back to article The sad state of Linux desktop diversity: 21 environments, just 2 designs

As a mainstream desktop OS, Linux is doing better than ever. The Year of Linux on the Desktop came some time ago, and it is ChromeOS (Chromebooks were outselling Macs until recently). But there's a problem – there is almost no diversity of design. Let's count the number of desktop designs in active development. Not desktop …

  1. Tom 38

    As long as you ignore tiling wm like i3 or sway, sure, just 2.

    1. Yeti
      Coat

      Or Ratpoison. Or twm.

      1. gv

        Still occasionally use Openbox and Fluxbox as well.

      2. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

        I found the source for vtwm (twm with a virtual desktop), which I used to use in the early '90s not that long ago, and compiled it up.

        All I can say is that we really have grown to rely on some of the desktop integration stuff that modern desktops provide! I had to start moving the network configuration away from NetworkManager and back to the OS just to get the system onto the network (Hint. The trick is to make the network configuration available for all users).

        When did we let the network and filesystem configuration be taken away from the OS?

      3. RAMChYLD

        They also failed to mention AfterSTEP

    2. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

      A window manager is not a desktop, and a desktop is not a window manager.

      Desktops generally contain a window manager, and very occasionally, a choice of WMs.

      1. Tom 38

        A window manager is not a desktop, and a desktop is not a window manager.

        According to you. However, I never said that i3 was a desktop, I said that there are only two styles of linux desktop if you ignore the tiling WMs.

        i3 by itself is not a desktop, its just a wm. However, i3 + rofi + i3bar is a desktop, and its one that doesn't fit your "just two styles" argument.

        Next you're going to say "Oh, but it doesn't have a ui to configure my wifi/font/colours, and therefore its not a desktop"

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          flwm

          Try flwm if you like vertical title bars and launching apps by context menu

      2. sreynolds Silver badge

        I'm sorry Liam. What are you expecting? What are the alternatives given the current technologies?

    3. FIA Silver badge

      Tiling?

      So Windows 1 then*??

      <ducks and runs for cover>

      although I see it also allows floating windows so more like modern Windows with fancy zones?

      <re-inforces cover somewhat>

      * or later version of GEM when they didn't want to get sued by Apple.

      1. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

        Glad to see I'm not the only one remembering GEM. I had it running on an Amstrad 1512 - only black & white but ran speedily enough and better in some ways than modern Windows (I hate fly out menus).

  2. DrXym Silver badge

    The curse of overchoice

    Overchoice is actually a term for when a consumer is given so many options, often varying in ways which are meaningless or confusing that they end up making no choice at all.

    Linux has always had that issue and it is illustrated in the article in all the desktops that exist or existed. I expect most prospective Linux users just want to install the thing and use it for something. They really don't care what desktop is powering their experience providing it is easy to use, discoverable, familiar, doesn't throw any nasty surprises at them and lets them get on and do stuff.

    1. hammarbtyp

      Re: The curse of overchoice

      The "subway" effect...

      1. FIA Silver badge

        Re: The curse of overchoice

        Isn't it more the 'Costa' effect??

        "I JUST WANT A JEFFING COFFEE!"

        (Subway is easy, you're paying for it, so 'Everything please...')

        1. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          Or the McD's I just want a plain burger - nothing on it.

          1. David Hicklin

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            "Or the McD's I just want a plain burger - nothing on it."

            I do like onions as well, 90% if then time it *STILL* comes with cheese....Grrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!

    2. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: The curse of overchoice

      It's similar to what I know as the paradox of choice.

      You have one or two options, it's THEIR fault if you choose a bad option.

      Given a thousand choices its YOUR fault if you choice a bad option.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: The curse of overchoice

      Thank you, yes - I just want to be pointed to an ISO that will install a version of linux that looks vaguely Windows-like on my old laptop. That is how I (and others) will be persuaded to make the change.

      What I *get* is a dozen different recommendations of flavours of Linux and no idea which to choose or even how to choose.

      Mint seems popular but I don't even know quite what Mint is, or where to get it, or even if getting it is the whole story or if it is something you install with a different kernel or what.

      In short, it is an off-putting mess for new starters. I'm willing to try it, but the pro-Linux community seem incapable of rallying around a starter system that would get people to migrate.

      If anyone can point to an ISO that would work like a Windows install disk would, I'd be very grateful.

      1. John Robson Silver badge

        Re: The curse of overchoice

        You mean take a full day to install, and then another to add patches, can't help.

        But the linuxmint.com download page has three reasonably well described choices (Cinnamon edition looks fine).

        You can even run it live, which you can with most linux variants, and that's also something that can't be done with MicroSoft offerings.

        Problem is Windows now looks nothing like I remember it looking, so I don't really know what you are looking for...

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          You mean take a full day to install, and then another to add patches, can't help.

          Who installs Windows? Most Windows users get issued a company PC or laptop which the IT department has used an imaging tool to prepare in a few minutes. Patching doesn't take a day or even an hour at worst.

          If somebody buys their own then it is pre-installed and goes through a startup initialisation.

          When the zealots get themselves out of denial and quit with the lies and sanctimony, then Linux will start to stand a chance.

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            The OP said "If anyone can point to an ISO that would work like a Windows install disk would, I'd be very grateful."

            1. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: The curse of overchoice

              The OP said "If anyone can point to an ISO that would work like a Windows install disk would, I'd be very grateful."

              Yes, I read that aleady thanks. Not relevant. I'm addressing the lies about taking a whole day to install and another day to patch.

              1. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

                Re: The curse of overchoice

                -- I'm addressing the lies about taking a whole day to install and another day to patch. --

                May I cordially disagree. An IT department bunging an image on is not really installing Windows. Give them a machine that currently has some flavour of Linux installed and a Windows iso and lets see how long it takes to install and bring up to date.

              2. Robert Grant Silver badge

                Re: The curse of overchoice

                "It doesn't take a whole day to install on computer that it's already been installed on" isn't much of a claim.

          2. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            Some of us remember when even Billy G. said you should reinstall Windows every 6 months.

            And we haven't yet forgiven. (Or finished laughing at him.)

          3. John Robson Silver badge

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            I had to recently - installed it on a VM because I need access to a specific piece of software (at least in the short term).

            It took forever and a day (ok, it took two days).

            Takes maybe forty minutes to get a linux install up and running on the same virtualisation setup, and since I use the network installer versions I don't even have to update the iso often. (I do have the advantage of a decent net connection, but that advantage was available to the windows VM as well).

            I'll grant that some of that time was me being unfamiliar with windows and double checking what I was doing - it has been a significant number of years since I've had to touch it at all - but it did also just take a _long_ time.

            1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

              Re: The curse of overchoice

              Part of my job is "refurbing" laptops. One of our bigger customers sends all their kit to us from leavers (or which are broken in some way). We check them over, clean the outside and install a default Win10 image from a standard Win10 Install USB pendrive. Since this install won't be used and is just for checking everything works, we click "NO" to everything related to tracking, advertising, accounts etc and just use a default local Lan/WiFi account. Install time is not over an hour, let alone a full day.

              I'm speaking as a FreeBSD user, not a Windows users, so I have no axe to grind. All I can say is a default Win10 install is pretty quick and painless. On the other hand, we don't bother with Windows Updates since the laptop will be re-imaged when it gets back to the customer anyway, we just need to make sure it's fully operational and looks relatively clean. Maybe if you don't use the latest Win imaging tool, then there may be be multiple major updates that get applied in the right order, so that might well take longer. Windows Update, even on a good internet connection, doesn't seem to be especially quick!

              1. Fursty Ferret

                Re: The curse of overchoice

                John - save yourself another 30 minutes per computer and use the sysprep tool to launch Windows directly into audit mode from the USB drive:

                https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/windows-hardware/manufacture/desktop/boot-windows-to-audit-mode-or-oobe?view=windows-11

              2. Norman Nescio Silver badge

                Re: The curse of overchoice

                Asking for enlightenment here: why not use a Windows PE image to check that everything works? That doesn't take an hour.

                From a Linux perspective, booting a live image off a USB flash memory thumb drive lets me check that everything works for Linux, and I can customise that image. I have a WinPE flash memory thumb drive that allows me to to firmware updates on PCs where the manufacturer doesn't provide a Linux-friendly firmware update mechanism.

                It is entirely possible that I am missing something obvious here.

                When I was doing Win10 installs (not just testing) on refurbished laptops, I was doing a lot more than one an hour - I couldn't swear to it, but 15-20 minutes sounds possible. I had a set of installation USB drives, and had several running simultaneously, each at different stages of the install.

              3. John Robson Silver badge

                Re: The curse of overchoice

                Saying no to all the telemetry options was my approach as well, but I had to *read* them all to know whether they were asking "Do you not want to fail to disallow the prevention of transferring your first born to MS?"

                Windows update was probably the majority of the time - and that's not something I see on Linux, partly because I mostly use a net installer, but I still reckon I could update gentoo* faster than windows.

                It also whines like a baby until it's all been updated (which is good), and licensed (bad), and... And then it still whines that you haven't set up a MS account to sync your life to.

                * For those who don't know gentoo is a distro which distributes source code, and you then compile it locally to update.

          4. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            -- Patching doesn't take a day or even an hour at worst.--

            At worst I've had a PC sitting there for two days downloading / installing the latest update - my little Mint machine has never taken more than 15 minutes.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          OP here - I'm very grateful :)

        3. HildyJ Silver badge

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          The Linux beginner problem is that if they don't have a friend who will tell them "I use this" they will Google it. Googling "best linux for beginners" I looked at the first page (out of 40m results).

          The first list that divided it up by what I wanted to do was TechRadar which recommended Modicia OS, MX Linux, Netrunner, Nitrux OS, and Pop!_OS.

          MakeUseOf recommended a laundry list for beginners who were Windows users starting with Deepin, elementary OS, Solus, and Zorin OS.

          Most of the others seem to focus on popularity (which was specifically mentiined) with Ubuntu and Mint on top.

          Who to believe? What to do?

          At this point I suspect many beginners will decide it's not worth the trouble.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            I believe what you want is a popular distro that is likely to be supported for a long time. Not some experimental thing that somebody's been playing with on a blog that happened to get to the top of Google one day and could be forgotten tomorrow (bad on Google for that). Use Ubuntu and pick a long-term support version.

          2. Updraft102

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            If they are that paralyzed by choice, how do they ever settle on anything?

            There are tons of choices of cars. If you search "best car for" anything, you get tons of answers, often conflicting with one another.

            There are tons of choices of smartphones, and for the cellular carriers they use.

            When you are buying a house, or renting a flat, there are tons of choices, and each in a neighborhood, which is also its own choice.

            If you need a recommendation on a blender, a smart thermostat, or any other such thing, it's just like anything else: you get a ton of choices and conflicting opinions about which is best.

            Just about everything in life is like that. Yet the people muddle through, don't they? And in doing so, they learn about the thing in question and their own preferences therein. They learn what they like and don't like about a given car, and what things they want in the next one. They learn whether iOS or Android is for them, or if they would rather have a different carrier than the one they chose.

            Sometimes it just takes jumping in and getting the learning out of the way. When you don't have any experience with a given category of product, this phenomenon is always going to be there. It's no different with a flavor of Linux, except that with Linux, you didn't have to pay anything to buy the thing you're no longer going to be using, nor will you have to pay for the next one.

          3. Inkey
            WTF?

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            Is this whole shabang just trollbait? ...

            It's not really hard

            Not sure what distro to use try a whole bunch

            Don't like any contribute to one add a request ... fork it make it one you do like or build it from scratch and make it your own .... or or just stick with windows and leave it at that....

            Iv'e run a nginx server and a mongo db on a pi zero over wi-fi no window manager just a cmd line and it worked... and i don't work as an IT professional.

            The flip side is you can play games on ms ... aint that why consoles exist...

            I have never managed to do anything meaningfull with ms products and won't even consider it ever again. If all you are after is a fancey desktop buy a mac ... ffs whats the issue here really ...

            People bitch about the duopely then bitch about being spoilt for choice...wtf

            And if you can't install a live thumb drive and preview a distro become a gardener ... really ?

            Mind you that explains why alot of IT is so bad (some of .gov has been in beta for over 3 years and is being used as product)

            This article is so anal it should come with rubber beads and an anorack

            1. VoiceOfTruth

              Re: The curse of overchoice

              -> Not sure what distro to use try a whole bunch

              Congratulations. You have just provided the exact example of the advice not to give to a new Linux user. For those of us who actually want to spend our time usefully rather than frittering it away on installing YALD, pick one and one distribution only. And stick with that. But no... out of the woodwork they come... try a whole bunch. If you start now you might be finished before the end of the next decade. With more to come in the meantime.

              1. mdubash

                Re: The curse of overchoice

                Yep. Most people aren't interested in computers, or in operating systems. They want to run apps. Oh look, Linux is free and light on resources, I'll try it on this old laptop as I only need web browsing and emails.

                Two hours later, they're still reading through the multiple distro lists....

        4. whappercheese

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          Perhaps if you're trying to install it on a ZX80 over a piece of soggy string, but on a modern PC I can have a fresh install of Win11 burbling away happily in an hour.

      2. VoiceOfTruth

        Re: The curse of overchoice

        -> What I *get* is a dozen different recommendations of flavours of Linux and no idea which to choose or even how to choose.

        Alas the Linux world is full of this. A lot of penguins really do not understand that people want to get stuff done, and not be duped into wasting their time trying out dozens and dozens of distros until they find the one true one which suits them.

        The point you make about 'no idea... how to choose' is absolutely valid. Why would you as a new or prospective Linux user know how to choose? You are faced with a deluge of information, all with points which are new to you, and you need to decide on all of this. Why is dpkg better than yum or this or that? Why do you even care?

        In the 1980s and early 1990s we had the UNIX wars. These were just a bit before my time of getting into UNIX. Those wars were between a handful of companies. Now we have hundreds or even thousands of Linux distributions, many of which have piddling numbers of users. This should be called the Linux civil wars.

        1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          I'm not sure whether you'd want to call me a penguin or whether I'd answer to that but here both SWMBO and myself use Linux daily. Purpose: to get stuff done. Stuff includes researching history, maintaining local history website, including preparing some of our out of print books for PDF download (me), researching material for patchwork class (her) and preparing the class hand-outs from photos and scanned notes (me).

          Tools include the usual office suite (LibreOffice), browser and email, various PDF tools, principally Okular, pdfunite and ocrmypdf, various graphics tools, principally Gwenview, Pinta & Gimp, dia, a few tools produced with Lazarus and good old vi is ideal for taking out a lot of OCR artefacts from scanned books so that clean text can be pasted into the word processor. NextCloud handles backups and transfer between the two laptops. Some of those, or equivalents, could be found on Windows but I think I might be struggling to get stuff done equally effectively without some of the others.

          1. VoiceOfTruth

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            Congratulations. You have passed the Linux test of getting stuff done.

            People who don't get stuff done have time to keep installing new distros and trying them out.

            1. druck Silver badge

              Re: The curse of overchoice

              And what do you have time to do in between complaining about the choice of Linux distro's?

              Seeing you've made 27 posts to this article - so far.

      3. Decani

        Re: The curse of overchoice

        ^^^ This ^^^

        I would like to move to some Linux-based distro as I resent MS insisting I buy a new PC just to keep getting Windows updates (Win 11), but choosing the "right" distro puts me off. I understand it doesn't matter too much as it's potentially non-destructive to change, but as a long-time Windows user it's not obvious. Windows makes it easy. I use git-bash from within MS Terminal and I want to go "all in" on bash, but all the distro choice is off putting - it is a "barrier to entry". I can tweak and choose a different one when I am comfortable.

        I want the power of Linux, but I want the on-ramp to be easy; I want to be productive (able to earn money) with the minimum of fuss. I'll happily fek around with arcane settings and different file-systems, desktops, etc as my confidence level increases, but not in the first few days and weeks. Choice is fine, but...

        The poor accessibility is surprising to hear. It pee's me off that apps/sites all have different keystrokes for the same function (e.g. starting a bullet list in Word/OneNote, gmail, JIRA, etc - all different), but at least I can rely upon the Windows basics [Alt]+Tab, Alt+F4, Win-Up to maximise, Win-R to run, etc.

        TBH the other thing putting me off is my current dependence on OneDrive (and OneNote to a lesser degree). And no, I'm not interested in some after-market, reverse-engineered hack on OneDrive.

        Sadly

        1. John Robson Silver badge

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          It is a false choice in many ways...

          What you're really choosing is the package manager, and who maintains the curated list of packages and dependencies. You may want to be "as open source as possible" or you might accept binary drivers as a pragmatic solution. That's probably one of the biggest decisions to be made (and you can change your mind even on that).

          Any of the major desktop distributions will have you up and running in short order, and without much fuss. Here it is definitely a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          "I can tweak and choose a different one when I am comfortable."

          But, depending on what you chose to start with, might be more difficult if you don't plan ahead. eg, set up your /home directory as a separate partition so a re-install doesn't wipe out your home directory. Not the end of the world if you have backups, of course, but one of those "gotchas" (or benefits) you need to be aware of and which many/most distros don't do by default. (having said that, you can do the same with Windows, but few if any people ever do.)

        3. thondwe

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          You sound like a potential Windows Subsystem for Linux candidate - WSL2 gives you access to all the Linux cmd line toolset - I happen use Debian (from the MS Store) - but since it's not providing the gui the choice of distro is less critical - and you can run multiple distros at the same time if the PC has enough whizz.

          If you get to W11 (might still only be for insiders) you get WSLg and that runs X apps on the Windows desktop - so stepping stone to full Linux...

        4. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          Fully agree - I have 4 Windows PCs, 1 Linux Mint PC, 2 RPI3s and an RPi4. If someone suggests editing a configuration file in Windows I open Notepad, in Linux Mint its Xed, on the Pis its nano. The "boffins" of one Linux distro do not seem to know what's in another. It makes it very hard.

        5. LionelB Bronze badge

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          It sounds like you -- and clearly you are not alone -- want Linux to be Windows Without The Windows Annoyances. That OS does not exist, and Linux is not that OS. It's a different OS (with an ecosystem of distributions and desktops), with its own (or their own) way of doing things. As such it has a familiarisation curve. (Easy to lose sight of, perhaps, but you had to learn and familiarise yourself with Windows once.)

          If that is not for you, stick with Windows, and learn to live with the annoyances.

          If it is for you, then take a deep dive, and chances are it'll pay off.

          For what it's worth, I'd recommend Linux Mint with one of the major desktops; the download page gives you some idea what to expect. That should not be too jarring for a Windows user - the desktops on offer are not radically different from Windows 7 (which was, to my mind, as good as Windows ever got). But don't expect it to be Windows Without The Annoyances. You will need to (re)learn some stuff and possibly find alternative applications for some things; and no doubt you will find new annoyances.

          BTW, I am obliged to use OneDrive (along with other Office stuff) for work. It works fine in the browser on Linux - I don't really know whether the functionality is limited as compared to the desktop versions.

      4. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: The curse of overchoice

        "Mint seems popular but I don't even know quite what Mint is, or where to get it"

        There's this thing called Google...

        Alternatively: https://linuxmint.com/download.php

        Depending on the age of the laptop the Lite version here might be better: https://zorin.com/os/download/

        Neither of these should be difficult to use. (Must get round to upgrading by cousin-in-law's Zorin. She's in her late eighties or maybe nineties. She's been using Zorin for years, ever since she got hit by ransomware.)

        1. ecofeco Silver badge

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          Got to love someone complaining about Linux who can't use google. *snerk*

        2. Lis

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          @Doctor Syntax

          Your second sentence.

          That is the problem right there. So someone thinking about trying Linux, asks in all innocence which Linux should they get, and they get a "clever" snarky response.

          Very helpful.

          Cheers... Ishy

          1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            No, they specifically said they didn't know where to get Linux Mint. There really is no excuse for saying that when all they have to do is type Linux Mint into Google. That will take them to the Mint website and download is a further click away via a prominent link on the home page.

          2. LionelB Bronze badge

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            "In all innocence"? Really? Sorry, but they had clearly failed even to google what they were looking for, which came across as risible, verging on trolling.

