perhaps another distro, maybe even re-looking at the other distros that I left behind in my past.

One pattern you notice in my logic: after trying something and moving away, I have not gone back to that distro or that desktop. I may be unique in this regard, although I doubt it.

Although after listening to the logic outlined at the Ubuntu Canada LoCo presentation, and another presentation comparing GNOME3 and Unity at the same conference: FSOSS 2011, I have come to respect changes made to both desktops. I was also amused, at the same FSOSS conference, to see how alike the two desktops are to each other. I may make the transition to XFCE after I upgrade from Ubuntu 10.04 LTS and maybe change the distro unless there is a compelling reason for me not to change when Ubuntu releases their next version of their LTS (Precise Pangolin in 12.04)

On the point that you make about the freedom to choose alternatives, within the FLOSS ecosystem, is bigger that the narrow minded arguments of scoring points over which interface is bigger and better: I agree with you that those discussions should end sometime. The trouble is change is hard, especially if the change is not explained well to the end user. One explanation given during those discussions, which I liked, was this: why do you need a minimize icon and what do you minimize to when there is no panel to begin with?

A few suggestions arose from the presentations I attended, which I describe here:

  • Ubuntu should have one-click-links on its main page to help redirect users directly to the local user group website much like Amazon does right now (to help users redirect from to their local Amazon store).
  • Provide one-click links to paid support for individuals and organizations. Make this easily visible.

NOTE: I just checked, the links are there, but they are not easily visible. These should be easy to see buttons much like the "Get Ubuntu now" button on the Ubuntu homepage.

I am also tired of flame wars, but, let's be reasonable, they'll probably never stop. Linux users are too egoistic and self centered to give up their petty little bickering. It's been a while since I last called myself a Linux user, not because I don't use it, but because I don't want to be in anyway associated with this mob of trolls.
You bring up reasonable argument, but of cause, they don't work with Linux users, who's best practice is to rant, whine and complain. Nothing you say or do will get them satisfied, no wonder that Gnome devs ignore them. That's the only way to deal with trolls.

... that these arguments at least work with most Linux users. There will always be at least a small minority in any community (Linux users are no unique in this) that like to troll. However, I do not even call people being disappointed about certain decisions trolls. I rather would like to attempt to contain certain discussions to certain places where they are more appropriate.

The reason these discussion happen over and over is that your common-or-garden Ubuntu user probably doesn't know where the best place to complain/object actually is. I'd suggest the ONLY appropriate place to raise an objection is launchpad, but given how easy it is for a newcomer to mark such discussions as "won't fix", I doubt that's as useful as developers make out.

Emacs is better than vim!

No seriously: You don't want desktop-flamewars? Don't write posts like these but turn to something more productive. And don't write comments on posts like these... which I should stop doing as well

This Unity war has gone on for more than 6 month now without me writing a blog post. The reason why I wrote it is that it has become so distractive that it is very difficult to try to do anything productive in the LoCo anymore, because every time someone diverts any discussion back to Unity.

I have never used Unity, and probably will not in the near future. So, my time is certainly not very productive listening to rants about something I had no influence for, and which nobody in the Ubuntu Canada LoCo would be able to do anything about.

Hopefully, this post can help to at least contain these discussions or rants to the places where there is more possibility that some influence can be wielded.

Please export FULL posts in your RSS feed.

Sorry, no intention to do this. This is my blog and therefore my rules.

with an attitude like that, you should work for Canonical.

Maybe you should tell them that, not me

Like the OP, I'm curious - why not? Most part-posted RSS feeds are meant to encourage the user to visit the website for full content, and therefore hit more adverts. Your site doesnt' seem to have any adverts, so why post teasers via RSS? I'm actually less likely to hit your site, or post links to it, since I only get your content through Planet RSS, so less likely to cause exposure as a result.

Not that I object, really. But I run a site and post full RSS and wonder if I've missed something here.

There are multiple reasons for this. Among them, the feeds are often re-published on other sites and I have no idea how many people read it. Furthermore, it is an issue of copyright and fair use. I have no problems when people re-publish the teaser, however the whole article should only be re-published with my permission.

Personally, I prefer to see a summary in the rss feed. The same stories can show up in many feeds, and if the summary is not of interest I can easily skip to the next item.

Unity is divisive and disruptive. They took a distro with momentum and have fragmented it. Much of the goodwill built up over the years by ironing out nuisances common to other distros will now be scattered into the wind as users find alternate distros which work out of the box without shipping with annoying, dysfunctional art projects.

