Windows 8 has been unveiled, OSx is Roaring, and Ubuntu is trying to create a Unity. These new OS’s give us a peek at the future, but what does it really say?
Over on ZDNet Ed Bott wrote a nice article on Windows 8. I’m not going to go into it in detail, but the Article and the screen shots got me to thinking, what is the future of the Operating Systems in general? Ubuntu and Windows have come up with new GUIs, and they are different. Geared toward simplifying navigation, are these becoming too simple? Are we getting to the point of making something that a fool can use, and only a fool will use it?
I am not against change, as long as there is a good reason for it. Making a GUI more user friendly is not a bad thing. The big problems I have with the way Ubuntu, and now Windows are going about it though worries me from a support standpoint. How much more difficult is it becoming to find the deep areas that those of us who do troubleshoot machines use? How much more training will we need? How will this affect how people use the OS in a business environment?
The OS that has changed the least in GUI appearance over the years is Macintosh. The basic layout, and where you find things has been essentially the same going back to its beginning, with just some upgrades to that classic look and feel. Apple boasts about how easy it is to use a Mac, and from an OS standpoint, they are right. You don’t have to learn a new GUI with every update. You have your bar up top which allows for the classic drop down menus. They added the dock at the bottom, but you don’t have to use it.
Unity, the new look kills off the classic menu structures to get at your programs. It takes more clicks to find something that is not docked. The more elegant look actually becomes more complex. When you log into the OS, you can choose to go back to the Classic look, but it is not prevalent on how to, although it is simple if you know where to look. Still, the more complex sets of clicks to find an installed program can be a big hindrance to acceptance. Also realize the look doesn’t add anything to security.
Windows 8 poses a bigger question. With it being meant for touch screen, although you can use a mouse and keyboard, and the look and feel being more toward Microsoft’s phone OS, how is this going to complicate finding files, finding software you install? The desktop space is a premium but, as we all know, you put too much there it becomes hard to find what you are looking for. Also what about software that is not on the desktop? How about file exploring especially if you are on a network where items are kept on multiple network drives?
These questions, and where the companies want to steer the computing world are really what will shape the future, and also cause problems. Too much change at once is not good, and change for its own sake usually causes more problems than its worth. Only time will tell what the answers are but, from first glance, it seems as if making the look the same across all platforms is happening, and from there, maybe you get into a situation like Chrome OS, where it is basically a browser, and nothing is kept locally. If that is the case, you can port your GUI look across multiple devices easy, but then who owns your information since it will not be stored locally? Its something to think about.
I have an Android phone, and I enjoy it. I don’t care for the iPhone. That being said, Apple has one huge advantage over Android.
The Android Smartphones are popular. The work well (for the most part), and are reliable (again for the most part). The open development community for apps has produced some great free applications, that you would have to pay for on iOS. There is a drawback to Android though, and it is something that by all rights should be more of a strength.
When you look into the world and history of Operating Systems, you see a bloody trail over security. Which OS is more secure, which one addresses security problems the fastest, etc. The Open Source community has always claimed that because more people can look at the code, patches can come out faster, and in the Desktop arena this definitely seems to be true. In the world of Smart Phones though, this “advantage” is lost.
The problem is not directly Android or Google, or the Open Source community. The problem is in Manufacturers, and even more so on the carriers. There is a process for patches and updates. Google writes an update, tests, sends to the manufacturer who tests, approves and then sends to the carrier. Android is so customizable, and on so many different manufacturer’s phones that this process has to happen for each model, each customized OS, and each carrier.
Now we are getting into a situation with this long protracted system of updates. Holes being found in the systems are there for months, possibly years before a patch gets pushed out. In this age of phone upgrades every 18 months, of more mobile applications for smart phones, more people banking and shopping off smart phones, and the upcoming Near Field Communications, updates for security need to happen a lot faster. The risk of more and more identity theft is growing, and the slowness of the pipeline is maddening.
Now add on that every manufacturer has been customizing the Android OS to try and differentiate itself from the others. How many more security issues can this raise. How many of the mods are creating security holes (we won’t go into other issues these mods cause)?
Yes, Apple has to go through the same sort of pipeline, but Apple has only piece of hardware (with different chips for GSM or CDMA) and just the carriers to deal with. Its a much shorter pipeline, and Apple can cut a carrier off from future iPhone releases if it wants to. Android needs to come up with something similar soon, especially with all the malware that has been coming out for the platform already.
I’ve been a fan of Ubuntu for a number of years. Over the last month I’ve been playing with version 11.04 which has unity. So here is my take on it.
Being one of those who is a tech person, and always wants to find a way to hook new users onto Linux, I was really curious as to the new Unity interface that Ubuntu was putting out. Could it be something that brings Linux to more people? The answer I found is no. At least not yet.
Unity is a slick looking GUI. It is lacking though. First, there is no menu scheme, access to any software is done off the new launcher bar. This wouldn’t be so bad, except to find any software not tacked to the bar, you need to really go digging. the applications window that you get to can get confusing, and won’t show you everything without at least 3 mouse clicks, and even then things can get missed. Yes, as you get used to a new layout, it becomes more natural, but this is a big deviation from what most people know. Its not intuitive, and really needs a lot of refining. While on the login screen you can switch to a classic mode, for someone new to Ubuntu and Linux, it again isn’t intuitive.
The other issue I’ve run into is with a customized dual monitor setup. Unity doesn’t seem to like it too much. I’ve had nothing but problems with that setup.
The underpinnings are fine, and yes if you know how to replace the GUI with Gnome or KDE, 11.04 is a solid system. Unfortunately for a version that is supposed to be for the everyday person, the Unity interface has a long way to go.