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The regular holy war ...

I've been quiet lately because I'm between trips and between books; aside from deliberating over copy edit changes to "The Rhesus Chart" I'm not actually working right now. (The next novel-shaped death march is scheduled for mid-November.) On the other hand, I can't stay idle for long. So it's computer neepery time!

I work with Apple kit. iPhone, iPad, Macs. My work/productivity environment can be defined by the applications I can't live without: email, web browser (Firefox, in my case), Scrivener (for producing novels), LibreOffice (for all the other office shit), and a password manager. There's some recreational stuff — iTunes for music (I have Airport Express wifi repeaters with audio output to drive remote speakers, the Apple universe equivalent of a Sonos set-up), ebooks and movies and a few casual games (on the iPad). But the majority of my work gets done on one of my two production laptops. I maintain two because (a) I've had machines die on me horribly in the past, and (b) one is a whole lot more portable than the other. So there's a desktop monitor and a Macbook Pro for serious bum-in-chair fingers-on-keyboard work, and a Macbook Air for when I need to travel and need something beefier than an iPad and a wireless keyboard.

But. But. I get itchy at the idea of being mewed up in someone else's walled garden. So I'm always keeping one eye on my exit strategy, should Apple do something so Appallingly Evil that I suddenly feel the urge to flee. (It'd have to be something crazy and stupid if not throat-cuttingly suicidal, at least with respect to their pro market; on the order of demanding the copyright on all intellectual property produced on their machines, or locking down Gatekeeper to prevent any app not sold through the Mac App Store from running on Macs. Or to discontinue Mac OS X and force a migration to iOS without simultaneously opening up the iOS application platform.) I don't expect them to try that kind of stunt. They'd have to be utterly stupid to do so, and even more stupid not to do a U-turn within 48 hours. But if they did ... where would I go for my computing needs?

Microsoft is out. Leaving aside the past 20 years of hating on them, I've periodically dipped a toe in their ecosystem, and I have to say, it's not for me. I'm an old UNIX gearhead going back 25 years; DEC-descended operating systems don't make intuitive sense to me, and Windows hurts my head. So, realistically, that leaves Linux — because the one non-negotiable requirement is a platform for running Scrivener, and Scrivener is available in public beta on Linux.

Anyway. Could I work on Linux again? I used to, but I more or less abandoned it as a desktop platform by 2002. The question festered. Then, a few days ago, I remembered: I had a two year old 11" Macbook Air with OSX 10.8.5 aboard, gathering dust in a corner of the office—the travel machine I superannuated this summer and haven't got around to selling yet. And Ubuntu 13.10 is just out. Why not ...?

A quick check of the supported hardware database showed that installing Ubuntu on a late 2011/early 2012 Macbook Air (dual core i7, aka MacBookAir4-2) is in fact possible; the only unsupported hardware is the Thunderbolt bus, and as I don't have any Thunderbolt peripherals that's no obstacle. I also have a SuperDrive DVD rewriter, which makes life easier (burning bootable USB sticks on a Mac is a bit of a black art—one I never had cause to master). So: go to other laptop, download desktop Ubuntu CD image, burn onto DVD-R, and then prep laptop to receive installation.

The first step was to bring OSX on the old Airbook up to spec, installing updates, and to clear up all the cruft that accumulates over time. Then I used Disk Utility to check the OSX partition and then shrink it down to around 50Gb of the 250Gb SSD, and turn the surplus space into a single MSDOS partition. Next step: install rEFIt, the EFI firmware boot manager. (I wanted to keep a bootable OSX partition in case of firmware updates from Apple. This Airbook isn't one of the ones with the faulty SSDs that Apple have just issued a product recall for, but you never know ...) Finally, having installed a boot manager, I booted Ubuntu 13.10 off the DVD, and told it to go forth and install on my Airbook in the spare DOS partition. Installation went cleanly, and about an hour later I had a Macbook Air running Linux for the first time ...

First thoughts. I haven't run a Linux desktop in anger for a decade, and not everything is an improvement. In particular, the Unity desktop is pretty horrible, especially with a single-button mouse. If you're going to install Ubuntu on a Mac you really need to have a spare multibutton mouse kicking around before you start, if only so that you can configure the machine to work properly with an Apple trackpad. I found the trackpad calibration was a bit off-center, and the lack of a right-click area annoying—I'm going to attack this later when I have some spare time, but for now, I have a bluetooth mouse.

Did I say the Unity desktop got up my nose? It gets up my nose. It gets painfully far up my nose when combined with Amazon product placement ads. Luckily these can be removed cleanly by uninstalling the package that provides this functionality (but IIRC in 13.10 the package name is no longer unity-lens-shopping; I found it by skimming the list of unity packages installed on my system, and really should have taken written notes). But Unity is still a mickey mouse level program launcher aimed at non-techies; it's as if the folks at Canonical have tried to copy the toy-like appearance of Mac OS X without actually providing the underlying shortcuts and power tools that make it acceptable to serious folks who like to get stuff done.

Luckily salvation isn't far away: one sudo apt-get install xubuntu-desktop later and I had XFCE 4 instead of Unity. Again, some tweaking is needed; but at least it's a real desktop.

Installing Scrivener went relatively smoothly as per the instructions; I haven't set up spell checking yet, but it runs okay and can open large projects. It's Scrivener 1.5, as opposed to the 2.5 release current on the Mac, so not all the newer features are available, but it can still open projects from the Mac environment, which is good.

Other stuff: I installed Dropbox, of course, for file synchronisation. And I pointed Thunderbird at my email accounts, and set up Firefox synchronisation too. LibreOffice I'm leaving for now, but will in due course copy my profile over from the Mac to see what works.

All in all, about a day's work got me to a point where I was within sight of a working environment. I haven't selected a password management tool to replace SplashID on the Mac yet, and there are some rough edges—a non-working .desktop launcher file for Scrivener, me trying to get my head around how to best set up XFCE for my needs, importing music files from iTunes.

But the surprising thing is how much stuff just worked out of the box.

During the installation process, Ubuntu asked if I wanted to use the correct proprietary wifi chipset driver (a Broadcomm device), then installed it and connected to my household WPA2-secured wifi network without any fuss. The bluetooth wizard picked up the mouse easily enough and after a minor trial-and-error fumble to work out what default password to use, paired with it just fine. The screen worked perfectly first time. Audio? Just worked, thanks. USB ditto. When I close the lid it suspends, and when I open the lid it wakes up again. This is not the Linux I'm used to, where installing it on a laptop involved lots of swearing over recalcitrant device drivers and late night custom kernel builds. I could actually work on this platform. I'd have to spend a working week (rather than the single day so far) fine-tuning everything, but at the end of the day I'd have a Linux laptop where everything I care about just works. And it's fast. Boot to desktop in about ten seconds. Everything loads in a flash. Linux is a relatively austere operating system by the standards of a recent Mac OS X release, or Windows 8; on a dual core i7 laptop with 4Gb of RAM and a big SSD, it feels like greased lightning.

Postscript: No, I am not going to migrate to Linux this year. As I said, I'm not going there unless Apple force me to walk the plank at gun-point. I will in due course vape the Airbook and shuffle it off to a new home with someone who appreciates OSX. But in the meantime, it's an interesting experiment to try. Newer hardware might be less forgiving (I gather there are issues with running Linux on a Haswell Mac, and even bigger issues on machines with retina displays such as the Macbook Pro I'm typing this blog entry on), but the combination of a lightweight operating system and last-but-one-generation hardware delivers perfectly acceptable performance for my productivity purposes. And I can sleep easier, knowing that I'm not locked in.

159 Comments

1:

One quick tip for running Linux on a MacBook. Boot back into OSX, then mute the audio. Now, whenever you boot up, you won't hear that infernal "Daaaaaaaah!" noise.

You will still have audio in Ubuntu - don't worry.

(Well, works on my 2012 MacBook Air)

2:

DEC-descended operating systems don't make intuitive sense to me, and Windows hurts my head

This isn't an attempt to make you reconsider Windows, but can you say what it is that jangles with your mental models? Or if not, point at somewhere that explains it.

(Asked partly because I've been coding for Windows for the last mumblety-mumble years, and only occasionally for Unix (as emulated on an IBM mini), and I'd be interested to know what I'm likely to fall over if I have to port some code from VC++2010 to XCode, as is on my dev plan in the medium future.)

3:

Lest you think Charlie is conjuring up a false spectre over rights grabs for user content, I know of several online services which do this, with hints of there being some legal boiler-plate getting around.

Inara Pey has dug up several examples of these extended rights grabs. It you're storing somebody's content, you almost certainly need a non-exclusive, perpetual, licence to cover such things as back-ups. What's popping up is the additional right to sell the material. It doesn't need to be an unlimited right to sell to cover the possibility of the owners of Dropbox selling the service, but that is what is being claimed.

(Second Life is complicated: it depends on user-created content, which is stored on the servers of Linden Labs, and a right to use content is traded between users. It's a bit more than data back-ups.)

It is partly because of this sort of stuff that I have been trying a program called BitTorrent Sync. It uses BitTorrent technology to share files between computers over the internet, so you don't need a commercial server. There are versions for Apple, Windows, Linux, and Android. It encrypts the data. It's not doing what a BitTorrent download does, but if you want to update more than one node, the source node only needs to send one copy of the data.

Is it better than Dropbox or whatever? It doesn't give you an off-site backup, but it does work. The shared secret for the encryption can be shared with a mobile device in the form of a QR code displayed by your laptop/desktop and captured by a phone or tablet camera.

I think I am rambling a bit.

4:

As a Linux user I agree totally with your comments about 'Unity', it sucks like a chest wound. It's name - Unity - reminds me of countries that call themselves 'The Democratic ...' when the last thing they are are Democratic. The last thing that 'Unity' has done is unify.

Another possibility, rather than using Xfce, is to use Gnome Classic (selectable from the login screen), which looks and feels a lot like the old Gnome ver 2 (IE. A lot like Xfce).

One last plug for Linux (for readers who've never tried it), you can try it out using a live CD copy (just boot your PC from the CD), and it doesn't touch your existing OS.

There, that's me done, riding my Linux hobby horse. :-)

5:

For anyone who isn't an Apple user, there are ready-made alternatives to Ubuntu+Unity usually released a few weeks later. I don't know how they work with Apple hardware, but I wouldn't recommend Unity for an older laptop: it's a resource hog. Lubuntu certainly has a Mac download.

6:

I'm one of those strange people who doesn't mind the Unity interface. (I've turned off the "search the entire world even if you're just looking for a program" option, of course; I don't know who could've thought that was a good idea) With the programs I use most at the top of the screen, and less frequently used ones at the bottom, it just seems to work for me.

Linux is getting much better at working out of the box. I rarely have problems with Ubuntu, although this weekend my netbook updated to 13.10 without a hitch, while my desktop's update froze in the middle and is now unbootable.

Meanwhile my laptop's update to Windows 8.1 went without a hitch.

I've never managed to get the laptop to dual boot between Windows 8 and Ubuntu without it complaining repeatedly that Ubuntu isn't Windows...

7:

Curious: Vis a vis mice, how do you deal with your "laptop mice suck" problem? I mean, I have a X220 and use a a Logitech wireless two-button when I need to do dexterity-requiring things like (hilarious examples) Blender or Minecraft, but eventually RSI will happen . . .

8:

Oh yes, and ano something I failed to say in my previous comment is that in addition to being toylike, Unity is very crashable, as I can say from having to kill and restart it when I suddenly can't click things. : P

9:

Unity seems to have been designed by people who don't open multiple windows in the same application. I mean, who'd do that?

In any case, those of us who make a living with Linux salute you for the testimonial, though I know you're never going to switch -- at least not until you can get MS Word in a Linux version.

10:

I did this on a 2007 MacBook Core 2 Duo a couple of months ago, as well as having windows 7 on it (so i can use autodesk inventor on it).

The latest 32 bit cinnamon mint installed and worked right away, absolutely no fuss (I went for mint as i've heard a lot of unity hate recently).

I haven't used it a lot yet, mainly due to my inability to get at my documents on the OSX partition, and i haven't set up the trackpad properly yet. I'm going to give it a full test drive once i've finished playing musical files with my backups and NAS. But i know that i can switch over to a linux machine no probs if this laptop dies!

11:

a single-button mouse? :-|

12:
a single-button mouse? :-|
Er, yes? That's been a hallmark of Macintosh design for decades. Apple wanted to avoid confusion for novice users using a new input device and also to prevent developers from hiding functionality in the context menu.


Apple's first-party trackpads let you use multitouch events to simulate multiple-button mouse events but that requires driver support (so far only available on OS X and Windows).

13:

If you need to change ecosystems completely, why stick with Apple hardware? A big part of the appeal seems to be the whole integrated ecosystem. Without that, it is just pretty looking premium priced gear (at least it is in the US).

14:

I imagine the answer is that if Charlie needs to change ecosystem in a hurry he'd like the new software to run on the hardware he already owns. If he finds himself moving away from Apple, he probably won't be buying any more of their machines. But it would hardly be sensible for him to throw away the ones he's got right now if they'll run the new software, would it?

