Wednesday, December 06, 2006

In the red corner...

I'm a Red Hat Linux user, now a Fedora user. I've tried a few distros (Suse, Ubuntu) but I always come back to Fedora. I've recently upgraded to Fedora Core 6 at work, and for the past three weeks now I've been having the Linux desktop time of my life! I've been a pretty much solo flyer w/ the penguin for 8 years now and i've suffered through my share of disastrous desktop mishaps and configuration nightmares that 8 years of Gnu/Linux has had to offer, but the day has come with the addition of the new OpenGL-based compositing window manager Compiz that the Gnome desktop has become the finest desktop out there. It's effects are of equal if not superior quality to even a Mac desktop, and the usability of the desktop is superior to both Mac and Windows. (I've yet to see Vista and it's Aero effects, but from a couple of quick reads it appears to be focused on transparency - one of the least interesting features of my new Fedora desktop - and shiny translucent buttons, something else I've never been partial to).

At first I thought that Compiz would be just a heap of processor hungry eye candy, but actually the kind of tactile, sensory, stimulus that it provides has really added a level of psychological transference and proficiency to the whole desktop metaphor/interface/experience, and I now find myself pining for it on other desktops I use that don't have it and now seem so geometric, linear, and rigid.

It occured to me that
kids would absolutely love this desktop! When you drag windows they kind of wobble as if they're elastic, they spring into place when maximised, and corners can be peeled back to reveal what's behind them. While this all just sounds like a bit of fun, it's organicism blurs the mathematical rigidity that we've become used to and makes the experience just a little softer, a lot more tactile, and to be quite honest less 'computer' like.

Switching between multiple desktops
(haven't experienced multiple desktops? you're missing out!)

Bending back a maximized window to see what's behind.

I could go on about all the small features that I think are often overlooked but create a better HCI in Gnome than any Windows desktop has - for example small but repetitive actions like renaming files: how a right click > rename on a Gnome desktop highlights just the part of the file before the extension, so the user doesn't end up removing or having to type the file extension as part of the renaming act; or the ability to mouse over a sound file and have it play right in the environment that makes previewing and sorting lots of sound files on your desktop a breeze ... but i'm not going to do that here (perhaps in due course, here:

I want to stick with this idea of "kids" for a second. The one thing that was formerly lacking on Linux machines and that was the 'kid-killer' was games. There were few games ported to Linux. There are more games now, but the thing is that I don't think kids are playing all that many games on the computer anymore. A PS3, Wii, or X-box will do games far better than a pc will, so game playing is moving to specialised hardware platforms with graphics exceleration up the wazoo and controllers that are designed for the actions.

A computer that's not being used for games, but that is being used by kids for homework, communication/socialising/networking etc, has Linux written all over it. Not only is the interface now more customizable, more tactile, more usable, and more impressive than the more expensive competitors, but as John "Maddog" Hall expressed in last years LinuxConf2006 - Linux teaches you twice (if nor more). Linux has many lessons. It encourages experimentation and lifting the lid, it's built on benevolent principles like sharing and openness, it provides support in the form of real people of whom you can ask real questions and almost always get a response (unlike waiting in a hold queus), and it's always trying to innovative in some aspect. It moves man! I'm on my 5th significant upgrade of Fedora since the introduction of Windows XP - and things happen, things get better every release. The idea of waiting (and saving $) for a release every 5 years is just out of step with how technology moves - with how kids move.

If you've never given it a try I think now's the time.