Can Linux be anything more
May 16, 2001 6:57 AM   Subscribe

Can Linux be anything more than a Server/Developer OS without something like Eazel? Will the open-source community be able to do anything productive with its code? Or have we just reached a point where the OS is superfluous?
posted by machaus (50 comments total)
Nautilus was pretty but completely useless (as those things tend to be). No one cares that Eazel died. Linux already has what it needs be a desktop OS.. just looke at the latest version of KDE running on the latest version of Mandrake. I'd never put Mandrake/KDE on my desktop, but they are doing great things towards making it mainstream-accessible.
posted by bonzo at 7:18 AM on May 16, 2001

>Or have we just reached a point
>where the OS is superfluous?

Could you elabourate?
posted by holloway at 7:20 AM on May 16, 2001

Eazel suffered from Mozilla-itis already. Bloated, overpretty, inefficient. I'd worry that you'd get the same impulse to rebuild it from scratch.

Anyway, I'm content with Linux on my desktop. Konqueror and Opera are a decent pair of browsers to have at hand.
posted by holgate at 7:23 AM on May 16, 2001

Nothing substantial will happen until they get rid of X. Period.
posted by Succa at 7:27 AM on May 16, 2001

Does this turn of events- an open source software company going out of business- really surprise anyone?
I'm a fan of Linux and all, but come on- the GUI's are so far behind even Windows (let alone the Mac), and it's perenially trapped in the "for hackers, by hackers" model. Great for hackers, lousy for business.

I never thought I'd find myself saying this, but if you want a great UI on top of a solid UNIX foundation... go buy a Mac.
posted by mkultra at 7:31 AM on May 16, 2001

Ahem, go buy BeOS, you surely meant. Mac OS X is the goofiest UI I've ever seen. What purpose do many of those flashy controls serve?

Pretty, but also pretty useless. Especially that sliding dock bar at the bottom...COMPLETELY without purpose.
posted by Succa at 7:33 AM on May 16, 2001

While I am sorry to see Eazel die, it was bound to happen. They simply did not have a business model that was workable in this environment.

As for the software, it was a decent tool - but nothing astoundingly special.

The problem with Linux on the desktop (in the larger sense) is that there is no added value to it. At a time when a Linux desktop might have had a technical advantage Linux was soooo not ready.

Now that Linux is approaching readiness for widespread usage - Windows has solved 99% of the problems that would have left it a market loophole.

Linux will always be an 'alternative' OS - and personally I think it's greatest contribution is spurring Microsoft on... Winddows2000 is done really well and XP is a fantastic tool.

posted by soulhuntre at 7:37 AM on May 16, 2001

Succa, have you used OSX for longer than 5 minutes? Didn't think so.

Yes, it's a flashy looking operating system -- but until you use it as your main OS, you just don't know what the experience is like.

I'm not saying I've seen god after using OSX, but it's far less goofy than you'd think.

Besides, OSX can run X or run in pure console mode, and since a large portion of the UI is hackable, there are already a ton of utilities to modify the interface to just about anything you'd want.
posted by jragon at 7:42 AM on May 16, 2001

Succa wasn't talking about Mac OS X. He was talking about the X Window System, which is another beast entirely.
posted by harmful at 7:45 AM on May 16, 2001

Oops. I only saw his first comment. Never mind, I wasn't paying enough attention.
posted by harmful at 7:46 AM on May 16, 2001

I may be wrong, but here's a quote:

Mac OS X is the goofiest UI I've ever seen. What purpose do many of those flashy controls serve? ... that sliding dock bar at the bottom [is] COMPLETELY without purpose.
posted by jragon at 7:47 AM on May 16, 2001


If this was a 1 line BBS, this wouldn't happen ;)
posted by jragon at 7:50 AM on May 16, 2001

jon, of course I have used OSX. Well, the beta at least.

All I'm saying is that much of the UI is extraneous. There is simply no need to have a morphy dock bar at the bottom. It hogs CPU cycles and offers no real utility. It certainly is stylish, no question, but in more of a "style over substance" way. Is there anything that the UI can't do WITHOUT those flashy extras?

Can I turn them off?