      5. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

        Re: The curse of overchoice

        Choosing a distro: write some distro names on a piece of paper, pin it to a message board and throw a dart. Experienced Linux users probably tried two of three then selected one based on personal preference. They gained more and more experience with that one and now loudly proclaim that their choice (mine=Debian) is the best for all sorts of spurious reasons but the real reason is they know how to use it better than the others. A good choice would be the same as the person who is most likely to help you. If that person does not exist: Heads=Ubuntu, Tails=Mint.

        I asked DuckDuckGo for "Mint ISO", and the link below the two pointless adverts was what you are looking for. "Ask a search engine" will probably get you something usable 8 times out of 10. Asking on a support forum will get you a "stop wasting my time" unless you make tiny effort yourself first.

        That Mint page gives you a choice of desktop environments. Picking one is exactly like picking a distribution but with the extra bonus that it is even easier to change your mind, install several and try a different one each time you log in.

        Once you have picked a desktop environment you can download an ISO by torrent if you know how (saves Mint much of the cost of bandwidth) or scroll down to an https mirror near you.

        You got lucky this time as I had a minutes to spare, but next time make a tiny effort or you find other Linux users can swear worse than Linus used to.

        1. VoiceOfTruth

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          -> You got lucky this time as I had a minutes to spare, but next time make a tiny effort or you find other Linux users can swear worse than Linus used to.

          And you will get dozens of different answers - exactly what he was trying to avoid.

          1. theOtherJT

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            I mean, yes, but the problem is there *are* dozens of different answers, so what else did they expect?

            "What do you want to eat today?"

            ...well, I could go out, or get something delivered, or I could cook, and if I go out do I want to walk or drive because there are these 6 places in walking distance, or I could drive to a couple of dozen more, and if I'm getting something delivered then there's yet another dozen that will deliver to me... and all of that of course is before I start looking at individual menus and deciding what it is that's on that menu that I actually want.

            "That's too much choice!"

            ...it's the amount of choice there is. It's like that because people want those choices. It's the way things are. The alternative is "You're having meatloaf because it's meatloaf day." which I guess is fine for small children, but once you're a grown up that's the sort of thing that happens to prisoners, not free agents.

            "I don't care! Just give me one."

            Ok. Fine. Pizza then.

            "Why that?"

            I thought you didn't care? Why not? Because. If you don't care, just pick one at random. If you *do* care, then make a decision yourself. Do the amount of research based on how much you actually care. It's entirely up to you.

            1. VoiceOfTruth

              Re: The curse of overchoice

              Picking an OS or desktop is nothing like picking food. There may be foods which are not permissible to you, e.g. pork or beef, for religious or cultural reasons.

              The OS world is mostly divided into three camps, and on smartphones it's nearly completely two camps (I will ignore Huawei's Harmony OS here for now, as it is from the Android family). You either have an Android phone or an iPhone if you have a smartphone. I don't have to pick from hundreds of options. Sure, within the Android system there are several desktops (for want of a better word), but overall it's still only a handful of choices.

              1. JamesTGrant

                Re: The curse of overchoice

                Ever bought a car? Are you sure you got the right one?

                1. goodjudge

                  Re: The curse of overchoice

                  "Ever bought a car? Are you sure you got the right one?"

                  But all cars have a steering wheel, 4 wheels, the same handbrake, gear system and pedals in the same place (except no clutch on an automatic), the same essential dashboard info, window, light and wiper controls generally in the same place. None of the bells and whistles - parking sensors, entertainment systems, trim - are relevant to anyone putting in the key or pressing the button to start driving. Anyone can understand engine size and MPG ratings. Then it just comes down to what looks nice and feels good in a test drive. No-one exept petrol-heads need to know or care about torque points or optimum RPMs, or to open the bonnet except to top up the windscreen washer.

                  Similarly, for a Windows home user, you switch your new computer on, type your name and location, it does all the rest for you in under an hour inc. some compulsory re-starts for any updates since the time it was built and the time you switched it on. Then that's it forever, except some occasional automated updates.

                  As far as I can tell, Linux is none of that, or if it is that simple then it's drowned in tech-speak that will continue to stop the vast majority of people from even looking. Kernel. Forking. GNU. Shell. Even a lot of the product names - the main exception being Mint - look "techy". A few from the article: openSUSE, UbuntuDDE, Ubuntu Kylin, Xfce. What Linux needs is a Gates-type figure who can turn all of this into both plain and marketable language.

                  Random quote from the article: "The AmigaOS desktop, Workbench, already has a FOSS relative called Ambient, from MorphOS, as does the all-FOSS AROS in the form of Wanderer." I rest my case.

                  1. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

                    Re: The curse of overchoice

                    --But all cars have a steering wheel, 4 wheels, the same handbrake, gear system and pedals in the same place (except no clutch on an automatic), the same essential dashboard info, window, light and wiper controls generally in the same place.--

                    Almost fully agree. On one occasion I bought a Kia Sportage - the indicator & washer stalks were on the opposite sides of the column to the ones I was used to (ie any UK car). On the test drive I went through a puddle and splattered the windscreen - nearly crashed the car before I found out how to run the wipers.

                    Its the light controls that stop me fully agreeing.

                    1. RAMChYLD

                      Re: The curse of overchoice

                      This. Proton cars have that same annoyance in that the wipers and lights are inverted compared to say a Toyota. Really annoying.

                  2. ChrisC Silver badge

                    Re: The curse of overchoice

                    "But all cars have.. 4 wheels"

                    Except for the ones that have 3...

                    "...the same handbrake..."

                    So far in my 30 years behind the wheel, I've driven a "grand" total of 12 different cars from 5 different manufacturers, and have experienced three quite different methods for applying/releasing the parking brake - calling it a handbrake would, for the 2 Mercedes in that collection, be rather misleading given that applying the brake on those required use of a foot pedal near to, but under no circumstances to be mistaken for, the actual brake pedal...

                    "...gear system and pedals in the same place (except no clutch on an automatic)..."

                    Centre console, column shift, flappy paddles, or however it's done on an EV where there aren't any gears in the traditional sense... For a manual, is reverse to the left or right of the box, and do you have to pull up a locking collar, push down on the top of the gearknob, or just wiggle the stick until you get it past a detent? For an auto, is it a traditional looking shifter you push/pull fore and aft, or a dial you spin left/right, and does the shifter/dial give you access to the full range of box modes or does it only give you the basic PRND stuff with manual selection of specific gears/modes handled via controls elsewhere?

                    Pedals - same position yes, but EVs are starting to bring a whole new world of pedal behaviour into the mix which has the potential to confuse the crap out of someone used to how pedals work on ICE (or older EV) vehicles.

                    "...the same essential dashboard info, window, light and wiper controls generally in the same place."

                    Generally in the vicinity of the steering column or surrounding dash area yes, but still sufficiently non-standard to give rise to some problems if you're trying to drive an unfamiliar car and something happens suddenly that causes you to act on instinct and muscle memory, reaching for a control you KNOW is there on your daily drive, only to find that either it's not there at all on the car you're sat in right now, or that the control that is there isn't the one you were after.

                    So the analogy with OS/distro choice doesn't feel too far off the mark here - yes, there's a certain level of similarity between different cars/OSs in terms of their fundamental design/behaviour, but there's also plenty that isn't the same even within the basics, and what might suit one person perfectly well might be seen by someone else as a "WTF were the designers thinking there?" moment.

              2. spireite Silver badge

                Re: The curse of overchoice

                Hang on - not like food? I'd argue that people refusing Linux (or vice versa) or saying it for religious/cultural reasons in a lot of cases

          2. Tom Sparrow

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            Dozen of different answers is the main problem, not the choice itself. Linux users should be careful not to disparage other linux users, but are often far too keen to do just that.

            My current advice is - If you want something a bit like a Mac, go for Ubuntu*, if you want something a bit like Windows, go for Kubuntu.

            I thought the key point made was "A good choice would be the same as the person who is most likely to help you". The best advice is normally from someone who won't vanish the moment you act on it, which is exactly what I'm about to do.

            ( * I'm not a Mac user, so Ubuntu may not be as similar as I think, but it's less windows-like in use than Kubuntu)

            1. VoiceOfTruth

              Re: The curse of overchoice

              -> Linux users should be careful not to disparage other linux users, but are often far too keen to do just that.

              I've seen it and heard it. Some people have such empty heads that they get upset over KDE vs Gnome. Ha ha ha.

          3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            "And you will get dozens of different answers - exactly what he was trying to avoid."

            The question asked was not what Linux to use but where to get Mint. There is one glaring answer to that, not dozens. It's the Mint website which Google finds in seconds.

          4. LionelB Bronze badge

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            That's the thing about, y'know, life. There are dozens of different answers.

            Basically, the OP is looking for Windows Without The Windows Annoyances. That OS does not exist.

        2. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          OP here:

          You talk about taking a 'tiny bit of effort to search'.

          Partly I wanted to make the point that many users wouldn't even know what questions to ask, but also not that searching itself as a new user doesn't greatly help; for example one person here on this thread says 'I chose Mint because it's Ubuntu', whilst searching on google seems to suggest Mint is materially different to Ubuntu - If you search from scratch the information almost immediately bifurcates and contradicts itself.

          Think of it like booking a hotel - yes, if I go straight to one hotel website all is clear and clean - but if I just look for hotels in town X I get 25 hotels with no real idea which to choose, plus wildly inconsistent trip advisor reviews saying the same hotel does / does not have a pool, does / does not require specific conditions to book, or whatever else this tortured analogy would provide.

          Hence please don't shoot the messenger here - the problem is a real one.

          1. VoiceOfTruth

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            The problem with Linux, and it is a problem, is the number of distributions. You will get advice saying use this one, use that one, use another one. The huge number of distributions is NOT a bonus for a newcomer, it has some validity later on when you become more experienced. Until you gain some experience it is nothing but confusion. To you as a new or prospective Linux user it does not matter which package system (they are all fairly horrible), which desktop, which 'upstream' distribution you use, or even what those terms mean. There are distributions aimed more at the new Linux user.

            If I was going to pick one for a new user, I would say go for Linux Mint. But even then... you go to the Linux Mint web site, and what do you see? You see Cinnamon, Mate, and XFCE versions, and each has their own 'New Features' and 'Release Notes' buttons. The next problem with many of these distributions is that they try to be all things to all men/women/penguins. Why cannot Linux Mint just pick one sodding desktop? No, instead they have three.

            So my advice would be to download Linux Mint Mate edition, and get started with that. That is a good enough distribution for a new Linux user. It won't boggle your mind too much.

            My next piece of advice to you is this: stick with Linux Mint Mate for 6 months at least. Don't get sidetracked into trying some other distribution. These sidetracks are a waste of time. They will not get you to your destination, which is to become an average low-end UNIX desktop user. Instead you will be bamboozled with finding out that they have a different package manager system, and the commands you learned with Linux Mint don't carry over - you have to learn a bunch of new commands.

            You will likely see that my comment gets some thumbs down. Ignore them. Also ignore advice from other people who say 'use so and so distribution', because that will only lead to a reply from somebody else who says 'user yet another Linux distribution' (YALD). See my main point about the number of distributions.

            I have picked a distribution for you with good intentions and with about 25 years experience of Linux and UNIX. I know what I am talking about. I have seen so much wasted time and effort and hot air in the Linux community and I would like to see it stop. You should have a good time with Linux Mint Mate.

            The problem of n+5,000 distributions has only gotten worse. 25 years ago there were far fewer distributions, I cut my Linux teeth on RedHat 4.0, and I seem to recall even some RedHat 3.something, and Slackware something. Now we have hundreds or thousands of distributions, nearly all of which have very few users, and a few major distributions which are likely to be around for much longer.

            1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

              Re: The curse of overchoice

              First post of yours I have agreed with in ... forever. But you needed 495 words (according to wc) for a message that could have fit in fewer than 100.

            2. Adair Silver badge

              Re: The curse of overchoice

              The number of Linux distributions is NOT intrinsically a problem. You might just as well complain that there are too many plants in the jungle, totally misunderstanding that a 'jungle' is, by definition, all about a multiplicity of plants, all filling particular niches (often overlapping)—regardless of whether you or I want them to.

              'Open source software', including the OS, is a 'jungle', it isn't about creating some monolithic coherent whole, one that happens to suit your or my needs. It is about allowing the freedom for anyone with the knowledge and will to set about creating the tool/s they need to get things done. If other people choose to piggyback on that effort and freedom, well good luck to them (I'm one such), and I try to accept that the jungle is what it is, and I am delighted that with a little bit of effort and enthusiasm on my part I have the toolbox I need that has got me our of the tyranny imposed by proprietary vendors.

              Yes,, I have traded one tyranny for another, but on a philosophical level, and also a practical one, I find the 'open source' tyranny far more acceptable and productive—but that's just me, YMMV.

              1. VoiceOfTruth

                Re: The curse of overchoice

                -> The number of Linux distributions is NOT intrinsically a problem

                Yes it is. It is one of the most stupid elements of Linux as a whole. Duplicated and wasted efforts. End of argument. Bob's Crappy Distro with two users (including Bob) adds nothing whatsoever to anything except Bob's ego. Don't confuse plants with Linux distributions. It's a stupid analogy.

                1. Adair Silver badge

                  Re: The curse of overchoice

                  It all depends on your view point.

                  Welcome to the jungle. ;-)

                2. LionelB Bronze badge

                  Re: The curse of overchoice

                  Really? Is it really such a problem for the novice looking to use Linux, though? There are only a handful of "major" distros. 9 out of 10 recommendations on this forum alone have been for Mint.

                  Prospective Linux user: Hmm, everyone seems to recommend Mint for the Linux novice. Golly, I wonder which distro I should try first - there's tons of them!

                  Sure, you might find the duplicated effort of Linux "tinkerer" distribution-builders silly, but hey, I'm sure they get off on it (and are no doubt learning a lot of useful stuff in the process) - why begrudge them that? Do you rail against stamp collectors too? But it's deeply disingenuous (if not, in your case apparently, weirdly obsessive) to suggest it's a huge problem for actual users.

            3. Lars Silver badge
              Pint

              Re: The curse of overchoice

              @VoiceOfTruth

              Perhaps the Chinese will then become the only happy and content Linux users with their one and only Linux distribution recommended by the state.

              1. TCook1943

                Re: The curse of overchoice

                Even China has at least 2, Deepin and Kylin. One used orientated, the other a state run "Official" release.

            4. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: The curse of overchoice

              OP Here -

              Thank you - I had gravitated toward Linux Mint but exactly as you say do not know the difference between cinnamon and mate or which might have big relative performance impact on my old-but-not-steam-driven spare laptop.

              1. LybsterRoy Bronze badge

                Re: The curse of overchoice

                If its any help I picked Cinnamon - very lightweight use (web browsing in the evening mainly), looks similar to Windows and it runs happily on an ultraportable . It also ran happily on an old HP laptop which is now running W10 (very slowly, Linux was faster).

              2. VoiceOfTruth

                Re: The curse of overchoice

                Congratulations and good luck. I can see you already have another response along the lines of what I wrote earlier - I picked something different. Mrrrrrrrr.

                Stick with Linux Mint Mate for six months, and every time you read or hear somebody say 'Why don't you give Bobblehead Linux a go?', just ignore them. They have nothing better to do.

          2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            "Partly I wanted to make the point that many users wouldn't even know what questions to ask,"

            To be fair, that's exactly the dilemma most home users would be in even taking Linux out of the equation and just having the choice between Mac and Windows. What to do? Unless there's some compelling reason they are already aware of, they will most likely choose either what they know or what a good friend/family member recommends.

            1. Roland6 Silver badge

              Re: The curse of overchoice

              >To be fair, that's exactly the dilemma most home users would be in even taking Linux out of the equation and just having the choice between Mac and Windows. What to do?

              I suspect if the price wasn't a major factor they would pick Mac because of its reported reputation. However, factor in price... It's why there are so many poorly specified Windows laptops and desktops occupying high street shelf space.

          3. theOtherJT

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            That's actually a really good analogy, and here's why:

            Faced with booking a trip in an unfamiliar town you find that there are over a hundred hotels, and you don't know which one to chose.

            No one sane in this situation blames the concept of hotels for this problem. Hotels, in general terms are a good thing to have. You want one, in fact. You don't know which one to chose because there are so many available, and people have such differing opinions about them - but none of that is either the fault of any specific hotel, or of hotels in general.

            This brings us back to the question of "Well, how much do I care, really?"

            If it's a weekend away for business and all you really give a shit about is that you can expense it, you do the absolute bare minimum of research, spending about half an hour to find something within a reasonable distance of the conference centre that doesn't have a bunch of 1* reviews on trip advisor.

            If you're planning your honeymoon, chances are you're going to put rather more effort.

            So it is with all choices.

            Somone mentioned buying a car - well, it depends how much you like cars. Do you have strong feelings about front vs rear wheel drive, the importance of naturally aspirated engine response vs low down torque, why it is that a V engine will always sound better than an I engine... Well, if you do you're going to spend a bunch more time reading reviews and going on test drives than someone who's entire requirement is "I need to get to work and I don't want to spend too much money."

            If you really care about your operating system, then invest some time in it. If you don't care just find whatever has the largest brand name recognition and go with that because it's probably not that bad.

            And yes, that might be Windows. Windows is a perfectly fine choice if you simply don't care what operating system you're running.

            Any choice will always reflect the amount you actually care about the choice, and simply not caring about Linux is a totally reasonable position, bu it's not Linux's fault that there are a lot of choices.

        3. Swarthy Silver badge

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          Make a tiny effort: Ask your question, then log back in with a sock-puppet and give a wrong answer. No-one will castigate you for a "dumb" question, they'll be too busy ripping into the puppet for being wrong.

          1. JamesTGrant

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            Next time I’m going to blame it on the sock puppet

        4. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          And with this ......"You got lucky this time as I had a minutes to spare, but next time make a tiny effort or you find other Linux users can swear worse than Linus used to."

          ....you learn all you need to know about the Linux community. And that's not that they are willing and helpful evangelists.

          But if they do want Linux to become mainstream they need to be evangelists . And evangelists don't tell potential converts to fuck off and read a bible.

        5. VoiceOfTruth

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          -> install several and try a different one each time you log in

          The definition of not getting stuff done is installing several desktops / distros and trying them all.

      6. juice Silver badge

        Re: The curse of overchoice

        > Thank you, yes - I just want to be pointed to an ISO that will install a version of linux that looks vaguely Windows-like on my old laptop. That is how I (and others) will be persuaded to make the change.

        I'd go a bit further: I just want something which works in a way which I'm familiar with.

        Having lots of choice is great when it comes to the consumption of things - food, drink, music, movies, etc.

        It's not as great when it comes to productivity tools, especially those sourced from multiple providers. I don't want to spend any great amount of time learning how to use the latest shiny: I want to be able to bring at least 90% of my existing knowledge and "muscle memory" over with me from the last shiny.

        In fact, I'd say that there's an argument to be made that the market will generally trend towards just two or three operational modes. See operating systems (Windows vs Mac), mobile phones (Android vs Apple), or even online shopping (Amazon vs Ebay) and social media (Facebook vs Twitter, or even Youtube vs TikTok).

        Fundamentally, if a new paradigm is revolutionary rather than evolutionary, then it has to be so much better than the competition that it completely supplants it before the competition can respond. Otherwise, it'll either just fade away completely or just end up serving a niche userbase.

        1. Skwn

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          Would it work for you to install headless Linux with VM support using something like VirtualBox and installing on top the Windows 11? Or the features that windows 11 is asking can not be emulated by the versions of the VM hosts?

        2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          "I'd go a bit further: I just want something which works in a way which I'm familiar with."

          But what are you familiar with?

          LibreOffice, for instance, will be familiar to anyone used to the original MS Office which is something you can't say about later versions of MS Office. (There's an option in LO of switching to something which I think is intended to follow later MS Office but I don't have experience of one & haven't tried the other so can't confirm that.) Cross-platform applications, for instance browsers will usually be as consistent as possible.

          The UI changes of Office bring up another point. Proprietary stuff is apt to keep changing the UI. The FOSS world is more split; some want to keep playing with UIs, some realise it's not a good idea so it's actually easier to have a more conservative UI with FOSS. I simply don't grock people saying it's too difficult to switch to FOSS when their proprietary vendors are forcing them to re-adapt every few years.