15:

After Windows Xp stopped working earlier this year, I fiddled about and eventually installed Linux Mint.
I was as surprised as Charlie how much of it worked fine straight out the box, or rather straight down the telephone line.
Sure, I had to learn some new programs and where things were, but on the whole I found sorting the glitches and personalising it much easier than I thought it would be, thanks to all the other people who had asked noob questions before and gotten answers.

It is also an interesting change to feel that you can guddle about in the depths of the program and sort out what you want, rather than feel, as with MS, that you are treading through a minefield.

16:

Here are three neat tricks I use in XFCE.

The first is to make one transparent panel, set it to be horizontal, and cause it to be hidden on the left-hand side. Then put your most-used application-launchers into the transparent panel and move your mouse to the far-left side to launch. This is MUCH faster than using the Applications Menu and gives me a nice clean desktop. (It's also very Mac-like.)

When you want to work away from home, the regular Xfce4 install from Ubuntu doesn't give you a battery monitor, so use the Synaptic Package Manager on your Applications Menu to download and install the xfce4-battery-plugin. (You won't find the battery plugin on the Ubuntu Software Center.) Install the plugin on your taskbar and you can now monitor your battery.

The items on your taskbar can be moved by dragging and dropping. I LOVE this feature because I can create a custom workflow very easily. While this is a great feature, it is not perfectly implemented, so you may need to practice the drag-n-drop a couple times until you can put a taskbar item where you want it.

17:

Unity was designed for Netbooks, which don't even exist anymore as a viable market segment. I have no idea why Ubuntu stuck to it. I am even more baffled by Microsoft's decision to copy so many Unity concepts for Windows 8's The-interface-formerly-known-as-Metro. But at least In Ubunto there's always the option of using Gnome Classic.

18:

Have you looked at the Enlightenment window manager?

http://www.enlightenment.org/

That which was once a slow and bloated WM focused overmuch on eyecandy has been magically transformed by Moore's Law into a lean, mean, window machine. And it is still beautiful, possibly even surpassing OSX in that regard.

People do run it on Ubuntu. But my own 'fallback from Apple laptops' plan involves a distribution of Puppy Linux called Macpup.

http://macpup.org/

19:


No doubt I'll get around to commenting on the Computerise Language Stuff from the IT of" The Valley of Gwangi" real soon now, but in the mean time- and we do live in Very Mean Times of Austerity - you say that .." ... aside from deliberating over copy edit changes to "The Rhesus Chart" " ?

This will, I dare say, involve the e book not having peculiar underlining of the text nor yet freezing mid story on ones readerships Nexus 10 that does, however, restore when one reboots the DAMN thing! This never happens with REAL books! Bring back Ink on Dead trees mixed with rags. What was wrong with literate Priests inscribing Stories on Vellum with ink and also illuminating the same - with something other than LEDs - in an artistic manner? EH? Thus...

http://britishlibrary.typepad.co.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2013/06/the-lindisfarne-gospels-in-durham.html

My experience with WordStar in the mid 1980s was all that I had to compare with the early iterations of WORD beyond occasional encounters with things like Loco Script that various researchers insisted on buying with my budget. 'WordStar ' was, it seems to me, designed by a Programmer/Coder for fellow coders and thus was sort of intuitive when used by IT professionals and people who wanted to grow up to be IT pros...for the rest of us it was a fucking nightmare that caused me to retreat to my dear old IBM selectric typewriter to do first drafts that would be hammered into final form by 'The Girls in The Departmental Office ' who could also do a magical thing that was called 'Shorthand Typing ' aka 'Dictation. 'I didn’t return to word processing until the early iterations of Word for Windows appeared and " The Girls in The Office " did disappear. Do you know I actually quite liked Word Assistant? From Wikipedia...
" The Office Assistant was an Intelligent User Interface for Microsoft Office that assisted users by way of an interactive animated character, which interfaced with the Office help content. It used technology initially from Microsoft Bob and later Microsoft Agent, offering advice based on Bayesian algorithms. In Microsoft Office for Windows, it was included in versions 97 to 2003 and in Microsoft Publisher, it was included in versions 98 to 2003. In Microsoft Office for Mac, it was included in versions 98 to 2004. The default assistant in the English Windows version was named Clippy,[1][2] after a paperclip. The character was designed by Kevan J. Atteberry.[2] Usually Clippy taps the screen on first appearing.

The feature drew a strongly negative response from many users.[3][4] Microsoft turned off the feature by default and removed the Genius assistant in Office XP, acknowledging its unpopularity in an ad campaign spoofing Clippy.[5] The feature was removed altogether in Office 2007 and Microsoft Office 2008 for Mac, as it drew criticism from customers and even Microsoft employees. The Microsoft Agent components required for it was removed from Windows 7. [1] "

I didn’t just have the Paperclip I had all of the assistant animations Inc the Puppy and the Cat...Though no real cat I have ever heard of was ever as obedient and helpful as the word assistant cat.

You may now Mock me if you so choose.

20:

I tried Unity for a few weeks when I got my new laptop last year. I got the impression that I could do better, and so switched to Gnome 3. Which is better. The later versions (I'm stuck on 3.4 'cause of staying on Ubuntu 12.04) are apparently even better, and potentially fix all my issues.

As for Mac: I can use, and understand Macs. But I don't like them. I'm not like my brother who gets upset by things being different. But, well: I don't like the keyboards. They just don't work for me. I don't like the lack of two buttons on the trackpads. Yes, fine. But why not use that fancy design stuff that Apple apparently has heaps of, and make there be two buttons that act as one unless a setting is set (or unless you are using any OS other than Mac OS). Oh sure, if you have driver support (which apparently Linux doesn't) you could pretend there are two buttons...

Also, while I understand that Fink and similar exist, I really love that I can open up Synaptic and just search for software. E.g. Poker, I wanna play me some poker. Easy, I type "poker" into the quick filter search box and I'm offered 16 different packages, and I quickly pick PokerTH. Installed, and now I hit my windows button (aka meta) and type "pok" ("po" also works, but is slightly less exact, and could also match other programs, which are all sorted after PokerTH atm) and press enter. And look ma, I can play Texas Hold'em on my computer.

Oh, all the software that I use regularly is good quality, and Free. From Gedit, bzr, and PHP, to LibreOffice, Zotero, Firefox, etc. That means I can suggest to others to use it, I can take that software and learn from it, etc. Apparently almost all my productivity software also runs on Mac OS, but, well, meh to that.

21:

I was once a Gnome user and loved it. Anything in the neighborhood of 2.2 - 2.6 was lovely to use. It was easy-on-the-eyes, intuitive, and had an appropriate workflow. Configuration involved the right amount of stuff, by which I mean that there wasn't too much stuff you could configure, and there wasn't too little stuff either. It was easier to use than the Windows desktop and I preferred it to Mac, which has never made any sense at all to me. In short, Gnome 2.* was about as close to perfect as anyone could get.

And they COMPLETELY ruined it. The new version SUCKS SO MUCH ASS it should be CUSTOMIZED FOR USE BY PLASTIC SURGEONS, and none of the attempts to create "Gnome-Classic" or Cinnamon (another old-style Gnome version) have come close to building something I like nearly as much - even if they have the same look they all seem to have the same restrictive paradigm as 3.* - we know what you're doing and you don't!

And don't get me started on Unity, which has probably replaced MS-DOS 4.0 as the desktop damned souls use in hell... The whole new-desktop paradigm has been a major source of stress for a couple years now.

Sometimes I want to cruise over to the Gnome website and file a bug which reads: "Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, Gnome still works and has some users. It suits somebody's workflow and they are happy with it. This is not acceptable!"

XFCE is nice. I like it a lot. But it's not the same...

22:

I was gearing up to use Ubuntu for my exit strategy from OS X a couple years back, and Lucid Lynx was pretty solid. Then Natty broke my nVidia card, so I went back to Lynx until I could get a new video card, an ATI this time, and that worked for a while but then ran into problems with ATI's crippled OpenGL, so I went back to nVidia (the driver problem had been resolved), then another Ubuntu upgrade broke my card AGAIN and I bought a new nVidia card which was nice, but I shouldn't have had to, but had to play musical drivers to get it to work and...

This on top of Unity.

And then Mark Shuttleworth's latest rant about how people don't want to get along with his latest do-it-yourself window system, and blaming THEM for "NIH" when he's the one who broke with X11 and Wayland. And the "Open Source Tea Party" line was just over the top.

Why can't we have nice things?

23:

Some versions of Ubuntu are flagged for long term support (a few years). If you want a stable work environment, using a LTS version may be the best choice. That way you don't need to deal with major upgrades very often, but security holes still get patched as they're identified.

24:

One of the directions I've been heading is good old virtualisation and client/server - but in the home setting. Like Linux, this has been moving forward in user friendliness - not to the same degree as Linux, but enough that it's not a hair-tearing experience any more.

My reasoning is that with the advent of tablets, smartphones, low power processors that are sufficient for 95% of work without drawing puff, and cloudy stuff; it's sensible to decouple and decentralise as much as possible. Its also sensible to not be dependent on big cloud type providers that are evidentially totally insecure.

Thus a tolerable server can dish up not only files/media, it can run WinXP VMs, Win7 VMs, Linux VMs, hell even OSX VMs (though once again, apple are nasty, proprietary, powergrabbers). It can deliver these up to not only normal desktops & laptops, but low powered laptops (eg chromebooks), tablets, phones, etc. both around the home/office, and outside it. The only thing left are the tasks where you really need the horsepower (media rendering, photo editing, sims, games) where one box is enough.

The benefit is a greater independence from particular providers, and particular install instances that can crash and burn badly - whilst giving you near homogeneous access to capabilities wherever you are, and whatever you use.

From Charlie's PoV this is obviously motherhood stuff, but once you go NAS for storing files/backing up it fairly quickly falls out as an obvious further use for these cheap, low energy but acceptable power, servers (eg N54L).

Oh, and one of those VMs is a PBX - so I can send telemarketers into the "Press 1 for ..." hell where they belong.

25:

I had to (well…) run Ubuntu on a mid-2012 Macbook Air just last week. Creating bootable USB memory was actually rather straightforward, as it only required a dd command. Okay, and unmounting the drive before that to find the correct dynamic device name, but still simpler than I thought–no messing about with the image required.

Ubuntu's instructions are at http://www.ubuntu.com/download/desktop/create-a-usb-stick-on-mac-osx

26:

You might want to take a look at MATE at some point. It really is the GNOME 2.32 cose base picked up, updated to support newer library versions and packaged for modern Linux distributions. I've had a great experience using the latest Mint "Mate-edition" on a netbook with 1GB of RAM.

27:

If you have a chance, you might want to take a look at GNOME Shell. I switch between OS X at work and Linux with GNOME Shell at home and I've found that, with a bit of tweaking, switching between the two doesn't have to be a horribly jarring experience. Here's the shortlist of tweaks that I do to any new GNOME Shell install:
- Install GNOME tweak tool
- Set it up to use the same keys to switch desktops as on OS X
- If you're running Shell on PC hardware, swap left-Alt and left-Super (aka Windows key) so that you have a more Mac-like setup
- Command+tab to switch Apps
- Command+grave to switch Windows
- Window buttons on the left (if your distro puts them on the right by default)
- If you use the dock a lot in OS X as part of your workflow, grab an extension to make it stay permanently visible in Shell: https://extensions.gnome.org/extension/307/dash-to-dock/
- As a general note, (IMNSHO) the easiest, most reliable way to pull files over from your Mac to Linux is by turning on "Remote Login" (aka SSH Server) on the Mac side and then type ssh://name-of-mac.local in a file manager on the Linux side.

The one thing that still gets me sometimes is copy and paste with control instead of command, but as long as that's the only thing it's pretty easy to avoid. Being OS-agnostic is a wonderful trait to have as the OS holy wars starts up again. :)

28:

I actually was able to buy a Dell Inspiron with Ubuntu installed from Dell's website several years ago and it has ran all the latest versions of Ubuntu flawlessly since. I program for a living but I am not one of those people who endlessly tweak their OS, my hacking is reserved for web sites and apps. So my upgrades have been pretty vanilla but they have worked great.

I tried Unity for a several weeks a while back and then switched to Cinnamon. So far so good. I am suppose I will go with Mint eventually but really Ubuntu works well, has the deepest support, and it is easy to install new UI's so I am probably living in my optimal environment for the foreseeable future.

29:

Definitely with you on Unity being exceedingly vile, but I personally prefer Lubuntu; the desktop environment is similar enough to Windows (which regrettably I can't entirely get rid of because too many games I like require it) that there aren't many habits to unlearn, and it's also impressively lightweight; I'm running it on an old nine-inch netbook with a whopping 12GB of built-in storage and it's taking up maybe half of that. The default software package leaves a bit to be desired though.

30:

I run native Mac on my consulting company laptop and Win on my current client laptop.

On both, I have Vmware and CentOS virtual systems going that I do much to most of my "real work" on. I do that because it's the Linux we tend to use on prod servers, I want to use the same thing. I used to do Solaris desktops for the same reason.