I cannot justify purchasing faster hardware at Apple prices just to get translucent pulldown menus. That's why I think the OS is mostly a failure on the UI front. It slows the OS down for only cosmetic reasons. It's just fluff.

Fluff does not a good UI make. Unfortunately, marketing the product depends on it.

That's not to say I think the OS itself is a failure (having BSD under the hood is a big bonus), but the UI is not my cup of tea, at all. It's cool for a few minutes, though, admittedly.
posted by Succa at 7:51 AM on May 16, 2001

Why do I have this lingering suspicion that I'm about to be attacked by a phalanx of Mac Nazis?
posted by Succa at 7:53 AM on May 16, 2001

At the risk of diverting the course of this discussion...

- As has been pointed out, most UI elements in Aqua (the Mac UI) are hackable. Magnification and bouncing icons in the dock can be turned off. There's a hack out there to return the UI to a greyscale state.

- Apple is converting a lot of the UI code to use Velocity/Altivec, the multimedia instruction set on PPC chips.

- Apple is releasing a significant upgrade to OS X Server this month, which should offer all the power without all the whizzy UI stuff.

Disclaimer: I'm a hardcore Mac-head. I'm using OS X and love it. Hell, I can now run rootless X-windows natively alongside Aqua!
posted by mkultra at 7:57 AM on May 16, 2001

Yes, but what to replace X with? The linux framebuffer is apparently getting drivers quickly, but lacking abstraction leaves out the BSDs. GGI goes for months without a peep (though they've just updated. Natch). SVGA anyone? The only thing X has going for is the drivers.

The best interface will be Berlin (everyone loves screenshots).

I'm rather out of touch with the regular desktop user but how many users even touch a file-manager... don't they live through save/load dialog boxes?
BeOS is the best operating system I've ever used, though I wouldn't use any operating system without a future. I don't trust Be Inc. to support it, and developers can only work around what the OS won't provide for so long. I smell death in the air.
posted by holloway at 7:57 AM on May 16, 2001

Because you called them "Mac Nazis", maybe?
posted by harmful at 7:57 AM on May 16, 2001

My apologies: Berlin screenshots
posted by holloway at 7:59 AM on May 16, 2001

By superfluous, I meant that hopefully we are at the stage where XML and other standards not yet perverted by Microsoft can end the cultish nature of OS choice as demonstrated in this thread. It just shouldn't matter what OS you chose to dance with. I wasn't crazy about Eazel either, but it had the best glimmering hope of creating a distro that my mom could use. In terms of Mac OS X, it is wonderful, but as a server OS. I wouldn't want to try to get work done on it for another year.
posted by machaus at 8:09 AM on May 16, 2001

Hee, Mac Nazis is perhaps too harsh a term, you're right Harmful. But unfortunately, I've all too often seen Mac-heads defending their platform on emotion alone.

BeOS has become a hobby OS, unfortunately, and it's sad because it truly is the most superior OS on almost every level. I've long thought BeOS to be far superior (in theory) to Windows, Linux, and MacOS, ever since version 3. Any OS that can boot in seven seconds and still give me UNIX(-like) console mode is pretty damned impressive.

As for OS X, I will settle it by saying that some of us prefer glamour and glitz, and some of us prefer neat and tidy. I definitely fall into the latter camp, and it seems that the Mac heads fall into the former.

OS X is a marketing success, but from my perspective, a technological blunder on the UI side. My experiences with the UI (which are admittedly limited) have been similar to my experiences with the Netscape 6 UI. It's got a bit more flash but it comes at the expense of a sluggish feel. I'm still wishing that they'd just taken the Netscape 4 UI and wired it to the Gecko engine and nothing more, but that's a discussion for another time.

Anyway, back to Mac action. Macs are cool. I certainly like the platform, and I think they've done a lot of things right. OS X, however, marks their transition into a more glitz-based system, which started with the iMac and hasn't let up since. Hey, if it makes them money, of course they're going to run with the ball. I love the fact that Macs are physically stylish (the hardware itself, I mean), but this style on the desktop come at a cost, which is poor performance and mild sensory overload.

