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Thursday, 07 April 2011 12:20

Ubuntu 11.04: is this the end of the road?

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Mark Shuttleworth has probably never heard of the concept of stability zones. That wouldn't surprise me, considering that the concept was advanced two years before his birth.


Had he known about it, it is unlikely that he would have gone in for the degree of change that is reflected in the Ubuntu 11.04 beta.

If this amount of change had been incorporated into a release some years ago, when Ubuntu was two or three years old, it is unlikely that people would have noticed and commented as much as they have. Change takes place in the early stages of development of just about anything.

When change of this magnitude comes after six years and a half - more than four lifetimes in the tech industry - then people start to ask why.

Is this the end of the road as far as radical design changes for Ubuntu go? Or is there more hidden up the sleeve of the Canonical founder, changes that will make it look more and more like a Dinky Toy than a serious operating system?

Shuttleworth has often spoken about the slick Apple interface, and how things work very well on this platform. Perhaps he hasn't noticed that Apple has its own stability zones - that menu up there on every Mac, the one which says, file, edit and so on, has been there for at least as long as I've been using Macs. And that's the last 24 years.

Some things change. Other things stay the same. With Ubuntu, that isn't the case. There is change, more change, and yet more change. All, perhaps, in search of the elusive nirvana for an operating system. But when something is being created for use by human beings, then there has to be a compromise because humans cannot handle too much change at one go.



The 11.04 beta looks like an expanded version of a mobile phone interface. Of course, some people will just love it. Others will wonder why everything needs to taste like porridge.

There is a lack of flexibility reflected in the new interface too: you can't, with any degree of ease, shift the application dock around. It's sitting on the left, with some app shortcuts. The method of adding shortcuts of your own to the dock is not intuitively apparent. It's a bit of a roundabout method.

How do you open a second application from the dock while one is running? That isn't easily apparent either.

There is no menu for a right-mouse click on either the top panel or the dock. Which leads one to ask: for whom is this operating system meant?

Along with the change - what one sincerely hopes is the last major interface redesign - there is also an indication that Canonical is tightening the purse strings. The ship-it programme is about to end - no free CDs by post anymore.

But then if Shuttleworth had stuck to GNOME instead of switching to Unity, things would probably have been much worse. I haven't tried it but reviews of GNOME 3 do not really inspire a great deal of confidence.

In the end, an operating system is a means to being productive. In what direction depends on the user. There is some kind of user at whom Shuttleworth is taking aim - the man is no fool. I only have doubts whether his target user is the typical GNU/Linux user.

Good luck on the journey of change.

 

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Sam Varghese

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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