Android and the Linux Desktop

I’m going to break one of my own rules by making a prediction. The year of the Linux desktop will be in 2014. Now, let’s talk about how I’ve arrived at this conclusion.

Android is picking up steam, and from what I’ve seen, I don’t think there will be anything to stop it. Apple currently owns more market share and the iPad will give Mr. Jobs a momentary boost, but the problem is this; Apple controls the hardware and the software. There is no room for any other company to make money. And companies love money.

In the past, this would have meant that Motorola, Samsung, et al would have gone it alone to attempt to control a piece of the market. But, with android they can join forces to an extent and take advantage of a huge development community. This “friendly” competition will push prices down and keep android more affordable than the iPhone. Also, this results in Apple vs. the world, AND Apple doesn’t have significant vendor lock in. Additional factors are: AT&T’s quality of service, and the Google factor. There should be a strong and steady migration to the android smartphone platform with a strongly superior market share by mid 2011.

The Ipad may revolutionize computing, but my bet is more like a solid selling niche product. However, android is hot on it’s heels in this market as well, with a number of tablets soon to be released at significantly lower price points. Based on early price projections, the rest of the market is aiming to undercut the iPad significantly. At the current estimates, I would expect for android to surpass the iPad’s market share by late 2012.

With one or two important computing platforms invading people lives, it will eventual become necessary to get more serious with some of the data and applications. While touch interfaces are a leap forward in usability in the mobile arena, they aren’t very information dense compared to a keyboard. Imagine writing a book using gestures. Therefore, there will be a natural progression toward systems that allow the user to more fully utilize the android environment.

This may come in the form of an android based netbooks or a full linux distro. I’m expecting android netbooks to hit the market around mid 2012. If the price point stays in line with the currnet android tablet projections, there should be significant market share by early 2014.

Thus, we have the year of the Linux Desktop (er, netbook)

Ubuntu usabilty is going downhill

I have a serious usability issue with the MI at a corporate installation.

When a new instant message is received with the chat window closed, we have to navigate a menu to interact with it. Click-Navigate-click. Before, we simply double-clicked the flashing icon and the window appeared. This might not seem like much to many of you, but they have to deal with 100-150 email/IM interactions a day. This is a major PITA.

I’ve deployed Lucid on about 6 desktops with individuals all expressing the same problem. I’ve delayed the roll-out on the additional machines until I could determine the suitability for deployment for the rest of the organization.

The general perception is that NotifyOSD is taunting them with the message without an immediate solution. This isn’t a fair characterization, but it persists. People are a little frustrated. I’m going to have to pull the MI at this location if I’m going to continue to deploy Lucid.

They’ve been running lucid since beta1. That’s about two months. With the current rate of interactivity, if they haven’t learned it by now, they aren’t going to.

Is this a corner case? I’ll leave it for you to decide.

Linux and Open Source Adoption

After several years running Linux and Windows side by side, it appears that the current barrier to Linux adoption at this point are the applications available. Openoffice is nice for 90% of users, but for presentation, powerpoint slaps it hard. Plus you can’t print a fripping envelope in OpenOffice to save your life. (Bug reported over 7 years ago) I use a console for games, so this isn’t an issue for me, but others are really left out in the cold. I am tied to Intuit, which I hate with a passion reserved for child molesters. So I have to run those apps in Vbox. The Linux alternatives do not provide the capabilities that Money or Quicken do, unfortunately.

The O/S is sound on the right hardware. I tried Windows 7 on my new laptop, but it was a pig. Slow, with tons of crap I had to uninstall. I don’t like reinstalling O/S’s, and I shouldn’t have to. Windows maintenance became too much for me to handle. I have multiple RAID’s, which were always dodgy under XP. Linux is a much easier install when it works. When it doesn’t, well the wheels fall off. I try to tailor my system with compatible hardware. Laptops are a different story. Right now my touchpad is better than Win 7, but not perfect. And my microphone doesn’t work for web chat.