          1. juice Silver badge

            Re: The curse of overchoice

            > But what are you familiar with?

            I'll say that when I come to "modern" software, I'm generally used to commercial software, such as Microsoft Office and Windows. OTOH, I also spent a few years using a Macbook as my primary environment, and I'm currently using Ubuntu for my job.

            And generally, they're fairly consistent, give or take little fun things like alt-tabbing behaviour, or having to use crtl-shift-c and crtl-shift-v in Ubuntu when doing copy-pasta in a terminal.

            > Proprietary stuff is apt to keep changing the UI.

            Not sure I'd agree with that. From my experience, proprietary stuff is generally far more conservative - at least when it comes to "business" technologies.

            And as ever, it's all down to following the money. Significant changes mean more calls into support, it invalidates existing training/certifications (and means that your lucrative training courses need to be rewritten and your trainers re-educated), and it increases the risk of user churn.

            After all, if you're going to have to retrain to use the new version of your current software, why not just move to some other vendor who is cheaper and/or offers a more familiar UX?

            As such, Microsoft, Apple, etc tend to go for well-spaced out "revolutionary" changes, which are heavily telegraphed in advance, and with plenty of support offered to ease people into the new way of things.

            Conversely, FOSS and smaller "independent" commercial companies are more inclined to experiment; for the former, there's no financial implications, and for the latter, they're likely to have a dedicated userbase who are willing to accept significant variation from standard UX.

            Admittedly, you do get exceptions to every rule, and for complex and popular stuff such as Gimp which are effectively "build by committee", there's plenty of people who will actively resist UI changes.

            But there's also plenty of FOSS stuff which is driven by small development teams, who may either be enthusiastically exploring a "new paradigm", or are being driven by some ideological commitment...

            And that's not a bad thing; some of those experiments may actually be better, and may even end up incorporated into other software.

            But at the same time, they can be an active hindrance to efficient working, especially if you regularly switch between multiple platforms.

      7. ThatOne Silver badge

        Re: The curse of overchoice

        > What I *get* is a dozen different recommendations of flavours of Linux and no idea which to choose or even how to choose.

        Well, been there, done that. There are a number of points you'll have to check:

        - First, is this a popular and widely adopted distribution? If you go for the more confidential ones you not only risk a big lack of support and options, but also that it will disappear altogether one day. Not advisable if you're not a developer.

        - Second, does it support my hardware? That one is easy to check because as someone said, all Linux distributions can run off their installation disk without installing anything. So you get to make a full trial run, which will immediately show if there are any driver issues.

        - Third, does it suit me as a long time Windows user? Same as above, the "Live DVD/USB" feature allows you to explore the GUI and check if it suits you before doing anything. All you have to do is create an installation disc (DVD/USB) and boot on it.

        (Now for the record, I chose Mint because it's Ubuntu (one of the most popular flavors), and I found the default "Cinnamon" GUI quite pleasing, simple and functional. YMMV, but if you were indeed serious and are really looking for a Linux distribution to settle on, I'd suggest you check it. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linux_Mint - Also the Linux Mint forums are rather friendly to newbies: http://forums.linuxmint.com/ )

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          OP here - thanks!

        2. John_3_16
          Thumb Up

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          I chose Zorin 16.1 for ease of use, drivers, historic live support & Windows compatibility. I have programs & files I wish/need to keep. Downloaded free version & made DVD boot disk for my Win7 laptop. Worked 1st try & every try. Using it now for learning the OS before buying the Pro. Willing to support the cause & future. When my Win7 version blows up I will be done with M$ after decades of use. I hope to support Zorin for the next 30 years.

          ( ͡~ ͜ʖ ͡°) [̲̅$̲̅(̲̅▀̿Ĺ̯▀̿ ̿)̲̅$̲̅]

      8. Sacioz

        Re: The curse of overchoice

        Refracta(devuan's) should be given a chance , then ...

      9. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The curse of overchoice

        The best distro for you is the one your Linux friend likes. They will be far more willing to help with problems if you're on *their* favourite version.

      10. The Central Scrutinizer

        Re: The curse of overchoice

        If you go to linuxmint.com, installation instructions are linked to on the home page. It's very straightforward.

        I've been using the Cinnamon version for some years now and see no reason to swap to anything else. It looks sort of Windows like with a start menu and taskbar like desktop.

        It's an OS that just gets out of your way and lets you do stuff. You decide when you do updates and what you update. It never nags at you for anything.

        You can run a live version from a USB stick to have a poke around, like you can with other Linux distros, so you don't have to commit to installation right from the start.

        There are plenty of other worthy versions of Linux, but Mint seems to be one of the more beginner friendly ones, although it's definitely not crippled or limited in any way.

        Anyway, that's my 2 cents' worth.

      11. Dave559 Silver badge

        Re: The curse of overchoice

        "If anyone can point to an ISO that would work like a Windows install disk would, I'd be very grateful."

        Well, yes, but also no. The Linux and free software world is all about freedom of choice, rather than meekly having to accept what has been provided for you. It's evolution in action, in a way. That is just the way it is, and it's not necessarily a negative. What works well, or is popular, flourishes; what is less so, either finds a niche or perhaps gradually fades away.

        Yes, I realise that this doesn't help you choose what species of animal you want to have as a pet, but you approach it in a similar way: find friends with a variety of pets (or look at reviews or videos online), and see which one you think you like the most. Or, as most people would probably do, they'd consider an "ordinary" pet such as a cat or a dog, rather than a gecko, gentoo penguin, pufferfish, jaguar, red panda, etc… (Although, if you know what you are doing, you can have a more exotic pet. It's the same with Linux.)

        But if you want a suggestion, just pick either Linux Mint or Ubuntu and download their default LTS (long term support version) installer (OK, that's two suggestions). Either is perfectly suitable for new users, and their current level of popularity probably means that you are more likely to be able to get help for these easily, if you need it (although the same also applies to most of the other "well known" distros almost equally well).

        With many installers now available as "live" bootable media, you can also just load it up and play around with the desktop environment included in the installer for a while before deciding whether or not you want to install this version on your computer for real.

        If you decide that you don't particularly like the desktop environment that the distro has chosen (eg, Gnome 3 that comes with the default Ubuntu install is more like MacOS (or perhaps Windows 8 done in an actual useable way), but may not be for everyone), you can fairly simply install the package for a different desktop environment instead, and select to use that the next time you login. You don't need to reinstall Linux all over again to change your desktop (although the "recent" trend of providing a range of installers based around specific desktops perhaps unwittingly does give that impression to some extent).

        And, if, even later, you decide you don't like the distro you have installed, then you can choose another and install it (and restore your data from your backup, or, possibly, if you are careful during the install, be able to retain your /home partition and just reuse it). But the choice, of course, is yours.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: The curse of overchoice

          I'm afraid your argument relies of false equivalence. For ordinary users the choice of an OS unlike a pet, is not a hobby. Indeed, for most it's a total chore. If they wish to escape from the malevolence of Microsoft they need an alternative, not a playground. In essence the "what distro should I use" question is actually "What can I use that's not Microsoft but lets me do the job just as easily as I can do now?"

          A better analogy might be choosing a Christmas tree. It's a bloody sight easier to go to "Pinz and Needles" and choose one of what's offered than to go out into a tree farm, select your sapling from along the hundreds of rows and chop it down yourself.

      12. Mr. Goodprobe
        Thumb Up

        Re: The curse of overchoice

        AC,

        Just Google "Linux Mint", very comfortable for someone used to the Windows world. Unless your laptop is REALLY old (mine's from 2011), pick "Cinnamon 64-bit, download it, and install it. Or you can install it to a USB stick and take it for a test drive. You won't be sorry.

        I've run Linux 68k on my old Ataris, then Red Hat, Suse, Fedora, then settled on Linux Mint. For me, "it just works". Friendly as they get. Have at it!

    4. Plest Silver badge

      Re: The curse of overchoice

      An awful lot of us simply install a server/desktop-GUI-less build in VMs for work, XFCE is about the only WM I've ever had any time for, lean and light and no big deal to fix when it has problems.

      1. VoiceOfTruth

        Re: The curse of overchoice

        Agreed that XFCE is a good wm. I don't want to see it go down the bog hole like Gnome. No reinventions, please.

    5. ecofeco Silver badge

      Re: The curse of overchoice

      Windows has entered the chat, slowed the transmission speed and hidden the controls to fix it.

      Linux is a feather compared to Windows.

    6. georgezilla

      Re: The curse of overchoice

      " ... The curse of overchoice ... "

      Bullshit.

      Breakfast cereal. Automobiles. Smart phones.To name a few. All variations of the same theme. ALL have choices to be made. And I've NEVER heard anyone whine about them.

      The difference is "familiarity". But with DE's, WM, etc on Linux there is none.

      So people get confused. And it's not the fault of the DE/WM/etc.

      So they throw their hands into the air and run away. Just like they do when they find out that Linux is not Windows.Then blame whatever it is for their inabilities, confusion.

      Everyday you make hundreds of choices.

      " ... The curse of overchoice ... "?

      BULLSHIT.

      Plain and simple bullshit.

      " ... They really don't care ... "

      Don't like choice? Then use Windows. Just stop the damn whining and blaming choice because ...

      YOU CAN'T MAKE A CHOICE!

  3. jake Silver badge

    Why are they all the same?

    Because IBM spent a crap-ton[0] of money and research hours on actual educated and well trained professionals to come up with what a computer interface should look like. The result was IBM's Common User Access, or CUA, back in the mid '80s (officially published in '87). Virtually all projects since, FOSS or proprietary, have been based on this ... albeit with some adjustments and supposed enhancements. Quite frankly, nobody has come up with anything better.

    Yes, I know about Apple's HIG (human interface guidlines) from '84, but nobody but Apple-leaning programmers ever paid much attention to it.

    [0] Or crap-tonne for the metrically inclined. The conversion factor is 1:1

    1. nematoad Silver badge

      Re: Why are they all the same?

      I agree with Jake, the Win95 look works, has been used for a very long time and a lot of people have got used to it. GUIs are a means to an end, they should be there to let you do things and then get out of the way. They are not an end in themselves

      There is an old saying "Form follows function" . A hammer looks like a hammer because that is what it needs to look like. The Win95 GUI gives you all the tools you need to start a program, organise you files and generally do thing on you computer. It works, so why change it?

      FOSS is Darwinian in some respects, there is survival of the fittest, and there may be reasons why the choice of the GUI has come down to two models.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: Why are they all the same?

        If it ain't broke, don't fix it...

        Repeated for emphasis: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

        There are two dozen different desktops for Linux - and even those one might expect to remain constant have a habit of changing between releases - what's with the disappearing scroll bars? Where did page-up/down tags go and why?

        It's perfectly understandable in an open source world that if you don't like something and you have the ability to change it *to your taste* then do it. Not a problem. But don't assume that the problem exists for everyone, or indeed that others with that problem will like your solution.

        Once again: if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

      2. Graham Cobb Silver badge

        Re: Why are they all the same?

        Yes and no. The basic Win95 UI concepts and building blocks (window decorations, menu navigation, etc) are fine, but the desktop was pretty horrible. I couldn't live now without my two popup side panels - which appear when I move the cursor to left (controls and system status) or right (window list) edges - and I certainly won't tolerate a bottom panel (vertical space is in such short supply!). I also make a lot of use of my 4 virtual desktops - one just dedicated to emacs, another for terminal windows on all my systems.

      3. This post has been deleted by its author

      4. Dyson Lu

        Re: Why are they all the same?

        It “works” because we’ve been so accustomed to it that we no longer see its shortcomings. We work around them, we endure them, we get used to them. It “works” but it could be better. For instance, the Start Menu is a ridiculously inefficient construct for listing apps, Due to its inefficient use of screen real estate, you often have to drill down and scroll through menus and lists to find an item. That is silly.

        Believing that it’s darwinian is also silly. The elephant in the room that destroys this belief is user inertia (resistance to change, reluctance to leave familiarity and habit). It’s no coincidence that so many Linux desktops look like Windows. They need to, to have the best chance to attract (mostly Windows) users.

        Physical keyboard on phones worked too, why change to touchscreen?

    2. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

      Re: Why are they all the same?

      Yeah, the article starts asking an interesting question. And then answers some completely different questions but never comes back to the point about why desktops share a paradigm and whether something better might be possible. Is this the right form, or is it what we got used to?

      Incidentally, I tried to reach the comments with they keyboard. I lost track of how many times I had to hit tab before I got there.

      1. Cuddles Silver badge

        Re: Why are they all the same?

        "Is this the right form, or is it what we got used to?"

        The hidden question there is whether there is actually a difference. It's nice to imagine that there might be some platonic ideal desktop, but in the real world the best desktop is one that allows you to get things done with the minimal amount of fuss. Making it marginally easier for a total beginner to learn doesn't actually help much, because time spent as a total beginner is absolutely tiny and the time lost by experienced users also having to relearn things is likely significant. Moving things around to make it marginally quicker to launch a program again will likely make things slower for the majority of people by more than they'll eventually benefit.

        It's the same as worrying about whether there could be a faster keyboard layout than Qwerty. Probably yes. But most people can already type faster than their brain actually provides input, so a marginal increase in theoretical maximum speed benefits very few people, while the time lost learning a new layout is much more significant.

        The best form is often the one most people have got used to. It doesn't matter if there might be a theoretically better form; very often the pain of changing far outweighs any potential benefits. Sometimes a gradual evolution is possible, sometimes a new generation will do things differently from established ones, sometimes it's just never worth the fuss of trying to make a big change.

    3. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: Why are they all the same?

      I used to do contracting for IBM in the 90s and CUA was already obsolete by then. It influenced early Windows software but by the 90s Windows had things like property dialogs, toolbars, status bars, progress bars etc and there was no mention of that stuff in CUA. Also people expecting cut/copy/paste/undo to work the way it was on Windows & Mac would just get confused by the weird keybindings CUA used at the time.

      OS/2 didn't even provide common controls either. So if you wanted a toolbar you had to write it from scratch in your codebase and that obviously meant every application would be different to the next. This was most obvious in OS/2 Warp and the Bonus Pak which was a mess.

    4. DrBobK
      Headmaster

      Re: Why are they all the same? - Working for IBM.

      I was one of those people paid by IBM in the early 80's to do some of these UI studies. We ran experiments where people used an editor where insert/overtype mode was either indicated by a change in the cursor (flashing block or flashing underline) or an indicator in a status bar which could be at various locations. We not only tested user reactions and editing speed, but we even eye-tracked them while they used the editor (pretty difficult at the time - the eye-tracker involved subjects wearing centre-less contact lenses with circular coils of wire embedded in them and much physics). The attention to details like this was really impressive.

      Also, as the editor we used (ELM I think) was the (quite advanced for the time) standard on our University's MTS operating system, I could have fun replacing the standard ELM with one where the edit mode would change randomly with no indication, or the mode indicator would change but the mode wouldn't or both would change randomly, but independently. One of those great things where people begin to doubt their sanity. That wasn't strictly part of the project, but, as I said, mischevious fun. Anyway, thank you IBM for employing me (indirectly) for a year.

      1. VoiceOfTruth

        Re: Why are they all the same? - Working for IBM.

        I remember seeing a TV program in the UK about software interface testing, and I can't remember if it was Lotus or IBM/Lotus at the time. I was amazed. They had testers doing some tasks in, I guess, 123. A panel of people were watching and timing them, and asking them for their feedback. It might not seem like much, wasting one second to do something, but it can be extremely annoying to the user. They were also timing the response of the app itself. I can't remember what the program was called and have had no luck finding it on YouTube.

        1. DrXym Silver badge

          Re: Why are they all the same? - Working for IBM.

          Ironically Lotus Notes is probably the most arcane, impenetrable, unusable heap of shit ever inflicted on users. Even to this day it's hot garbage from a usability perspective.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Why are they all the same? - Working for IBM.

        Heh. It is more effective to find out who the stakholders are, find out whatever flavour of hell they want and propose that :)

        I was once part of a team that spend 2 years scoping a "big-science" project. We were calculating prices, modelling different scenarios, investigating assumptions, writing a large report, presenting a WBS, project plan and a detailed budget proposal.

        The CEO said, "This is excellent work, but, I like these numbers better", then went off to the kick-off meeting with a deck of powerpoints he basically just made up.

        I bet this happens with GUI designs also: "FAANTASTIC! The clients are drooling over this look and feel you came up with, but, Sales need it to look like windows, only with different shortcuts because Important Client is an epileptic monkey"!

    5. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

      Re: Why are they all the same?

      [Author here]

      Just saying, but if you look at the edit history for the Wikipedia page on IBM Common User Access, you will find that the person who expanded the stub into an article...

      ... Also wrote this article.

    6. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Why are they all the same?

      Oh, if only more companies (looking at you, MS and Apple!) understood that an unchanging UI was a *good* thing!

      People, in general, work faster with a tool they're used to. Unnecessary changes to the UI cause delays while the user tries to figure out where the function they want is now hidden. I use Mint MATE because I know where things are and it works like I expect it to. I have no desire to use something like Unity.

      1. J. Cook Silver badge
        Flame

        Re: Why are they all the same?

        Same with the support side of things. Microsoft likes moving things that support techs rely on, like the network settings and some of the lesser known UI toggles between major versions.

        (like the jump from XP to VIsta/7, then the abomination that was 8, and continuing it with 10/11- to get to the actual adapter settings in 10, I have to track down the 'legacy' control panel and go in there aka windows 7 for wired adapters; If I need to specify a wireless SSID? I have to use the "ModernUI" settings app, which TBF is utter sh1t3 and works about as well as a poorly integrated wireless driver did with windows 7's wireless controls.

        WIth linux? don't even get me started on how to statically assign an IP address; it's dependent on both the version of the kernel, the distribution, what specific packages are installed, and possibly the phase of the moon. (Had a headless pi running Octopi, and ended up just exporting the settings when I needed to do a major upgrade and mucking around in the DHCP server to pin that mac address to a specific IP because getting it to take and keep a static IP was like pulling teeth with no anesthetic. And the documentation was all over the place and wasn't version/distro/package specific because google isn't as smart about returning recent results rather than SEO results...

        1. TCook1943

          Re: Why are they all the same?

          Your analysis of Windows versions is just a tad too sweeping. Many, including myself, consider that XP was - in its day - the best ever.

          Windows 7 was a worthy successor, Vista by the time it reached SP3 and was to all intents and purposes itself 7 was equally good.

          Windows 8.1 is probably the most underappreciated member of the tribe while 10 represents the peak that mot PC's of today can actually run.

          Although I was back in the day one of the earliest trialists of the system I was discouraged when Mandrake folded and am only now again knocking at the door with PBLinuxOs which I regard as being its modern successor.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: Why are they all the same?

        "Unnecessary changes to the UI cause delays while the user tries to figure out where the function they want is now hidden."

        Imagine of MS were in charge of a power tools company!! Your ancient chainsaw finally breaks and the new one requires completely re-learning how it works and how to use it.

        1. VoiceOfTruth

          Re: Why are they all the same?

          In the Linux world you would have completely different tools, with missing bits, and promises of plugins to fix the gaps.

          1. AndrueC Silver badge
            Joke

            Re: Why are they all the same?

            ..the year of the Linux tool box.

    7. F. Frederick Skitty

      Re: Why are they all the same?

      Sun were also very good at writing human interface guidelines, starting with the excellent books they published for OpenLook (I still have them for nostalgic reasons). CDE, and the Motif toolkit it was built on, also had thorough interface guidelines.

      Then when Sun adopted GNOME, they were heavily involved in making version 2.0 of that desktop environment consistent, accessible and well documented. Sadly, since Sun's demise the idiots at RedHat have trashed the usability of GNOME with version 3.0.

      1. DrBobK

        Re: Why are they all the same? (Sun)

        I was surprised that the author didn't include Sun's desktops in his or her survey. I really liked the Sun desktop that preceded Broken-Look (SunView that came with SunOS3.5, not the networking one). It was also fabulously easy to write applications for. All of the functions for creating and managing windows were varargs where the arguments were 'option' 'value' pairs. Any that you didn't specify had sensible defaults. You could actually see the event handling loop and so it was easy to insert a function (or functions) into it to trap events you wanted to deal with, everything else, again, was handled with sensible defaults.

