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?