Gareth Waymark

My Humble Opinion On Desktop Linux

09 December, 21

Category: linux

There has been quite a lot of discussion regarding the state of desktop Linux. The general gist is that Linux will not be widely adopted on the desktop for various reasons. I’ve been using Linux as my main OS for a couple of years now so I feel that my take on it might be useful.

I’m an engineer. I worked my way from car mechanic to ‘Electrical Tech Lead’ at a well known, prestigious car manufacturer (See my about page for more info). Now I’m in my final year, of five, of a masters degree in electronic engineering and I’m looking to get a job in the industry. All of this hopefully gives you a mental image of the sort of person that I am.

Linux has been created by software engineers either professionally or, impressively, voluntarily. So here I am, an engineer using a system developed by other engineers. So far so good. A perfect match. Great! Unfortunately, not everybody is an engineer, or have an engineering mind. This is absolutely critical for society as can you imagine a world full of engineers? So how could Linux become a viable competitor to Windows or Mac OS? Constraints.

When I’m asked, or decide, to design a circuit the first things I ask are what is your budget? What is the operating voltage? What accuracy do you need? What interfaces do you need? Without these constraints you will end up with a radio telescope when all you asked for was a crystal radio. Some constraints are good. Too many and they become suffocating. So it feels to me like Linux needs a few more constraints; just enough to sharpen it up and make it more appealing to non-computer literate folk.

Non-technical users also benefit from constraints aka choice. If you present them with a desktop environment where they can change a few things they feel comfortable. As soon as there is too much going on, they freak out. Ubuntu is a good example by using the Gnome desktop. Gnome has been criticized by some for being stubborn and doing things their own way. This isn’t accepted very well by the current Linux community but I can see their point. I started with Ubuntu in 2019 and it was a good experience. A started hearing negative things about Canonical and, naively, decided I was “anti-canonical” and so no Ubuntu, no snaps etc. From that point its been a roller coaster of distro hopping. I’ve tried KDE Plasma, XFCE, i3, DWM and XMonad. Fedora, openSUSE, Arch, Debian and Manjaro. I enjoyed the window managers and their simplicity but started to get bogged down in having to build my own environment. In the end I wanted somebody else to do it all for me so I want back to Plasma on Manjaro. Here’s the key point, I feel happier having had some of the choice taken away.

I don’t know what the answer is. It feels like ‘choice’ is one of the big selling points to a minority of people and a hindrance to the majority. I’m in no way saying that Linux as a whole should adopt a single desktop and that’s it. No, but maybe at a distribution level there should less choice. Have plenty of distros but each of them have made a lot of the decisions for you.

My prediction is that a few distributions like Ubuntu will reduce the amount of choice they offer, like Chrome OS, and start to see some adoption. I’m sure there will be plenty of people who disagree with this opinion but this is what ‘I’ see. It’s what other people ‘see’ that’s important. As far I can see, Linux does look like a bit of a fragmented mess. I like it, many people don’t.