software: the future desktop environment

Since Windows blew up I’m happy enough running a free Linux desktop, the KDE environment running on the Kubuntu distribution.

Three big Linux environments are all chasing a new vision: Gnome Shell, Ubuntu Unity, and KDE Plasma are all trying to move beyond the 17-year old Windows 95 desktop paradigm of a Start menu button on a bar that also shows running applications and a handful of system icons. As is Windows 8 Metro. All of these changes are leading to much wailing and gnashing of teeth. But I don’t see any of these efforts actually addressing the yawning chasm between working with in the browser with bookmarks and favorites, and working with local files in applications.

As I wrote:

I think there are three competing visions that inelegantly share our “bigger than 40cm” computer screens:

  1. A windowed desktop running multiple programs that operate on a local file hierarchy;
  2. A tabbed browser where we interact with web pages that mostly ignore the local file hierarchy;
  3. Smartphone-like full-screen apps that hide the local file hierarchy.

Nobody has figured out how to meld these, so it’s not surprising that Linux desktop environments are in a state of churn along with Windows 8, i/Mac OS, etc. And average computer users are bewildered; most of the time they do everything in the browser, until they’re faced with a “Save as” dialog or they plug in a camera, at which point they just fill random directories with crap they’ll never find again.

I think the inexorable trend is towards browser-based software (which thanks to HTML5 doesn’t imply always needing an internet connection, or storing all your data in the cloud). But Apple/Google/Microsoft resist this because they can monetize an app store and because they’re big enough to get platform-specific development. (Note how all would-be smartphone and tablet competitors start with “write HTML apps” until they get big enough to sing a different tune “Write proprietary apps for our app store”.) But Linux desktop environments aren’t in the game for $3.99 apps. So I think they should give up on applications written for their toolkit and just work on a lighter-weight OS that provides a fantastic browser environment for great HTML5 applications. The raw source code is out there with Chromium OS, Boot to Gecko, Tizen, etc. The innovation lies in figuring out how to present a useful coherent vision for bookmarks, files, application icons, app tabs, recent documents, and all the other paradigms that currently conflict and confuse us.

http://jalopnik.com/5895814/todays-morning-shift-choose-your-own-adventure

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