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March 2010
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Dumbing down and choices

Or perhaps more contentiously, “Why Mark Shuttleworth is wrong”. Before I get flamed to death, I should point out the “[ Mark Shuttleworth is right]” post. I believe that what he says is actually correct – there is too much [ bikeshedding] – having a strong leadership is a good thing, even if they occasionally get it wrong.

However, I do have several issues with how these things are done – I’ll mention three examples (all Ubuntu related, but that’s only because they are mostly well known examples):
* [ window button placement]
* [ update manager popup]
* [ upstart]

Let’s start with the first one – the change of window buttons (min/max/close) from the right hand side to the left hand side. I personally have no big beef which side they are on, I’m used to them on the right, but I may prefer them on the left – I’m happy to see what happens. The problem is that there is [ no simple] way to revert this change in behaviour. For something like this that was _bound_ to upset a reasonable number of people that’s just a bit slack IMO and a (rare) failing of Ubuntu not understanding their userbase. Just a setting under system->preferences->window (preferences/administration – items seem to be randomly placed) would make it easy for people to change and also help defuse the issue.

The update popup has all of the above problems and more. I’m a Unix guru – I’ve been doing this for almost fifteen years, I’ve used twm, fvwm (v1, then v2), I remember Linux 1.1.x and a.out binaries. I don’t want features removed. I don’t want handholding or “are you sure messages” – I like my computer to run with the safety warnings taken off. I fully understand the need to make computers easier to use for the “masses” but please don’t do it at the expense of those of us who are technical. The annoying popup has been turned off by most of the people I know (or they would if they could be bothered) – maybe that’s just my friend being techies.

In case anyone says “hang on, if you are technical, why do you object to gconf?” It’s because I think gconf is an abomination, finding the settings is a complete black art (i.e. you have to Google and hope someone else has found them). Lastly and most importantly, since such a high priority is set on “user friendliness” (as opposed to robustness, features, efficiency or speed of use), anything which results in a gconf tweak is a spectacular FAIL for all but the most esoteric changes.

Lastly we come to upstart. This just smacks of being shoe-horned in as a pet project to me. I remember reading about lots of bugs and code changes in the final fortnight of the Karmic? release cycle. I was personally bitten by it stuffing up the initrd so my laptop was unbootable. At another point I needed to move a simple “respawn” init line to upstart and gave up after a hour due to a complete lack of documentation – utterly unacceptable. Maybe I’m just bitter that they think [ removing vital processes] isn’t important.


Comment from Graham Bleach
Time: Saturday 20 March, 2010, 19:07

To be fair the button moves are only in an alpha release and there’s plenty of time for them to add the facility to move the buttons back (and for you to convince them to do it :)