Open source software is about constant change and innovation. This is true in every space it touches and no less on the desktop. Recent releases of Gnome & Unity have caused quite a stir among new and experienced users alike. Why all the fuss? I think fundamentally we are at a junctural point of operating systems having to play well when pitted against other interface/desktop metaphors like those delivered by mobile computing devices like the smart phones and tablet computing. Don’t get me wrong, I like change, but it has to be change that make for more user friendly computing. In some cases these evolutionary steps in the Linux/BSD/Unix desktop aren’t going in a direction I find currently usable. This isn’t to say things will always be that way or that I condemn a project for bold moves in any current trajectory – I just have my favorites for my clients on the business desktop. Personally and for most of my clients, they just want software that is familiar and easy to use. I have to deliver. Comparing these 3 options below I give my *current* opinion of where we are with these 3 venerable titans of the open source desktop.
I’m a long term fan of Gnome 2.x but 3.x takes a lot of getting used to. Truth be told, I could have said the same thing about KDE when 4.0 came out. The lack of minimize or maximize makes me rather perplexed and annoyed. Users lack the configurablity they were used to in Gnome 2.x and I find that a distinct weak point. Additionally I have found users confused with the lack of visual cues as to which applications are running. For these reasons, I’m sticking with Gnome 2.x and not using Gnome 3 for the time being.
In my personal opinion I’m not a fan of Unity for its general interface over Gnome 2.x, or any other option for that matter. The first version of Unity in 11.04 lacks the overall polish I sought but I would consider it stable and generally usable. The lens functionality doesn’t lend it self very usable. It is supposed to help you get to your applications and yet, it accomplishes quite the opposite. Additionally erroneous assumptions that business users want or need 3d acceleration is comical. Business users don’t want their desktop to be like a video game – they want productivity. In general, customer feedback has been rather good but still most prefer the Gnome 2.x environment over Unity.
For me personally and for my customers KDE 4 is currently my first choice. It’s well thought out interfaces allow a user to feel at home with little effort. Users of Windows and OSX alike have commented on it polish and ease of use. Business users feel at home in the common desktop metaphor that KDE so beautifully creates. Coupled with its well integrated applications KDE often wows most every business user I’ve presented it to.
Options are GOOD
All 3 of these desktop environments have a long history of laudable contribution to the open source world. We can’t discount any of these amazing projects because tomorrow they could be THE source of the innovation we failed to see. Personally, I started back in the day on Solaris and CDE so, we are certainly progressing. I’m looking forward to seeing the great work that comes out of both Gnome, KDE and Unity projects. In open source innovation is a constant, and we can only expect much more from all 3 of these great projects.