    8. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Why are they all the same?

      The Windows 3.0 SDK came with a copy of that book (Common User Interface Design by IBM or something like that). I have it somewhere, probably in a pile of old books

    9. Glenn Amspaugh
      Coat

      Re: Why are they all the same?

      I wonder if Kai Krause has designed a desktop environment?

      https://mprove.de/script/99/kai/index.html

    10. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Thumb Up

      Re: Why are they all the same?

      What Jake said.

      Even the article author seems to agree that the only real difference between how desktops work is the choice of taskbar and menu system. Workbench, Gem, Windows, Gnome, KDE etc, I've used 'em all. All follow the same paradigm of windows, icons, mouse, pointer, or WIMP. Just like when Xerox invented it. Everything else is a just a minor difference. Most users would probably quite quickly find their way around any windowing-like desktop.

    11. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Why are they all the same?

      Simple Microsoft won the battle for the desktop!

      I note the author pointed to Windows 95 as the common source, whereas he should have pointed back to MOTIF and the Unix desktop standardisation.

      However, this doesn't explain why effectively all R&D on desktop designs effectively came to an end in circa 2004 - around the time MS discontinued development on Longhorn. I seem to remember an article from that period that surveyed a dozen experimental desktop design paradigms including a number of 3D designs.

      I suspect part of the problem is the effort (and cost) required to build a usable desktop as opposed to a concept design mockup. Obviously, for this you need an OS platform, of which there is only really one's based on Unix, namely: BSD and Linux.

    12. Missing Semicolon Silver badge

      Re: Why are they all the same?

      Yep, +1.

      All of the UIs that mess about trying not to be CUA (Win11, recent Gnome, etc) are just more awkward to use, failing to satisfy the requirement to be simple, clean and functional.

  4. Jan K.

    Taskbar? Check.

    Start menu? Check.

    System tray with clock? Check.

    File manager with a list of locations on the left, and the current one's contents on the right? Check.

    Wouldn't want it any other way.

    Though I'm leaving Microsoft (due to license issues) I have to give them credit for making an effective UI.

    At least up to and including Windows 7, that is...

    1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

      And then they 'fixed' it. See previous post above.

    2. Zolko Silver badge

      what about "Exposé" or multiple desktops ?

      I don't use a taskbar because it takes space, I use a "show all windows" button in a small dedicated top panel. Or middle-mouse button on the desktop I also use "Exposé" or whatever it was called in the window manager. None of these existed in Win95 or MacOS.

      I also use a left-panel dock (because large screen, top or bottom is the wrong space), again, Win95 and MacOS didn't have that. This panel is closer to what I had on HPUX and CDE, but left instead of centered-bottom.

      I also use desktop widgets to show CPU usage and network traffic, didn't exist in Win95 and MacOS either.

      My file manager (Dolphin) has a split-windows view mode like MidnightCommander, and tabs like ... nothing else. Admittedly, mixing split-view and tabs is a bad idea because you never know where you are.

      My desktop has multiple desktops, like CDE, nothing that Win95 or MacOS had to offer.

      My desktop has use for 3 buttons, where a click with the center button pastes the selected text, Unix-like, nothing that either MacOS (1 button) or Win95 (2 buttons) had to offer.

      All-in-all, MY desktop doesn't look like anything Win95 or MacOS has to offer. Very bad article, the author should get out more often.

  5. Pascal Monett Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Brilliant and exhaustive work of research

    The author here has devoted a lot of time and work to produce this piece. I applaud the effort. I also appreciate the fact that the author has opened my eyes to the fact that, yes, basically almost everybody is implementing the Windows UI.

    From a technical point of view, the Windows UI is a Good ThingTM. I remember reading about how Gates & Co really racked their brains over menu management, the homoginization of function keys and ease of use. Once upon a time, if you had access to Help, it could be via a function key, a combination of CTRL-<something>, or whatever else. Now, you just press F1, job done. That is good - except that now help is online, so if your connection is down, you're up shit creek without a paddle, and that is bad. Oh well.

    But, concerning the efforts of volunteer developers, I'm sorry but nobody is forcing them to invest themselves. It's their choice, and I'm sure that they are dead set on improving some aspect or another of the user experience. The real issue is that (probably) none of them, or at least not many of them, have a lot of experience in alternative UIs, they just dive in with their idea and go for it.

    It's their choice, there's nothing you can do about that. Yes, after reading this article I agree it's largely a waste of time, but it's their time to waste.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Brilliant and exhaustive work of research

      Most of that wasn't Microsoft. It was IBM.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Brilliant and exhaustive work of research

        Wasn't the original IBM work based on character interfaces? That still lives on in the menus that typically say

        File Edit View ... Help

        with their drop-down sub-menus. IBM also contributed to CDE but the CDE style of doing things is something I first encountered from HP as VUE.

    2. DrXym Silver badge

      Re: Brilliant and exhaustive work of research

      I think GNOME 3 is markedly different from Windows, more close to OS X than Windows although not close to that either. There are extensions that have made it more Windows like but I'm quite comfortable using the vanilla implementation. I think Windows 11 has some design beats which are quite close to GNOME & OS X so there is some influencing going back the other way.

    3. oiseau Silver badge

      Re: Brilliant and exhaustive work of research

      That, I submit, is a vast waste of the time and effort of thousands of volunteer developers.

      Thank you for that.

      +1

      I have been saying the same thing for years:

      ---

      To be a maintainer is to be part of the team.

      And in a/any team (*), each member has a place and a task to fulfill.

      ---

      (*) "... group of people who are interdependent with respect to information, resources, knowledge and skills and who seek to combine their efforts to achieve a common goal".

      Thompson, Leigh (2008). Making the team: a guide for managers.

      ---

      "The Linux ecosystem is home to literally tens of thousands of highly qualified coders/programmers, a rich pool of talent which could be harnessed towards the same goal and put Linux firmly on the desktop.

      But ...

      If they all want to be able to shout "Look Ma!!! I rolled my own [fill in here]! and be a primadonna for all of 15', that is certainly not going to happen.

      Ever."

      ---

      O.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Brilliant and exhaustive work of research

        You're looking at it wrong. All those outlier designs aren't the result of somebody in a team that's supposed to be working to some other plan going off-piste. They're people, or small groups of like-minded people doing their own thing because they want to. Generously, they're making what they do available to you if you want to use it. If you don't, then don't; nobody's making you use it. But why are you taking offence and being rude about their efforts? They're not being rude to you for not using what they make.

        1. oiseau Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: Brilliant and exhaustive work of research

          You're looking at it wrong.

          I beg to differ.

          While I am looking at it from exactly the same perspective as the author, you are looking at it from the perspective of those ... people, or small groups of like-minded people doing their own thing ...

          Not wrong, just a different point of view.

          And of course, mine is more valid than yours. ;^P <---- just tasking the piss, right?

          When I look at it from your point of view all I see is an absolute lack of collaboration between all those ... people, or small groups of like-minded people ... to work towards the same goal.

          ie: the advancement of Linux on the desktop.

          Because they are just ... doing their own thing ... instead of being a part of the huge collective that Linux is has become.

          Because Linux is what it is today mainly because of Linux Torvalds and all those people who, with the same purpose in mind, give their time and efforts generously to work in the same direction.

          O.

    4. matjaggard

      Re: Brilliant and exhaustive work of research

      It is pretty frustrating for those of us who haven't written any of the code too though. Linux provides an excellent base for a laptop, desktop or mobile OS but only those UIs provided by Google ever get used by more than a fraction of a percent of the market.

  6. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

    Not that unreasonable

    I look at it as being similar to the way cars' UI converged on steering wheel/pedals/gear stick. You wouldn't want to learn to drive all over again for every new car would you?

    1. VoiceOfTruth

      Re: Not that unreasonable

      Marvellous. So please bring that idea to packaging systems on Linux. One please, not n+1.

      1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

        Re: Not that unreasonable

        That would be nice. Sadly that train has sailed.

        (Should I worry that I've memorised that xkcd URL?)

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

    2. Spoobistle
      Flame

      Re: Not that unreasonable

      It was even worse than that - there was a time when I had to use Windows, Mac, RiscOS and Unix (Irix I think) sometimes all in the same day. "Middle button for menu or right button...? dohh wrong again". Like different makes of car having different steering wheel/pedals/stick arrangement! I wonder if there is scope for some sort of abstraction whereby WMs could have different "skins" for users with different tastes?

    3. Alumoi Silver badge

      Re: Not that unreasonable

      Ha, cars! Try planes or helicopters. I dare you!

    4. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

      Re: Not that unreasonable

      [Author here]

      It's a valid point, if you are a car driver in Europe.

      But there are many many exceptions to that generalisation, which effectively falsify it.

      Examples:

      • in the most car-dependent nation on Earth, virtual nobody drives a car with a gearstick, and many Americans don't know how to use one.

      • Except that motorbikes use a totally different interface, which is also standardised.

      • And bicycles use a different one again.

      • All of which are rapidly being driven obsolete by electric vehicles.

      And so on.

      There is always more than one way to do anything lots of people do.

      Not everyone writes left to right. Not everyone writes side to side. Not everyone eats with a knife and fork; in fact, not everyone eats with implements.

      And so on.

      1. keith_w

        Re: Not that unreasonable

        My car doesn't have a gear shift lever. Why would I want one? it is more efficient to allow the transmission to decide when to shift. Besides, my inside hand is usually doing something much more useful, such as conducting my coffee to my mouth.

        1. Antron Argaiv Silver badge
          Thumb Up

          Re: Not that unreasonable

          As my son pointed out...his kids won't need to know how to drive a stick, all the cars they drive will be electric.

          1. bombastic bob Silver badge
            Unhappy

            Re: Not that unreasonable

            that sounds like a very boring future outlook. There's nothing like the roar of a muscle car!!!

        2. druck Silver badge
          Thumb Down

          Re: Not that unreasonable

          So much wrong in one post.

        3. nijam Silver badge

          Re: Not that unreasonable

          > it is more efficient to allow the transmission to decide when to shift.

          Maybe nowadays it just about is, but for decades automatic transmission added tens of percent to the vehicle's fuel consumption. Or soaked up the equvalent in the engine's power output. Not a problem in the land of 7 Litre V8s, I suppose.

          Just thought I'd mention it.

          1. VoiceOfTruth

            Re: Not that unreasonable

            Sorry, I didn't see that you had posted something about fuel consumption at the same time as me. Not trying to steal your thunder...

        4. VoiceOfTruth

          Re: Not that unreasonable

          Manual gears offer more control. Historically (I don't know how true it is these days), automatics used more fuel than manuals.

          Yeah, down vote the truth. Too bad some people can't handle the truth.

          1. druck Silver badge

            Re: Not that unreasonable

            Manual gears give you more choice - something I thought you were fundamentally opposed to from your dozens of postings in this thread.

            1. VoiceOfTruth

              Re: Not that unreasonable

              Look at the choice: automatic or manual. That's two choices, not hundreds.

              If the Linux world designed transmissions, there would be hundreds of different options. Some would position the gear lever behind you, so it doesn't get in your way. Others would offer a choice of hundreds of gears, a bit like searching for mysql with apt, but all you want is the actual gears not the nobbly bits. Then there is gear GNLever 0.1, that's Gear's Not Lever. Others still would offer no gears at all, but a page of badly written instructions on where to obtain a chunk of metal and machinery to mill your own set of gears. When it comes to gear design itself, there would be 1000s of incompatible designs in metric, imperial, cubits, and everything else too. Then just when you think you've seen it all, along comes Gnome Gears, which is a rebuild from the ground up and puts a gear box on each wheel.

              1. werdsmith Silver badge

                Re: Not that unreasonable

                There are actually quite a few different arrangements for manual shift gates. Particularly in the way reverse is selected. And they used to have the overdrive switch on top.

                And there are automatic PDNR boxes, J-gates, DSG, paddle shifters, or just a rotary selector. Some cars put an autoshifter on the steering column.

                Some cars have a pedal operated handbrake, some have an auto handbrake.

                Some electric cars have one pedal drive.

                But a linux like car, you might look up how to drive it on the web and find instructions on how to change timing by loosening and rotating the distributor.

              2. SCP

                Re: Not that unreasonable

                Look at the choice: automatic or manual. That's two choices, not hundreds.

                When leaping into the hire car for a business trip I found it was always a good idea to check where reverse gear was sited and what interlock mechanism was used to prevent inadvertent engagement before setting off.

                1. gerryg

                  Re: Not that unreasonable

                  Or how to open the petrol flap

              3. cornetman Silver badge
                Happy

                Re: Not that unreasonable

                That was quite funny and uncomfortably apt.

              4. LionelB Bronze badge

                Re: Not that unreasonable

                Ever driven a French car?

          2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

            Re: Not that unreasonable

            "automatics used more fuel than manuals"

            And that excess CO2 they put into the atmosphere is still with us.

            1. bombastic bob Silver badge
              Thumb Down

              Re: Not that unreasonable

              why did you have to "go there" with the CO2 thing?

              1. LionelB Bronze badge

                Re: Not that unreasonable

                Ooh, I don't know... I'm guessing specifically to annoy anthropogenic climate change deniers.

          3. AndrueC Silver badge
            Happy

            Re: Not that unreasonable

            Historically (I don't know how true it is these days), automatics used more fuel than manuals.

            Oh it's true but the keyword is history. Most modern automatics are more fuel efficient, especially the CVT variants.

            There is no way any human driver with a conventional gear box can keep the engine at the exact, perfect RPM like a CVT can. And if you want performance then adjust the programming As David Coulthard once had the chance to prove..

            Every time you hear the RPMs drop while changing gear your car is unpowered and is moving from 'too high RPM' to 'too low RPM'. Mine just sits at 'perfect RPM' all the time ;)

            1. VoiceOfTruth

              Re: Not that unreasonable

              Fair enough - Omar Little.

            2. cornetman Silver badge

              Re: Not that unreasonable

              The economic issue has two facets:

              1) Selecting the correct gear to keep the engine in its most economic rev range

              2) Slippage that doesn't exist in a manual transmission, that is inherent in a traditional automatic with a fluid link. CV transmissions are a little different because there is no fluid link.

              Sure intelligent gear changing *can* be more efficient than a manual driver. The basic design issues are harder to account for though.

        5. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: Not that unreasonable

          My car doesn't have a gear shift lever. Why would I want one?

          Manual gear shift for lightness, simplicity, cheapness, efficiency and control.

          Even modern improvements over the old torque converter based auto boxes, like DSG, are heavy, expensive and complex.

          Manual shifting will start to disappear now with the EV revolution, but they still have their place.

          Now, my computer doesn't have a CLI. Why would I want one?

          1. SCP

            Re: Not that unreasonable

            Now, my computer doesn't have a CLI. Why would I want one?

            rm -rf /

            ???

          2. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

            Re: Not that unreasonable

            "my computer doesn't have a CLI"

            Shocking if true. What OS are you using?

            1. werdsmith Silver badge

              Re: Not that unreasonable

              iPad?

              1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

                Re: Not that unreasonable

                Good point. My iPad has a couple of CLIs, but I had to add them from the store, so not part of the OS.

          3. gerryg

            Re: Not that unreasonable

            I joined two photographs today on the CLI, left to right alphabetically using imagemagick

            > convert +append *.png out.png

            I don't know how to do it using my desktop (KDE, since you didn't ask)

          4. AndrueC Silver badge
            Boffin

            Re: Not that unreasonable

            Even modern improvements over the old torque converter based auto boxes, like DSG, are heavy, expensive and complex.

            CVT boxes are smaller, simpler and cheaper. Whether that be belt or the planetary gear based system that Toyota use.

          5. LionelB Bronze badge

            Re: Not that unreasonable

            Now, my computer doesn't have a CLI. Why would I want one?

            $ make me a cup of tea

            make: *** No rule to make target 'me'. Stop.

            You're right, they're bloody useless - and rude.

        6. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          Re: Not that unreasonable

          my car has an automatic, but I manually shift it a lot; It's controlled from the center panel though 'cause it's officially a "sports car" [a Mustang]. Put it in 1st to accelerate around corners in the turn lane, pass everyone, get ahead of the slowpokes. Works pretty well for that. It shifts 1st to 2nd at around 45mph, 2nd to 3rd at 70mph, when floored. Basically I drive it like a manual transmission when I want the *extra* *power*

          (that way best of both worlds, and do not have to work a clutch in bad traffic, though I rarely have to commute)

          That's what a good UI lets you do - maximize your potential!!!

      2. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

        Re: Not that unreasonable

        I like the vehicle analogy. Let's take it a bit further:

        Car : office workstation with keyboard & mouse, probably more than one screen

        Motorbike : laptop, with a (less comfortable) keyboard, and a mousepad

        Bike : tablets, touch only, maybe a stylus

        Scooter : smartphone, similar to bike, but substantially smaller

        So, having each class of vehicle a different UI, but having the same UI within each class of vehicle makes absolute perfect sense.

  7. Lon24 Silver badge
    Trollface

    You forgot the third ...

    CLI. Works just as well with or without a mouse, is remarkably consistent over most flavours of Linux and even has a half decent re-implementation in Powershell for Windows. Ok - it's a bit down on the intuitivity scale but that does help keep the riff-raff out of true geekdom.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: You forgot the third ...

      Which CLI? command.com? bash? The C shell? All are actually quite different, and there are many, many more.

    2. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

      Re: You forgot the third ...

      Good if you know how to do what you want. Pretty poor on discoverability.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: You forgot the third ...

        It's surprising the number of times I come across some how-to for some GUI and the user is instructed to start typing a command on the search bar. Discoverability seems to work better when there are few things to discover. When there's a lot of options you have to know what you want.

        1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

          Re: You forgot the third ...

          "the user is instructed to start typing a command on the search bar"

          You missed a step: the user is instructed to login as Administrator / root and ...

      2. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

        Re: You forgot the third ...

        "Pretty poor on discoverability."

        As bad as the ribbon? Or is the hamburger button an improvement?

  8. Pete 2 Silver badge

    So what should a a 21st century UI look like?

    If we are *still* using computer monitors, then the single worst part of UI design is to waste valuable vertical space with a title bar, menu, all the space below the user area. Design features from Windows 3. Maybe earlier, see below.

    It also seems to be to be anachronistic to have a menu bar item labelled "Edit" which, with word processing apps does not let you edit the document. Although pretty much everything else in the menu bar is just as obsolete.

    Next would be the silly notion of application names. I do not care what an app is called, I care about what it does! So I do not want something called LibreOffice - especially not with camel¹ case formatting - needless key presses for an idiotic (and inconsistent) way to show where words start, I want an icon that says: write stuff of something else, equally informative.

    In fact, the whole idea of icons seems rather 1970s (from the 3 Rivers PERQ). All a UI should contain is a single question: what do you want to do? with a free-form field for the user to write (or say) their instruction. It should then be up to the smarts inside to decide how to fulfill that command.

    It seems to me that the first steps to setting ourselves free of these out-dated ideas is to get rid of the limitations imposed by the traditional 2-button mouse and ASCII / 101-key keyboards.

    [1] camel: a horse designed by committee. camelCase, just as dumb.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: So what would a a 21st century UI look like?

      "I want an icon that says: write stuff"

      I regularly use a couple dozen or more programs to "write stuff". Are you seriously suggesting that I should have icons for all of these, each identically labeled "write stuff" on my desktop?

      "of (sic) something else, equally informative."

      Perhaps the name of the actual program you want to use would be a good idea?

      CamelCase is fine. I have yet to find anybody that is confused by the concept.

      1. Pete 2 Silver badge

        Re: So what would a a 21st century UI look like?

        > CamelCase is fine

        actuallyItIsnt. itHasBeenDeprecatedInPythonForMoreThan10YearsAsItIsSoDifficultToRead.

        You should check what PEP 8 has to say on the matter.

        1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

          Re: So what would a a 21st century UI look like?

          Variable names that long are deprecated everywhere except in Java.

          1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

            Re: So what would a a 21st century UI look like?

            thisIsMyVariableNameVbAllows64CharactersAndImUsingThemAllDammit$

        2. VoiceOfTruth

          Re: So what would a a 21st century UI look like?

          camelCase is common in Golang. PythonIsNotTheBeAllAndEndAllOfLanguages.