I can do just about everything in CentOS except Visio or my company payroll system.

31:

A second voice for Mint Mate'. It's nice, it's stable, and it Just Plain Works. I installed it on a brand-new out-of-the-store Lenovo Ideapad Yoga, and it came up perfectly the first time. Yes, there were two things I had to install by hand (the wifi driver, and the brightness control), but those were as simple as plugging in a USB stick and copying the files over.

I used to be one of those hard-core, Linux From Scratch people, but Mint really has solved a huge range of the usual problems for me. It's fast, sleep mode is fast, reboot is really freakin' fast (mostly because the Yoga is all SSD), for light writing it'll survive six hours on a single charge, and after installing dev mode I can write all the software I want and not have to struggle too hard with dependencies.

I appreciate what Shuttleworth has done for us, for the most part. This is a perfect little writing machine, it plays movies and other entertainment well, it surfs the web well, the touch-screen lets me draw well, it even compiles programs and runs demonstration databases well.

32:

I have this feeling we're all going to be using Chromium in another five years.

http://www.jamierubin.net/2013/03/24/writing-with-the-google-chromebook/

Oh the humanity!

33:

It's possible to choose your desktop shell by downloading a ?ubuntu iso instaad of default ubuntu. The hardware compatibility is the same, and speed seems similar once you escape unity.

How come no-one's mentioned Kubuntu? - the KDE version of ubuntu runs fine for me from Atom/1GB/Netbook to i3/5/7 desktop. It's customisable, and sufficiently lacking in user-hostility to put in front of people who don't even _like_ computers.

It comes pretty close to Linux without pain.

Just my rapidly depreciating $0.02 NZD worth.

34:

As someone who's using Enlightenment for well over a decade now ...

Enlightenment has one thing going for it - everything is configurable (the opposite of the Gnome3 doctrine). Which means you can go, tailor it to your needs and otherwise practically make it invisible. I've set so I can do practically everything by self-defined keyboard shortcuts and just use it for virtual desktops and window managing/decorating.

TBH, I've never seen the point in "desktop environments" like Gnome/KDE etc. They achieve nothing but (try to) lock you into a specific workflow and How We Do Things, Unity's just more of that (with added advertisements).

35:

I used to be a big KDE advocate in the KDE 1.0-3.5 days, but couldn't get my head around KDE 4.x -- it just made no intuitive sense and I couldn't even figure out how to find and launch applications under it. I'd rate it as intensely user-hostile on the basis of the default configuration being unusable and with no cues as to how to go about tweaking it.

36:

KDE 4.0 could easily gove that impression.

4.10 or so (4.11 with Kubuntu 13.10) is significantly better. The basic getting to applications through the menu involves clicking on the K icon. You can add panels (and add launchers to panels) for 1-click access to your favourites if you want. As you have enough space on your SSD, you could easily apt-get install kubuntu-desktop and choose which desptop you want to fiddle with when you log in.

For beginning tweaking, try system settings. If you don't want to pollute your XFCE setup, download + burn a liveDVD and play with that until you decide whether to rule it out or not.

NB: If all else fails, Alt+F2 and enter application name (or first few characters - it guesses as you type) will allow you to start the app of your choice.

37:

KDE 4.x ... I couldn't even figure out how to find and launch applications

That was my experience with Unity, and also that of my SO (who is Not A Computer Person).

38:

My [Ubuntu] desktop's update froze in the middle and is now unbootable.

Unfortunately this has been my experience with all Ubuntu version upgrades, both on the server and the desktop and laptop side. I've tried both the LTS-to-LTS and the one-verstion-to-the-next paths, starting with Ubuntu 8.04.

I've since switched back to Debian on the servers (only have 3 Ubuntu 10.04 servers remaining) and to OS X on the desktop/laptop.

Debian version upgrades have always gone smoothly, even over an ssh connection, at least since Debian 3.1.

39:

Excuse the horrible pun, but if Linux one day makes you walk the plank, would it be at gnu-point?

I feel your desktop woes about Unity, it's the worst of the worst. The Xubuntu setup you describe is pretty much what I use as a programmer, and I'm quite happy with it.

40:

I gave up on E back in 1996-97 or thereabouts. It just didn't seem to be going anywhere sane, and if it did, it was going to be a gamer's platform rather than a viable UI.

41:

Gentle reminder:

I used to be the Linux columnist for the UK's second best-selling monthly newsstand computer magazine.

I haven't been following the latest Linux-related developments as if my career depended on them for the past five to eight years, but I'm not a noob. (You want UNIX-like OSs on PC hardware? I used to work for the leading vendor of UNIX OS distributions for PCs back in the days before Linux even existed.)

42:

Yeah, Ubuntu is probably the least-infuriating option for non-servers these days. Thanks to Pulseaudio though, there's still a good chance you'll not have any sound.

43:

I tried to switch to Enlightenment recently. Unfortunately it doesn't appear to use XKb, which is a non-starter, since its keybinding configuring tool can only understand one single bucky bit on my keyboard, and it's the same one I use for Meta in Emacs. No, my window manager is *not* having that key.

Since it uses binary lumps for all its configuration state, there's no way to configure it other than using that keybinding configurator. This is a terribly foolish decision: KDE had a much better idea in this area, with nice editable textual configuration files and a daemon which watches them for changes and respins a fast binary lump when needed (which is temporary, and discarded at every logout). Free editing, plus minimal parsing overhead.

44:

I used to be a big KDE advocate in the KDE 1.0-3.5 days, but couldn't get my head around KDE 4.x -- it just made no intuitive sense and I couldn't even figure out how to find and launch applications under it.

Yeah, KDE 4.x was a big change. I managed by installing an application which provided a start menu just like in 3.5. Then it's at least usable. I haven't had time to search for a good replacement, so under Linux it's KDE for me.

When KDE 4.0 first came out to Kubuntu, I tried to live with it. In the basic menu the largest screen amount was given to the "Recently used programs" tab. It just had programs I had never used and probably wouldn't use - and it didn't update. The bug for that had been open for a year or so, so I decided to ditch the menu.

The Qt libraries under KDE are the best UI and assorted stuff libraries I have seen. I worked for some years in a project which used a system built on Qt and it was a very good system, especially considering we used C++.

As for Gnome, I think I ditched it in the 1->2 transition when most of the options I wanted to use disappeared from the GUI. I was then pointed to the gconftool and its not-very-informative system of handling the configuration options. There wasn't even a man page - I didn't find proper instructions on how to find out what options there *were*, not to mention how to set them.

Nowadays I try to use different systems. At home I have Kubuntu and W7, at work I use OS X, and probably more Windows and Linux versions than anybody would like to know existed. Desktop use is mostly OS X, W7 and Kubuntu.

45:

Last I did this it lasted about a year, until a hardware upgrade pushed me over to Win 7, which is not a bad* OS. The key in Ubuntu for me was having a litle Vbox installation of Windows XP that I could fire up when I needed to. Can you run Felidae 10.k in a virtual machine?

*I am always reminded of a quote from NTK - "When asked which operating system we like most, we reply 'None. We hate them all equally'"

46:

My wife is using a small-ish laptop (screen-wise) and for her usage profile, Unity is actually OK so that's what we installed (with Ubuntu).

I myself am more the want-everything-the-way-I-want-it type so I run ARCH and am still using WindowMaker as my wm .. I'm just too used to it to switch to anything else. Tried xfce for a while, which is OK, but I never loved it.

47:

I'm interested to see a Mac aficionado hating Unity. For me, it was the superficial mac-likeness that drove me up the wall; I'm a Windows, Solaris, and Gnome user from way back, and the Mac interface does not mesh with my brain -- I expect the controls for a window to be attached to the window, not banished to the corner of the screen, and I love my three(+)-button mouse. I don't feel much need for a graphical program launcher in a Unix environment at all -- that's what the command line is for -- but after a brief flirtation with Ubuntu I'm another happy Mint MATE user, probably stuck on Mint 13 for the remaining life of my six-year-old hardware due to graphics driver issues with more recent releases. I don't know if there is a Linux environment that plays nicely with single-button pointing devices.

48:

"As I said, I'm not going there unless Apple force me to walk the plank at gun-point."

Here is a nasty Apple trick, if true :

http://magnatecha.com/why-does-apple-sabotage-the-macbook/

"I recently became aware that Mac OS X will cripple a MacBook Pro's CPU if the battery of the machine is in an "unhealthy" state"

49:

>Wordstar

Wordstar predated both the IBM PC and the Mac; it was designed to run on S-100 machines that might be hooked to any sort of dumb terminal. Terminals usually had at least one "special" key (mapped to the Control key on a PC), but they didn't necessarily have function keys, alt keys, or in many cases, arrow keys. A lot of Wordstar's command structure makes more sense if you visualize a typewriter keyboard with no "computer" keys.

Many editors support the old Wordstar commands as an option; it provides a convenient way for people to move across platforms without having to learn new commands for basic tasks, and with so many "portable devices" having no (or unusable) arrow keys, its like its 1980 again...


> KDE

KDE 3.5x was a wonder. KDE4 broke, slowed, or complicated almost everything, and the Schutzstaffel developers' attitude was basically "we don't care what users think." When no major distribution supported KDE3 any more I made the switch, but I have some old servers on a client site still running openSUSE 10.1 and KDE3.5, and they're still a delight to use, and faster on a single core 1.8GHz machine than 4.7 is on my quad-core 3.2GHz machine. [sigh]

Trinity was a fork of the KDE3.5.9 tree. I followed it for a long time, but they were going down the wrong route, trying to torture it into working with the Qt4 libraries KDE4 uses. Now Qt5 is out, and KDE will be moving to that, with whatever new downgrades and problems it brings. Meanwhile, TrollTech turned the old Qt3 toolkit over to the Trinity guys. Last I looked, they were still trying to decide what to do with their mutilated code base; dump it and start over, keep on with dual Qt3/Qt4 as they're doing now, or just give up and buy an Etch-A-Sketch...

50:

Well, that answers my question on another thread - install Ubuntu of some sort as my new O/S when WinXP runs out ....
However, I'm confused re: "Mint" "Gnome" etc ... as a general user, does anyone have recommendations?
Oh, & it appears that some people are having problems with Scrivener on the latest version of Ubuntu - which should be relevant to OGH?

51:

Two finger click for a right-button click should have worked out of the box both for the touchpad and for the Magic Mouse. I still strongly prefer proper 3 buttons + scroller mice.

Also, as other mentioned, setting up a bootable USB stick with Ubuntu is nowadays simpler for most people than finding and writing a CD/DVD.

If you have a lot of music purchased in iTunes, then that music will be quite hard to move over to Linux. The only solution really is to run the Windows version of iTunes via Wine.

52:

Greg, the point is that there _is_ no such thing as a "general user". For a Windowsy Look&Feel, maybe try LXDE. You get that directly if you install the "Lubuntu" variant of Ubuntu
(Ubuntu = uses Unity, Xubuntu = uses XFCE, Kubuntu = uses KDE, Lubuntu = uses LXDE)
(you can get all of these to run the other frontends as well, the difference is just which one is the default upon first installation, at least afaik (I tend to prefer other flavors of Linux))

53:

Slightly disappointed I seem to be the first Fedora user to weigh in, it clearly being the One True Distro. Ahem.

I've been a mostly KDE user since the period Charlie was still writing for Computer Shopper and I don't recognise his description of it. I think a lot of damage to perceptions was done by the messaging around the 4.0 release which was really a .0 release of the framework APIs, and a signal to developers to go ahead and start porting the apps, and not really an indication that there was a coherent whole for actual users. In a clean install of a current KDE, apps can be started from the menu that pops up from the button in the bottom left, and customisations are both gathered together in the Control Centre, and usually also accessible by right-clicking on whatever it is you want to customise. I find it a pretty decent 'power user' environment - the defaults get me pretty close to where I want to be, and the remaining things are easily fixed with a few tweaks of options.

54:

In response to Greg's question (post #50):
Linux runs a graphical interface using something called "X". Using "X" in its raw state is as user friendly as a corned rat. So you use a desktop environment that makes "X" (and therefore Linux) easy to use. The simplest is probably LXDE (which you get with LUbunutu amongst others by default), it is lightweight (ie. doesn't need much in the way of hardware to run, but doesn't give you the user a lot in the way of bells and whistles). Next up is XFCE (which comes with XUbuntu amongst others), which looks a lot like Windoze, is reasonably lightweight (in resources needed terms), will do some bells and whistles (you can set it up to use a compositor to give you "graphic" tweaks on your desktop - transparancy etc.). Then comes the big two - Gnome and KDE. These can struggle on old/small machines, but come with a full set of bells and whistles (from fancy cube shaped ways of switching between workspaces to wobbly windows - fun for about 5 minutes). The big problem with Gnome and KDE is that they went the "must stop looking like Windoze" route - Unity being Ubunutu's tweaks to Gnome version 3.x. Many people did not like what was being done, so either started using XFCE (looks like Windoze and Gnome 2.x) or using Gnome Classic (Gnome version 3.x but made to look like Windoze) or jump from Gnome all together and use MATE (pronounced Mahtay), which is a folk of Gnome version 2 (the joys of Open system software). The Linux distrobution that has MATE as default is called Mint, however you can install MATE on just about any Linux distro.

