We Don’t Really Want Innovation

Innovation is one of those things we pretend to want and then complain when it happens.  It’s like women who say they want sensitive men who understand their feelings and then always fall for the bad boy.  In the technology world, everyone always views copying with disdain.  “Where’s the innovation?” they decry.  Case in point, everyone is always yelling at Microsoft for stealing copying Apple’s GUI interface with Windows 95.  (Everyone seems to forget Apple stealing borrowing from Xerox)  When they try to get innovative with Vista or Windows 7 everyone complains they can’t find anything because it was moved around.  Linux is not immune to these complaints.  On the one hand, everyone mocks Linux for co-opting technologies from other operating systems.  “Oh, you have a dock – why do you always have to copy the Mac?” or the ever-present “If Linux really wants to take the lead, they’ll have to stop copying Windows and Mac and start innovating on their own.”  But then, when Linux improves upon something from the leading OS all you hear is, “Why is everything so different?  Until Linux is easy for a Windows user to just jump over to without relearning things, they’ll never succeed.”

When the KDE team decided to innovate with plasma, all they got were heaps and heaps of criticism thrown at them.  I think their original idea where instead of having a desktop, having folder plasmoids to show different folders was amazing.  I can almost see Apple doing this and then everyone thinking it’s Jobs’ gift to mankind.  It was brilliant.  Right now I save stuff to the Desktop folder when I want to be able to quickly access it without having to do around through my folders.  But if I set up one of my desktops to be my web comic desktop, I could have a folder plasmoid set to my web comic folder and, therefore, have easy access to my web comic assets.  Or I could set my download folder to be a plasmoid and just save everything from the web there while having easy access to the contents.

Now it appears that Gnome 3.0 is going to suffer the same fate when it tries to innovate.  I have not yet upgraded to Fedora 12, so I have no experience with Gnome Shell, but people were complaining about the new interface before it was even available to be installed.  “Oh, Gnome is changing and I’ll never be able to use it!”  Never mind that they may be changing and fixing paradigms that we’ve been using since the 80s and may no longer be relevant.  In fact, once people have started using it, I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying it’s actually pretty darned useful in practice.  Will it be perfect when it first comes out?  Of course not.  Use cases will emerge that the developers could never have anticipated.  But they should be allowed to innovate.

I can see how it is very frustrating for a developers out there.  The public clamors for innovation, but when you give it to them, they balk at the differences from what they’re used to.  I think this is why the word innovation is beginning to lose its meaning from overuse in marketing materials.  We claim to want one thing, but want another.  It’d be easier if we just said what we wanted, but I don’t think most people realize they don’t want innovation until they are faced with it and want to crawl back to the familiar.  I’m hoping the Gnome developers can have the resolve to see their innovation through.  They should do their best and people should give it a shot.  If there truly aren’t any benefits and if it truly sucks – we can go back to the old style.  Otherwise maybe we’ll be the next thing Microsoft and Apple copy.

There was one email on the Fedora list serve that gave me hope that perhaps the developers will be supported in the end:

On 11/20/2009 03:19 PM, Brian Millett wrote:
> I have been using compiz for quite a while.  Love the eye candy, but it
> also helped me navigate quicker between desktops and windows.  Loved it.
> I’ve been using the gnome-shell.  At first it was “So where are my
> preferences?  Where is my <insert menu item here>?”, but as I started to
> understand how to use it, I’ve wondered how I can live without it.
> It is great.
> Good job guys and gals!
I do have to agree, gnome-shell is what I waited for. Or very close to,
it’s like the perfect desktop. But unfortunately for now, the keybinding
is not very configurable, and with my particular keyboard, it doesn’t do


Published by Eric Mesa

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

6 replies on “We Don’t Really Want Innovation”

  1. Although I totally agree with the main idea of the article, there is one thing that I think the developers of new and innovative software should take more seriously into consideration. It is not necessarily their own fault, but quite often, untested cutting edge software is introduced with popular distros, without being completely ready for an official release.
    As a result, users (especially new ones) come into troubleshoots and problems, and tend to be frustrated by this, complain and miss what they used to have.
    This is not good, nor for the distribution itself, neither (and more importantly) for the original developers and their software.
    IMO distributions should try and be more stable, or at least warn users that they are about to use new and not thoroughly tested/buggy software.

    In the case that all works well, but ppl still complain, then it’s back to what you mention above. In addition, let’s not forget that change is never easy, and that it’s always a matter of taste.

    keep up the g00d work.. =)

    1. Thanks for the encouragement in the last sentence.

      I definitely see what you’re saying. For example, KDE 4.0 wasn’t ready for the masses, but a lot of the mainstream distros were tripping over themselves to be the first to include it. This time around with Gnome Shell, they’re including it as a feature you can try out in Gnome 2.28 and 3.0. I think that’s a very Good Thing.

      I think we’re at a crossroads in Linux right now. There are many users (mainly in the old guard, but also new ones all the time) who come to Linux because they want to experiment with the latest and greatest and you just don’t often get that in the commercial software world. At the same time, many new users are coming to Linux and they just want an OS that works and maybe they’re using it because it’s free, libre, or less likely to get viruses/worms. I think Linux distros need to make it clear on their “about” pages what type of distro they are. There’s nothing wrong with being an ultra-conservative distro and there’s nothing wrong with being a bleeding edge distro. But this needs to be properly communicated to users. AND distros need to decide which one they are. If they are mostly convservative, but then throw in a key alpha level program (say, the next version of Firefox), that can be damaging for new users.

      1. yupp..

        Just clear out when a distribution, program or feature is introduced and not in a stable state and if a user still wants to use it then its up to him. He can’t complain, and can always submit bugs. =)

        I simply quote everything you wrote above.

  2. There is nothing innovative about Gnome. It has gone down the path of mono and will always play catch up with it’s big brother .Net/Silverlight.

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