          1. Arthur the cat Silver badge

            Re: So what would a a 21st century UI look like?

            (some-of-us-prefer-lisp t)

        3. John 73

          Re: So what would a a 21st century UI look like?

          Programming isn't the only thing in the world, though. For example, using camelCase is absolutely standard and expected in hashtags on social media (e.g. #CodingIsCool). The reason for this is, again, accessibility: screenreaders can use this extra information to read the hashtag in a meaningful way, rather than spelling it out.

          And, as a human being, I would absolutely maintain that camelCase is far easier to read than all-lower-case (thisstringissurelynonsenseyes is harder to parse than thisStringIsSurelyNonsenseYes). Adding extra information with the use of capital letters is similar to adding extra information with the use of punctuation: it's not essential and wasn't there in the original version, but it can make a huge difference.

          1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
            Coat

            Re: So what would a a 21st century UI look like?

            If only ExpertSexchange.com had thought of camel case. Er, I mean of course, ExpertsExchange...

            1. EnviableOne Silver badge

              Re: So what would a a 21st century UI look like?

              or that loveley website:

              whorepresents.com

              that tells you who is pimping out your favourite celebrity

        4. Terry 6 Silver badge

          Re: So what would a a 21st century UI look like?

          A historic parallel. Hebrew used to use final letters to mark the ends of words instead of having spaces. A few of these still linger on, even though they have long since lost that role. (I'm guessing that this preexists Hebrew.).

    2. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

      Re: So what should a a 21st century UI look like?

      This is why I was really keen on OpenDoc for compound documents. Put a block of text here, a picture there and possibly with words as part of the picture. Same editing tools available for each data type everywhere. Shame it didn't fly, I think all three partners gave up on the dream of displacing Windows and stopped investing.

      BTW, that camel is a horse "designed" for a far harsher environment than your pretty nag could handle.

    3. Negative Charlie

      Re: So what should a a 21st century UI look like?

      Sorry to interrupt the quibbling but LibreOffice is actually written in PascalCase, not camelCase.

      And there's nothing wrong with that.

    4. PhilipN

      Re: So what should a a 21st century UI look like?

      Voice controls=good?

      If memory serves it was in OS/2 Warp when I tried it but the hardware fell short as well as the brainware. That is, hand (on mouse) and eye connection was fast and instinctive whereas screen-eye-brain-vocal chord was a good deal slower. Even assuming you could remember the correct wretched word.

      Have not tried recent iterations.

      1. anonanonanonanonanon

        Re: So what should a a 21st century UI look like?

        I think it's come a long way since then, Just having things like Alexa, Siri etc, existing as mass market devices would support that.

        I however, refuse to talk to my devices on principle.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: So what should a a 21st century UI look like?

          Voice recognition has it's niche, eg consumption devices or for accessibility needs, but on the whole, yes, it's much slower. In the same way when I want help with something, reading it on a web page is much, much quicker and easier to understand, flick through and flick back than watching and listening to a YouTube video. Video instruction also has it's uses too of course, when done well, without lots of spurious Umms and Ahhhs and tangential comments.

    5. Grooke

      "Write stuff" roulette

      Let's put LibreOffice Writer, TextEditor, Vi, Vim, SublimeText, and hell even Thunderbird (why should I specify if I want to write an e-mail?) under the same alias and just roll the dice every time we open it.

    6. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: So what should a a 21st century UI look like?

      "the single worst part of UI design is to waste valuable vertical space"

      That assumes vertical space is the limiting factor. With a wide spreadsheet or an image in landscape form or even two documents in portrait form side-by-side it's horizontal space that matters. If you need all those interface elements they have to go somewhere and a good many applications enable the user to choose to hide some elements if that's appropriate.

    7. Pete 2 Silver badge

      Re: So what should a a 21st century UI look like?

      So, in summary it seems that the reason why all GUIs look much the same is because techies like it that way. They do not feel the need to address the obvious shortcomings, because they have learned to live with them and familiarity is more important than functionality.

      As Henry Ford probably didn't say: if innovation was left to ordinary people, they would only want faster horses

      It looks like we have reached that point with GUIs. And maybe operating systems, too!

    8. Stoneshop Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: So what should a a 21st century UI look like?

      If we are *still* using computer monitors, then the single worst part of UI design is to waste valuable vertical space with a title bar, menu, all the space below the user area.

      At work I'd be looking at two 1080x1920 screens. Side by side that's an almost square desktop; it hardly matters at what edge the WM wants to put its info.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: So what should a a 21st century UI look like?

        Surprisingly few people choose (or even have) the option to rotate their screens, if they are even allowed to have more than one screen. The current fad seems to be for extremely wide curved screens, removing even the possibility of rotating them.

        Personally, I like one vertical and one horizontal :-)

    9. Vincent Ballard
      Coat

      Re: So what should a a 21st century UI look like?

      LibreOffice is the name of the project, not the application. Its DTP application is called Writer.

    10. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: So what should a a 21st century UI look like?

      All a UI should contain is a single question: what do you want to do? with a free-form field for the user to write (or say) their instruction. It should then be up to the smarts inside to decide how to fulfill that command.

      What do you want to do?

      Have vast amounts of consequence-free sex with the new, hot hire in the Finance department!

      I'm sorry Dave, I can't do that.

  9. Torben Mogensen

    RISC OS

    As the author indicated, RISC OS had (from around 1989) many features that didn't make it into Windows before Win95 (and some that no later system has). Apart from purely cosmetic things like marbled title and scroll bars (that by the size of the bar shows how large a fraction of the contents is shown, something that didn't make into competing systems until much later), RISC OS use a three-button mouse with the following functions:

    Left ("select"): works mostly as the left button on most modern GUIs

    Middle ("menu"): Pop-up menu activation

    Right ("adjust"): does a variation of the left button, for example selecting a file icon without deselecting the already selected, selecting a window for input focus without sending it to the front, selecting a menu item without closing the menu, and so on.

    This is something I miss in Linux GUIs.

    It also had something like TrueType (but before this and IMO better, since it used cubic splines instead of quadratic splines and allowed anti-aliasing) which allowed all apps to share the same fonts. Printing was done by rendering pages using the same engine as screen rendering, so it was truly WYSIWYG (unlike Mac at the time). The only disadvantage was slow printing, as everything was sent as a bitmap (though you could print raw text using the printer's built-in fonts). But it made installing new printers quite easy: You just had to describe the commands for starting graphics mode and how pixels are sent to the printer. I had a printer that was not in the list of already-supported printers, and it took me less than half an hour to get it running.

    1. steelpillow Silver badge

      Re: RISC OS

      It also had drag-and-drop app installation, which ROX's zero-install seeks to implement on Linux.

      1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

        Re: RISC OS

        A good and fair point.

        The snag is that 0install needs tooling. ROX also inspired AppImage, which doesn't, and which delivers simpler drag-and-drop installation on any distro.

        So, for me, AppImage won that one.

        Flatpak delivers some things AppImage can't, but re-introduces a lot of tooling and introduces other problems.

      2. Dave559 Silver badge

        Re: RISC OS

        I'm sure RISC OS pioneered a number of useful things (I've never used it, but a friend was a big fan, and in fact went on to work for Acorn for a while), but, in the interests of fairness:

        MacOS has also had drag and drop app installation for a very long time (possibly right from the start, it certainly pre-dates my own Mac usage by quite some time anyway).

        Universal file formats: AmigaOS was possibly there first with the IFF file container format (the concept was borrowed by just about everyone else since) and file formats contained within it, such as the ILBM bitmap graphics format. Later, systemwide DataTypes were invented to allow applications to open other file formats that they didn't natively know about (why reinvent the wheel, when the OS could do it for you).

        In the end, all OSes and desktops borrowed good ideas from each other!

    2. F. Frederick Skitty

      Re: RISC OS

      The "truly WYSISWG" thing wasn't specific to RISC OS, and arguably implemented much more elegantly elsewhere. Sun had NeWS, and NeXT had Display PostScript. Sadly the former went away when Sun adopted the X Window System to standardise on the display server used by the other Unix vendors.

    3. Victor Ludorum

      Re: RISC OS

      I loved the file save method in RISC OS - you just dragged the save file icon to the folder (directory) you wanted it in. Even now, there are many Windows apps where the file save dialog doesn't seem to remember what folder you were using last, and you have to click through multiple levels to get to the folder you want.

    4. Dom 3

      Re: RISC OS

      Yes, we (as part of the Acorn ecosystem) had a bunch of Windows machines for work and a bunch of RiscOS machines for testing etc. When Windows 95 arrived it all looked very familiar!

      The RiscOS thing I found most irksome was in fact the scaled scrollbars - brilliant to a point but when editing a very large file, targeting the scrollbar demanded pixel accuracy.

      One thing not mentioned is the file format consistency. E.g. there was one bitmap format across all programs.

  10. El blissett

    Ultimately doing something different is really hard. You're on your own. I followed the development of Mezzo/Symphony in the 00s, which correctly identified the upcoming obsession with convergence and tried to design an accessible UI for all screen types not just the CUA/HIG terminal and keyboard. The developers would post these updates that showed their research was taking into account all types of users and not assuming the Win95 shell was the foundation. Unfortunately it was abandoned before it was completed and didn't get beyond putting menus in 4 places. http://www.tuxmachines.org/node/17107

    Full-fat Enlightenment being vapourware is almost a meme a this point. Then of course there was the Moblin/Maemo/Meego fiasco which did a huge amount of work on fundamentally reimagining the interface of a computer for the 2010s, but again didn't go anywhere. I would argue it never got the chance to be offered as a serious alternative. The problem becomes that all the software you want or need to use has been built on the older paradigm of the CUA/HIG and developers have no interest in changing that. Unity/GNOME3 had to beg developers to make some applications compatible with the global top bar, but trying to reinvent the interface is just not people's priority when the people who have done it get burned.

  11. Binraider Silver badge

    Less is more.

    One of the things that is seriously lost by "current" attempts at UI design is just how bloated systems have become. How many control panels do you need? .ini / registry / other config indices?

    What software do you actually need on a computer to do "stuff" unhindered? A file system, memory management, a way to issue commands to the system, a method to interpret the output of the system, and applications themselves. Hardware drivers of course, too; and probably a way to manage them given the myriad hardware config one has to accomodate. Common menus and command line designs make a lot of sense to include in your design, and common interfaces for documentation.

    A system that can do all that can be packed into virtually no space at all. Workbench did it with the intuition ROM and one 880kb floppy. (Amiga 1000 ofc had to load kickstart to RAM).

    Feature creep is a sin, both Windows and FOSS world exhibit it. Apple are onto something good, but have done their best to ruin it with App Store nonsense.

    For better or worse, your machine is increasingly a thin client terminal to look at applications hosted remotely through a browser. In many ways the old fat client model is outmoded for a lot of users. Fatter and ever-more troublesome to live systems aren't worth the hassle, besides being expensive. "Consumer" grade laptops are usually expensive trash; poor performing. Hence the console successes, and tablet computing taking over that corner of the market.

    That leaves only the power users who don't want the trash being ladled up by the bucket. I like linux a lot, but I would in no way advocate it as being a clean design, nor will it ever be from it's very much fragmented-by-design origins in GNU world.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Less is more.

      "A system that can do all that can be packed into virtually no space at all."

      You artfully didn't say what applications. A fully featured word processor. A software development system: editor, compiler, debugger etc. Raster graphics editor. Vector graphics editor. PDF creator & viewer. A GIS system. An RDBMS system....

      These things aren't feature creep, they're some of the reasons why we might want to buy a computer and I for one do not, repeat NOT, wnat to be dependent on hanging on to somebody else's computer to do them. And you're not going to cram them or even a useful subset of them onto a floppy; let alone choose a subset that would please more than a fraction of potential users.

      1. Binraider Silver badge

        Re: Less is more.

        Including the applications in a single floppy example was a mistake I'll grant. Workbench, Platinum Works, Deluxe Paint only needed 4 floppies between them to cover most of your criteria. Lob AMOS Pro or Lattice C in for a dev environment to take the total up a bit more. But still easily within 5 to 10MB. And the core of the OS and GUI definitely did fit in a fraction of a floppy plus the ROM.

        Common interfaces for menus and windowing made learning how to use applications trivial. By comparison, the bloat of today sees multiple disparate systems encountered within a single OS distribution. Windows and it's 4 or 5 control panels. Debian and it's 30+ mail client options. Inconsistent apps created using libraries like GTK, Mono, or .NET.

        Tight focus can create consistency, which is to user benefit. Modern computing rarely opts for that approach.

        I will again cite Apple as being one of the few outfits that seriously thinks about this and trying to bring developers along the way to use common interfaces. For all of the problems that come with Apple, UI is not one of them. It's worth getting right.

  12. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

    Menus

    The most annoying UI development of recent years is that bastard hamburger menu. Small thing, not up against a screen edge, adding an extra level to the menu hierarchy. A severe breach of Fitts' Law. Thankfully Firefox allows me to switch the standard menu back on.

    The author mentioned the utility of tear-off menus. GIMP has had that since version 1.x at least, as does all those fugly Tk things. Other GTK apps not using it must be a deliberate choice, and one I just don't understand. Gimp also has the main menu available on a right-click anywhere in the image. Excellent choice, the biggest target possible is where the mouse already is.

    There's a very good reason why MS made everything able to be driven by the keyboard, Windows 1.0 shipped when you couldn't count on there being one, or that the customer would know what to do with it. Although people with stopwatches consistently find that the belief in the keyboard being faster is a cognitive illusion. Still, if it makes you feel faster knock yourself out. The real time is in deciding what to do anyway.

    1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

      Re: Menus

      Change "couldn't count on there being one" to "couldn't count on there being a mouse," obvs.

    2. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

      And another thing

      What blithering bloody idiot decided that scroll bars are shameful things that must be hidden? We were fine with wide bars that could be easily hit with the mouse back when pixels were scarce. Now that we've got loads they are slimmed down or only visible if you hover over a tiny invisible target. Shame on you, if you were involved in that choice.

      1. VoiceOfTruth

        Re: And another thing

        I encountered a fabulous case of this recently on Oracle Cloud. Where is this thing the documents refer to? I'm looking at my screen and it's not there. Oh, I need to scroll down. The problem was the screen I was looking at appeared to be complete - there were no partly chopped off elements, and of course no scroll bar.

        1. AndrueC Silver badge
          Facepalm

          Re: And another thing

          Slack also removed the up/down arrows on either end in the Windows client.

    3. VoiceOfTruth

      Re: Menus

      -> The author mentioned the utility of tear-off menus. GIMP has had that since version 1.x at least, as does all those fugly Tk things.

      exmh. I did my time.

    4. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

      Re: Keyboard / Mouse

      Personal opinion: Some tasks are best handled with a keyboard. Others are best handled with a mouse.

      From the discussion your linked to there was some agreement on "All command-keys should be user-specifiable". If every option has a pre-set short cut the short cuts become multi-key sequences that are no longer short. If the command keys are selected by the user then they are genuine short cuts. Add that into the mix and I think you will find people with stopwatches will discover the mouse/keyboard winner depends on the task, user's experience and user's typing speed.

      I use GIMP for simple tasks. Other more experienced users may well have a different opinion but I despise tear off menus. It is not always clear why they tore off. Moving them around is a waste of mouse clicks. I can eventually get the torn of menus to go away but I cannot remember how I did it. Some @$$¤| thought it would be funny to change all the icons to monochrome so now I have to waste time searching for the one I want. There are a bunch of menus that are irrelevant to the current context (as defined by the selected main icon) but if I delete the menu I do not know how to get it back when I change to a context where it is relevant. That being said I suspect I get the occasional image job done more quickly with GIMP than the time it would take to find something different with a sane user interface.

      1. Dom 3

        Re: Keyboard / Mouse

        "Some tasks are best handled with a keyboard. Others are best handled with a mouse."

        Or both as in this instance. Select text with mouse, copy and paste with keyboard.

        1. Dave559 Silver badge

          Re: Keyboard / Mouse

          "Select text with mouse, copy and paste with keyboard."

          FTFY: Select and copy text with mouse, paste with middle mouse button. ;-)

    5. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Menus

      I suppose the hamburger menu has its place on the limited screen real-estate of a mobile. I'm not convinced it earns its place on a laptop or PC screen.

      1. werdsmith Silver badge

        Re: Menus

        It’s supposed to disappear on full desktops on proper responsive design.

  13. Warm Braw Silver badge

    There's a more fundamental question

    The author uses the word "desktop" as a synonym for "User Interface". We've come to accept the desktop metaphor as the default basis of computer UIs and it has persisted even as the work environment becomes less likely to include physical files and folders - or even a desk or office. But it's not inviolate. If you're concerned about the basic similarity of all UIs, you probably need to start several steps further back.

    And the duplication and the projects that are half-done - well, welcome to the world of open source where everyone has a "better" idea for the interesting part but few want to be stuck with the drudgery like accessibility. Even if you could get several projects to amalgamate and share resources, the same would be true. It's hardly a surprise that the most complete offerings come from people who are contracted to do the whole job.

    You could, of course, make the same argument about cars. Why do they all have steering wheels and similar pedals and brakes? It's simply because the value of being able to use a different vehicle without having to retrain exceeds the minimal ergonomic value that might arise from a revised design. And there are negligibly few cars developed by amateurs that would be let near a road to persuade you otherwise.

    The "desktop" is, in the end, a means to an end. It should be unobtrusive. And it's most unobtrusive when it's familiar.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: There's a more fundamental question

      Where are these half-done projects? Not in the repositories of conservative distros such as Debian. Poor us. That restricts us to a mere 60,000 plus working packages.

      If by half-done you mean still being actively developed lets remind ourselves that not only does that apply to an awful lot of non-Linux S/W but also that mobile app stores will treat apps that don't receive frequent updates as being abandoned and will eject them.

      1. Warm Braw Silver badge

        Re: There's a more fundamental question

        Given that it's the author of the original article that was calling out the incomplete functionality of many of these projects, that's simply disingenuous.

        Of course there are a lot of projects that are successful and actively maintained, but there are many times that number that never gain traction or sustain the interest of the original developer. It's inevitable and it's the answer to the author's own conundrum: you can't command the result you want from volunteers with disparate and passing interests.

  14. VoiceOfTruth

    I have been saying this for years, at least 20 now

    -> They are just cosmetically different versions of the same desktop.

    -> That, I submit, is a vast waste of the time and effort of thousands of volunteer developers.

    Yes. The piddling differences between these multitude of desktops are mostly spins (yes, they're forks) of other desktops. But other commenters have pointed out that we have other desktops. I would like to see one full complete implementation (call it what it is - a copy) of OS/2's workplace shell. It is still miles ahead of what a lot of the Linux desktop environments today, and it did in using far less memory.

    -> CDE is open source now. It would be an ideal match for a very lightweight Linux

    Is there such a thing as lightweight Linux these days? I remember running Linux very happily on a machine with 32MB of RAM back in 1998. What are the requirements for a Linux these days? Don't answer that hardware has gotten cheaper, I know that. I'm talking about requirements to run Linux on the desktop.

    1. PhilipN

      OS/2 Workplace Shell

      Agree. Faithful OS/2 user here until finally had to move (to OS/X) but just a daily office (=place of business) user so never had the need or chance to exploit the depth and richness of the Workplace Shell.

      In fact now you mention it I am tempted to reinstall it on an old but not too old machine. Should go like greased lightning.

    2. Irony Deficient Silver badge

      Is there such a thing as lightweight Linux these days?

      I remember running Linux very happily on a machine with 32MB of RAM back in 1998. What are the requirements for a Linux these days?

      The Puppy Linux family of distributions are probably still considered lightweight, since they’re designed to run in a ramdisk — I think that recent versions need 128 MB of RAM, with 512 MB of RAM being recommended for better performance. Older versions of some of the Puppy Linux distributions (ca. 2005) could run in 32 MB of RAM.

  15. Naich

    Why is it important to be different?

    You want different? How about TempleOS - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/TempleOS

    Maybe there is a reason there are only 2 desktops? You want an area to work, an area for indicators and an area for controls. It's difficult to get diversity when there are only 3 elements you need.