And there you have it. If you fancy having a go at using Linux, you have a whole load of possible desktop environments you can choose from (the joys of the open system movement) from XFCE, Gnome Classic and MATE for those who like the familiar Windoze style to Gnome ver 3.x (with or without Ubunutu's Unity plonked on the top of it) and KDE ver 4.x for those who fancy something a little different. Oh, and of course Enlightenment which is sort of like Windoze and is the default for the Bohdi linux distro.

So, have a go, download a Live CD of a distro and boot it up (it won't harm your present OS) and have a play. You never know, you might like it. Oh, and as you'll have guessed by now, there are loads of different Linux distrobutions out there, you can research them at such sites as http://distrowatch.com/
where their popularity and features are discussed.

55:

IMO moving to Linux says, "I really enjoy messing about with my computer as a hobby." (I enjoy messing about with my computer as a hobby).

I know people say that about all OS, but Linux is, IMO, more of a commitment than the two major OS, particularly if you are a bit of a gadget hoarder; Linux drivers are rarely the top priority for a vendor.

YMMV. What's your priority, having a bit of fun, or getting work done?

56:

for me: getting work done. Which is why I use Linux on a ThinkPad. But, you know, that all really depends on what "work" you need to get done.

57:

I'd take that with a pinch of salt. My old laptops tend to go to an afterlife with my extended family, and I end up supporting them. This is the first hint I've had of such a CPU throttling tactic -- or of modern Macbooks with integral batteries suffering from reduced battery capacity in less than 4-5 years (typically they should still be on 70% of new at 5 years). I suspect something else is at work here. Remember: if the battery is sealed into the laptop and something bad happens that causes it to catch fire, you can't easily ditch it, so some application of the precautionary principle to the power management firmware is probably a good thing, and throttling one of the main power draw components could be part of that.

(Overall, I like the built-in battery Macbooks The cases are much less prone to flexing than their predecessors, they tend to have a longer battery life -- and there's one less thing to go wrong because there's no risk of accidentally puncturing a cell and starting a lithium fire, e.g. by trapping a random screw between the battery and its compartment in the laptop. Which has, yes, happened on occasion.)

58:

Two finger click for a right-button click

Huh. Now it would be nice if that had been documented anywhere on the Ubuntu-on-Mac community documentation pages I read!

iTunes dropped DRM on most music purchases years ago, and most of my iTunes stuff is in MP3 ripped from CDs anyway.

59:

Its been a long running worry for Pro Mac users that apple will transition from a workstations for professionals company to lower margin consumer electronics one. I recall Sound On Sound worrying about this at least 5 years ago.

Look at how much Apple lags when it comes to pushing the edge where is the water cooled sr2 based equivalent in the Mac range.

I am surprised you did not try one of the older LTS releases that don’t use unity or have the spyware embedded into it. I think you would find that hardware support is even better on more wintel’ish hardware.

Arnods comments of WordStar take me back in the days of s100’s word processing was not WYSIWYG apart from custom systems like DisplayWrite from IBM WordStar 2000 was the graphical version of WordStar and of course totally incompatible you could get ws2000 to produce nice output. Infact when I was at BT it took them almost a decade to get back to the level of quality I had managed for my previous employer.

Given your RSI I hope your using a “proper “ keyboard on your main machine I was excited to see that custom PC reviewed an adaptor for IBM type F keyboards (the type M’s older brother) which is now on my shopping list

http://www.hagstromelectronics.com/products/ke_xtusb.html

60:

YMMV. What's your priority, having a bit of fun, or getting work done?

Exactly right.

5-10 years ago I was a happy tweaker. But last weekend I had my 49th birthday. I'm becoming aware that my life is almost certainly past the halfway point, possibly past the two-thirds point. The hourglass is emptying, and I don't want to have to piss around in a maze of badly-written man pages trying to configure some sort of service in order to get my computer to work, when what I really want to do is to write a novel.

Give me the elixir of eternal youth and I'll happily go back to tweaking, but until then ...

61:
Its been a long running worry for Pro Mac users that apple will transition from a workstations for professionals company to lower margin consumer electronics one. I recall Sound On Sound worrying about this at least 5 years ago.

While, of course, the fact they haven't done it yet doesn't mean they won't, the fact they haven't done it for at least five years (actually considerably longer than that, my first memory of it is shortly after the Bondi Blue iMac appeared and Apple became sexy in the mainstream again which is over a decade ago), suggests to me while it's a legitimate concern it's not likely to happen.

Add to that the "wastepaper basket" that's just been announced and at least one part of the pro market has a quality product targeted right at them.

I think there's a space for a MacBook Pro upgrade, although I'm not in the market for one. But, in all honesty, I suspect there's someone inside Cupertino saying that at a pretty senior level too. Apple have a long history of not releasing things until they can release a product that fits their definition of doing it right. Unless tomorrow they really pull an old-style "One more thing..." out of the hat I'm guessing there's factors we could guess at but would only be guessing at, that are stopping them getting it right (by their standards) at the moment.

But you have to think "Here's the iPad 5. Maybe here's the iWatch. Here's Mavericks. Oh and one more thing... here's a new MacBookPro specially optimised for Mavericks!" That would make the fanboys and grrls scream. I can feel myself swooning already and I'm only interested in the iPad and Mavericks.

62:

I didn't really play in depth with Unity, but as another Mac-head, I too hated it when I did play. I think it's the superficial nature of the Mac-alikeness.

It seemed like they made it look like a screenshot of the desktop, but to actually do much more than launch applications, you had to use a CLI. There's stuff on a mac where using a CLI may still be your best or only option (anyone got a good GUI for SSH on the Mac for example?) but my partner who is using her mac for what I'd consider 'routine' things (she's gone back to university, so there's essay writing, research, managing citations, email etc.) basically only knows terminal exists because she's seen me using it (actually she's seen me using iTerm but it's close enough).

My impression of 30 minutes on Unity was that she'd have been doing some of the basic stuff from the Unity GUI, most of the day-to-day stuff, but quite a lot of the setting up, she'd have been doing, or more likely I'd have been doing for her, from the CLI probably dipping in several times a day. On the Mac, I showed her how a time or two, then she got on with it. Given she's dyslexic, supporting any system that relies routinely on a CLI is a no-go.

She's had the fun that goes with being a switcher of course, particularly when she tried to install Flash in her browser and couldn't work out why it didn't seem to install. "But I hit the red button to quit it and it still said I hadn't installed Flash" and "Are you sure that's all I have to do to uninstall/install that?" but it's working for her.

But to each their own. Windows never made sense to me. But if you find it makes sense for you and lets you be productive, more power to you.

63:

I've been going through the same thing. I'm currently an Apple user, but they've given me hints that I might not be able to count on them in the future, so I'm exploring my options -- and Microsoft stuff is not much of an option.

I've got a cheap used netbook that I just loaded Ubuntu 13.10 onto, so I can keep an eye on Linux laptop interfaces. I've got a Nook Color, which is an underpowered Android tablet in most respects, except, the boot loader doesn't require signatures, so it'll boot any darned OS you load onto a microSD card, so I can try various Android distributions very easily. And, I've got an Ouya, an Android set-top box that I can sideload whatever I want onto.

The Ouya has surprised me, in that throwing a USB keyboard and mouse onto it makes a better ssh terminal and remote desktop client than I would have ever predicted. Not bad at all for $99.

The tablet versions of Android I've tried are somewhat less pleasant right now, but the thing will supposedly be able to run Ubuntu Touch soon, so I'll have to give that a try.

(My "real" work is on POSIX servers, which are overwhelmingly Linux-based these days. I'm mostly struggling with what I'll be sitting in front of in five years.)

I cut my teeth on stuff like Ultrix and SunOS 3.4. Been a Unix user since the mid 1980s. Used to work for Red Hat (they acquired my startup company).

I can't really make sense of Microsoft OSes, and haven't really been able to since about Windows 98 (or for some purposes, NT 3.51).

Right now, I haven't stumbled onto a combination that makes Ubuntu not annoying. Much of Unity doesn't bother me *too* much, but the crazy design where there are no system menus and you have to search to launch things... WTF? I tried xubuntu, but I think I'll have to tweak the bejezis out of it on my netbook to make it usable (1024x600 display, a bit cramped).

I should give xubuntu a try on a larger display. I can always use the netbook in text-only console mode with no X server. Most of my real work can be done that way.

I'm really, really tempted to just try it the way I used to run it in the 1990s, with no "desktop environment" (by today's standards) and just a bunch of bare apps running under twm. Not even a virtual desktop. I've archived my old config files, I could just unpack those and live with that config. I *really* hope Apple doesn't force me to.

64:

@ Various

KDE is a very good GUI, but I don't like the fact that when I install it I get 25-30 new apps, none of which I use, all starting with the too-cutesy "K," added to my menus and making it hard to get work done. If not for this single fact I'd probably be a happy KDE user now. (I don't like Kruft.)

I seem to recall trying MATE 5-6 months back and not being impressed. None of the Gnome-alikes have so far made me happy.

LXDE will probably be a nice desktop in a couple years. Right now it seems a little primitive. I also noted that Linaro, which is a light/fast distro that runs LXDE uses more Gnome stuff in it's infrastructure than I'd like in a light/fast distro, and it is consequently a little slow.

My favorite light/fast desktop ever was IceWM, but that hasn't been maintained for several years now and I'm afraid it probably has issues by now so I don't use it.* IceWM looked and acted a lot like Windows, so it was great for new users. It didn't ever break and it was damn-near infinitely configurable. There was a light/fast icon manager you could use with it if you liked and together they could do really, really cool stuff. IceWM on top of a full Slackware install was breathtakingly fast, but I don't have time to manage a Slackware install anymore.

At this point my only unhappiness with Xfce is the minor problem I've noted above when moving taskbar icons. I could probably speed my system up a little by using a different login manager than the one that comes stock with Gnome, but that would require tweaking, and like OGH I don't have time anymore.

* Would someone with good C++ skills PLEASE take over the IceWM project and bring it into the modern era! Please, please, please!

65:

"Linux says, "I really enjoy messing about with my computer as a hobby."

I think the moving might say that, but I'd disagree that Linux does. I too used to be in the 'happy tweaker' camp, and these days I do Linux systems admin for a living - I'm perfectly capable of delving into the guts if I have to. However, the fact that I sysadmin for a living now means that I don't actually want to do too much of that for fun, I want things to 'just work'. A lot of it's probably a matter of what I'm used to, but I find Linux a lot easier to both look after and use than I do Windows.

66:

Hi - just a few tips (should you try out Unity again) and for others:

Multiple windows of an application from Unity? You can do this. Your first left click on the application icon in Unity launcher opens the application. Middle click on the icon to open another windows of the same application.

Switching windows of the same app? Just click on the icon normally and it'll do an Expose style layout, showing all windows of that application and you can pick the one you want.

Touchpad? Right click? Um, from memory (I haven't gotten around to installing Ubuntu on my current Macbook yet, but on my previous one...) - two finger click = right click and three finger click = middle click

Preventing Internet searching in Unity? Click on Unity, type Privacy and you'll see an icon labelled "Security & Privacy" - within that, you can turn off all Internet searches and you're done. It also allow how much access the desktop search can do - for example - I disable all searches in my Download folder.

Maximising windows and so on? Just like Windows - you drag a window to top of screen and it maximise, or to left/right of screen to take up that half and so on.

Press and hold the "super key" (for PCs, this is the Windows logo key, for Apple, this is the cmd key) and after a short period, a help dialogue appears showing you all the key shortcuts - such as super-e to do a Expose style task switcher, super-d for showing the desktop and keys for workspaces and so on.

It's true that Unity is somewhat similar to OSX - but I've found that Unity is much easier to use than OSX's GUI and much more efficient.

You just have to give it time. I didn't like it just like many people but I didn't like Linux when I first used it. I always try things for at least a month before deciding. I did that with Unity and realise it's much better than its first impression.

That said, you're welcome to hate it :-) It's not like there isn't a lack of choice in Linux-world! :)

You could have tried Linux Mint - it works very well on Macbooks too, and have the classic Gnome layout (Cinnamon or MATE) and is based on Ubuntu. It's very nice to use too.

Doesn't detect the Broadcom wireless out of the box though, you would have to use a wired connection to download the drivers for this after installing Mint.

Hope that's of some help!

67:

Tomorrow's Apple event:

They're almost certainly going to bump the Retina Probooks up to Haswell from Ivy Bridge. Main upshot: much better battery life. (There's a big question mark over what GPU they'll be using alongside the Intel HD stuff -- NVIDIA or someone else?)

What they do with the non-retina Probooks is anyone's guess -- leave as-is, bump to Haswell, or end-of-life (and a price cut on the retina models to fill in the gaps in the pricing ladder).

They'll almost certainly release Mavericks.

They'll almost certainly announce a shipping date for the new black Mac Pro.

They will almost certainly release the iPad 5. (Shaped like a mini, but full-sized, with all the trimmings that the iPhone 5S got -- fingerprint reader, higher res camera, A7 or A7X processor -- and retina display. Likely to weigh a lot less than the iPad 4G.)