Also, users shouldn't have to "hack" to turn off the slow visual effects. Isn't there a control panel to do that?
posted by Succa at 8:13 AM on May 16, 2001

Hmn. I prefer to run two boxes... A linux box for running apache and different SQL services, and my WinTel box for running all of the apps that I actually use on a daily basis. Since my house is networked, running them side by side isn't a problem and gives me a lot of advantages.

I didn't even install X when I built the linux box. It's not worth it to me. I wish I had a machine that I could do that on... maybe in a few months.

Anyway. X seems kludgy to me. I don't think the problem is necessarily the X server, but the difficulty in configuring the X server. It took me almost 8 hours to get a good video configuration with xfree86, and I didn't bother with my sound card. Some people get a good setup within minutes, others struggle like I do. Until the open-source community can develop technology that makes ease of setup similar to windows, Linux is dead in the water as an every day OS and will stay on the server end of things.
posted by SpecialK at 8:15 AM on May 16, 2001

X was built for a client-server environment.

That's why all the Linux WM's feel slow and sluggish. They don't have the same responsiveness as, say, the Window GUI. They're built upon tons of code layers.

These layers need to be thinned out for Linux to excel as a desktop machine. I've been a hardcore computer geek for 22 years and I was still struck with that sense of bloat the first time I used Linux. I could feel the code chugging away on every button I clicked.
posted by Succa at 8:17 AM on May 16, 2001

OSX beta was very sluggish, no doubt about it. A comparison to NS6 is a fair one. However, 10 (and then the two minor upgrades to 10.0.2) increased the speed dramatically.

I think OSX is the cleanest OS I've ever used. I also keep a tidy desktop, and I've never had an easier time with it than with OSX. (I use Windows, Macs, and Linux Mandrake every day) The layout improvements from beta to gold were amazing -- placing drill-down-able folders in the dock as well as the ability to customize the finder's toolbar were my favorite.

As for hacking away the glamour and the glitz, there are quite a few control panel options to tone it down. I use the greyscale mode for the colors, and the 'don't animate' selection for the bouncing icons.

To change that "genie" slurp effect into the dock requires some hacking, but oh well. At least it's not totally locked down.
posted by jragon at 8:21 AM on May 16, 2001

Two things:

1) Or have we just reached a point where the OS is superfluous?

Ok, all those not using an operating system while reading this, put up your hands!

2) The discussion in this thread reminded me of one of my favourite Dr. Fun's
posted by DiplomaticImmunity at 8:31 AM on May 16, 2001

Geez Succa.

Of course you don't need the dock. You don't need the pretty graphics, either. Nor do you need windows, menus, mice, or even keyboards. All a computer does is lots of math and number-shuffling, and you can control that just fine with punch cards and a line printer.

Your comment reduces to "I don't like it" which is merely a matter of opinion. There's nothing wrong with your opinion, but the way you present it is laced with disdain for those who disagree, and that's not cool.

posted by Mars Saxman at 8:44 AM on May 16, 2001

I agree that BeOS is a great OS. It's fast, user-friendly, and gorgeous. My only problem with it is that the packaged browser is light-years slower than anything else I've used in the last 2 years. I realize that its slow because its not bloatware, but has anyone found any compatible browsers that are faster?
posted by ttrendel at 9:02 AM on May 16, 2001

(Note: this post is about the X Window System, not MacOS X)

While X certainly has its weaknesses... hmm, understatement.

While X is certainly drastically inadequate and wrongheaded in many aspects of its design, I'm not sure getting rid of it altogether is the best way to get a good GUI for Linux. Things like the Simple DirectMedia Layer and the support for antialiased fonts in XFree86 4.0 show that some of the most glaring technical weaknesses can be fixed, and one nice thing about X is that new window managers can improve the user interface without having to worry about the underlying protocol.

The biggest problems I can see with X, right now, are the lack of a consistent user interface between different applications, and the poor support for keyboard control. But both of these can be solved more efficiently in toolkits like GTK or Qt, without breaking compatibility with older software.

And one thing I will say for X: the ability to run clients over a network is very nice.