  16. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Two? Only if you do not fiddle with the settings

    Taskbar? Deleted!

    Start menu? Deleted! (Right click on desktop instead)

    System tray with clock? Deleted!

    File manager: Never use. (CLI means I do not suffer the death of 1000 mouse clicks)

    Moving windows: Don't. (Use <ctrl>F[1-12] to switch to another desktop instead)

    One of the things I like about XFCE is it doesn't do most of the things I do not want and the off switches for the rest work. I am sure plenty of people would find my choice of settings horrendous but the good thing about Linux desktops is that there is probably one that can be hammered into whatever shape you prefer. By starting with something ≈ W95 there is a fair chance you can work out where to apply the hammer without having to search the net for help at every turn.

  17. mark l 2 Silver badge

    I think a lot of the reason developers of Linux DE went for spins on Windows or MacOS designs was on the belief that it would be easier for people to switch to Linux who were familiar with those OS.

    This may have been useful when Windows was the perhaps the only computing platform that people used day to day, but with the advent of smart phones, tablets and even TVs having their own unique UI i think people are used to switching between different OS UI and its not causing confusion with people looking for a start menu on their iPad or phone.

    Even my father who is now in his 70s and is no way technically minded can switch between using Windows 10 on his laptop, iOS on his phone, FireOS on an Amazon tablet and whatever OS comes on his Samsung TV quite easily.

    So I would be good to see some Linux distros try something different with their UI designs.

    1. VoiceOfTruth

      -> I think a lot of the reason developers of Linux DE went for spins on Windows or MacOS designs was on the belief that it would be easier for people to switch to Linux who were familiar with those OS.

      I have a different view. They copied them because they couldn't invent something themselves. Imitation is flattery.

      Maybe we only need a couple of desktop paradigms. We all saw how Windows 8 was received when it tried something else. Windows Vista in retrospect was not an ugly UI, it was just a bit beyond the average hardware at the time.

      1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge

        "They copied them because they couldn't invent something themselves."

        Just like MS then, all the W95 features were imports. From Apple in particular, as shown by Win 1 to 3 having a two button mouse but only using one of them.

        When MS tried to invent something we nearly had Bob inflicted on us.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        "We all saw how Windows 8 was received when it tried something else."

        Ubuntu tried a similar monstrosity with the Unity desktop. It was released before W8. Were Microsoft flattering Ubuntu by imitating them?

        Actually what both sets of developers were doing was imitating the mobile UI thinking it would be a Good Idea. It wasn't.

        That line of thinking was the exception that proves the rule. The rule is that the UI needs to be tuned to the tasks it has to support. No wonder the successful ones have evolved along similar lines. W95 and its successors and the various Unix desktops adapted features from earlier GUIs including CDE and from each other. (Note that in the Unix/Linux world we had multiple workspaces long before Windows and the option of tabbed interfaces in file managers which I saw was recently been touted as something new in W11 Insider builds. Microsoft copying KDE?)

        As a biologist I'm quite happy with this. Evolution will often converge on similar designs and mutations - in UI terms, all those variant ideas you complain about - will throw up the good and the bad novelties for selection to promote or dispose of as appropriate.

    2. steelpillow Silver badge

      It's not just familiarity with the desktop look-and-feel, it's compatibility with the latest application suites and features. For example if you fell in love with the Microsoft ribbon (and yes, I have met such loonies), that stopped cold any UI that could or would not implement that sort of thing.

  18. Throgmorton Horatio III

    You seem to be doing XXX - here's a framework to make it easier.

    "What it is asking is: why are they all the same?"

    Humans work iteratively - very few are capable of imagining something from scratch, let alone actually put it together.

    The current OS graphical interfaces provide a framework and a guide for using the computer, plus tools for handling tasks. They also provide a visual language that enables communication with the underlying system in a way that means something to analogue individuals.

    If we change the GUI then we change the language. Remember the screaming over Gnome 3, or Windows 8? Both attempts to break out of the previous language used.

    The present interfaces have been gradually developed and refined over many years to work well for a majority of users. That's not to say that a better interface can't be invented, but the argument for something significantly different would need to be highly compelling for someone to switch.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: You seem to be doing XXX - here's a framework to make it easier.

      "but the argument for something significantly different would need to be highly compelling for someone to switch."

      To some extent, that's an advantage that MS and to a lesser extent Apples have. The users are more or less tied to their OS and will just have to like or lump whatever is served to them. When Win8 came out with such a huge change in the way the desktop looked and worked, the vast majority of Windows users either loved it or made the best of it. There was no mass migration to a different OS. A very small number may have switched to Apple or Linux. Another small number may have hunted around for ways to switch off the new stuff, either in one or more of the Control Panels or by installing some iteration or equivalent of Classic Shell. But all those people would almost certainly have been a tiny minority.

      The "compelling argument" for most Windows users is to stay with what they know, even when what they know changes.

  19. steelpillow Silver badge

    Compatibility and elephants

    One problem not touched on here is the need for compatibility between different desktops at the API level. This was what stuffed ROX - RISC OS on Linux. The underlying paradigm is so different that apps may need to be substantially rewritten and the underlying environments altered, in order to run on ROX. Drag-and-drop app installation has proved a real headache on Linux, zero-install had a long and painful gestation to even get it sort of working and many apps will still not play nicely under it. ROX failed for the reason that so many UIs do - not enough support from the app developers.

    ChromeOS has suffered much the same fate, and relies on an Android compatibility layer to make Chromebooks saleable. Which of course brings us to one of the elephants in the room. Android is if nothing else a GUI experience built on top of the LInux kernel. Just like ROX, native GNOME/Qt apps don't like it. Most Android apps are therefore built from the ground up and in turn don't like GNOME or Qt. But where ROX had only poor old Thomas Leonard to call on, Android has one of the great dot-coms to make it happen.

    But Android? Desktop? Not in the same breath, Shirley! Yet I carry around daily a magic toy, a PDA (Personal Digital Assistant, dear child). It runs Android, has an integral clamshell keyboard created by the immortal Martin Riddiford of Psion fame, and a set of utilities ad desktop tweaks crafted by the manufacturer, Planet Computers. It is not a great desktop, but point-and-stab makes for a passable emulation of point-and-click and it is enough to run LibreOffice type apps, browse the web in desktop mode rather than the execrable mobile display, and suchlike. Called the Gemini, it proved successful enough to spawn the Cosmo Communicator and, still in the maternity ward, the Astro Slide. More wannabees appear every time I go back and check the marketplace. Some even run Linux natively (porting Linux to the Planet stable has thrown up endless hardware/system issues and not drawn enough community support to get more than a basic Debian experience (for example) working.

    Planet are fully aware that they are a niche product and can never go mainstream. Firstly, not that many of us want to carry a miniature desktop workstation around. And secondly, the vast majority who do want at least a laptop-size desktop also demand compatibility with Windows and/or Mac look-and-feel.

    This is the second elephant; it is user demand which drives Linux takeup and this in turn drives desktop evolution. And users demand Windows lookalikes, to avoid yet another learning curve. Understandable enough. Don't blame GNU or the spawn of Trolltech, blame the user base.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Compatibility and elephants

      "ROX failed for the reason that so many UIs do - not enough support from the app developers."

      App developers would probably say not sufficient support for app developers although you go on to make much the same point. Perhaps a GTK and/or Qt compatibility layer would have helped.

      I'd also change the emphasis of your last point. Users use the computer do do stuff; don't blame the user base, blame UX designs that get in their way.

    2. VoiceOfTruth

      Re: Compatibility and elephants

      -> But where ROX had only poor old Thomas Leonard to call on, Android has one of the great dot-coms to make it happen.

      Something that Google does bring to the party is a single vision for how things will be. Whether you/we/I like it or not, there won't be hundreds of forks - there will be one end product. I have no doubt that they have unreleased test and trial and evaluation versions, but what actually comes out at the end of the day is Android.

      I gave ROX a spin back in the day. It's a pity that it withered.

      1. Will Godfrey Silver badge

        Re: Compatibility and elephants

        I still use ROX (with the Open Box window manager). It works as it did baring a few applications. Unfortunately nobody is maintaining it so eventually it will die :(

    3. thosrtanner

      Re: Compatibility and elephants

      I want a windows 7 lookalike.

      Windows 10 has got the amazing disappearing scrollbars which end up with you having no idea of how much of the document you can actually see in the window until you move over the place where the scrollbar would be if you could see it and then you have to select the scrollbar with pinpoint accuracy.

      And gtk3 has removed the indicative _ from the menu bar for shortcuts unless you press alt. and you can't switch it back on.

      If I was 20 this (probably) wouldn't be a problem. I'm not. And it is a significant problem

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Compatibility and elephants

        It sounds like you want my Devuan/KDE set-up but with W7 style Windows decorations (there's a whole slew of them to download) instead of my more old-style square ones.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Compatibility and elephants

        FYI:

        In the Settings window, click the “Ease of Access” category. On the left side of the Ease of Access screen, click the “Display” option. On the right, turn off the “Automatically Hide Scroll Bars In Windows” toggle to make sure your scrollbars don't disappear anymore.

  20. wobball

    UI's wont significantly change until we move away from monitors controlled by hands on kb n mouse.

    Touch screens on different format devices have significantly changed how we use UI's, mostly one handed/fingered.

    Would be nice if the next iteration could be some glass type eyeOS (literally) with heavily utilised voice commands to get us away from our desks, the modern day secret killer.

  21. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    I think the reason most desktop implementations follow the W95 - W2K tradition is that Microsoft hit the sweet spot with those designs.

    I'd used HP VUE and later CDE on SCO. Their disadvantage was that the task bar with its huge graphics of desk drawers just took up so much screen space. The minimised window icons were also big. The slimmed down W95 approach handled these better. OTOH other aspects of CDE were common to earlier versions of Windows and ran on into W95 and its Microsoft successors and into Unix desktops although misguided UX designers can't resist trying to fix what isn't broken.

    1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

      [Author here]

      It's *a* sweet spot. I am not disagreeing with you: I think the Win95 desktop is an all-time star of OS design.

      But it's not the *only* sweet spot. I also think that classic MacOS was too, for me hitting its acme in MacOS 8.1.

      And Acorn's RISC OS, as well.

      And Psion EPOC16 in the handheld niche. The way it combined a file browser with an iconic app launcher was sublime, and was better than in EPOC32, IMHO.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Certain flavours of MacOSX certainly occupied a zenith. Possibly around Snow Leopard, maybe? I don't recall exactly.. around then anyway, before they starting messing with the traffic lights and the vanishing scroll bars.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        I'll see your W95 & raise you W2K. But I'll grant you "a" rather than "the". There's room for a few local optima. But hand-helds are a different thing. Each type of device has its own characteristics and solutions don't translate well between them - Unity & W8 illustrate that.

        1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

          > I'll see your W95 & raise you W2K.

          Yes and no. I agree, inasmuch as, for me, W2K was pretty much the best version of Windows ever, and after that the rot set in.

          But OTOH, there were already signs of rot, and the "Active Desktop" that came in with Win98 was one of those. The multi-threaded desktop was good, yes – kick off a copy, go do something else while it works – but to do it by embedding IE into the desktop and rendering window contents as HTML was an *awful* idea. On a slow PC, you could watch the IE rendering engine scurry to catch up, drawing a blank background, thinking about it, then maybe drawing some placeholder icons, then styling them one by one and adding text labels.

          An abhorrent waste of resources. Much the same as Electron apps are today. Keep web browser engines in web browsers, and keep them far away from anything else.

          For handhelds, yes, agreed. The efforts of both Microsoft and Canonical to come up with a merged UI that could be useful for both was brave... in the "Yes, Minister" sense of the word.

          It may be possible; I don't know. But we're not there yet. I don't own a single desktop or laptop with a touchscreen, and never have, and I don't really want one.

          One thing I will propose, though: that rather than gorilla arm, the sweet spot will come with multiple displays, some of which lie flat on the desk and are touch-sensitive, and others, at the same time, are vertical and up at eye level. And I don't think that there has been nearly enough R&D effort at that yet.

          Which is why, I suspect, Apple still does not equip its laptops with touchscreens.

          The Asus Zenbook Pro Duo – https://www.theregister.com/2022/03/21/asus_zenbook_pro_duo_ux582_review/ – is a lovely machine. A bit too right-handed for me personally but an interesting and innovative design.

          Apple's touchbar MacBooks were innovative too, and most of them seem to have gone away now.

          I'm not sure that the customers _or_ the OS research is ready yet.

      3. fuzzie

        There seems to be some (unwritten) assumption that macOS has become the state of the art of desktop environments. Between that and the (perceived?) shrinking of the desk top market, it appears everyone is aiming for some tablet/phone/fat finger friendly interface. That model just doesn't translate well to keyboard and mouse.

        The vertical-space-is-precious mantra is often cited in the context of macOS and it's global menu bar. But Macs are not widescreen, they're 3:2 and Surface is similar. Which makes the argument against moving docks/bars even more frustrating.

        And then you see the previously much-vilified hamburger menu from mobile finding a second life on the desktop. Together with left/right slide-in menus. And the general lack of support for keyboard shortcuts. Not to mention that every "cross portable" library generally focuses on looking "close enough" to the native platform, but rarely support anything deeper, again, see keyboard shortcuts or forms/component tabbing order/navigation.

        More insanely frustrating are things like double- or triple-click-to-select, but no two platforms or toolkits can agree on the selection boundaries, e.g. white-space separated. Or, if punctuation separated, no-one can agree on which sets of punctuations count for in or out. The result is huge cognitive as you have to remember which application does what how.

        Maybe it's time Ubuntu (or someone with deep pockets or a nice research grant) to do (another) proper set of usability tests. Like Ubuntu did for Unity way back when. GNOME and Gtk3/4 seems to have decided they're going off in a direction, audience be damned. KDE I don't know well enough to tell, but they seem to have swallowed (some of) the converged phone/tablet-desktop experience as well. Maybe one could at least come up with some unified HIG, like XDG, owned by the freedesktop people.

    2. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Tradition!

      "I think the reason most desktop implementations follow the W95 - W2K tradition is that Microsoft hit the sweet spot with those designs."

      Agree, too bad Microsoft doesn't follow the W95 - W2K tradition.

      "That is not the purpose of this piece. What it is asking is: why are they all the same?"

      Complaining that desktops all have docks and panels and trays and clocks is like complaining that automobiles all have steering wheels and shifters and pedals and stalks. (Edit: I see Randy Hudson already made this point below.) I don't want some revolutionary design without a shifter, in fact I prefer manual transmission. What I want is a transmission with minimal throw and clean synchronization. My current car doesn't have either of those things, but it could if the manufacturer had invested the effort in improving the old technology instead of chasing after sat-nav or whatever new shiny.

      I notice the terminal (analogous to a manual transmission) is not getting any mention here. To me the integration of the command line with the window manager was the biggest advance in UI since [Ww]indows. Even macOS did this so I'm not the only one who likes it.

      1. Liam Proven (Written by Reg staff) Bronze badge

        Re: Tradition!

        [Author here]

        I can see you're a car driver.

        I had my motorcycle licence nearly 20Y before I got my car licence, and I still don't like driving cars much. I far prefer motorbikes and the motorcycle control layout, compared to which I find car controls awkward and clumsy.

        Think beyond cars. It is not all about cars. Some of us prefer other types of vehicles, and countries in which cars predominate are sick and are damaged by it.

        1. Gene Cash Silver badge

          Re: Tradition!

          Yeah! Who thought using your horribly uncoordinated leg was the thing to do for a clutch?? The hand is far better!

          1. Lars Silver badge
            Flame

            Re: Tradition!

            Anybody here who happened to press down the "clutch" when driving a car with an automatic gear box the first times.

        2. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

          Re: Tradition!

          I don't like cars either - I drive about 11,000 km/year, only because my employer keeps moving my place of work away from where I live. But the car bit is just an extended analogy.

          To your question "why are they all the same?" I reply "why not?" The desktop UI, if we include the CLI, does not need to be radically better. It just needs developers to stop breaking the known good usability patterns for the sake of being different. There's always room for innovation indeed, and if something really better comes along then I will use it. The last time that happened was the mouse!

          To return to the car analogy, what gets in my way is not the controls inside the vehicle (they're all fine, as mandated by the NTSB), but my own stupidity / fatigue / distraction / ignorance as the driver. LIkewise, the computer OSes (all of them) have more than enough power to get things done, if only I knew all the ways, and stopped making mistakes with the ones that I do know.

  22. TRT Silver badge

    Concepts

    It does all seem to be based around usability and basic concepts arising from the old Xerox Parc research on GUIs. However I do seem to recall that a few years ago there was talk of moving from an application-centric model to a document-centric one. That is, instead of applications "having" documents in their own proprietary file formats with the various file and folder analogies that come with that, one would have documents which contained elements that were operated on by minimal interface modules geared towards specific functionality. The documents themselves wouldn't reside in a file and folder architecture, but instead would be more like object-storage; metadata tagging done part manually and part automatically describing the contents and thus retrievable by something like a natural language query.

    Not much seems to have evolved from that side shoot, though I could be wrong; there's bound to be some examples.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Concepts

      "The documents themselves wouldn't reside in a file and folder architecture, but instead would be more like object-storage; metadata tagging done part manually and part automatically describing the contents and thus retrievable by something like a natural language query."

      Forwarding one of those as an email attachment sounds like fun.

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Concepts

        Oh, IIRC they were self-contained of course, and could exist in a traditional filing system as well - the metadata being a modular part of themselves for those OSes that understood it, but I get the point... useless outside of that ecosystem. I read the article in some depth and it obviously left an impression because I remember it fairly well. It was a very different concept that they were proposing.

        Unless the executables required to modify and view is contained within the document - which means you'd really be distributing platform agnostic executable bundles - kind of like Java applications or something. Not that Java applications can't be sophisticated, but a 20Mb file for a flyer for the church fete is a bit beyond requirements. Mind you... today's Word documents aren't exactly the svelte things they started out as many years ago.

    2. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

      Re: Concepts

      "there's bound to be some examples"

      Any MS Office document can be a container for other documents. My manager likes to work this way, an Excel file with dozens of embedded pdfs that get incremental updates. Ugh. "Can you come here? I don't understand what's wrong with my Excel file..."

      1. TRT Silver badge

        Re: Concepts

        Oh yes. So it can. Although I think the intention behind the proposal was that it would work and wouldn't suck donkey balls.

        1. yetanotheraoc Silver badge

          Re: Concepts

          "wouldn't suck donkey balls"

          Microsoft omitted that from their requirements document.

  23. Bluck Mutter

    Zorin is unique

    Yes, Zorin out of the box defaults to a windows type layout but you can (as I have) configured it to be menu-less (aside from settings which really arent menus, just categories)

    I have my most frequent apps icons at the top and in the left corner you can drill down on the rest, listed in a flat, menu-less alphabetical style.

    I have a quite a few less frequently used apps but the left corner menu-less drill down still only covers two pages so a single page down/page up easily navigates you across them and makes them easy to select.

    In the right corner I have time/date and the system drop down (network, lock. power off and settings).

    No other Linux desktop can be configured this way (I have tried them all) and so, in my opinion, Zorin is a 3rd layout choice as it can be setup with no menus needed.

    To me, menus are counter productive and Zorin fits my work style.

    Bluck

  24. noisy_typist

    i3

    No clutter, completely configurable but works out of the box, works perfectly on multiple screens.

    Yes, it's tiling, but you can use a mouse. You can resize windows with the mouse, select focus, you can have floating windows etc if you want.

    I get that it's not the default for any distribution, and that a windowsy point and click is immediately familiar in some way to pretty much everyone, but like learning the basic key bindings for a text editor or IDE, once you have invested a week or so of slightly reduced productivity you get years of reduced friction and improved productivity.

  25. twellys

    Open Look?

    I'm surprised no-one has talked about Sun's Open Look (olwm/olvwm) that didn't have a task bar, didn't have a start menu, et al.

    (and Sun keyboards had their own keys for Cut/Copy/Paste on the left hand of the keyboard - Very Useful!)

    Also, I remember using olvwm for Linux when using Slackware 3.*... (Middle Aged person alert!)

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    If you ignore window managers, you actually only have one desktop environment. CDE.

    Gnome 3+ and KDE 4+ are ridiculous basically.

