GNU/Linux Desktop Survival Guide
by Graham Williams
20190630 Unix lead to the development of the GNU Project which needed a kernel that was supplied by Linux to produce the GNU/Linux Operating System. GNU/Linux and Unix are generally criticised for being hard to use for the common user—all those command line tools and all that fiddling with configurations puts it at odds with the demand is for modern intuitive interfaces similar to those pioneered by the Macintosh back in 1984.
Unix has had graphical user interfaces for a long time. However, Unix vendors had difficulty agreeing on a common way of doing things like a graphical user interface. Systems such as NeWS, OpenWindows, Display PostScript, and the X Window System all had their days. There was also a multitude of windowing systems available for the X Window System, including CDE, Motif, OpenLook, and so on. With freedom and flexibility comes great diversity! And great confusion. Developers could chose different toolkits with different ways of interacting with applications, leading to user confusion with activities as simple as moving to the next text field, keyboard shortcuts, cut and paste, and so on. Apple, with the Macintosh, by contrast controlled how things should be done and developed guidelines for developers to do things the “right way.” Later, Microsoft with Windows/95 and beyond also dictated standards for others to follow. This meant that once the user had learnt the nuances of the interface they were “set for life.”
The Gnome Project pioneered by Miguel de Icaza in 1997 and progressed by the free software company he founded with Nat Friedman in early 2000, originally called HelixCode and then Ximian, set standards. The traditional Unix players, including Sun Microsystems, IBM, Hewlett-Packard, and Compaq joined the Gnome Foundation in August 2000 to help that standard become, well, standard.
Gnome is not the only standard though! KDE, begun by Matthias Ettrich in 1996, is a very respectable and popular alternative. KDE suffered in the early days of its development by being dependent on a toolkit, Qt, that did not meet the licensing criteria for Free Software. It was this one unfortunate blemish that lead to the development of the Gnome project. The fact that there emerged two standard desktops is not a particular concern as . the friendly (but at times heated) competition drives the enthusiasts in both camps. We do need to learn though from the past and not allow this competition to destroy our common goals. Perhaps one will live on beyond the other, or, preferably, both will live on. Either way, both are excellent products developing easier to use GNU/Linux systems, and leaving the choice to the user.