After reading Andrew’s excellent Roundup on alternative desktops (p30), I’m not sure how I feel about the way desktops are going. I’m still surprised, for example, that both Gnome and KDE developers made such massive changes to their desktops, when for many years the old versions had worked brilliantly. KDE 4.9 is stable, but it still takes a lot of effort to make the environment your own. And despite Microsoft staking some of its future on it, I don’t like Gnome’s homogenous touch interface. I accept that tablets and smartphones are being used more for serious work, but the desktop is an ‘interface’, and until the interfaces that connect the user to the computer are the same, I think it makes little sense to make the ‘user interface’ similar, especially when there are far more pressing problems.
One such problem is how little input mechanisms have changed. Developers are building the visual aspects of a touch interface, but they’re not considering the touch input itself. There seems to be no standardised gesture support, for instance, even though the back-end technology exists, and nothing to create a series of multi-touch gestures that should work across all desktops, distros and hardware. Surely this should come before design.
A second problem is resolution. I recently saw Linux running on a super-high resolution display. These are going to become increasingly common, and yet the Linux desktop is not prepared for this shift. Fonts sometimes scale, sometimes don’t. Window decorations are often too small, and nearly all icon sets are rendered at far too low a resolution to be usable at 220 dpi. Perhaps we need a shift in priority?