    1. Updraft102

      KDE Plasma 5 had a rough start, but it's fantastic now. GNOME 3, could not agree more.

  27. bofh1961

    Thought provoking

    I think the majority of us just want a desktop that resembles Windows somewhat but works better for us. At the moment, for me, it's Cinnamon. You want desktop icons? Easy. You want a Start menu? Sorted. You want just a big picture with a panel that only appears when you pull the mouse down? Done. The only concerns I have about it are its dependence on Gnome's GTK and its reluctance to go anywhere near Wayland.

  28. aerogems Bronze badge
    Unhappy

    It is a failure

    One of the great things about open source community projects is that they aren't beholden to a corporate overlord dictating a specific design. They are free to throw anything and everything at the wall to see what sticks, but they never do. They just endlessly copy Microsoft and Apple -- badly I might add -- who copy each other, making for a truly incestual relationship between the three groups. Granted with all the wailing and gnashing of teeth at the relatively minor changes between Win 10 and 11 in terms of the UI, not to mention all the flack GNOME caught over GNOME 3, I suppose I can see why so many devs stick to the "tried and true." Still, I wish there were some developers out there who were willing to take a chance on some different ideas. Sort of like when Microsoft reimagined the UI for touch interfaces with Windows Phone/Mobile. A pity they were a day late and a dollar short and Apple had already taken the crown. Surely there's some OSS developers out there who have some ideas kicking around in their head for how the UI/UX could be made better. Now we just need them to actually put in the work to make it a reality.

    1. Greybearded old scrote Silver badge
      Joke

      "Now we just need them to actually put in the work to make it a reality."

      That 'J' word should have its own swear box in the tech world.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: It is a failure

      Oddly enough there are commentards here slating open source for exactly the opposite reason - too many variations that don't look like anything else.

      The problem most of us find is that in both FOSS and proprietary there are too many who have ideas kicking around in their heads for how unbroken UI/UX could be made better. Would that they would keep them in their heads; the the rest of us wouldn't be wishing we had a chance to kick said heads.

  29. Randy Hudson

    What's the deal with cars? Every car I get in is the same.

    Round steering wheel? Check

    Accelerator on the right? Check

    Brake pedal on the left? Check

    Blinker/wiper controls on the left? Check

    1. fuzzie

      > Blinker/wiper controls on the left? Check

      Actually there's a split there. Some manufacturers don't swap them around when doing right-hand drive models, e.g. on German brands, the indicator stalk is on the left, but on Japanese cars it's on the right.

  30. heyrick Silver badge

    Hmm...

    One day we're bemoaning the likes of Android for buggering up the UI for no discernible reason. And here we're bemoaning Linux because everything looks sort of like Windows?

    Perhaps because, rightly or wrongly (and I say this as a RISC OS user) everybody "knows" Windows and how it behaves. You can implement just about anything else, but if it's different, it'll be the same questions over and over. As I often deal with in the world of RISC OS when somebody goes to run an application (and deals with the shock of what the filing system is) and then coaxing them into understanding that no, something did happen, it's just you're used to every damn thing opening a massive window on the screen.

    If RISC OS behaved like Windows, okay it would suck, but people would be able to use it right away. No trying to understand stuff like "where are the menus" and "how do I save things". The understanding is already there because they've seen it before. No big learning curve.

  31. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Best WM I've used

    In no particular order:

    - AmigaOS: maybe it's nostalgia, but it was fast and intuitive: a drawer opens with a new window and icons in it. Who can't understand this ?

    - MacOS: multi-workspace, very intuitive, a dock, which is good

    - TWM on Linux: multi-workspace, lighting fast. I think FWM is quite the same

    All the gnome inconsistent crap changing all the time, gives me nausea. Same goes with Windows UI past 7 ...

  32. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Angel

    If only...

    If someone ported a fully functional version of RISC OS to Linux I've be the happiest bunny in the world.

  33. Huw L-D

    Give me a Jurassic Park interface or an Iron Man interface... <j/k>

    1. Dave559 Silver badge

      "Give me a Jurassic Park interface or an Iron Man interface... <j/k>"

      You hopefully know that the Jurassic Park file manager was actually a real file manager?

      And there are ports of it, and other similar fly-through file managers also exist, just because some coders can, just for the fun of it. :)

      "It's a UNIX system! I know this!"

  34. fidget

    I want a window manager for a 40 inch monitor

    My monitor is a 40 inch 4k TV. I'm still looking for a window manager that works well with this. Most seem to assume a laptop or 22 inch monitor.

    By the way, sometimes I sit at my desk (as I am now). And sometimes I sit about 8 feet away (when I'm on a video call).

    I run Ubuntu Linux, and will soon be using Wayland. This will I hope improve matters.

    1. Will Godfrey Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: I want a window manager for a 40 inch monitor

      Clearly what you really need is a smaller monitor. I'd be prepared to swap (if you ask nicely)

  35. Lars Silver badge
    Happy

    Such a chatastrophy

    It's the bloody same with cars.

    Wheels, mostly four, Check.

    Engine, Check.

    Steering wheel, only one, Check.

    Breaks, Check.

    Light forward, Check.

    Breaking lights, always reddish, never green, no imagination, Check.

    Doors, only few exceptions, Check.

    Vipers, only too and fro, Check.

    Bonnet, if only in Britain mostly, Check.

    Same old Carl Benz all the time.

    And now I am getting upset with my toilet seat.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Such a chatastrophy

      "And now I am getting upset with my toilet seat."

      Taps. Or faucets, if you prefer. Nothing could be simpler, eh? Unless, of course, it's touch operated, or proximity operated, or you lift/lower the handle to operate and swing left/right to adjust temperature. Or is it left/right to operate and up/down for temperature? Is up hot, or right cold? Is the sensor in the wall, the basin or the tap? Then there's the plug. Is it on a chain or have a lever hidden somewhere? Do you push or pull the lever to put the plug in? :-) Better yet, combined tap and hand drier, and no, not the ones with push buttons or timers. The new ones switch between water and air depending on where your hands are and seem to be either too sensitive or not sensitive enough!

      1. vincent himpe

        Re: Such a chatastrophy

        all this can easily be solved by living next to a river or creek. just make sure you are upstream from the neighbours.

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Such a chatastrophy

      If you're ticking Vipers off your list, you have bigger problems than whether or not there are four wheels. I recommend a good Samuel L Jackson impression.

    3. heyrick Silver badge

      Re: Such a chatastrophy

      By the way, with the cars you forgot the obvious...

      Which stick does the indicators and which cleans the windscreen? If there are more than two sticks, WTF?

      Is first gear on the upper left, lower left, upper right, or lower right?

      Is reverse opposite fifth or is it on the other side?

      (if an automatic, is it D-P-R or R-P-D?)

      In fact, where the hell is the gearstick? Between the seats or sort of up where you'd expect the radio to be? Or worse, on some old American cars a kind of up and down lever behind the steering wheel, as if there wasn't enough going on there already.

      Is the console and speedometer in front of your or did some twat design it in the middle?

      Which knob is for the fans and which adjusts the heat?

      Where the hell is the honker? Bash the steering wheel or prod the end of a stalk (and turn on the demister)?

      Where's the button to lower the window. On the door, on the dashboard, somewhere in the middle?

      So, while a car usually resembles a car on the outside, about the only thing anybody agrees with inside is the positions of the foot pedals, but I'm sure there are exceptions...

    4. vincent himpe

      Re: Such a chatastrophy

      Quote : Breaks.

      That's my main gripe. why can't they make a car that does not break ? Then gain, the repair people may not like that...

    5. nematoad Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: Such a chatastrophy

      "Breaks, Check."

      Well my car does, all the time, as it's old and badly maintained.

      The word I think you were looking for is "brakes"

  36. Exact Circus
    Pint

    I have no trackpad and I must scream

    I'm loving me the discussion of the "101-button mouse", an approach to navigating the desktop and its depths totally by the keyboard.

    More generally, Jeff Raskin's book/extended essay "The Humane Interface" is worth a look. He discusses principles and measures for any kind of interactive system. At the end he presents ZoomWorld, a very intriguing "3D world" approach to the desktop,

  37. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge

    Argue argue argue

    about what is right and what is wrong in today's linux UI (and how most of them ape windows.. well windows pre-win 8)

    But one thing you have to remember is that 99% of UI users dont give a flying fig what UI they are using.

    They do care about being able to make a report from excel, paste the pie chart into office, then print the thing out to impress the manager they are crawling upto

    They dont give a stuff whether its Linux mint running libre office or windows 10 running office 365.

    They are the people any UI designer should be aiming at, not the uber geeks like us who install an OS once a day.. decide they dont like the colours and make a forum posting to that effect.

    If the UI matches or looks like what someone is used to using, the chances are that they should be able to use it, my own experience of designing a UI for a RS232 comms program proved that to me, a button for selecting the destination robot, a button to send data and a button to recieve data.

    The guys using it dont need to know about RS232 protocols, baud rates, stop bits, and if the robot likes its data in ISO or EIA format.

    Press 2 buttons, type in a file name and away it goes.

    Keep it simple.

  38. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Keyboard-only FVWM

    I have my own written-from-scratch FVWM config.

    There's no icons. There's no windows widgets (close/iconify/maximize/etc)

    The titlebar is on the left. I have a little dock in the lower right of the middle monitor that lists windows, so you can select them.

    It collapses when the cursor moves away.

    F1 lowers a window in the stacking order (sends it to the back)

    F2 iconifies a window

    F3 maximizes a window vertically - it stays the same width

    F4 closes windows, except for xterm, mpv, xine, or vlc

    F5 maximizes/restores windows

    F6 iconifies ALL the windows

    F7 starts an xterm

    F10 maximizes a window horizonally - it stays the same height

    F11 moves a window out of the way (re-places it somewhere other than under the cursor)

    F12 fixes a bug with maximizing & window placement

    Ctrl-Escape calls up a list of windows

    Alt-Tab switches to the next window

    Pause pings the cursor with a circle animation so I can find the damn thing

    On the keypad, alt plus a number key moves the window to that side/corner of the current monitor

    Alt-Keypad-5 centers the window in the monitor

    Ctrl-Shift-Left-Arrow moves the window to the left screen

    Ctrl-Shift-Right-Arrow moves the window to the right screen

    Ctrl-Shift-Down-Arrow moves the window to the middle screen

    What do you mean, nobody can use my PC? You say that like it's a bad thing!

  39. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In the 1980's there was one Desktop OS. In the 1990's there were two..

    ..starting in the mid 1990's..

    For 99% of ordinary folk users who used personal computer back then. The people who bough shrink-wrap software. Created and sold by ISV's.

    In the 1980s' there were a bunch of low market share also ran, which were mostly were games platforms, but the MacOS was the only one with a serious ($$) sale. So AmigaOS, AtariST (GEM) had very anemic sales for anything other than games. I know. Because I was one of the guys who decided which platforms to port some of the best selling software of the time to. We looked over the numbers. Not great. MS Windows only entered the picture with 3.0 in 1990. But had so many problems that 3.1 was the first release that was nt a joke.

    For those who mention various UK players at the time, the UK was less than 10% of world software sales back then. So 20% of 10% = who cares.

    Starting in 1991 Win 3.1 started to become a factor but it was Win 95 that changed everything. Not great, but good enough. Unlike Win 3x. That, plus Apples suicidal upper management politics, meant that it quickly became a 80 / 20 software market. Anyone else, no one cared. The market share numbers were rounding errors. Unless a platform vendor was paying for the port you would not see big name titles on any other Desktop OS. Hint, thats were almost all the NextStep software came from that was not written by some guy in a dorm. Although some schmucks fell for the OS/2 hype.

    And so it lumbered on for another decade until mobile caught on as a platform. And Apple repeated history. A few years of only game in town and t hen quickly the 20 of a 20/80 market. For pretty much the same reasons.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: In the 1980's there was one Desktop OS. In the 1990's there were two..

      That seems like a very US perspective, and it also looks like you were just sat on your hands waiting for MS to get its act together.

      The market was fragmented between different machines, that's the way it was. And it your investigation of the European market stopped at the UK with the language barrier, forgetting that Germany was the bigger market.

      To sell in Europe you would have had to localise your software to British English, French, German, and Italian (at the very least) and produced versions for the PC and CP/M, Mac, Amiga and ST.

      It wasn't as difficult as it sounds because on one hand there was DOS and CP/M and on the other there was 68000-land, but once you start asking US companies to localise software there's a complete incomprehension of what that means (and there still is today, looking at the number of crazy date formats and the way everything defaults to US format and so on in US software).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: In the 1980's there was one Desktop OS. In the 1990's there were two..

        Spent most of my time in US but first commercial product I shipped (1985) was for leading UK software house that supported eight languages. Been doing internalization since the very beginning.

        Until Win 95 fundamentally changed the market the revenue numbers for personal computer software sales (non games ) was 50% US, 25% Japan, 25% Europe. That was from early 1980's to mid 1990's. UK was biggest single European market (by revenue) at almost 10% some years.

        European and Japanese software titles rarely succeed outside home area. (Except games). US products did. If you were not in the games business that mean most product categories were US first. Then you did the Japanese version if the market was not locked up by local company. Then it might be worth your while to do a French language version. Then maybe German. All other European language localization was generally done by local distributor. The reason why you had local language small time successes products on fringe platforms back then is only because it was not worth the while of the segment dominant (US) companies doing a port or localized version. A lot of very expensive work for very small SKU sales. So worth our while to leave the crumbs to some small local company.

        Europe unlike Japan was never a big enough market to support lots of MacOS localized products. Even though the OS supported easy internationalization. Once Win95 took off in Europe and took all MS/DOS market share then the equation changed and it was finally worth doing localized versions. Even though Win OS support was flaky. Especially in Japaneses. Win95J - the worst OS MS ever shipped...

  40. TVerron

    I just tried it, Alt-Space-X doesn't do anything on windows. Actually, windows and linux are usually reasonably in agreement over what is a modifier and what is a key. Sure, there are exceptions, like the windows key, with DEs slowly picking up the windows behavior. But Alt-Space-X (one modifier, two keys) would be weird on any system.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      At some stage in the past, Windows seems to have removed some keyboard shortcuts. Alt-Space would bring up the menu otherwise accessed by clicking the top left window corner widget which had the maximise/minimise/restore/close menu options. The underlined letters could then be accessed to the keypress sequence is press Alt-Space, menu appears, release Alt-Space, then press X for maXimise.

  41. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I'm Puzzled......

    .....so.....there are (allegedly) only two desktop designs.

    .....and I'm thinking that a typical user spends most of their time on APPLICATIONS......

    .....so a choice to run Linux will most likely be a choice based on one or more APPLICATIONS.....

    .....and this user might also be looking at the likely reliability of the update process for Linux and the chosen APPLICATIONS.....

    So.....I'm puzzled......Yes....desktop choice is one choice.......but the desktop choice is likely way down the priority list.

    Quote: (Adam Osborne) Adequacy Is Enough!

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: I'm Puzzled......

      No problem. I have applications on this Linux box which I run at least weekly for which I suspect there are no equivalents on Windows almost all of which are part of the distro's repositories*.

      Updates? A negligible issue - the OS checks for updates on a daily basis and if there are any they can be downloaded and installed without fuss, only an OS kernel - infrequent - needs a reboot and even then only when its convenient.

      * Personally I use LibreOffice from its own website rather than the older one in the Debian repository so I do have to update that myself. Other distros might use the more recent versions anyway and some Debian users might just be content with the older version.

  42. rcxb1

    Linux got there first

    GNOME, KDE and others implemented the Windows 7 interface circa 1999, a decade before Win7 was released.

    Having your main menu in the top or bottom left corner just makes sense... that positioning makes it an infinitely large target in two dimensions... Impossible to go past it with your mouse.

  43. jdn

    agree

    runing linux, unix (sco, sonos) for more than 30 years.

    Just agree with the author

    I am not happy to say but many of the comments just show the problem.

    Many like "my father is stronger than yours" :-) hehe

    Many many hours or even years has been mis-used to write a clone of the same two desktops.

    In my humble opinion - just waste of time and has not done any good thing for linux

    qt,gtk,lot of tooltalks etc just a waste of time.

    Have a nice evening all of you

    Jens @ Denmark

  44. vincent himpe

    "GNOME 2 was reasonably good for people without eyesight"

    on the risk of opening a flamestorm : Why do they need a graphical user interface ?

    1. rcxb1

      There are no good text mode web browsers. Blind people need to use graphical web browsers with screen readers, which pretty well requires at least a basic GUI. They would be cut-off from too many web based applications if they limited themselves to websites that work in lynx, elinks, etc.

      1. vincent himpe

        blind people don't even need monitors , why do they need a full blown graphical user interface ? think about it !

        This is like making shoes with an attached staircase bolted on top of a car ... so you drive upstairs

        Isn't that the real problem ? Should we maybe rethink how to build a user interface for disabled people ?

        Alexa is far more useful for blind people (as a user interface) you can talk to it and it responds. no keyboard, mouse, monitor needed.

        1. Dan 55 Silver badge

          Not everyone is fully blind, and who's going to be first to write a word processor for Alexa?

          1. vincent himpe

            doesn;t have to be alexa. speech to text. dictate the letter.

            1. rcxb1

              The visually impaired usually do not have any particular difficulty typing. Do you use speech-to-text for all your day-to-day tasks? Why would you expect the visually impaired to do so? It is just as poor a choice for them as it is for you.

              You've obviously given very little thought to the challenges people with disabilities face. I don't understand why you still feel the need to continue to argue the subject.

        2. Justthefacts Silver badge

          “Blind people”

          Blindness comes in a dozen forms. A few can’t see anything. Many can only see a small central portion of vision. Many others have very blurry vision, for some of whom that little magnifying glass thing allows them to operate well in the world of computer work. I’ve known two developers and one (very good) technical software manager like that. Some struggle with distinguishing colours due to cataracts. Many struggle with glare. Some are blind in one eye only, which you might not think makes a difference but it really does on some tasks.

        3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

          You have a choice of ways to develop your visually impaired interface for the web.

          One is to insist that every website can be accessed text only.

          A second is to develop a browser that presents itself to websites as some browser they recognise, tracking that browser's changes but goes straight to voice. You'd also need to develop voice-based equivalents to all the other software that might be needed.

          A third is to use an existing browser and only develop a screen to voice layer to sit over it, at the same time gaining access to the massive inventory of other screen-based S/W.

          Which gives you more bang per buck?

          BTW searching the Debian repository for Braille brings up 45 packages of which 6 are installed by default.

          1. vincent himpe

            braille packages doesn't do any good unless you have a braille interface so they can "read" by touch.

            With the current cpu horsepower i'd expect that speech to text, and text to speech would be way more advanced by now.

  45. John_3_16
    Windows

    Change just to change?

    I am on a Win7 fully updated well protected system. 32/64 bit duel CPU. Max RAM. Everything I need & want to do is completely possible on my system & comfortably familiar & easy.

    I don't want or need the change. M$ has decided for decades this does not matter. Their users do not matter. My experience with Mozilla Firefox is the same. They are now trying with every update to be a Chrome clone & forcing it on every user because security updates can only be added with these "changes" for change.

    I agree that duplication is wasting talent. But that is true with the entire Ubuntu Linux Unity GNOME universe. All of the forks resulting from one change or another. A lot of wasted talent if we use your observation. Converting Unix to a PC platform & updating for security & tech changes would have been fine. Right?

    You are the one upset. Zorin 16.1 is my backup OS when Win7 blows up. Why? For the very reasons you describe as "negative". My last version of M$ after decades of use; from their very 1st to now. To demonstrate my own adversity to change I choose the most Windows-like OS I can find with the hope it will be with me for the rest of my time in this world. Just say'n!

    ( ͡~ ͜ʖ ͡°) [̲̅$̲̅(̲̅▀̿Ĺ̯▀̿ ̿)̲̅$̲̅]

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Change just to change?

      "Converting Unix to a PC platform & updating for security & tech changes would have been fine."

      It's been done several times.

      The Sys V version was fine but expensive. Not just fine but, in Linux's early days it was streets ahead in terms of quality It was called Xenix and then SCO. Unfortunately instead of competing by lowering the price for desktop users SCO was taken over by someone who had the bright idea of suing IBM for it contributions to Linux. It didn't work out well. In my view SCO could have owned the Unix on desktop market but they blew it.