(Mind you, I haven't done any GUI programming, so it's altogether likely that there are X-Badnesses that I'm missing.)
posted by moss at 9:26 AM on May 16, 2001

Be is wonderful, but it's like having a ferrari without a freeway system. Without the apps, it's just a boutique OS. Using Opera or the built in browser was just hellish. I never got to try Mozilla (I uninstalled Be before it came out in a workable version). Now I use Win2000 which is actually quite nice. Fast, responsive, secure and dependable. It's ridiculous that I'm using it for my own system and it wastes so much space, but hey better than reinstalling Win98SE every 6-8 months.
posted by zebra_monkey at 10:04 AM on May 16, 2001

Mars: I'm pretty vehement about these issues because bloat is a big problem in my eyes. We've lost track of simplicity in this new era of computing. Maybe it's just my background speaking, and I certainly don't mean to condemn Mac users for liking OS X. Some people value style on the desktop more than I do. Fine by me. Sorry if I appear snooty, but it's been a sticking point with me for a long time. You're right, it is just my opinion, but I'm sticking to it.

Your argument about reducing computing to its core elements ("number-crunching") holds no water with me, however. I've heard it a million times. Of course computing should progress beyond punch-cards, but there are some progressions that are favourable, and some that are not.

I do feel that much of OS X is marketing sizzle, just like practically every other OS upgrade to come out in the "New Economy" timeframe.

Should you have to upgrade your system significantly in order to use a new version of an OS? I'm inclined to say no. An OS is a controlled means of accessing system resources, and that's all it's supposed to do. You might even say that the OS should change when the hardware and system resources change, not the other way around. But again, that's my fancy dreamworld theoretical CS background speaking. It doesn't happen that way, and that's because of marketing, not to mention the marketing of Moore's Law itself as gospel. OS's are built to do it all these days, and when you buy Windows, you're not buying JUST the OS, you're buying the core OS and a huge, bloated mass of applications that sit on top of the core, and that can't be removed easily. That, to me, is plain wrong.

Does anyone really NEED OS X? Or Windows XP? Or the absolute latest Linux kernel? Some do, but most don't. And yet, we're inclined to upgrade, not only our software but our hardware, regardless. To stay "current", rather than to satisfy our actual need for the upgrade.

Take Windows 98, for example. Everyone knows that this was just Windows 95 with some bug fixes and a few new features. But it was considered to be a revolutionary, different OS by the marketing department. The changes were mostly at the application level. That's not a new OS; it's new apps for an existing OS. That's the era we're in, folks, and that's why BeOS was such a shining diamond among a bunch of dirty stones. Simplicity AND functionality.

This is becoming a very unfocused rant. Sorry.
posted by Succa at 10:20 AM on May 16, 2001

Eazel: a company of great hackers with an absolute impossible and terrible business plan.

It almost all stereotypes you can think of when it comes to high-tech companies ;-)
posted by at 10:22 AM on May 16, 2001

I don't think the significance of Apple's new OS has sunk in yet--it hasn't with me, I know. What was originally described as a Mac OS with a "Unix core" I think is really UNIX with a Mac windowing system.

And since the UNIX is open source--even though it isn't Linux--this just might reshuffle the cards a bit.

All the new Macs ship with Apache, a fact that won't matter a lot perhaps until they become old Macs and web servers start popping up in every garage.

After all, it may take the twin engines of open source and a strong corporate hunger for profit to finally reach the holy grail of system stability combined with consumer-level usability.

Disclaimer: I use a Mac. I use NT. In theory, I prefer a Sun Workstation to either, since I like equipment that doesn't break down easily, but I don't have anyone to pay me a salary while I learn how to run UNIX. In my view, the ideal OS is like the ideal rental car; 24 hours later you don't remember which kind you had--it's reasonably easy to turn on the defroster--and they remembered to empty the ashtrays.
posted by steve_high at 10:38 AM on May 16, 2001

Oops. Minor clarification: I don't mean to imply that OS X is not a "new" OS. It is by all means a very different beast than System 9.

I mean to say that the appeal of the operating system seems to be largely cosmetic. It's powerful, yes, but it's well marketed too.