They will probably release -- or pre-release -- the iPad Mini with Retina Display. However, supply chain rumours suggest supplies will be constrained until 2014 due to problems manufacturing the display panels in bulk. So good luck getting hold of one this year.

They might release a refreshed or new AppleTV device. (Probability: low-to-medium.) They might just cut the price to compete better with the Google gizmo.

They almost certainly won't release an iWatch or a high definition TV.

Random wildcard: The 27" Thunderbolt display is now nearly three years old. Resolution-wise, it's about the same as the 15" Retina Macbook Pro. And they're releasing a new Mac Pro. I will not be too surprised if Apple announce a horrifyingly expensive Desktop Retina Display, in somewhere between 25" and 35" size, with 4K x 2K pixels. It will be at least $3000 -- more likely $5000 -- and will be marketed at video professionals who are buying the new Mac Pro. 4K monitors are still bleeding-edge kit; ASUS currently do a 31.5" 4K monitor for $3,500 (pixel count: 3840 x 2160).

68:

IMO moving to Linux says, "I really enjoy messing about with my computer as a hobby."

I dont think that is true with Linux anymore, at least not for me. I have been using it professionally for several years. I dont mess with my system, I use it to make money.

I came out of the Windows desktop world and when I moved full time onto the web, I wanted a dev machine running the same OS that I ran my code on in production. I was able to get Ubuntu factory installed on a mass produced laptop and I do not mess with it very much so all upgrades have gone well.

FWIW, I started coding Windows apps in 1988, version 2.01 when it was a DOS GUI and stayed on it in one form or other until just the last few years. I honestly do not think Linux takes as much effort as Windows does these days. Windows installs deteriorate fast and the way MS is constantly re-doing frameworks while keeping old frameworks in place for backward compatibility, it is just getting worse.

Not to mention the whole "Touch screen UI for a mouse and keyboard (and server!!!) system" issue.

Granted I am not a normal user and most people dont do anything about bad performance until they trade into a new machine. But I for one spend less time messing with my system on Ubuntu than I did at the end with Windows which is why I am very happy I made the switch.

69:

Curious about the DEC thing. I've never used VMS, but I've worked on MS/DOS, various Windowses, a couple of Unices, OS X, some mainframes and a 5280, and I can't smell a philosophical difference between them. I could rank them in terms of how easy it is to Do Stuff (not getting work done, necessarily, but Stuff); Unix would be at the top and most Windowses near the bottom (Win Me was the nadir in that respect). Even then, I've always vaguely assumed that all OSs had the capacity to let you do stuff, just that some hid it better than others.

70:

Charlie, you mention the retina MBP having a second graphics chipset alongside the Intel one. This causes me to ask: are you familiar with gfxCardStatus?

I use it on my non-retina MBP, to disable the Nvidia chipset, forcing everything to use the Intel chipset. The result is dramatically better battery life and lower heat (which actually lets me use the laptop on top of my lap). Almost everything works just fine with the Intel chipset, and when I run into something that doesn't (eg. multiple displays connected), I just turn the Nvidia chipset back on.

It's open source and on github, and I recommend it to anyone who has a mac with multiple video chipsets.

71:

If I had to summarize the "DEC versus Unix" basic philosophy, hm... I'd probably say that Unix under-engineers stuff and then gets out of your way, and the DEC OSes over-engineer stuff and provide more infrastructure that you'll then suffer due to if you don't use it.

What's a file on a normal Unix system? It's pretty much a simple stream of bytes attached to a filename, nothing more, nothing less. There's a little bit of metadata, but not much. If you want anything more than that, you have to implement it on top of a stream of bytes. (This is less true than it used to be, with modern support for ACLs and metadata and forks and stuff, but for decades has been the foundation.)

What's a file on a VMS system? You've got direct support for record-oriented files, ACLs, versioning, logical names, it's crazy (from my perspective). It can be powerful, but it can also get in the way if what you've got doesn't match exactly what you want to do.

A simple Unix system can be *very* simple (and then you can layer stuff on top of that). A simple VMS system can't really *be*.

72:

I got my MBP built-to-order: *no* second graphics card (I don't do heavy games), lowest available Ghz, highest possible RAM, non-glossy display.

Skipping the extra graphics card and choosing a low frequency reduces heat, power consumption and noise: the fan blows for half a second when I open the lid, then goes to sleep. And no-one notices the difference between 2.2 Ghz and 2.7 Ghz without a benchmark anyway.

73:

Yes, I use gfxCardStatus. (I leave it set to dynamic switching except when on the road with the rMBP, at which point I lock it down to integrated graphics in order to save juice. But the rMBP is heavy, fragile, and expensive, so it mostly stays home while the iPad and/or Macbook Air go with me on journeys.)

74:

Steveg:


IMO moving to Linux says, "I really enjoy messing about with my computer as a hobby." (I enjoy messing about with my computer as a hobby).
I know people say that about all OS, but Linux is, IMO, more of a commitment than the two major OS, particularly if you are a bit of a gadget hoarder; Linux drivers are rarely the top priority for a vendor.
YMMV. What's your priority, having a bit of fun, or getting work done?

I know Linux users who have that experience. Mine is pretty much install-work-work-(long time)-one-line-command-os-update-work-(long time)-work...

75:

My typical Windows session involves at least a couple of Cygwin xterms, one PuTTy terminal and one or more command-line windows for my data and image manipulation software; I've lived most of my working life on the command line, going back almost to the days of actual VT100 terminals, and a lot of the time I think graphical metaphors just get in the way. Windows doesn't particularly make sense to me "under the hood", but I'm used to the interface, and even twm makes more sense to me as a way for windows to behave than what Macs do.

76:
5-10 years ago I was a happy tweaker. But last weekend I had my 49th birthday. I'm becoming aware that my life is almost certainly past the halfway point, possibly past the two-thirds point. The hourglass is emptying, and I don't want to have to piss around in a maze of badly-written man pages trying to configure some sort of service in order to get my computer to work, when what I really want to do is to write a novel.

I'm a bit older than you and I lie a lot to myself; I maintain that my life is 4/7 over ;-) That being said . . . I woke up this morning in allergy Hell, my back and right knee hurt like the dickens, and I could barely stand up straight (the season is finally turning after a warmer-than-usual October.) And I had exams to hand back, excuses to hear, etc.

Tweaking my system for a better performance or a nicer interface is the last thing on my mind.

So, being that we are all of a certain generation and (roughly) have the same backgrounds, when will all this computing buzzwah be relegated to background noise? 2020? 2035? 2050? I'm well into my nineties with that last one. But, dear God, make this endless procession of OS's stop.

77:

Tweaking my system for a better performance or a nicer interface is the last thing on my mind.

Working hypothesis: you know the grumpy middle-aged man stereotype? The guy who turns 45 (or 50) and is suddenly downbeat, negative, and scathing about everything, especially everything a generation younger than he is?

I speculate that it's due to the long-term psychological effects of chronic pain. People in chronic pain become irritable and crabby. It doesn't have to be pain from clinically diagnosed degenerative illnesses: just the general aches and wear and tear arising from inhabiting a body with ligaments, tendons, and muscle groups in decline, with worn joints and aching back.

Add the reduced benefits to be gained from spending time learning new skills at 50 as opposed to 20 years old, and it explains a lot of what happens to us as we hit middle age.

78:

Yeah, you're dead on with that chronic pain thing (also: The inability to get a good night's sleep.) My doctor just shrugs when I mention this and either says "don't do that," or "Take a couple of aspirin." Apparently you're supposed to just grit your teeth and bear it, grinning all the while.

As a kid I never knew this about my older relatives, but now that I can feel it for myself, well, let's just say your hypothesis seems strangely freighted with a great deal of explanatory power.

79:

The last bride of a man who fought in the American Civil War died sometime in the last five years (Don't go there.) Any guesses as to when the last person who made a living punching typewriter keys dies? I had a typing class in - 70? - so I'm guessing sometime around 2070

80:

IIRC the last manual typewriter factory in India only closed down in the past year -- then reopened for another production run (those paranoid Russian cops, anyone would think they didn't want the NSA snooping on their word processors). So my guess is manual typewriters will still be in use for at least another 1-3 decades. Assuming no life prolongation tech, that probably pushes your horizon back from 2070 to probably some time after 2140.

81:

You are a braver man than I. I have tried to install Linux on two occasions, once two years ago (Ubuntu) and once about ten years ago (Suse). In both cases I gave up in frustration. I could get to around 95% of functionality but driver issues prevented full functionality.

I also use Apple laptops which are stable although I have had one or two small problems (odd clicking noises on one machine). I can do all that I need to do, primarily software development, without resorting to a large screen. This means that most of my work is now done lying on a couch - very decadent!

Not sure what my Apple GOTH plan is. I was a Microsoft Windows user up to a few years ago but was driven out because of the hardware. I used Dell for over 10 years. They produced fairly reliable machines but the last two I purchased were terrible - malfunctioning fairly quickly in various small but irritating ways - wondering cursors being a particular irritant. I couldn't find another brand that I liked - both HP and Lenovo are junkware and Sony is expensive and too prone to use weird sockets (OK - Apple is like that as well).

The latest Windows OS would probably have driven me out in any case. I use Windows Server 2012 for certain development projects and it drives me crazy. The interface doesn't make any kind of sense and I get frustrated trying to bring up the edge menus, particularly when accessing machines through a remote desktop. I am sure that this is a UI developed by the same team that developed Vista (no really, let's add another dialog box, users love it). I will be interested to see what 8.1 looks like - I suspect a return to sanity but we shall see.

Perhaps I should return to punch cards or paper tape.

82:

Hi,
I don't know how this is going to come out, here goes...
As far as a "General User" of Linux is concerned, I switched over about 2 years ago. Win XP was getting too slow on my P4 with 512mb of memory. I recommend anybody wanting to try it to read up on it first. Definitely try as many live cd's as possible to find the right one for both you and your machine.
For example, I (almost certainly due to my own lack of knowledge) cannot get onto the internet with any Ubuntu-based OS. Debian (or a distro closer to Debian than Ubuntu?) is fine though.
I trialled a couple of versions on an external hard disk before buying a new SATA HD and installing there.
Neal Stephenson's "Cryptonomicon" first put the idea of using Linux into my head.


83:

Ah you mean Unix's just whack out something thats good enough for jazz but leaves the hard stuff out :-)

Not that sometimes good enough is what you need but its not the be all and end all of good design that some *hem* *hem* younger linux fanbois who have a lack of historical context.

84:

Ah yes the wacky proposed new mac pro strike me as the computer equivalent of the sort of buildings that only single architecture students love you know the "machines for living" type.

When I worked for a big engineering consultants the joke was the only thing you let the architect do is chose the paint colors. Under medical supervision of course - you can get a nasty paper cut from those pantone color swatches.

85:

Working hypothesis: you know the grumpy middle-aged man stereotype? The guy who turns 45 (or 50) and is suddenly downbeat, negative, and scathing about everything, especially everything a generation younger than he is? I speculate that it's due to the long-term psychological effects of chronic pain

Add in a soupçon of low blood sugar, a hint of reduced attention span and 800 milligrams of "bollocks to this, I will be dead in twenty years".

They say life begins at forty - not true. At 39-and-half you just don't give a toss anymore.

Yeah, you're dead on with that chronic pain thing (also: The inability to get a good night's sleep.) My doctor just shrugs when I mention this and either says "don't do that," or "Take a couple of aspirin."

Very true. I'm always tempted to say "I could have told myself that. Where's my medical degree, £50000 a year and a loads of blank, signed, prescription pads?"

86:

I'm interested to see a Mac aficionado hating Unity. For me, it was the superficial mac-likeness that drove me up the wall;

Superficial is the keyword. It's like, a platypus is superficially like an otter or a manatee is superficially like a dolphin. It's like someone watched someone using a Mac and tried to figure out what they were doing without ever talking to them.

...

I see some people are ranting about the new Mac hardware. The last Mac hardware that didn't suck compared to contemporary just about anything else was the beige G3. They were still underpowered and overpriced, but at least they were all about functionality and accessibility instead of "look, don't touch" style. When Jobs took over again it all went to hell.

87:

"I recently became aware that Mac OS X will cripple a MacBook Pro's CPU if the battery of the machine is in an "unhealthy" state"

Probably a good thing. Macbooks tend to overheat anyway if the CPU runs over 50% for very long. I used to pull the battery out of my Macbook Pro (17") to force it to throttle the CPU... and wished there was a way to lock it there. Combine that with a sealed and failing battery, with the potential of expanding destructively if overheated (as my first Macbook battery did), and I think they're just being prudent.

The real "screw you" is the sealed-in battery.

88:

Middle click on the icon to open another windows of the same application.

WTF? What's wrong with making that a context-menu option, or is that application-dependent? Most of the apps I run have "open a new window" in the context menu, but a few don't... I have to open extra instances from an alias I've shoved into the desktop. I'll see if the middle-click trick works or if it's just a shortcut for the context menu next time I boot Ubuntu.