      BSD versions are also fine but fragmented in a different way to Linux. They have lost out to Linux. It's not quite clear why. Maybe Linux was the new shiny. Maybe, despite what's said elsewhere, the community preferred the GPL Maybe it's because there were already several BSD versions against a single Linux kernel lineage.

      1. VoiceOfTruth

        Re: Change just to change?

        -> SCO was taken over by someone who had the bright idea of suing IBM for it contributions to Linux

        I can only imagine the sort of clunky shoes he wore.

        -> BSD versions are also fine but fragmented in a different way to Linux. They have lost out to Linux. It's not quite clear why.

        It is actually clear - the BSD vs AT&T lawsuit. It took about 5 years for BSD to get rid of AT&T code, into the mid 1990s - just about the time Linux was coming onto the scene. If the lawsuit had happened earlier, or if BSD were quicker at getting rid of the AT&T code, things *might* have been different. Look up the UNIX wars.

        But BSD lives on - a lot of the userland code in macOS is from *BSD.

  46. Joe Cincotta

    Walk down memory lane...

    I am probably lucky to have lived through the Cambrian era before the Microsoft extinction event. It was pretty cool. Mac System 6 and System 7 were cute. Amiga Workbench 2.1 was my go-to after using Geos on a C128 for a while. Then I got a Silicon Graphics Personal Iris with the joys of Irix 5 and that was simply glorious at the time. The 4D Window manager was nothing like anything I had used before - and a lot of programs were made using Motif - which felt exotic at the time. Compared to these, Windows 3.11 and later 95/NT4 were pretty average but had some useful features. I get where you are going in the article, but for me it's more nostalgia than anything else. Once you start using Ubuntu or Mint the window manager fades into inconsequential background. What is more annoying are weird UI difference between programs you use all the time because of the competing toolkits, or same toolkit but one is a snap container and the other is native. The problem nowadays is that the incredible modularity of Linux and BSD allows for choice with a penalty of less consistency. If you go to Apple it is the opposite. If you go to Windows, it's a little less extreme, but still there. Exotic operating systems like Aros have similar problems to Linux, just less choice due to a smaller community. Lamenting the lack of UI diversity on desktops is interesting, there are other choices, but this is a form of cognitive evolution of our species - there will be fewer outliers and a growing consistency of UI paradigm as more users adopt Linux.

  47. Manolo
    Linux

    KDE keyboard shortcuts

    "Alt-Space-X maximizes a window in an instant, and the same keystroke works in Unity or in Xfce – but it doesn't in KDE Plasma"

    Take a look at the System Settings in KDE. There are more keyboard shortcuts than anyone could possibly remember for almost every possible action and (almost?) all of them can be customised.

    Computer is sleeping now and me almost, so can't check, but I'm pretty sure if you want Alt-Space-X to maximise a window, you can make it so.

  48. Ian Johnston Silver badge

    And all these cars with two or three pedals, accelerator on the right, steering wheel above. It's all such a boring waste of engineer's time. We shoul dgo back to the 1920s when every car had a different control layout. Actually, that's the GNOME project's main goal.

    1. Manolo

      I've once (in the nineties) driven a tractor (an agricultural one) that had brake and accelerator swapped.

      Apparently not uncommon for that type of vehicles. Got used to it surprisingly quickly, as usually one's foot is on only one of the two at any given time.

      That being said: back in Europe from thousands of kilometers driving in Australia for weeks I would turn on my windscreen wipers when I wanted to signal a turn and vice versa.

  49. kazriko

    Passion is not wasted effort

    I'm not a fan of the "duplicated/wasted effort" argument.

    i3 focuses on being a good Tiling window manager, while Xmonad is a tiling manager specifically for people who enjoy Haskell programming. You're not likely to take a Haskell programmer from xmonad and slot them into the C language i3 desktop. They're not going to be efficient there or happy donating their time to i3. Thus, this isn't duplicated effort by people who could contribute to the other project, but people pursuing their passion, and who the heck are you to tell them they can't do that?

    You can try and produce two good options and try to get the normies coming out of Windows to use them first. Mint and KDE would be good choices. Mint for windows users who aren't experienced in computers, and KDE for ones who are. Then take Gnome for mac users who aren't experienced or KDE for Mac users who are. But you shouldn't tell people NOT to produce things that they enjoy producing just because you consider their efforts to be clutter.

    (KDE is flexible enough that you can make it be like Windows, or like Mac, or like any number of other desktop paradigms, and it's also pretty light weight, so it makes a very good all-around power-user desktop. The fact that it can be super customized by the user makes it a poor choice for newbies though, if they need help they may have contorted their desktop into all kinds of unusual shapes.)

    1. YetAnotherXyzzy

      Re: Passion is not wasted effort

      "Then take Gnome for mac users"

      Only if you really, really hate those poor Mac users. Shudder.

  50. Updraft102

    "But there's a problem – there is almost no diversity of design."

    There is a reason that Linux desktops are either configured by default, more or less, in a Mac pattern or a Windows pattern. The large majority of people starting on Linux come from Mac or Windows. People who know how to use Windows or Mac can sit down and know how to use Linux if it is in a pattern they recognize. It isn't a problem unless what you are looking for isn't available. If that's the case, then what, exactly, is it that you are looking for?

    The Windows 95 pattern is one that works, and works well, for a large number of people. Changing things just because you want to be different doesn't accomplish anything, and just annoys people. If you have what you believe is a better idea, by all means, run it up the flagpole and see if anyone salutes. Ubuntu tried that with Unity, and it didn't catch on. Change that actually moves things forward is good, but change just because of some vague idea that things should be more different is not helpful, and is not welcomed by most users.

    Every car out there has more or less the same user interface. The wheel in front of the driver is always there, and always has the same function. The pedals on the floor are always there, and work the same in every car. The turn signal switch is always in the same place, and each one has a handle you can pull to engage the parking brake too. They all have a horn, windshield wipers, headlights, heating systems, and the controls for them are usually quite similar in function and placement. There are really only two basic variations... automatic and manual transmission.

    There are hundreds of models of cars, and there's no diversity of [UI] design!

    (Of course, there is a ton of variety in car designs, but they all share the same UI patterns. Same's true of the Linux desktops, except for one thing: you generally can't reconfigure a car UI if you don't like it.)

    "There are hotkeys for opening menus, navigating them, and closing them...

    These work inconsistently across Linux desktops."

    Wait, I thought you were saying that Linux desktops are all the same, and that's bad. Now you're saying they're all different, and that's bad too!

    If you are a keyboard-centric user, then certainly you would want to use one of the desktop environments that has keystrokes for all of the important functions. If there are those that don't have a keybind for a given action, those are not a good fit for you. Perhaps they're not all the same after all!

    Now, if those keystroke combos happen to be different than in Windows... If you were willing to learn a new way of using a PC than the Mac pattern or the Windows pattern, why is it too much to ask to learn a new way of using the keyboard? Or, conversely, if you expect your Windows experience as far as hotkeys to be carried over to Linux, what is wrong with most distros defaulting to the Windows UI paradigm so that others can make use of their Windows experience as well?

  51. Citizen99

    I happen to like Trinity (BTW a fork of KDE 3.5;the clue is in the name). Not only for the layout, to address the main theme of the discussion, but also for some tools that come bundled with it.

    Happy to run in VMs,when required, XP, W7 with Classic Shell, various lightweight *ubuntus.

  52. drankinatty

    Er.. Umm... Trinity is a KDE3 fork...

    Reading the article I almost choked when I got to "Trinity is a KDE4 fork" - Huh? No. Trinity is a fork of the last KDE 3.5 with continuing development and addition of the latest security updates and from upstream packages that feed into Trinity itself. Trinity maintains its own fork of Qt3. It exists precisely because KDE4 was so horrendous.

    I suspect that quote was a simple typo.

    1. Citizen99

      Re: Er.. Umm... Trinity is a KDE3 fork...

      I suspected so also ;-)

      ... and also, as regards tools, KDE4 'killed' functionalities of e.g. Konqueror, to name but one.

  53. Paul Floyd

    Oberon System

    Back in the day there were various ports of the Oberon System. The original GUI (S3) is a tiling WM with a rich set of mouse 'interclicks' (a later non-tiling WM was also developed, V4).

  54. Will Godfrey Silver badge
    Boffin

    As you read this comment you get the uncanny feeling it's only function is to discover if commentards actually read this far down the list.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Read? Don't be silly.

      Search for keywords/phrases to trigger on? NOW you're talking!

    2. VoiceOfTruth

      I have read all the comments. Including yours.

  55. Lars Silver badge
    Linux

    When it comes to comments on ElReg I think Linux has already won the desktop.

  56. Justthefacts Silver badge

    Fairly obvious why its the same-but-different

    The most important feature of the desktop is that it should work relatively intuitively compared to the users experience. The users have experience with Windows. Hence, it should “work like Windows”. That’s why Linuxes look the same: the ones that don’t, have six users.

    The rest is just “where have you put my things”. A tribal war has built up around choice of “where have you put the things”. It must be very similar to Windows, but equally not the same (otherwise the We Hatez Windoze crowd won’t use it). Therefore, the options sit on a self-organised edge orbit around Windows.

    MS Windows, of course, is exactly the same. Win95 through 7,8,9,10,11 are all functionally identical “does the same stuff”. It can’t be really different, or people won’t use it as its “not Windows”

    But it can’t *be* the same, otherwise people won’t pay to “upgrade”.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Fairly obvious why its the same-but-different

      I think the Windows situation is that you use it whether you like the changes or not, MS give you no choice. People didn't pay to "upgrade" from 7, they failed to avoid it. Windows users have no choice. Perhaps the take-away from these comments is that Windows is for people who get confused by choice and will put up with all sorts of vendor's abuse to avoid it.

  57. thatrandomtechie

    Ironic choice of words...

    So to me this has always technically been a thing with Linux and while Zorin OS has been the only project that actually tries to offer a flexible enough experience for the desktop (such that you can get both mentioned "styles"), my personal preference will always be Cinnamon. It is a VERY outrageous claim to make that Windows offers any kind of superior desktop customization or flexibility than Linux. Most of the popular and well maintained desktops mentioned in this article can actually be tailored to look like MacOS or Ubuntu's Unity and usually WITHOUT forking the DE. The author mentions important pieces in the beginning and then derails into the usual longtime argument of "why don't you all just do one project for for DE?"

    Let's look at a few lines here.

    "There is a lot more to life than the tired old Windows model. What GNOME and Pantheon are doing to reinvent it is great, but at the same time both remove a lot of the customizability and flexibility that some of us rely on… as well as features that were not only crucial to users with some disabilities, but also helped everyone."

    What are you trying to argue for here? Should yet another desktop be curtailed to supplement some missing features from a select DE in the Unix desktop landscape? You're literally preaching to the choir there. You even admitted Mate (Gnome 2) did the things you wanted it to. What you didn't seem to acknowledge is that Gnome itself has been the most forked DE in the community due to it abandoning useful and commonplace desktop components. These "reinvent" initiatives by Gnome and Pantheon do not merit praise but instead should be sanctioned. The reason why Mate, Cinnamon, Xfce, and LXDE even exist now is BECAUSE Gnome has failed to actually provide a meaningful/useful/friendly desktop out of the box. If you want to blame any one project for why so many identical desktops exist now, go blame Gnome and their hoity-toity crew of devs. Obviously, there isn't really much more to life than a UI that plainly WORKS. What Unix/Linux and the world needs is greater adoption of usability and accessibility features for the relevant software... what it doesn't need is the wheel to be reinvented. You can claim MacOS as revolutionary and yes it is like comparing apples to oranges but guess what? MacOS still has their taskbar and their panels and context menus BECAUSE they work. It doesn't matter if the majority of desktops use the Windows 95 style arrangement or components... it's what everyone uses whether it's Windows 11 and it's style of MacOS and it's style. You need these graphical components to actually have a GUI. Nobody today uses RiscOS on their main PCs... want to take a wild guess why?

    "There are other designs out there. There are more desktops than Windows and macOS, and all offer their own unique benefits. Reimplementing the same old desktop model over and over again doesn't help anyone: it just wastes a huge amount of talent and effort. ®"

    How can this be true if Gnome2 (i.e. Mate) offers some of the benefits you claim are important despite Mate itself being a fork of what Gnome was? Obviously then it is quite clearly not a waste of talent or effort since it caters to a cause you apparently care for. Gnome and all the other MacOS knockoff DE in the community do not interest me because they try to stray away from what plainly works. Docks are not miraculously better than having a panel organize the active apps for the sessions... they are alternative. It is also plain preference. Panels actually don't waste space when they are used correctly--and by that I mean not as done in vanilla Gnome. The modern Gnome desktop offers only a specific user experience that has abandoned the traditional (i.e. working i.e. INTUITIVE) user experience in light of "reinventing the wheel".

    My advice to the author is quit nagging over what independent projects in the community do with their time and resources... instead, if you actually want the change you so desperately seek, go make your own DE like System76 or better yet, go and pitch your ideas to them and convince them to integrate them into their own totally-not-Gnome fork of a desktop.

    This article, aside from being an advertisement for all the different DE we have in the community, has been utterly pointless--more so than the claimed initiative for forking DE due to valid feature integrations which are what make them distinct albeit keeping similar GUI components—is only done likely because of a more inherent problem in the community that actually isn't highlighted here. Go figure.

  58. Blackjack Silver badge

    If all Linuxes look the same it makes easier to chance distros. On the other hand because they all look the same, it makes harder to tell the differences.

  59. deadlockvictim

    I really don't see the problem

    If this article had been about the layout of cars (they're all basically the same layout!), we might be shaking our heads.

    Or keyboards, for that matter. Those who have used keyboards in other country understand what a pain in the arse it is to have to re-adjust.

    If you've ever tried to cook in somebody else's kitchen, you'll appreciate how useful the familiar is.

    I use Ubuntu at home and I was pleasantly surprised at the desktop manager. Things were not difficult to find. I had more difficulty adjusting to Mac OS X on my wife's Mac Mini than I did to Ubuntu.

  60. fvf

    Misguided

    I think this article is misguided. Who cares if Linux is so diverse in environments, yet they seem to have the same design.

    Linux is like capitalism, if you don't like something, go and change it yourself, instead of complaining about it. It's also like capitalism because if there is no developer interest in an area to do it himself, it won't get done.

    Windows is like authoritarian China. You must accept it how they say. And China/Windows both work well/meh within their guidelines, but you cannot stray from how they intend. And you will have developers bored out of their minds working on the boring parts of Windows.

    If you want another desktop design, try to build it. It will probably fail, because either you get bored or it's not worth it or whatever, but still, then you will know why there are only two.

    Or if it doesn't fail, thank you for your contribution to Linux. Now there are three. Someone will then make an article saying "22 environments but only 3 designs! Sad!"

    1. Terry 6 Silver badge

      Re: Misguided

      Bullshit!

      "go and change it yourself," Almost nobody on the planet is a software developer. It's a specific profession ( or highly specialist hobby).

      "if there is no developer interest in an area to do it himself, it won't get done." Err, that's nothing like capitalism. In Capitalism people pay other people to do stuff. What it sound like, actually, is William Morris style Utopian Socialism. in which stuff gets done because people do it for the love of doing it. And the same objections apply- someone has to do the boring/dirty jobs.

      "Windows is like authoritarian China.". Err no. No one makes you stay within Microsoft's rule- as this article clearly demonstrates. Android/iOs and all the assortment of 'nux OSes are available to anyone. It's not Microsoft that holds them in- but if 'nux advocates want to welcome them across they need to be more competitive and err- welcoming

      "but you cannot stray from how they intend.". Yeah. I'll give you that one. But then there are plenty of FOSS programmes that are exactly like that too. I've seen a forum for one such with a long list of comments from supportive users saying they'd like a certain small change, with good reasoned explanations why. And responses from the devs saying, in essence, "That's not how we want it it be"- which is their absolute right.- and at least it's a free product unlike MS Windows/Office. But it's not welcoming.

  61. MilSpec

    Brake in the middle & throttle pedal on the right in the footwell below the steering wheel, check. Fuel filler takes universal gas guns, check etc. It is very often the way of things/stuff/interfaces that evolve to a more or less common point to find eventual acceptance, then be subject to little more than cosmetic mods over time. This breeds familiarity, lowers training costs and no doubt rankles UI designers because it's not how they like it. Well lap it up because unless change is going to bring epic increases in productivity things aint gonna change!

  62. Dave559 Silver badge

    Window Maker, AfterStep, etc

    At the start of the article, I was going to grumble that Window Maker, AfterStep, etc, didn't get a mention, but then I was relieved to see that they did later.

    Obviously any window manager (well, many of them) can be heavily customised through theming, and (often) you can choose what sort of dock or panel application you want to use, but, back in the day I did quite like Window Manager (etc) as they were fairly different from either the Mac/Amiga look or the Windows look, had rather elegant icons (compared to many others at the time), and the fact that menus popped up under your mouse (minimal/zero movement needed) was definitely quite innovative.

    But I guess they were all perhaps a little bit too quirky/different to what many people were more familiar with, and KDE (in the v1 - v3 era) and Gnome 2 gradually got more developer and user mindshare, being that bit more familiar in terms of look and feel for people with experience of other OSes. It's good to see that they are still being developed and hopefully still have some users, however.

    (And if you just can't get enough of eclectic window managers, it's good to see that the xwinman web site is still online…)

  63. dazinator

    Makes sense to me

    Windows has dominated the desktop market share which means most humans today that use computers are familiar with the Windows UX. If you are a Linux distro trying to gain desktop market share it makes a great deal of sense to me that you would try to make it as easy as possible for users to "switch" contexts so keeping a similar UX that doesn't frustrate a user or introduce too high a learning curve is attractive. Don't forget this is not a greenfield where every user is using a computer for the first time and on a journey of discovery. One of the main reasons I started using Linux is that Windows takes every opportunity to try and hide your privacy settings and monetise your data and this just annoyed me. I would not have switched to an entirely new UX as it would take me too long to adjust. My other point is this: How many designs that make sense are you expecting? Often times designs are converged on because they work - see convergent evolution for example. A Computer has a specific architecture like storage, memory, cpu. It has data and instructions. There are standard commodities input devices such as keyboard and mouse. Standard output device mainly 2d flatscreen monitor. Given a 2d surface and standard input devices and standard computer architectures - concepts like displaying a panel to launch programs, or displaying a panel to access files, or displaying a panel to see devices- just makes cognitive sense. Windows is a good design cecause it works. It's unfair to say that therefore it's down to Linux to re-invent the wheel - the wheel already works perfectly fine. As a developer I don't want to see more fragmentation on the Linux side anyway. Some at Microsoft have already said MAUI is not supporting Linux for example and fragmentation is often cited as a reason - which Linux UI do you want us to support GTK? Qt? Etc.

  64. Brian of Romsey

    More choices

    There is the lovely TwisterUI (for PC) and TwisterOS (for RPi) here: https://twisteros.com/ These have pretty nice replicas of 95, XP, 7, 10, 11, i, and Sur (in light and dark).

  65. David1

    Distrowatch will help you choose.

    https://distrowatch.com/

  66. ChadF

    Common Unification Needed

    In recent years, I thought about how all these different toolkits might be better off if they shared a lower-level API of common operations which [mostly] all of the toolkits do under the hood. This would allow better interoperability between applications written to use different UI libraries. So a Qt based app would work transparently in a Gtk based desktop, or vice-versa. They would all so copy/paste the same way, do drag-and-drop the same way, content handling/launching the save way. Then developers could deal with their UI style and top level interface and share the effort of maintaining the common API code. At first, such an effort would just standardize the common API/features, keeping each toolkit's underlying implementation and slowing transitioning parts to shared code.

    The benefits of doing this (assuming it was possible):

    - Better cross-compatibility between software using differing toolkits.

    - Less code duplication (of function) across toolkits.

    - Easier to create new toolkits without having to reinvent everything (or fork/depending on another toolkit). Thus, more chance of innovation,

    Of course, this seems unlikely to ever happen. Maybe if a couple well-used projects were willing to convert, others might follow, but still a big IF.

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