Ben Szymanski

Software Engineer • Vlogging about efoils, tech and music • 🇺🇸 & 🐊

Well, well, that last post seems to have sparked some great discussion on Twitter, including a response post. I'm a bit late getting back to this. I've been super busy the last week, but finally, let's dig in!

A Battle Worth Fighting

I'd like to start by saying that I'm not advocating on behalf of any Linux distro as being superior to macOS or Windows today. That's certainly not true and I don't think it's worthwhile to fight that battle. Hell, I'm not even advocating for Linux specifically. For example, Haiku OS is decidedly NOT Linux and has a different set of problems.

None of this has to be Linux. It just needs to be opposite of what we have right now. IMO the opposite would be open source operating systems that aren't being maintained by a single entity, but something that its users can shape and care for.

Many of you are probably thinking that I’m being dramatic and overzealous (and honestly, I am). Future posts in this series will be more upbeat and matter-of-fact.

A battle worth fighting is getting computing professional to care about any under-developed operating system, even though it has these last 2% problems, at a time when they don't have to care.

Market Realities

I'm also not arguing that an open source operating system needs to compete with or take over macOS or Windows in market share for this initiative to be a success. That's not my aim at all and I don't think it's important.

I am trying to point out a trend that I think will come to pass: All the new and exciting desktop-centric features and software will eventually be happening elsewhere as Microsoft and Apple spin down their efforts on Windows and macOS. I accept this and have formulated an actionful response to it.

Consistency and User Experience

This is very important and something that seems to be fading of late. Especially with the introduction of Catalyst apps.

Once upon a time, Apple encouraged 3rd-party developers to use the native Cocoa controls and aim for consistent look and feel across applications. I have a vague recollection of skipping through an old WWDC '07/'08 session where the presenter was saying that the native controls are great because they are: 1) Consistent across applications, and they are great and, 2) That your applications would automatically get updated with the new OS look and feel.

Apple also used to say (I’d have to find a source for this, but it echoes in my mind), they used to say that macOS X was great for novice computer users because if you learned one application, you could take most of that knowledge and apply it to other applications. It was marketing, but it was also genuinely true.

Consistency and common idioms between Mac software made the platform fun and accessible, though that's only half the story. IMO, the great thing about macOS X was that it was so friendly to new users, while also being able to sensibly scale up to power users, whether they might be creatives or terminal-hacking-programmers.

On Open Source Operating Systems Being "Crappy..."

Most open source operating systems do look like shit, it's hard to deny this.

But I have two counters here:

First, this is why I am specifically calling out computing professionals who can internalize this ugliness and get over it. I don’t expect the common, non-tech interested user to ever care about this stuff. Most of them are going to be (if not already) lost to mobile phones anyhow. I expect that with appropriate mind share, the ugliness is a solvable problem.

Second, this claim of “crappy” is relative. Boot up 10.3 Server on my graphite G4, tower and you can see that the OS clearly looks like and is designed like shit. There’s stuff all over the place, and it’s inconsistent. It just has polish in the right_places to make it attractive and get you to look past that (probably all the places Steve Jobs would have noticed... ;)).

The crappiness also exists in commercial operating systems and always has. For example, 10.3 Server has plenty of flaws, and I’m sure that the trained eye of someone like Eli Schiff could look through a few screenshots and really tear into the quality of it. The mis-alignments, the cut-off buttons, the low-grade icons, the poor white spacing. Even for the casual user, its immediately clear how much more cleaned up 10.4 was in this regard.

I'm sure modern OS developers could also shred that release to shit on technical grounds too.

In the context of 2003, end-users simply didn't know better.

IMO it’s just easier to see all of this today, and open source operating systems are far enough behind the zeitgeist to be noticeable in that way.

The Power of Desktop Computing

Again, most people are going to be using only their smartphones and tablets. That's fine and also not a battle worth fighting.

The people who need that "configurable power at their fingertips" we must be the ones to step up to the plate on this. We're the only people in the world that CAN actually do something.

My aim is not to spite Apple or Microsoft by buying less of their stuff, but try to influence programmers and the tech-savvy power users to start to form a culture of sustainability around desktop operating systems during a time when it's being discarded by those most responsible for maintaining it.

On the Never-Coming Fall of the Dominant Players

This is why nothing has been done yet, or why there hasn't been a big push already. But I guess I’m not waiting for them to falter, I’m just moving on ahead of the event horizon.

Commercial desktop operating systems are fully functional today and I expect they will be for quite some time. Maybe even through this next decade. Maybe that’s all the more reason to get started on this sooner than later, but only IF you can stomach it.

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