Bottom line, linux is lacking in many ways, but for me Windows was as well. But I don’t have to deal with license keys and activation which are a pestilence on the face the earth. Plus I can put together systems from spares and they have sufficient horsepower to make them useful.

When the apps finally come around, adoption will follow.

UI Design and Risk-Reward Behaviour

Mark Shuttleworth responded to criticism over the changes to the new Lucid window themes with allusion to the fact that new and neat things are coming that justify the change.

Sometimes it’s worthwhile to step outside the envelope and try something new. But always remember that humans respond to risk-reward behavior. If you are going to force them to do something new or risky, there needs to be a reward equal to the risk otherwise the user wont adapt.

In the case of the latest design changes, the reward was promised after the fact, but not given. Thus, it is a massive design fail. Yes there were opinions provided and these can be ignored because of meritocracy rules. But good UI design needs to be based on fact. And the facts were not there to justify the change. This was pointed out. And hopefully completely understood.

The Silence of the Blogosphere

I’ve noticed a disturbing development in Ubuntu. I’ve complained about the design changes instigated by the Ayatana UX team, particularly the recent change to place the windows controls on the left. But something more troubling is afoot. A thread on ubuntuforums is showing a 76% preference for the old control location. Given this significant percentage, you would expect some level of outcry on the Ubuntu Planet, the official blog aggregator for Ubuntu members. Until today, not a peep. Scott Ritchie, a heavily involved member fired the first volley. This is a little Orwellian. I’m getting really concerned about the UniqueVision(TM) of Ubuntu if they foster an environment that people don’t feel like that can speak their mind on what is a commercially driven community project. Mark Shuttleworth has stated that this is his vision and his baby, but Ubuntu would be nothing more that his idle hobby without community support. I’m wondering if this is related to free speech in the UK vs. the USA?

Ubuntu: The natives are restless

Well, it hit the fan finally. The unrest concerning the UI changes in Ubuntu are starting to steam roll. The thread at ubuntu forums is growing. A particularly volatile bug has been filed on launchpad, sufficiently uncivil that the the great maker Mark Shuttleworth himself had to chime in.

From the best I can determine, there was considerable discussion within the Ayatana group over the different button placements in other OS’s and whcih was superior. The problem was that they weren’t trying to overcome any particular issue. It appears to be a change just to set Ubuntu apart visually.

Gather round developers. Let this be a teachable moment. When you create a closed group of designers and remove voices that don’t agree with your UniqueVision(TM) you get this type of result. Dissent is important in all walks of life. It is in the chaos of adversarial debate where the best ideas are forged.

Ubuntu: Linux for Boneheads

Those of you that follow the development of Ubuntu Lucid Lynx might be caught by surprise regarding some of the new design decisions being made by Canonical. Their Ayatana project was created to revitalize the Ubuntu desktop by trying to resolve usability issues. While a lot of the approaches have shown merit, some have been downright stupid.

I’ve been particularly critical of the decision concerning the removal of functionality in libnotify. The Ayatana group decided that allowing interactive notifications was against their master plan, guaranteeing a thousand solutions to the problem and forcing new paradigms on the user. Their decision to use pop downs for the update manager simultaneously annoys the advanced user while opening serious security holes for the noob.

But these pale in comparison their latest faux pas. They have decided in their infinite wisdom to change the control layout for the windows in the gnome desktop. That’s right, they have moved the close, minimize and maximize to the left side of the window just like the mac. Little mind was apparently paid to the disruption of the existing users. Even less paid to the users that have to work in two desktops, the other 90% likely to be in Windows. And none whatsoever to individuals thinking about transitioning, again most likely from Windows.

I have great respect for the work done by Canonical. They have added stability to the chaos of open source. But it’s apparent that they are starting to believe there own press releases. These changes smack of a group that thinks it’s visionary, but in reality isn’t sufficiently open to listen to reason. This current design choice will kill any possibly of poaching market share from Microsoft while annoying current users. I’ve spent considerable time championing their cause, but it is obvious to me that they are going a different direction. I think it’s time to look at the competition.