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Luis Villa, we miss ya!

At LinuxWorld Expo in Boston, I got the chance to catch up with gnome.org’s Luis Villa. Luis is the former Ximian guy who lead the main engineering team for Novell Linux Desktop 9 under Nat Friedman, and is a really cool guy. After delivering on Novell Linux Desktop 9, he decided to part ways with Novell, but he remains active with gnome.org.

Luis pitched to me his views on the differences between KDE and GNOME. What I like most about Luis comes out in his approach to talking about things like this: instead of building a massive case for why KDE sucks and why GNOME is the best thing since canned beer, he delineated the philosophical differences between KDE (absolute fine-tuned, granular control of the whole interface) and GNOME (ease of use through a very clean, simple, no-nonsense interface). Luis’s contention is that in order for desktop Linux to make it out of the geek-enthusiast space into broader and more general use, we need to concentrate on simplification rather than deeper control of tweaks and options.

Luis’s biggest point though was that the great KDE-GNOME debate, a fence which Novell has chosen to straddle, is hindering ISV support of Linux because the ISV’s do not have a single, clear development path to get behind. Said Luis, Novell has a unique opportunity to stand side by side on stage with Sun and Red Hat and make a clear statement to resolve this once and for all for the greater good of desktop Linux. An interesting observation, whether you agree or not.

[Aside: I am paraphrasing what Luis said to me, so flame replies to this blog entry really won’t be necessary. Level-headed counterpoints are very much welcome. I continue to withhold my opinion from this blog, as I am still learning about this whole area.]

Luis posts frequently to his own blog, where he chronicles a lot of the things he is working on in open source. If you would like to peak into the head of one of the interesting and articulate hackers in open source, Luis’s work is fun to follow.

2 Responses

  1. Luis Villa: Quote of your paraphrasing of,
    “philosophical differences between KDE (absolute fine-tuned, granular control of the whole interface) and GNOME (ease of use through a very clean, simple, no-nonsense interface). Luis’s contention is that in order for desktop Linux to make it out of the geek-enthusiast space into broader and more general use, we need to concentrate on simplification rather than deeper control of tweaks and options.”

    Hi Ted,
    I recognize the value and intent of Luis’ approach to simplifiying things for the end users. I absolutely agree with the intent. I have massive trouble with the execution.

    Here are the problems:

    #1, While we can make choices about what to allow the end user to change that seem sensible, we can never anticipate the needs of all, or even most of the end user’s environments. Tomorrow is always a day away and we just cannot see what each corporate desktop will have to have or what configuration will be needed to support it. If Gnome says OK we will make every control/option available, then they have changed to the (above) description of the KDE philosophy.

    #2, Dogfood – Not eating it versus eating it.

    Between Gnome and KDE Most power user’s are likely to choose to live in the KDE desktop environment because they won’t have to fight the environment to customize it.

    This means a lot fewer potential contributors to the Gnome toolset and a corresponding reduction in the quality and usability of the Gnome environment. KDE will gain those things as a complimentary function of the same thing.

    #3, UNIX Design Tenet: “Keep it simple” (use text)

    XML is a wonderful tool for a lot of things, (and so it gconf), but using an XML based file format for holding all the configuration information violates the above. Keeping the info in a textual format would be better as it allows the users (and administrators) to more easily build automated tools that do what they need.

    Other potential issues with gconf:
    http://www.camalott.com/~jtpolk/unix/unixtenets.html

    8. Avoid captive user interfaces.

    * CUIs assume that the user is human.
    * CUI command parsers are often big and ugly to write.
    * CUIs tend to adopt a “big is beautiful” approach.
    * Programs having CUIs are hard to combine with other programs.
    * CUIs do not scale well.
    * CUIs do not take advantage of software leverage.

    #4 KDE can be setup to provide a smaller set of “configurable items” for desktop users at those sites requiring that level of control and management, but Gnome cannot provide the same level of universal flexibility which is inherent in the KDE approach.

  2. George:
    Thanks for your well-articulated response.
    –T

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