What I Like About Elementary OS 2020-04-26
Recently I was bitching about how garbage all modern desktop environments are when someone told me I should check out Elementary OS. Like most distributions, it is basically just a custom setup of Linux. Don't get me wrong, I like Linux's licensing model better than I like licensing for Mac and Windows OS's... I just don't think Linux is any good as a desktop operating system. None of them are. Anyways, in the world of Mac and Windows you basically get "their idea" of what an OS should be, and when you run applications on them the window management system provides a standardized way of interating with them. You know: a title bar, some buttons to maximize, minimize, and close the window, and maybe some kind of frame you can grab to resize it. If you're really lucky you'll get a scroll bar that lets you "scroll" the contents of the window up and down to "see more". The application should provide a function, while the OS should provide the world for that application to live in, including providing hardware access to your application. I look at an operating system from a strictly functional perspective that puts utilitarianism first and "pretty" or "cool" dead last.
This may seem like a dig at Elementary OS alone and that really shouldn't be the case. All modern desktop environments seem to be heading in this crappy direction. Carl Svensson seems to note the same thing in his article The Decline Of Usability. Maybe it is a shift towards mobile devices, maybe it is just people never having known how a proper OS manages applications, maybe it is just developers pushing whatever cool crap they think is popular right now. Ultimately I just wish it would go away.
Since I figure I am not really in a position to slag something 'till I have broken it, I tried Elementary. Here are the notes I took as I went along.
- It has a fancy display manager. Too fancy. I would prefer something far less pretty like XDM.
- By default location services in enabled. Seriously, that's almost an insult.
- Apparently the pre-installed "night light" feature will "make the colours of my display warmer at night to help prevent eye strain and sleeplessness". Sounds terrible to me.
- The "housekeeping" thing wants to delete old files after 30 days - but does not say which files. I am guessing it just decides what is best for me and deletes what it wants.
- By default the bottom panel autohides, I can't even believe people use that feature. Maybe if it didn't have giant cartoonish icons it wouldn't be necessary to make it go away.
- The multitasking view (switching between multiple desktops) is just full of animations and wasted cycles.
- The bottom panel (an obvious ripoff of MacOS) distinguishes between running applications and application launchers by putting a small blue dot under running applications. So there is no easy way to tell at a glance what applications are running, you know... since the panel is autohidden by default.
- It definitely uses the "bouncey" icons of MacOS. Useless bloat.
- The panel does not have icons for either of the two most important applications on any OS: a file manager and a terminal window.
- The terminal window is by default not opaque. A terminal window should not be pretty, it should be functional only.
- It uses Evolution as its default mail client which is an absolute hog.
- The scroll bars are exactly what is wrong with GTK3. Small thin scroll bars that are invisible when not hovered or currently being scrolled. It is not possible to tell at a glance how far down a window I am, it is much harder to grab and drag than "proper" scroll bars, and the scroll bars jump to the location of the click when you click in the trough rather than paging.
- All applications seem to launch maximized by default. It's almost like it is jealous of tiling window managers.
- The panel at the top provides functionality that is only occasionally required and takes up way more screen real estate than it deserves. This flies in the face of the panel at the bottom which autohides, a feature specifically designed to save screen real estate.
- Always on top windows cover the panel at the bottom making it inaccessible.
Then there is The Ribbon Effect. When Microsoft released Office 2007 they gave it this big fat fancy new bar full of giant icons and pulldown boxes they called The Ribbon. It is supposed to have all the same functionality as the old menu bar but gives the user less screen real estate and at the same time something gaudy to distract them from their actual work. If you clicked on and read Carl's awesome article above then you saw a preview of how the control of "how applications look" is shifting away from the OS and more to the applications themselves, or at least the frameworks that developers use to make these applications. Similar to his screenshot, here is what some Elementary OS windows looked like for me:
So that mess of crap is actually six windows. The top purple bar is the panel which provides occasional use features such as an application search utility and the time. I find the double arrow icon especially useless at symbolizing a network. Following that is the Epiphany browser which does not identify itself in the title bar at all but does provide a nice all-one-grey look which makes it hard to tell where anything ends and anything else begins. Don't worry though, the next layer is a terminal window. It also does not identify itself in the title bar and uses a much darker all-one-grey look that by default is partially (and unnecessarily) transparent. As you can see, there is no standardization of title bars. In fact, I'm not even comfortable calling those title bars since more than half of them do not even include the title of the application. This design is a mess and it makes switching between applications and managing applications (the OS's job eh) a complete wreck. Oh it looks pretty, but it functions like crap.
There are also application developers who don't like it. They even beg goofs like Gnome to stop forcing this ugly theming garbage on them. Unfortunately users just don't care. How can they? Can users really be expected to figure out who is responsible for the junk theming of their apps and go bitch to them about it? Sadly I think that software development quality has been steadily declining since 2002 and I imagine it just might not turn around. Bah! :-(