I had always been a GNOME user, but I decided to give KDE a shot. After an hour of configuring a test in VirtualBox I still couldn't get the desktop UI feeling right, at which point I decided to stop fighting an uphill battle with KDE.

It isn't that Linux users can't perform adjustments and customizations. They clearly can. The point is that when there is so much work to do out of the box just to get to the baseline, a user's needs are probably best met by something else.

Sure, I could jump to Gentoo and get everything exactly how I want, but that isn't worth a day of effort. I'd rather start with something which is almost right on.

While GNOME can be added on, there is a certain stability and reliability advantage to using the mainline DE for a given distro. Doing that tends to make things break less.

Unity dumbed down the distro. They're pushing Ubuntu to casual users by emulating OSX and giving the DE a consumer appliancey feel.

Projects fail when they try to be something they are not, which is what will happen here. Ubuntu is not OSX and it is not for the computer illiterate. It should not be changing course to compete for people who won't use it. Ubuntu desktop will lose market share and take a lot of the steam out of further development.

This isn't about the positioning of the window buttons, the default wallpaper, or any other purely stylistic change. What changed was disruptive to the ecosystem at its core.

Ubuntu had already been feeling the bloat. New installs took an hour or so to rip out frivolous packages which should have been optional. Gwibber? Zeitgeist? libxyzidontneed? No thanks. Now that the core DE is crap the decision to move is easy.

Again, this is not the point. There may be many reasons to be in disagreement with Unity, there may be as many to be for it.

The point is that not every place and time where Ubuntu is a topic is the right place for forcing the discussion to be about Unity. In fact, this is not the place to discuss pros or cons about Unity.

It's hard to say what Unity will be, I don't think it's even finished yet. The parts of the system which have caused me the biggest grief have been the Linux kernel and Compiz. Linux quality has been shoddy for desktops from 2.6.35 onwards, of course we could complain that Unity 3D uses compiz and therefor we're stuck with an unstable and resource hungry stack; but fairs fair, it's hardly the only thing being offered to users, even on the baseline.

Do you think your comment will make Canonical shift it's position? No of course not, your comment is divisive and you intend it to be. You intend to add to the poison hereabouts and hope to cause users to move to other distros to punish Canonical; either that or your venting without reason and poisoning the community by mistake.

I don't see how Unity is disruptive. Gnome 3 was the disruption. At least Unity restored the Desktop metaphor.

I agree with your main point that there is a time and place for rants, but your article misses the central point of why Unity annoys people.

If you like kde, you can install Kubuntu without the existence of Unity having any effect upon you. The same is true for people who like xfce; they have Xubuntu. But people who like Gnome have to install Unity - we have no choice.

We can install Gnome-Shell, but its not a full proper implementation and many of the shared packages have been modified in order to work with Unity in a manner which is inappropriate or in some cases incompatible with Gnome-shell. If we download the sources from Gnome and build it ourselves, Unity stops working and because of the way that Unity has been designed, if Unity fails so does the whole installation. This is understandable, since the whole installation has been built with Unity in mind, just as Kubuntu is built with the idea of kde in mind, but rather than expanding (as you argue), it curtails, freedom of choice.

If there were a Gubuntu which supporters of Gnome could install without the existence of Unity having any effect, we would be in the same position as kde and xfce lovers and equally sanguine about Unity simply adding an even wider range of choice for users. It may not be for us, but then nor is kde, but it is all good. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

Imagine if Unity had taken over kde, so that there was no Kubuntu, so that you could only access part of kde from behind an interface which was foreign to the very philosophy of kde. Would you be arguing that it was simply an increase in choice? I doubt it.

Until Gnome users are given equal status with users of xfce, kde, and unity, there is always going to be ranting, because the way that Unity has been introduced (not Unity itself) has undermined the whole concept of a Linux distribution - ie. choice. How can we genuinely promote a distro which denies choice to the largest single group of Linux users? How can we make Ubuntu a promotable product, once more? These questions have to be answered before anything else. It follows that these questions will always be the topic of conversation at any meeting, whatever its original purpose was supposed to be. Until Canonical gets the message, that they need to make Unity a choice, along with Gnome-Shell, xfce, kde etc, and not an enforced replacement, any attempt at positive discussion of any topic will always be side-tracked.