Just wanted to get that out there before I get yelled at.
posted by Succa at 10:43 AM on May 16, 2001

As with most web-based discussions about Linux as the new "desktop king", the user base's need is hugely exagerated. People do live by File Open and File Save dialog boxes, I know I spend 90% of my day showing them how.

To take Microsoft's market you have to think like Microsoft and there's only two companies who do this.

What's more, it looks like they are going to.

BeOs will emerge the only challenge, but it will be owned by Sony/AOL
posted by fullerine at 11:08 AM on May 16, 2001

How cute. Mac users talking about bloat, the command line, and hacks to remove the fluff.

Mac 2001 = Windows 95?
posted by bondcliff at 11:13 AM on May 16, 2001

posted by jragon at 11:36 AM on May 16, 2001

Fullerine -- although the home entertainment console market will be an interesting battle, I really doubt a victory there by SonyAOL will lead to SonyAOL/BeOS stealing MSFT's enterprise market -- I know you're probably not suggesting that, but the home entertainment market is only 1 part of the war for the, ahem, future -- and besides, no one is certain that (mainstream) home PC users will want to use game machines as a PC.
posted by kphaley454 at 11:45 AM on May 16, 2001

Well, actually, no...

Screenshots are just that. Pictures. Have you tried using it?

Netscape 6 allows you to use the "classic" GUI, but unfortunately it's 10 times slower.

So, my complaint still stands. =)
posted by Succa at 12:39 PM on May 16, 2001

Succa: put that way, I mostly agree with you. I guess I'm just resigned to my utterly insignificant status in the eyes of commercial OS developers.

For Apple, there's a lot of money in "bloat": they are, after all, primarily a hardware manufacturer. I'm sure they make a lot more money on hardware sales from people upgrading to newer computers to run OS X than they do from sales of OS X itself. So maybe I'm just being fatalistic, but it seems like part of the game and doesn't really bother me anymore.

90% of the way there may only be half as satisfying, but most of the time it's all you need - on that principle Microsoft has founded an empire.

posted by Mars Saxman at 12:52 PM on May 16, 2001

I've tried using it, and it's just as fast. The XML structure allows you (in most cases) to swap images and be done with it.

"complaint destroyed"

posted by jragon at 12:53 PM on May 16, 2001

Well, I'd still need to upgrade my hardware in order to install OS X anyway, to use the just-as-fast "classic" GUI.

complaint reinstated

Just give up, jragon! (maniacal cackling and pounding of sceptre against floor)
posted by Succa at 1:02 PM on May 16, 2001

Mars: exactly. They're a hardware company. And with OS X, they stand to benefit in two ways: 1) by the purchase of OS X, and more importantly 2) by the necessary machine upgrade required to use OS X comfortably.

That's why I think the "OS Upgrade" market is mostly a scam to sell hardware, and that's why I think Moore's Law is flung around so freely. Marketing has usurped common sense.
posted by Succa at 1:05 PM on May 16, 2001

Which leads me to another question about Macs. What's the upgrade path like?

If I want to upgrade my processor, is it just a matter of buying a new one and slapping it in there? Even with machines like the Cube and the iMac?

Or do I have to buy an all-new machine? I've never upgraded a Mac before, which is strange, since there are probably 5 old Macs sitting in a room at my house. I imagine they've got some kind of trade-in policy, since I've never seen a PowerPC processor up for sale in the classifieds.
posted by Succa at 1:12 PM on May 16, 2001

I've seen a screen shot of OS X running with a decidedly OS 9-like GUI (finder instead of the goofy dock and such).

Oh my heavens. If you can give me a source for such a thing, please do so, because I hated the OS X Finder when I tried the public beta. It wasn't even worth it for the joy of having the command line. (The dropoff in usability from OS9 was huge, imho.)

(And if the topic drift continues, I'd love to see a link to a repository for the OSX UI hacks, too.)

