The Ego-less Desktop vs The Commercial Desktop

In the most recent LugRadio episode was a feature about how the Gnome Human Interface Guidelines (HIG) states that applications should be named in the applications menu not as the program name, but as what the program does.  This is something I’d like to explore a little more in another post.  But during the discussions, they mentioned an interesting point:  Gnome follows (or tries to follow) the paradigm of the ego-less desktop.  This means that it’s not important who coded your program, it’s important what it does.  And this got me thinking about one of the HUGE annoyances I have as I read the blogs and news pages about Linux.  Everyone complains about how Linux isn’t quite there yet and how it needs to fix this or that before it’s easy enough for the proverbial Grandmother.  Let’s take a look at some use casse and see how Linux is precisely the opposite – it’s MUCH easier to use than Windows.

Gnome Desktop Root Applications Menu

Above is the Gnome root applications menu.  If you knew nothing whatsoever about Linux or Gnome, wouldn’t it be easy from the above menu to know where to go if you wanted a Sound program?  What about if you wanted a program that had to do with the Internet; would you know which menu to go to?  Of course you would!

Gnome Internet Menus

Here’s the Internet menu.  (You may need to click on it for it to be clear enough to read)  Just by looking at this menu, which item would you click on for IRC?  for Instant Messaging?  And below is the Office Menu.  I have a lot more in this menu than the standard because I’ve installed a lot of extra programs.  However, I think if you look closely you can see which program you’d click on for Word Processing.

Gnome Office Menus

Finally, below is what it would look like if you wanted to change the visual settings in Gnome.

System->Preferences->Look and Feel

You can see that it’s pretty obvious where you need to click to get to the place to change the screensaver.  Also, let me point out that the Shutdown command is in the System menu, not under the illogical “Start” menu.

Now let’s look at Microsoft’s Start menu:

Windows Desktop Root Menu

Now, if you were to give this to someone who has never, ever used a computer and told them to find the programs for the Internet or the games, where would they click?  What does Adobe have to do with anything?  What is a DivX?  What does Westwood have to do with anything?  And people say that Windows is easier to use?!?!  No, only because you’ve pained through the process of trying to figure out how to do whatever it is you were trying to do.

One place where I *will* give Microsoft their due credit is in their Control Panel:

Windows XP Control Panel

Although “control panel” is not quite as intuitive as “Preferences”, it’s certainly logical.  And with XP they really made it easy to find whatever it is you want to do.  I’m not sure if they’ve backtracked with Vista or not as I refuse to install it.

So, in conclusion, I first have to congratulate the Gnome foundation.  The HIG means that users will face consistent menus and other such options across Gnome programs.  (Something you will NOT find across Windows programs)  Also, they have made the menus intuitive and logical.  I think as more and more people see Gnome, perhaps via Ubuntu, they’ll see how much more sense it makes.  Next time someone tells you how hard Linux is to use, you have my permission to snicker in their face and show them any Gnome-based distro.

Author: Eric Mesa

To find out a little more about me, see About Me

2 thoughts on “The Ego-less Desktop vs The Commercial Desktop”

  1. I’ve always recommended Gnome for first-timers. It was my wife’s introduction to Linux, too. These days, though, everybody’s savvy enough to use Fluxbox, which is a plus because the household computers just keep grinding on getting older and older…

    My only minor tick with the name-by-function school of menuing is that when users have to ask for help with a problem with their web browser and somebody asks “Which one? Firefox? Konqueror? Mozilla? Dillo? Seamonkey? Opera?” and they go “I don’t know, it’s just called ‘web browser’ in the menu…”

    *sigh* Life can’t be perfect.

    I just had one of my wife’s friends email her asking her to ask me (because I’m supposed to be a computer wizz) why her jpg’s turn into png’s and gif’s and she can’t upload them anymore. That’s it, that’s the entire message. No platform, context, what program… I told her to reply to her friend, “Nobody could possibly solve this.” although she probably explained it more nicely.

  2. Yeah, the main debate on LugRadio touched on the whole, “My Internet Program” is broken. Although, in the context of asking in their own distro’s forums, that’d probably be fine. Unless they changed the underlying program between releases. I intend to explore this a little more in a future blog post.

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