89:

resuna wrote:
I see some people are ranting about the new Mac hardware. The last Mac hardware that didn't suck compared to contemporary just about anything else was the beige G3. They were still underpowered and overpriced, but at least they were all about functionality and accessibility instead of "look, don't touch" style. When Jobs took over again it all went to hell.

I'd strongly disagree; I have fairly extensive current laptops experience (my latest MacBook is a generation back, but other than that...). I am typing this on a Lenovo ThinkPad W520, used several other Lenovos recently, a Dell, and my primary consulting company issue is the aforementioned Macbook.

The Mac is intended to be smooth and easy / nice to use.

It succeeds. I enjoy everything but the instinctive thumb trackpad use on it (that, my joint is getting achey over). When I have it desked, out come a pair of trackballs and away goes the thumb owie.

The Lenovo is competent here. Dell is tolerable.

The "ZOMG Macs cost more for the same CPU and RAM and display" claim is technically true, but what people buy laptops for is to USE them; Apple has correctly identified that we passed yet another plateau of system capability some time ago, and UI / user experience are now the predominant distinguishing features.

Apple don't have a monopoly on that wisdom or on UI / user experience design; but they've been focused on it for a long time when other companies have kept tracking back to geeky utilitarian. And geeky utilitarian is a dead end for mass consumer goods.

90:

I can't imagine using my thumb on my MacBook Pro's trackpad. It's super comfortable with the first three finger tips of either hand, especially since I use multitouch to scroll through webpages and other gestural commands. You do have to reposition your hand slightly, but the advantage in speed and accuracy over using your thumb is immense. Also, the first thing I do with a new MacBook is set the trackpad to tap to click; clicking in the entire trackpad feels awful to me.

91:
If I had to summarize the "DEC versus Unix" basic philosophy, hm...

One difference is that DEC tends towards monolithic while Unix tends toward a modular approach.

In the DEC approach, you're likely to have one big program to do a particular task. In Unix, you're much more likely to be using half a dozen different programs under the hood.

For example, the chat program in Ubuntu ("empathy") is just the front-end; behind the scenes, there's a collection of various "telepathy" components, one for each protocol (Jabber, IRC, etc), one for logging, one for putting the little icon in the corner of the screen and one ("mission control") to keep all the others in line.

In the DEC approach, all that would be a single program.

To the user, both look pretty much the same most of the time.

You can tell the difference sometimes in how things fail, or how they succeed. Sometimes when things fail, you can tell that you still have most of the pieces doing the best they can, but the coordination is just no longer there...

As for succeeding, well, the whole discussion on this thread about Unity vs Xfce vs Enlightenment: if you don't like the way a particular component works, you can swap out just that component and keep all the rest. The same principle applies to the back-end: a new chat protocol is just a new component to be installed, it will automatically show up in Empathy (or whatever you're using for your front end).

The barrier to improving one aspect is much lower, because you can just assume the rest of the system will stay. On the other hand, as different components of different vintages work together, you get a somewhat "gritty, used future" kind of environment.

Sometimes, of course, you can tell the difference in ways that don't matter to you at all; when the system is starting up or shutting down and the components come up one by one, or when you ask to install one program and the installer goes ahead and installs a dozen packages for you.

92:

I bought one of those licensed clones. It was a Motorola StarMax and it was glorious to use. Word on it was a joy compared to the disaster that it was on Windows.

And then Jobs came back and killed the whole licencing idea off.

I found that somewhat annoying. Been on PCs of some kind at home ever since. I find W7 to be ok on my 3yo Sony notebook. Work has been either Windows or Linux for the last decade even if the target OS was Linux most of the time.

93:

Reply to # 54 & others
Oh, & thanks to # 52 for the explanation …
I used to just-about write noddy Unix, back in the late 90’s, so I am familiar with the base-structure, at least – though my last serious programming was before 1983, using FORTRAN_IV, which should tell you something …
Looks like XUbuntu or “MATE” then …
I prefer the Windoze front-end style but … I don’t like the underlying ever-more-complicated structures that MS are erecting on their tottering foundations. Note, again, that I’ve only ever used Win 3.11, Win NT & WinXP – the three most stable, coherent os’ that MS have produced – I’ve seen the others & they stink.

94:

And others ...
Its been a long running worry for Pro Mac users that apple will transition from a workstations for professionals company to lower margin consumer electronics one.
Excuse me, but apple are a greedy US corporation, screwing as much as they can from theor gullible customes, simply because: (a) their stuff is SHINY & (2) they are not MicroShaft.
Doesn't actually make them any better at all, than MS.

I suspect this is why a lot of people are just-about-content (but grumbling) but stick with MS, especially if they can use one of the better MS os' - see my earlier post!

95:

SoV
I'm 67
Tell me about all of it!
Agreed re "endless stream of OS's" though.
What is to be done? [quote]

96:

YUAY!

8o-chars-per line
Stacked cards DO NOT DROP
Bottled FORTRAN for use at weddings ....
( Oh & "mainframes" with less than 20k of memory ... )

97:

Oh yes

Apple, for years meant SJ

Defined as ... Enjoy!
I suspect every word is true.

98:

Please (assuming you have 1GB available download) try a liveDVD/liveUSB of Kubuntu a well as Xubuntu - KDE feels a bit "fuller" and less minimalist than XFCE to me.

Of course you are more than welcome to disagree ;-)

To sort of quote the unicorn WIR Quasi-Horse-Animal-Thing reference: "There is No One True Way"!

NB: Reference/link to Mercedes Lackey Valdemar reading from Laundry version of unicorns ;-)

As I mentioned upstream, Kubuntu runs OK on Atom/1GB netbook, so should run OK on hardware that runs XP + antivirus etc. If not, find what you like, and run that!

NB2: K3B (CD/DVD burning software) and Amarok (music/podcast player) turned me on to KDE 3.x - KDE 4.many has both working well.

Ubuntu 6.06 (June 2006, "Dapper Drake") was the first Linux distro that combined easy install with the availability/affordability of DSL where I live and I foud that the Debian-based apt-get took away the pain of RPM dependency hell. It enabled me to escape Vista ($DRM_OS_1), and do everything else I needed. So I have a soft spot for Canonical/Ubuntu while still being unable to understand why they perpetrated Unity ;-)

99:

The tech press often referred to Steve Jobs' "Reality Distortion Field" - It seems to have consumed its host - I'm not sure whether it has found another one yet.

Also, when (cr)Apple fired SJ, they resorted to someone whose technical vision and ability was suited to selling sugar-water.

So yes, SJ was eminently hateable as a person but occasionally could push teams of engineers to come up with something that was better than the ideas they stole from Xerox PARC or wherever.

Contrast vision to "There will be a Microsoft, and it will be eternal, selling Sorta-OK software until the end of time" (slight misquote from Accidental Empires)

As a person, just compare SJ to RMS and Linus Torvalds *

* Even if you don't AGREE with RMS, the Overton Window would be SO much narrower without him!

100:

Unfortunately that "endless stream of OS's" is not bringing us much innovation.

In the Macintosh family we have something totally weird that transmogrified before us into a unix clone. Albeit one with the niced looking UI eye candy about.

Windows 95/98/Me got replaced by Windows NT in the form of XP. This was a huge step forward in reliability as well as a rather pleasing set of UI eye candy. Since then the eye candy has got a make over on a regular basis.

In the Linux world we have a bucket load of distributions that offer very little between them if we were truly honest with ourselves. The UI eye candy has grown and grown and grown to the stage where it is all people seem to talk about any more.

So, the last decade (and a bit) has been more of the same with slightly different shades of lipstick on the pig over the years.

When was the last time any of us saw something different with a world of possibility rippling away under it? For me that was Plan 9. A really great idea that went nowhere but it is wonderfully scalable. Mind you though, its UI eye candy leaves a lot to be desired.

101:

As I said upthread, I've changed from Windows XP to Linux Mint.
Mint seems a bit faster, certainly uses less ram, and more importantly, isn't massively different in feel from XP.

And even better, I installed it myself without any hassle, in fact quicker than re-installing XP would have been. Of course you then have to add the installing programs and add ons to increase usability, but basically if you just want a simple GUI to replace windows XP, Mint seems the way to go. Of ocurse you have to re-learn where certain commands are and the best way to do something because the terms used are a bit different.

And when problems do crop up, you can usually find some instructions online to change whatever it is you want to change, the net result being that I feel more in control of this than Windows.

On the OS side, is there any way of properly comparing usability, or does it vary too much from user to user? I type this as just another person who has been using computers for decades but has no real interest in programming, and just want to be able to find what I want where it should be, as it were.

102:

To sort of quote the unicorn WIR Quasi-Horse-Animal-Thing reference: "There is No One True Way"!

NB: Reference/link to Mercedes Lackey Valdemar reading from Laundry version of unicorns ;-)

Ah, so that's what inspired Kipling's In the Neolithic Age:

There are nine and sixty ways of constructing tribal lays,
And—every—single—one—of—them—is—right!

103:

Zeroneight wrote:

I can't imagine using my thumb on my MacBook Pro's trackpad. It's super comfortable with the first three finger tips of either hand, especially since I use multitouch to scroll through webpages and other gestural commands. You do have to reposition your hand slightly, but the advantage in speed and accuracy over using your thumb is immense. Also, the first thing I do with a new MacBook is set the trackpad to tap to click; clicking in the entire trackpad feels awful to me.

My most common use cases other than web browsing aren't using inherently pure graphical interfaces. I am usually running with hundreds of browser tabs of info and web based tools open, plus six command shell windows on various systems, and often a spreadsheet and local text doc I am editing at the same time. Muchly I am repositioning focus to type somewhere else. That goes much faster, if sore-er, with the thumb.

When use more purely GUI I use usually index finger, yes.

104:

With the best will in the world, I suspect no one, not even you, regards your usage as a "typical user." I'm sure there are other people out there that duplicate what you do, and there should be the tools to support you, I'm not trying to say there shouldn't.

But, while I'm glad you can meet your needs, and if was working at Apple, Microsoft, building Linux distros or similar, I'd be agitating that we should be working out how to meet your needs as well as mine and my partners (which are all different) with some weighting - and I suspect my partner's weighting would win as the commonest by far.

105:

No argument there. It's good that there are ways for people to get work done without remembering a bunch of arcane incantations.

I once opened up a command-prompt window on a friend's computer that I was treating for a ransomware infestation. They found that scarier than the fact that the desktop had gone red with a biohazard symbol --- and probably all I was doing with it was copying a few files over from a memory stick!

106:
In the Linux world we have a bucket load of distributions that offer very little between them if we were truly honest with ourselves. The UI eye candy has grown and grown and grown to the stage where it is all people seem to talk about any more.

Remember all those 90's sf series where the future of interfacing was some sort of translucent holographic terminal, plus maybe some sensor gloves? Does anyone really believe this anymore? In full contrarian (subtype, boring old tech) mode, I predict that the future of the GUI will be . . . a screen plus a keyboard/mouse. Possibly a failure of imagination, but ISTM that when there is that much hype, that much effort, that much money thrown at a project, there should be some results. AFAICT, there hasn't been anything much at all in that department. This suggests to me that keyboards (like the boring old Otto-cycle prime movers, batteries, etc.) are really just about in the middle of the sweet spot of responsiveness vs anthropical limitations.

107:

On immortality and youthfulness: What would you actually do with that?

soc.history.what-if had a post on "What if Alexander didn't die?" I took that literally, and ran with it. My take: He wouldn't still be in power. Linguistic change, social change, technological change.... after a certain point, he wouldn't be able to keep up.

108:

scentofviolets @ 106, the GUI transition away from keyboards and mice is already underway. Phones with touch screens are almost everywhere in the world, with tablets spreading fast.

I've seen a semi-joking suggestion that Linux will end up winning the desktop ... because everybody else will be using laptops, tablets, and phones.

Shuttleworth and Ubuntu cop a lot of criticism for Unity and related efforts. Most of it is deserved, but it's like criticising the Newton. At least they're looking forward and realise that rewriting GNOME / KDE for the third or fourth time (Jamie Zawinskie's "Cascade of Attention-Deficit Teenagers" software development model) is not enough.

109:

I predict that the future of the GUI will be . . . a screen plus a keyboard/mouse

That's got to be one of the least convincing predictions I've seen in a long time, that's barely even the present any more.

Me, yes that's what I like, but only on the desktop. Portable, phone, tablets, all those are going touchscreen instead, and it's already a minority of items in this household that don't have touch interface.

110:

A keyboard IS a touch interface. Something that slipped out under the radar about the new MS Surface tablets is the (optional) keyboard doesn't have discrete keys, just keycaps. The panel under the keycaps is capacitatively touch-sensitive and can be used in a touch-mode recognising swipe and gestures like a giant touchpad. It's a really neat idea. Of course it may not work well or have other problems or be disparaged (see "gorilla arm") and deprecated.

111:

Sigh. Fine, yuh got me. It won't be a keyboard, it'll be a picture of a keyboard. And there won't be mouse-activated icons; the icons will be selected with the mere tap of a finger.

There's contrarianism, and then there's just being contrary.

