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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.

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:

elem-title-bars wtf?

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 developemnt quality has been steadily declining since 2002 and I imagine it just might not turn around. Bah! :-(

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