Some Linux design decisions seem like hangovers from
Windows-land. But, unlike Windows, Linux does not need to be
protected from itself, so why hang on to old habits?
Usability on desktop systems is difficult, because users have
diverse needs and wants. Still, if we start from the premise that
Linux is not Windows, some design decisions might flow more
Let's start with my fave peeve, multiple clicks to power off a
computer. Why? What's the worst thing that can happen? Say you turn
it off by mistake. Big deal, just turn it back on. What is so
perilous about this that it requires jumping through Windows-type
hoops to make sure you really want to? Linux is not Windows-- it
boots fast and is ready to go. Unlike Windows, which has all kinds
of activity going on for several minutes after it appears to have
started, and which gets in your way and slows everything down, so
maybe you want some safeguards against a careless shutdown. Windows
gets in your way with multiple nags and unhelpful messages; Linux
doesn't need to imitate this. I make a shutdown icon bound to the
poweroff command for one-click off, and so far nothing awful has
Second peeve, not really a Linux peeve: Firefox plugins that get
left behind with new Firefox releases. This seems like a
fundamental design flaw; it's not realistic to expect thousands of
plugin maintainers to all keep up with the rapid pace of Firefox
development, or users to have to play guessing games as to which of
their plugins will still work after an upgrade. The pace of Linux
kernel development is blisteringly fast, and Linus has a policy of
userspace, even when a userspace application is defective in
some way. This is a nice user-friendly policy. Genuine
user-friendliness, not fake user-friendliness like talking
paperclips and multiple nag screens.
More undo, lots more. Like tearing off a tab--wouldn't a
re-attach tab be handy? Or any complex configuration change done
through a GUI control panel-- I would love to have a "revert to
previous configuration" button. KDE apps are pretty consistent in
having a "reset to defaults" option; Gnome apps are less helpful in
backing out of configuration changes. This is where text config
files win, because it is easy to make backup copies, or comment out
old sets of config options so they're right there in the file.
When we navigate application and Web menus with arrow keys, why
can we only go forward with the right arrow key, and not go
backwards with the left arrow key? The up and down keys work both
How about immediately halting an operation with the Escape key?
For example, you accidentally launch a slowpoke application like
OpenOffice, or stumble into a boggy Web page, wouldn't it be nice
to have an instant stop button? Why do we have to wait for any
stuck application to sort itself out? Just press a key and be done
with it. Faster than opening a terminal, hunting down the process
number and then killing the process. This would cause Windows and
Windows apps all kinds of headaches, but on a nice stout Linux
system it shouldn't cause any grief.
While I'm wishing, how about a "open/edit configuration file"
button in every application? The CUPS Web interface has this, and
it is a great time-saver. Finding configuration files is a lot more
complicated these days, and sometimes it seems like some devs don't
want us to find them.
How about application GUIs that learn, and get more streamlined
over time because they remember your previous operations? Instead
of having to wade through the same baby steps every time you use
the program. Or configurable GUIs so we can streamline them
ourselves. I think this all by itself would be a "killer feature".
It does not seem that efficiency is very important in GUI design.
The command line still reigns supreme for efficiency because it has
multiple tools for customization, doing things faster, and
automating repetitive tasks.
OK, well, that's pretty much it for my Linux usability wish
list. For the most part working in Linux is pleasant and
satisfying, much more so than Mac and Windows, and I can't find too
much to get exercised about. What are your usability wishes?