112:

the icons will be selected with the mere tap of a finger

Without getting into any other part of your argument, that statement is immensely dismissive of the paradigm shift involved between using a mouse (or touch pad) to move a cursor, and directly interacting by touching.

113:

You can say that all you want. How about showing me? AFAICT, you're still just selecting an icon. Tell me whether I'm being fair or not. And I know for a fact that I can twitch a mouse a lot faster and with less effort than if I had to select icons by touch, at least on my desktop. And as for a phone? Yeah, a mouse is impractical in the latter case, but by the same token, the real estate is, well, mouse-sized.

Now, do you have any actual examples of non-clunky tech that does not involve clicking on the hierarchical structure that is your typical GUI or typing on a command line? Not vague stuff about 'neural interfaces' or some such nonsense; real hardware (and/or software. But you know what I mean.) And not gee-whiz stuff about 'programming your washer/stove/coffee/tea pot with the touch of a button'; my mother was doing the same thing back in 50's (No, replacing bakelite nobs with a capacitive touch screen is not some fundamental improvement if all your touch screen does is emulate those selfsame nobs.)

114:

@91:
if you don't like the way a particular component works, you can swap out just that component and keep all the rest.
---
"Unix - the 'Mr. Potato Head' of operating systems!"

115:

Oh, and just so we don't rehash old ground, does anybody deny that there's been a lot of money/man-hours thrown at the problem of designing a better human/machine interface? Like those oh-so-cool but distracting HUDS?

Let's face it: it's all very well to carp at what a half-assed job evolution usually does. But occasionally, every so often, evolution gets it right. I'll go on record as saying the human hand is pretty damn good at what it does in this context, namely translating fine motor movements into precise actions. Oh, you might add a second thumb, maybe extra joints, that sort of thing. But that's not an advancement in kind over, say the paws of a cat; merely one of refinement.

116:

@108:
I've seen a semi-joking suggestion that Linux will end up winning the desktop ... because everybody else will be using laptops, tablets, and phones.
---
Probably, since the "average user" does very little with a computer. Some webmail, maybe a couple of games, some YouTube. Their phone, on the other hand, does all that, plus it texts, does voicemail, and is right there in their pocket. These are people with no real need for a "computer" at all.

If you need to enter or edit more than trivial amounts of text, or do sound or video editing, or CAD, or any of several other tasks, you'll be walking a long, rocky path doing it on a phone or tablet.

117:

For some reason, I'm reminded of the Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie song "Every OS Sucks" :-)

Lyrics:
http://songmeanings.com/songs/view/76280/

Video:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d85p7JZXNy8
(Skip to 1:29 into the video, which is where the skit really starts. I prefer the audio only version on the album "Steaming Pile of Skit", which sadly doesn't seem to be sold anymore, although mp3s are available at various dodgy websites…)

118:

Ive used a few versions of windows and win7 seems the best so far.. the wife had vista on her laptop- what a dog,
and the luddite in me looks at win8 with a suspicious glare......

119:

dsgood @ 107
YES - I would.
If only to see what happens next ...
I'm 19 years older than Charlie, & in spite of some horrendous past injuries, I suspect my health/fitness may actually be better than his - but I still start to creak when the tempreature hovers @ +2 & it's raining/sleeting, euw.

120:

@ 106 & 108 - 115 combined ...
Re: Touchscreens & keypads:
There's one fundamental problem with touchscreen(s) - NO FEEDBACK.
They are probably necessary for small, portable devices ( Like my new 'phone ) - but, for larger devices, especially those you sit down in front of, or "control" in traditional manner, feedback is a really good idea. Of course, there is also the issue of having a bigger screen & better visual feedback with a larger i/o interface. To repeat, my one experience of using an i-Plod was horrible - never, ever, again, for a large i/o system, thank you.
There was a similar problem with power-assisted steering on cars & other road vehicles for a long time ... but it has been sorted, now, for well over 30 years, so you can handle a big, heavy vehicle, with reception of fed-back signals through the steering.
"Fly/drive-by-wire" is another can of worms entirely.

121:

Paws (!)
Yes, well, cats with opposable dewclaws, so they can grip & maenouvre things (!) do we really want to go there?
Hint, the Norwegian Forest breed have their "thumb" claws, almost-opposed already - that's why (even for cats) they can climb so well.
Genetically manipulate, say Maine Coon + Burmese crosses to have this, plus brain-size enlargement, & you can kiss goodbye to supposed "human superioirity"

122:

Sorry if I came off as condescending. I really suck at picking the right tone and word choice sometimes (especially after a day of responding to help tickets). I also didn't know how closely you'd been following Linux in the semi-recent past. Anyways, I guess what I was trying to get at is that it's definitely possible to switch between GNOME Shell and OS X on a daily basis and not completely lose your mind.

123:

One word: multitouch

Gestures are still young, but the ability to use two or three manipulation points instead of a single mouse pointer is where touch control gets interesting. There is a qualitative, not just quantitive, difference. It's the next stage in the zero, one, many continuum.

But carry on being contrary.

124:

Now, do you have any actual examples of non-clunky tech that does not involve clicking on the hierarchical structure that is your typical GUI or typing on a command line?

Yes.

For this example to work, you need a Mac and an iPad.

Go fire up GarageBand on the Mac. Music composition/sequencing software, mouse, keyboard, traditional UI.

Then fire up GarageBand on the iPad. Same software, different UI ... and it feels totally different. For an encore, download, say, the Korg iMS20 analog synth emulator for the iPad. Turns out it's monstrously powerful and utterly unlike anything with a mouse/keyboard UI. In fact, trying to port it to a platform with a mouse would cripple it, like trying to play a grand piano with one finger.

Need I go on?

125:

Yay for multitouch - because of careless mouse use over the years I have a tendency for a sore wrist. So I have tried a couple of things, and am currently using a logitech touchpad. One touch moves the cursor around, two can scroll up and down the screen, three moved sideways goes back or forwards through the window that you have open. There's also four finger movements but I don't find them useful.
Now it may not have quite the accuracy of a good mouse but I find it easy and intuitive to use and at times it does away with unnecessary cursor movements. And my wrist isn't so sore.

126:

the point is that there _is_ no such thing as a "general user"

Of course there is. It is always "me". :)

127:

A good point - the best new interfaces can totally subsume existing ones.

128:

I work with architects a lot. They really lust after something similar to the displays and user interface in the movie Minority Report. While things are much better today than 5, 10, 15 years ago, there is still a huge room for improvement.

Something like a 30" to 40" flat panel that is on about a 30 degree slope in front of them that works via multi touch and really does allow them to manipulate designs. From early concepts down to construction docs.

Hardware will get there way before the design/CAD software does.

129:

You can say that all you want. How about showing me? AFAICT, you're still just selecting an icon. Tell me whether I'm being fair or not. And I know for a fact that I can twitch a mouse a lot faster and with less effort than if I had to select icons by touch, at least on my desktop.

Have you ever taught someone to use a mouse? Do you remember when you first used a mouse? Learning mouse or a trackpad takes some time; doing the same on a touch screen is usually immediate since we learn we needed skills as a baby.

As for large vertical touch screens (aka desktop monitors): that's a dead end. Touch screens should be horizontal or slightly slanted in front of you, similar to a keyboard. That's a UI Star Trek got right.

130:

I dislike unity so much I have gone back to fedora and gnome 3. I had abandoned fedora because anaconda, the installer, simply did not work on the dells I had. The dells are gone, so I can go back to fedora. It is better for grownups to do software development. I am almost sure haskell is a useful programming language. Sure is interesting, even if it is not.

I agree with you about xfce, no muss, no fuss, lower overhead.

However, tell me if you can get bluetooth working with a printer. You got your mouse working, I have phones and keyboards working, but I am unable to get an HP printer going. Filing bug reports seems to indicate bluetooth-cups is an orphan. Not an immediate problem, the printer is USB connected to a laptop.

131:

I expect that that'd be a niche interface, because of both cost and bulk. On the other hand, there are lots of different interfaces around, different ones for different purposes, and for many of those purposes the common existing keyboard and mouse pairing is totally inadequate, whereas for others it is the best around.

An example: I was at a gig last night, sitting next to the sound desk. In front of my right knee was a Mac laptop, but the controls mainly being used was the sound desk itself with its rank of sliders and sets of buttons. For travelling sound engineers, the sound desk is close to what your architects want in terms of form factor.

Turn that desk into a giant touch screen, with swipe gestures moving whole banks of sub controls into and out of scope, and you have something with interesting potential.

I think people are forgetting that these days everything is a computer and all of them require interfaces appropriate to their function.

(Yes, I exaggerate, but not as much as one might expect)

132:
One word: multitouch
Gestures are still young, but the ability to use two or three manipulation points instead of a single mouse pointer is where touch control gets interesting. There is a qualitative, not just quantitive, difference. It's the next stage in the zero, one, many continuum.
But carry on being contrary.

So, to counter my skepticism - which is based on decades of Real Soon Now sizzle, but alas, no steak - you give a vague description of what sounds like a riff on the chording keyboard (which for all of that is still just a keyboard) . . . then say it's coming Real Soon Now? I do not think your argument means what you think it means.

But you go right on being contrary.

133:

I actually have taught people to use a mouse, although not for a while. We used to use, I think it was Microsoft Encarta. (This was long enough ago that the concept of being connected everywhere was alien, and we were doing outreach work.)

They had nice panoramic pictures, we used Trafalgar Square usually, that you could move around by using the mouse. You could do some other stuff with clicking on things within the software, although I don't remember what now. And because the whole image shifted, taking up a huge amount of the screen area they got fast feedback fixing the idea of their hand movement to movement on the screen. Then we could move from that to moving the mouse and having just the pointer/cursor moving because they'd got the idea of the movement and were happier about looking at the smaller thing moving against the background.

Although Greg hates iPad UIs and some people are certainly unhappy with the changes between iOS6 and 7, if you watch even pre-toddlers playing with tablets, touch UIs really do work pretty well for most.

134:

Teaching people to use a mouse is easy. You give them a copy of Minesweeper so they can learn to do left and right clicks and a copy of Solitaire so they learn click-and-drag. I'm not joking, that's a major reason those games were included in the first releases of Windows.

As for touch I used a vertically-oriented touchscreen today and my arm hasn't sprouted coarse hair (aka "gorilla arm"). The touchscreen was a self-service checkout at the supermarket. The future's not only here, it arrived a few years ago.

135:

I can only assume that anyone who tries to compare a Microwriter keyboard to a modern smartphone touchscreen hasn't tried both.

I have.

The 'steak' is here and now, but since it doesn't suit your point of view to admit that, you're going to follow your usual tactic of disallowing any form of argument that doesn't fit your precise rules.

Well, guess what? Life's too short for the rest of us to do that.

136:
Turn that desk into a giant touch screen, with swipe gestures moving whole banks of sub controls into and out of scope, and you have something with interesting potential.

You mean that bleeding edge technology otherwise known as the slider button? The same sort of What're going to cite next? Radio buttons? I don't think you quite get what I'm talking about. But you may assume that everything on these panels has already been done and redone.

137:

Sigh. When you repeat my exact argument back at me - and then include snark about 'keep on being contrary' to boot - well, I don't see any reason why I shouldn't point out that you're repeating my exact argument.

And for the record, yes I've played with chording keyboards before; I've even built one. In fact, iirc, I've mentioned this before. So don't try to teach Grandpa how to suck eggs.

138:

Just so we're clear here, sliders on a capacitive screen are not, in fact, a radical new development - and I shouldn't have to say that. When I said 'neural interface' and 'holographic display', that's the sort of thing I meant. Data gloves, control by eyeball,that sort of thing.

139:
As for touch I used a vertically-oriented touchscreen today and my arm hasn't sprouted coarse hair (aka "gorilla arm"). The touchscreen was a self-service checkout at the supermarket. The future's not only here, it arrived a few years ago.

I've got a calculator that's going on fifteen years old that cost over $100 when it was brand new. I have a perfect emulation of it on my phone, including the skin. For that matter, I've got a capacitive keyboard on my phone. This is not radical new technology. Now if I could punch keys just by looking at them . . . which has been coming Real Soon Now for a looong time.

140:

Scentofviolets re multitouch:
So, to counter my skepticism - which is based on decades of Real Soon Now sizzle, but alas, no steak - you give a vague description of what sounds like a riff on the chording keyboard (which for all of that is still just a keyboard) . . . then say it's coming Real Soon Now? I do not think your argument means what you think it means.

Multitouch has been shipping for some time now...

141:

Scentifviolets:
Data gloves, control by eyeball,that sort of thing.

There are several working commercially available free-air gesture systems. Data gloves are so 1980s.

I think... Your argument seems to come down to "UI technology is no longer advancing in the manner and direction I assumed it would for twenty years"; I think you're missing the real important advances as the state of the art has shifted direction and concepts. Denigrating serious advances that do not fit your decades-old preconceived roadmap is not productive.

Control by eyeball is still potentially on the roadmap, and is widely deployed in the lab (and has been for decades). If it were obviously the next big thing it could walk out of the lab now; on-device cameras and processing are plenty smart enough now.

