I started working with Linux about 6 years ago while a grunt
tech at a computer superstore that shall remain nameless. I
happened across it one day while surfing the then budding Internet
for information on Unix-based operating systems for my Intel box.
That was where I came across Slackware.
Back then, the typical Slackware distro came on floppies marked
with a wonderful little A, B, C, or X code. So I downloaded every
single disk. That came to something on the order of 20 tarballs
slapped on disk. After the install, I battled with the X
installation. One fried fixed frequency monitor later I had it
running. And it was great. I had a real running Unix box. I was
ecstatic. Why? I had just conquered a major technical hurdle and I
was proud of myself, even if there had been no one around to see
Today, there are more Linux distros around than you can shake a
stick at. I remember the big ELF format revolution and the more
recent libc6/glibc2 evolution. But something has been bothering me
for quite some time. With all these advances in the guts of the
operating system there was still something not quite right. Then it
hit me. I HATE X!
X Window is a windowing system that has finally outlived its
current feature set.
"Really," you say, "Mr. Wood, you're a sicko," you say.
"Nay," I say.
X needs a serious face lift. People expect more now. I'm not
saying that X can't be fixed, but we may need to start thinking
about why we continue to use it. X was originally designed to be a
bandwidth friendly way of delivering a GUI to what were effectively
dumb terminals. Now however we are beginning to see a turn in Linux
that is becoming an effort to bring it ever closer to the desktop.
The problems of Linux on the desktop all revolve around the current
desktop strategy. That strategy basically entails leaving the guts
of the windowing system alone (i.e. X) and use Desktop Environments
such as GNOME and KDE to chase Microsoft and Apple's feature sets.
Yeah, okay, I did say I hated X. Now I'll tell you why.
It's not because it is not useful. Of course it is. I'm typing
this from my spiffy new IBM laptop running, you guessed it, X under
Linux. The millions of hours of programming time that have gone
into X and GNOME and KDE and the other umpteen Window Managers out
there have not been wasted, and they are certainly appreciated.
"So," you ask, "what's wrong!?"
In a word. . . Fugly. In another word. . . MIME! Frankly I'm a
tinkerer, I have a nice GNOME desktop set up, I've got the 1.4
beta. I'm running Nautilus, I'm running Mozilla milestone 8. It
works great. But it's still waaaaay too hard for any average user
to set up all of that by themselves.
So, how do we solve these problems?
Well, as my rather astute father would say, be the customer. If
you were a non-technical developer, what would you want to see.
More importantly what would you not want to see.
Users hate configuring stuff. I want my apps to share MIME
types, network settings, etc. Don't give me any hooey about GNOME
and KDE having built in MIME types. If I'm running a non-KDE/GNOME
app like Mozilla. It grabs its mime type list from its own
directory and it has no bearing on what Konquerer or Opera use.
It's not because it can't be done either. Microsoft and Apple work
with their software vendors on these issues all the time. If GNOME
and KDE are so great, why don't they have a built in utility for
setting something so simple as an IP address and DNS address? Why
doesn't X automatically use my USB mouse when I plug it in?
Users hate FUGLY! Anti-alias those fonts. Start using
semi-transparent menus. How about MPEG icons showing the first
three seconds of the mpeg in action when you hover over it (a
stretch, I know). But lets be realistic. The Open Source community
has built an entire set of operating systems from the ground up and
challenged arguably the most powerful corporate entity in the
world. Why can't we do them one better on the desktop and in file
management. Why can't we have a better looking interface? Don't
give me any garbage about freetype2 or E-Term being transparent.
Freetype 2 doesn't help anything but truetype fonts, which have to
be licensed. And E-Term is just a terminal window. That doesn't fix
any windowing issues.
Stop worrying about themes. GNOME has Themes, Mozilla has
themes, KDE has themes. Who cares? So what? It's a colossal waste
of programmer time to continue development of theme engines when my
fonts still look like they came off a '69 teletype.
Give me a common clipboard or get ye gone from my machine.
Again, many of these big GUI projects such as GNOME and KDE tout a
clipboard sharing mechanism. But really, this function belongs in
X. That way you can't just write around it like the Mozilla team
So there you go. That's why I hate X. That's what I, the IT guy
who wants desperately to get people off this crap OS that Microsoft
is trying to cram down our throats, want to see change. It's up to
those developers out there to get on the stick. I don't want anyone
to get me wrong. I'm not discounting one character of code put into
any of the systems mentioned above. I'm just trying to get the
message out from the "user" community at large. We're the majority
consumers. Give us what we want, or EVENTUALLY, someone else will.
If Apple ports Carbon/Aqua/Cocoa to Intel/Linux, this opinion is
Interested in submitting a Community column for publication on
Linux Today? Contact the
editors with a brief summary of what you'd like to write about.
Not all proposals will be accepted, and we do reserve the right to
Some of the products that appear on this site are from companies from which QuinStreet receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site including, for example, the order in which they appear. QuinStreet does not include all companies or all types of products available in the marketplace.