So I upgraded to Ubuntu 7.1 last weekend. Things went very smoothly. Prior to this, System76 sent out some upgrades for their hardware drivers, perhaps in anticipation of everyone migrating to 7.1. There was really only one hitch. My screen brightness now twitches on occasion. This is due to a known power management bug that System76 is working on. Luckily there is also workaround with manual screen settings in Ubuntu’s power management tool so, this minor hitch is easily ignored.
Some things changed. GAIM became Pidgin and Nvu became KompoZer, hopefully with some improvements that I’ll care about. There is now a bluetooth connection management tool as well. I currently don’t have any other devices that use bluetooth but I guess its got to have it there so I don’t have to edit configuration files or open a command prompt.
Some of the administrative tools got changed a little, mostly small improvements that I’ve found helpful–no complaints there. Many icons got changed a bit but I really don’t care about that.
Not believing the hype, I left Beryl–or Compiz Fusion or whatever it is they’re calling it now–turned off when I upgraded to Gutsy.
I don’t believe the agitprop that this stuff is supposed to improve productivity. How is a spinning cube going to help me switch faster between multiple desktops? I already know the keystrokes to do that. Is a spinning cube going to prevent me from getting lost? I’ve got a little simple indicator down in the corner to tell me which desktop I’m in; I’ve got CTRL+ALT+ARROW. How hard can it be? What does a gyrating polyhedron give me aside from eye candy?
In Vista’s Aero it’s the same. What does a floating array of application windows to leaf through gain me that ALT+TAB doesn’t already give? I’ve turned off all that floating, transparent, three-dimensional, Aero junk on my Vista machine at work.
I’ve played around with OS X’s Dock. It’s pretty flashy and I guess pretty useful too but, that’s only becase I don’t know all the keystrokes to quickly cycle through windows, applications and workspaces on a Mac. If I knew those, I wouldn’t bother with Dock.
The desktop metaphor is mature. There really isn’t a lot to improve it. Back in the Seventies Xerox PARC’s research already made it abundantly clear in the interface where an application window was minimizing to or where it was restoring from. Apple refined this nicely in the Eighties. Microsoft caught up with this in Windows 95. X and it’s environments have just been aping everything that Xerox, Apple and Microsoft did. Hardly anything has happened since then.
Self-immolating windows, windows that slither back to the dock, taskbar or panel like furling sails, wobbly windows that flutter like flags, windows that remind me of Riemannian manifolds–shadows, translucencies, fades, perspective geometry–nothing is really gained by this.
The bright sparks behind Apple, Microsoft and Linux would do better to concentrate on real usability improvements instead of eye candy.
For example, Opera actually improved the usability of web browsing by introducing tabbed pages back in the late Nineties. Firefox then introduced this idea to the masses. Internet Explorer 7 vindicated the idea. This was a real interface improvement. So why aren’t we getting similar stuff in the rest of the operating system?
Because that’s all figured out now. The conceptual space is pretty much mined out. Now it’s just the envy of the other company’s spinning, shiny things. Anyway, no eye candy for me.
About a month earlier I installed Innotek’s VirtualBox. Since I couldn’t get one of my old games to run in WINE, I installed Virtualbox and installed XP within it. The game worked there just fine. Of course my old games are hardly resource hogs on today’s hardware but, even still, I was surprised at the speed at which XP runs inside Virtualbox. I guess modern computers really are getting faster!
The other advantage in using XP inside Virtualbox is that I can run all that Microsoft .NET development stuff I bought four years ago without dual booting. That will keep my IIS web skills up to date.
Virtualbox isn’t open source but it is free for personal use as long as you don’t ask for support. Besides I’ve already made a variety of compromises by installed proprietary multimedia codecs like DivX, LAME, SWF and so on. So it goes.
Wireless on the bus!
So commuting home last week, I finally had a chance to connect to the free 801.11 service Sound Transit now offers on limited routes. Downloaded my mail, read some pages, fun!