On-topic, does anyone think that Unix GUIs are really that much less usable than Windows (or even MacOS)? I think the lack of a standardized Linux/BSD GUI -- and, in particular, differences between the array of GUIs and Windows -- do more to make Linux seem unusuable to the average person. I'm more comfortable using the command line than I am using KDE or GNOME, simply because I've been using the command line for years.
posted by snarkout at 1:27 PM on May 16, 2001

Some Macs have upgradable processors, often on a daughtercard of some sort. I upgraded my Power Mac 7500 three times, from a 100MHz 601 to a 120MHz 604 to a 233MHz 604e to a 500MHz G3. Consumer machines (e.g. iMacs) are not usually very upgradeable, however.
posted by kindall at 1:28 PM on May 16, 2001

posted by snarkout at 1:29 PM on May 16, 2001

Linux is great for many things, and most of it is completely free to use. The idea that Linux would replace the desktop is mostly irrelevant to it's original purpose. However, it has come a long way in window and desktop managers. If you want to imagine Linux taking the place of an existing MS/OS, you'll have to think about what you really enjoy that Windows supports, and whether you'll be able to have that same enjoyment going solely with linux. More often than not, you might find yourself wanting to use Windows primarily and open up a VMWare, VNC, or xhost-style login to manipulate X applications. Or not even that, just simply rlogin or telnet to do some scripting or backend processes. If you go in the other direction, it would be similar...but you'll lose some multimedia and deployment capabilities that MS has a strong market in. So basically, you have two choices that are based on your needs and scope of desire. Since linux is so accessible remotely, I usually stick with Win2k as my main OS for GUI stuff (fully experiencing MS' child, the graphical internet with all it's pop-ups...etc). The final ideal goal, IMO, is very similar to what OS X has have a very simplistic interface, with the built-in accessibility and openness of a *nix system...but is that actually overkill? Maybe.

btw, for a server I'd prefer FreeBSD. Linux is more of a "hackers OS" as stated before.
posted by samsara at 3:25 PM on May 16, 2001

Snarkout, give the full version of OSX a try -- it's still got a learning curve, and there are still some annoying aspects that haven't fully been ironed out (or thought out), but it's a big step forward.

There's a Mac camp that says the dock is a poor replacement for the control strip, app manager, and apple menu, and for a while I agreed.

However, the difference between beta and full is what's keeping me on OSX for my main OS.
posted by jragon at 3:41 PM on May 16, 2001

X was built for a client-server environment. That's why all the Linux WM's feel slow and sluggish
VNC is faster than X while providing the same schtuff. Because of this I don't believe X suffers from providing too many marvelous features (client-server) but instead good ole' thoughtless architecture and bad programming.

X's graphical primitives are far too primitive to be hardware accelerated, too.

That one can attach modules to X and patch its' holes was a smart decision and it's the only thing keeping X alive. But when wanting anti-aliased text isn't a toggle option (it involves loading a seperate module - rock on, X!) it goes to show that X is fundamentally flawed. I'm sure one could equally develop for DOS though it doesn't make it easy for anyone. It's been a trooper, but we can do better.

I didn't mention EVAS last night either, that's good too.
posted by holloway at 6:40 PM on May 16, 2001

I've said before (here, I think) that the significance of Linux is that it demonstrates that a number of people can get together and make an operating system without a business plan or vast sums of cash. Whether it has significance beyond that I don't know but there are plenty of new, free OS's emerging. Check FreeOS for some of them. My suspicion is that AtheOS (another thing I've mentioned before) will be a major player (it has most of the cool stuff that BeOS has but GPL'd) but there are plenty of others.
Another interesting trend is the tendancy for people to work on the individual bits that make up an operating system. At some point it might be possible to just take whichever set of bits you want (a micro kernal from here, a window manager from there) and put them together and make the best OS for any given niche (all future computing markets will be relative niche markets).
posted by davidgentle at 6:25 PM on May 17, 2001

But when wanting anti-aliased text isn't a toggle option

Ohhh, antialiased text. Yuck. Blurry text is a lousy way to pretend you have a high resolution monitor. This is really a problem for the hardware guys to solve and not something that should be done in the OS. If we had 200 dpi monitors, instead of the same old 80 dpi ones we've had for the last decade, nobody would even think about antialiasing. If anything, antialasing just slows down the development of better monitors by getting close enough to diminish demand.

OK, rant off. Omnipresent antialiased text is one of the OS X features I'm less than crazy about.

posted by Mars Saxman at 6:43 PM on May 17, 2001

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