142:

HELLOOOOOOO!
I'm typing this on a normal keyboard, but using a multi-touch mouse pad, as I mentioned upthread, and it's rather useful, more so than a simple mouse. Did I mention it does multi-touch, up to 4 fingers? Runs on AA batteries.

What I really want is something like a theremin though, but with added gesture stuff so I can do more actions just with one hand.

143:

I enjoy Slackware.

That is all.

144:

Apple, right from the beginning of the Mac age, had a reputation for making an effort on UI design. The underlying structures are important, but the UI matters more than you seem to think.

Windows, I know, has allowed users to choose the basic colours for background and text and highlighting since the last century. There are still Windows programs which ignore that, and give you just one, not very good, colour scheme.

The eye surgery I had a few weeks ago has made a big difference, but I had reasons for picking the non-default colours I did, and I resent the way software can bugger avout with those choices.

UI matters.


145:

There is a touch-screen emulation of the Microwriter for Android Tablets

I use a predictive keyboard instead.

There are several novel-layout keyboards as well, such as KALQ which is optimised for "thumb typing"

All these options work on the same device. While toughscreen size is a factor, the hardware is no longer the limit.

The Microwriter is still here because it no longer needs to be special hardware. And it might not be a huge success because a smartphone screen is too small for five human fingers.

146:

The reasons why MacBook [foo] Thunderbolt interfaces are problematic (except for video) are hilarious, by the way: Greg K-H explained.

Indeed, as many have been saying instead of Ubuntu with Unity (or Ubuntu with anyhting), a better starting point would be something like one of the Linux Mint flavours.

Personally, I'd start with a cutting-edge Debian-ish live distro like Aptosid, rip out its desktop environment, and put in Window Maker ('apt-get install wmaker wmaker-data') on account of being an unrecostructed NeXTStep fan.

(Lovely Unix, NeXTStep was: Damned shame what happened to it.)

Rick Moen
rick@linuxmafia.com

147:

Opera 17 is out, and I am not sure I can recommend it yet. There are several reasons.

1: It's a big change from Opera 12. You can import Bookmarks, but the replacement UI appears to be designed with touchscreens in mind. Instead of mouse-accessible menus you have large screen-objects sized for finger-taps. The look is similar to the Opera 12 Speeddial page. There's an import tool, but it doesn't cope well with subfolders

2: Arguably, it's not quite complete yet. The changes make some things very difficult. Options are missing.

3: Attempting a Google sign-up here produces an error-screen from Google telling me that the browser isn't set to accept cookies.

Since it can be installed in parallel with Opera 12, it's maybe worth having, but I don't think it's ready for prime-time. I have only seen a few pictures of the Windows 8 UI and it seems aimed at that style.

148:

Apple, right from the beginning of the Mac age, had a reputation for making an effort on UI design. The underlying structures are important, but the UI matters more than you seem to think.

Yes, and I feel the defaults on the OS X desktop are better than the ones on the Windows XP or 7, or KDE (I haven't used other WMs than KDE in a long time).

What I feel is the problem with OS X is that I can't change enough behaviours easily to be what I'd like them to be. For example, even after years of using OS X, I don't like the toolbar on top of the screen, or the fact that cmd-tab changes between programs, not windows.

Still, it's better than Windows for (my) work - having a working terminal and bash is quite essential. In my experience the Unix tools on Windows don't work well. They seem to require OS support. For starting a ssh session and a browser, and maybe some games all desktop GUIs perform well enough.

As for other devices, I have only used iPhone for a very little while, but what I saw from the user interface was bad. I didn't like it at all, and I don't understand why it was so cool. I don't know much about the other software on i-devices, so can't talk about that. The Korg emulator looked nice, and sounds interesting (pun intended).

I have an N9 as my phone even now and I like it, but I don't know what phone I'll get next. Lumia would be a good solution for my job, but I'd somehow like to get a Jolla, if they ever manage to get the phones to the market.

149:

What I feel is the problem with OS X is that I can't change enough behaviours easily to be what I'd like them to be.

I'm not saying here that I'd like to configure everything. I did have a quite large fvwm2 configuration in the day, but as other people here have said already, nowadays I mostly want things just to work, not to fiddle with them.

I have a couple of Raspberry Pis and Arduinos for fiddling, but a desktop system should just work.

150:

zhochaka @ 144
... but the UI matters more than you seem to think.
Windows, I know, has allowed users to choose the basic colours for background and text and highlighting since the last century. There are still Windows programs which ignore that, and give you just one, not very good, colour scheme.

Precisely.
This is what Tufte is always on about. For example, I have re-set my screen/window/text colours & chroma & luma to suit me & avoid (I hope) eye-strain.
This is why I hate Google Chrome - you can't do that.
There's the pre-packaged scheme(s) & that's it.
You don't appear to be able to highlight your selected menu items, either.
This is more primitive than Windows 3.11 & isn't really nice to use at all.

151:

Apposite time for this thread to come up for me. I'm just coming to the end of a self-imposed year of Ubuntu. A little experiment that I started off last November after breaking my last MacBook and not being able to get a new one in time for a conference I needed to head off to. So got a cheap laptop and threw Ubuntu on it (I'm too allergic to Windows to try that!)

Generally my experience was pretty much like your one was. I was surprised by how painless large chunks of it was. Many of my default work-horses "just worked".

One of the things that I did notice, that I've not seen anybody mention, is that Linux folk should be thanking Apple/Google for the locked-in App Store model. Because it has finally trained "normal" people to understand the software distribution model that Linux folk have been using for years. The Ubuntu Software Centre has taken a bunch of UI lessons from the various app stores - and it shows. You no longer have to break newbie Linux users of the idea that they have to download "installers" from other sites, or go buy CDs.

If you have the time/inclination - I'd give Unity a bit more time before abandoning it. I had pretty much the same initial reaction as you did (my default front-end OS has been Mac since the 90's, although I'm often using it as a chubby-client to Unix-ish stuff). However, after I got past comparing it to OS X I found that it worked very well.

I especially liked some of the work habits it pushed me towards. For example, it almost forces you to monotasking which I initially found annoying, but eventually found quite liberating. I have a tendency towards "ohh shiny" and it helped me focus.

I think people see the "dock" and immediately think OS X. But the dash, etc. are different and, in my opinion, quite well thought out. From the perspective of a cross-device OS they've done a much more interesting job than Apple/MS have done so far. Especially with some hard things that Apple/MS are still pretty bad at (e.g. discoverability - the HUD does a much better job of that in general than the ribbon model does for example.)

The problem is that many of the interaction conventions are different - and if you come to it from OS X or Windows you'll hit a wall of annoyances until you mentally reconfigure and work with Unity's approach. The power tools are there - they're just different ones. It's just not a UI that's targeted at the "normal" Linux geek. My partner has been happily using Ubuntu for work and play for a couple of years now without touching the command line.

So - if I quite liked it why am I waiting with anticipation for Nov 1 to roll around so I can order a Macbook Air with RAM/HD maxed out ;-)

  • I'm quite anal about tracking my productivity. And it's gone down over the last twelve months. I'd expected a dip as I got used to things, but it never got all the way back up to where it was before. So I'll be interested to see if switching back to Apple / OS X moves the dial.
  • The hardware. I've used a variety of different hardware over the last year. And they've all been worse than the Apple hardware I've used previously. The trackpads especially... I'm amazed how badly most trackpads suck. IBM thinkpads and the new chromebooks seemed to be the only vaguely decent ones I encountered. And I'm surprised how much I miss multi-touch on the ones that don't support it. Oh and magsafe leads. I'm clumsy and destroyed one machine by tripping on the damn cable. I'm on the road a lot and my experience of Apple hardware has been better than anything else I've played with. I've had bits fall off practically every laptop I've used - never happened to me with Apple kit outside of extreme abuse.
  • While it's all way better than it was in years past, I still encountered a fair number of hardware/SW issues. Laptop X wouldn't connect to wifi Q. Another only slept on lid-closing intermittently. And so on. None of them were deal breakers. Some of them could be fixed with sufficient effort on my part. But I'm old and grumpy and just want to get sh*t done most of the time. Messing with ifconfig when I have a presentation to give in 30m is no longer my idea of fun.
  • The application space. Again, better than it was before but still worse than Apple's app space when it comes to general usability or odd corners. Thunderbird is a slow, ugly resource hog - but does at least vaguely work. Every other non-command-line mail client I tried choked on my not inconsiderably mail archive. I didn't think I could hate a piece of software more than Powerpoint, but [Open|Libre]Office Impress managed it. And so on.
152:

"What I really want is something like a theremin though, but with added gesture stuff so I can do more actions just with one hand. "

Check out the Leap Motion - that's basically what it is (except it'll support two hands too).

153:
All these options work on the same device. While toughscreen size is a factor, the hardware is no longer the limit.

BINGO! There's a reason why control surfaces are shaped the way the way, some of them unchanged for millennia. And that's simply because over the course of time trial and error has shown that these are the optimal interfaces. I'll say it again: using fingers for quick, accurate, delicate adjustments are pretty much the best you're going to get in the Human, Mark I model. Not eyeballs, not 'neural interfaces', whatever those are supposed to be.

154:

You mean like this display, which fakes volumetric 3D? SpaceX apparently has something of similar functionality ginned up from consumer hardware: see Elon Musk show it off here.

155:

I think the salient quote is this one:

If that seems cool (hint: it does), you should keep in mind what it’s like trying to navigate an interface using Kinect or playing an entire game with motion controls — it’s somewhat uncomfortable. If a user interface induces any amount of discomfort, then the interface is a failure. With certain modern-day devices, such as smartphones and tablets, we’ve found that a touchscreen interface is comfortable and often the preferred way to interact with a device. With regards to the Kinect, though, having to hold your arm up in the air for an extended period just to perform simple tasks isn’t ideal.

Yeah, there are lots of things you could do for the coolness factor. But in the end, ergonomics wins over cool.

156:

And functionality trumps both: I was responding to a post which stated architects are looking for exactly these kinds of displays.

In most areas, motion tracking as an interface is just a gimmick. In some, it genuinely improves usability. (See also: Neal Stephenson's attempted sword-fighting simulator.) The trick is, as always, knowing which bin your use-case is in...

157:

I work with architects a lot. They really lust after something similar to the displays and user interface in the movie Minority Report. While things are much better today than 5, 10, 15 years ago, there is still a huge room for improvement.

Something like a 30" to 40" flat panel that is on about a 30 degree slope in front of them that works via multi touch and really does allow them to manipulate designs. From early concepts down to construction docs.

Hardware will get there way before the design/CAD software does.

What I want is a computerised sketch pad:


  • Exists in A5 and A6 versions no thicker than today's paper sketchbooks, so that it can be shoved into a pocket.
  • Contains or fabricates sheets of paper or paper-like material that you can draw and paint on with pencil, pen, and brush.
  • Has a scanner/printer combination that can make copies of these drawings. The copies should have colour and tone indistinguishable from the original. (Something that doesn't seem to be possible with any of today's scanner/printer combinations that I've tried. These tend to lose colours such as cream, grey white, and pale peach.)
  • You should be able to draw and paint on these copies, of course.
  • The surface of the pad is a screen and drawing tablet that you can draw on with an appropriate stylus.
  • The pad's computer contains image-analysis-and-design software. This should, for example, be able to do 3-d transformations such as rotation on drawings that can be interpreted as objects. It should be able to separate such drawings into their component objects, making it easy to select parts without having to trace round them. And so on.
  • Software for converting realistic images to line drawings, perhaps by algorithms related to those in A few good lines: Suggestive drawing of 3d models, would be nice.

So, what I'm looking for is something on which I can draw in a traditional non-computerised way, but that makes it easy to pass back and forth between computerised and non-computerised manipulation. I suspect that with this, the software will get there before the hardware does.

158:

Could you make a virtual theremin with a Leap Motion?

It's an interesting gadget. It's a way of getting some touch-screen and gesture function out of an ordinary monitor. The UI needs to be revised to work with fingers rather than mouse pointers. When we go to a supermarket we can avoid having to go past a conventional checkout. There is hardware which uses scanners and touch screens, You can take a scanner around the shop with you.

This new UI tech is getting it into use, but it is a specialised tool.

159:

It's nice to be able to switch OSen. I once kept my passwords in a Palm app. I was able to run it in the POSE emulator on Linux/Windows pretty well for awhile, but got old.

I run Linux on my servers and laptop. At work I still do Solaris too. My son does MacOSX and the wife does Windows. So I tend to look for cross platform solutions. I have a Blackberry for work and we have iPads and Android tablets at home.

I settled on KeepassX. It runs on *all* of them (the Blackberry is readonly). Syncing the database(s) is another issue.

I also recommend using virtual solutions like VirtualBox or VMware. Put everything on a file server (sync with Dropbox or the like) and use remote clients. I have a windows only scanner working in a VM from a thin client. If you run VirtualBox on Apple hardware, it should be able to run MacOSX w/o violating Apple's license as well. That's a way to keep Scrivener running for you.

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This page contains a single entry by Charlie Stross published on October 20, 2013 4:24 PM.

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