Monday, February 02, 2004


Microsoft has done some substantive research into accessibility issues as related to computing. Not just for the disabled, mind you, but for those of us who are aging. It's worth a look for just about everyone. And it probably is a good idea to bookmark the site and pass it along.

Musings on a Linux Desktop

We had Sam Greenblatt from Computer Associates on the show today. One of the topics upon which Sam touched is that he sees a real need for a standardized Linux desktop.

I agree. There simply has to be a standard interface. One of the existing ones has to "win" and become a standard or a new one has to come along and take that place (the third option is some sort of unification of existing desktops and is the least likely to come about). Once this happens, the Linux desktop can (and likely will) take a real place in the world, beyond it's currently [somewhat] marginalized status.

I'll probably end up using the "default" or standardized desktop. Unlike some others, though, I still want the choice of other desktops. What people forget when there's a call for a unified look and feel to the Linux desktop is that it need not mean the end of the other window managers/desktops. Linux is in large part about choice, after all. But the face Linux presents to the average user simply must standardize, lest users spend an ongoing fraction of their time in training, whenever they move to a different machine.

I'm currently using one of the minimal window managers (icewm) in the interest of conserving resources on a low-powered machine. I had Gnome on it and the resources so consumed were sorely missed. Opening windows and apps was painfully slow. Icewm is more of a geek's interface, though, requiring many more trips to the command line than most users would be willing to tolerate. I don't mind that, but my best judgement is that almost every "normal" (meaning non-geek) user would object. Application launching from icons is something they demand and, while lots of that can be done from icewm, it's not easy as it is on the "major" desktops (or on Windows, for that matter). Of course, Linux's normal practice of having 4 separate desktops helps this a lot because one can simply leave the apps open and move to another desktop, thus avoiding the confusion of having a jillion things in the taskbar from which to pick. On older, lower powered machines, that takes a toll, too.

As I write this; I have 17 applications open on the four desktops (on that low-powered machine) and a quick look at top shows 54 processes, with 42 running and the rest sleeping. This is more than I usually have open and the machine is noticeably slowed. Text shows up instantly as I type, but any cut/paste or overtype operations are delayed in displaying. I'll finish up some of what I'm doing soon and close a few in order to get back to more usual operations.

Whether KDE, Gnome, the Sun Java Desktop, the SuSE/Ximian/Novell desktop or some other (IBM is said to have one ready, too) one has to become the standard. Users can switch, should they desire to. But there has to be one which everyone knows and can live with as the default.