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Gnome creator: Linux has "only 10 great desktop apps"

Ubuntu

By Nicole Kobie

Posted on 27 Sep 2011 at 08:50

Linux is struggling on the desktop because it only has a small number of "great" apps, according to the Gnome co-creator.

Miguel de Icaza, co-creator of the Gnome desktop, told tech journalist Tim Anderson at the recent Windows 8 Build conference that Linux desktops have failed because they never cracked the application problem.

"When you count how many great desktop apps there are on Linux, you can probably name 10," de Icaza said, according to a post on Anderson's IT Writing blog. "You work really hard, you can probably name 20. We’ve managed to p*** off developers every step of the way, breaking APIs all the time."

When you count how many great desktop apps there are on Linux, you can probably name 10

He said it's unlikely that there will be an open-source equivalent of Windows 8's Metro UI and the apps that go with it, and the problem stems from incompatibilities between different distributions.

"To be honest, with Linux on the desktop, the benefits of open source have really played against Linux on the desktop in that we keep breaking things," he said. "It is not only incompatibilities between Red Hat, Unbuntu, Suse, but even between the same distribution. Ubuntu from this week is incompatible with the one nine months ago. And then there are multiple editions, the KDE version, the Gnome edition, the one that is the new launching system."

"I’m heartbroken, that’s the bottom line," he said, adding: "I think that Linux has a tough time on the desktop. And the desktop is starting to not matter any more."

Windows 8

Oddly, de Icaza was more positive about Windows, saying he expected it to be a success, and that rules around app APIs should help "finally fix the security problems on Windows".

"I have to say, I actually like Windows 8," he told Anderson. "I am not a Windows user. It’s probably the first time that I would use a Windows machine."

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User comments

obviously hasn't used ubuntu one

as if he had he would know it gives a seamless backup accessible from anywhere.
Windows tries but fails to offer this.

Beginning ubuntu from apress is a great way to learn ubuntu.

Why not just use one machine for linux, and another for windows?

linux apps are as good, just different from windows apps, otherwise microsoft will sue them for infringement!

By bouncy1 on 27 Sep 2011

Its kind of ironic that ....

Windows often gets blasted by John Honeywell et al for including legacy code and not breaking with the past, and here's a linux guy saying that fragmentation and lack of backwards compatibility is why Linux has failed on the desktop!! Perhaps MS know a thing or two after all.

And as an illustration of Windows backwards compatibility, I did some work on a Win7 64bit laptop the other day that had Office 97 installed and it worked! When I queried the Office 97 install, the guy said Publisher 97 was still his favorite application!

By rjp2000 on 27 Sep 2011

what are the ten apps

Just for my own, and I guys other Linux dabblers, what are the ten apps? OpenOffice, Gimp, and.... Anyone enlighten us dabblers?

By CraigieDD on 27 Sep 2011

"I guys" Should be I guess... Bleeding predictive text....

By CraigieDD on 27 Sep 2011

I have many great apps

I have many great apps on my Ubuntu PC:
Firefox
Chrome
Thunderbird
Sunbird
Rhythmbox
OpenShot video editor
LibreOffice
PDF Mod
Vuze
Nero Linux
VirtualBox
TomBoy
Gwibber
Audacity audio editor
VLC
Frozen Bubble
Freemind
CrossOver
The GIMP
Inkscape
Scribus
Google Earth
Compiz
Shutter

I know some of these are also available on Windows rather than being Linux only, but to run them on a PC without the fear of getting viruses or spyware, on a PC that does not crash every day, and a PC that I can configure the way I want it rather than having to do things in a restrictive Microsoft way, is definitely worth it. Ubuntu rather than Windows, with Gnome, is the best choice for me. From what I have seen of Windows 8, it has an awful metro interface like their mobile phones, ugly blocks of colour instead of attractive icons and windows.
There are other great Linux apps out there, some of which are used in the movie industry, e.g. to create Avatar. And Android on mobile phones is the most popular smartphone OS, and that is also Linux.

By kingdavid7 on 27 Sep 2011

why linux is better

you could also look at http://www.iheartubuntu.com/2010/05/why-linux-is-b
etter.html

By kingdavid7 on 27 Sep 2011

@kingdavid7

Hmm, not sure what you do with your PC...

I've seen Windows 7 crash once in the last 12 months, OS X twice and Linux once. And none of them have ever had a virus.

"Your way?" Gnome is much more restrictive in its customisation options than Windows (at least out of the box). KDE is much more flexible, I'll give you that. But Gnome's aim was *not* to give the user too much control, as that was bewildering for new users (and Gnome is frustrating for advanced users, used to the flexibility of KDE).

As to your apps list, OpenOffice isn't a patch on MS Office. I've used OO.o for years and it is getting better, but it is still severely lacking in many areas.

Many of the rest are cross platform, so no real "killer app", to lure people onto Linux.

As to the Gimp, Scribus and Inkscape, they are okay for the basics, but there is no way you would ever get a professional to use them over the Adobe suite.

The same for VirtualBox, it is okay, but I'd still go with VMWare or Parallels for workstation VMs and VMWare ESX for servers.

Audacity is ok, I use it in Windows for basic audio editing.

That is a list of ok apps, which are fine for the average user, but none of them are "great", compared to what is available on other platforms. Nothing that would tempt a power user to abandon his current toolset in those fields.

And that is Miguel's point.

By big_D on 27 Sep 2011

why linux is better

you could also look at http://www.iheartubuntu.com/2010/05/why-linux-is-b
etter.html

By kingdavid7 on 27 Sep 2011

Breaking old code

The perfect example (for me) was in trying to get a TV tuner working on linux. I spent a while researching DVB-S2 tuners that were compatible with linux, so that I could play with Mythbox. Found a Tevii one which proudly displays the penguin on their website etc. etc. Spent the following 8 hours tracking down a driver that would work with the kernel/version of Ubuntu that I had downloaded that day. The manufacturer was useless so I had to use one compiled (and hacked) by a bloke on a forum. Back to Windows, installed the BDA driver in 2 mins and had the tuner working within DVBViewer in another 2.
There's a lot to be said for standard APIs that aren't broken every 6 months.

By 959ARN on 27 Sep 2011

Oh, and

I'm not a numpty desktop PC user, my day job involves developing with all types of servers so if I get frustrated doing this then there's no hope for someone who doesn't have 20 years experience in programming/system design.

By 959ARN on 27 Sep 2011

#kingdavid7

Thanks for the list. Was aware of a few of these actually when I wrote them down.

Was really looking for something ground breaking. How

By CraigieDD on 27 Sep 2011

... ever there are few on there that I'm not aware of and will check them out. Cheers.

By CraigieDD on 27 Sep 2011

Couldn't agree more

There simply aren't any solid reasons to move to linux. While in days gone by windows suffered from a lot of problems which made people intrigued, now most of those are gone. I haven't had a single OS related BSOD on any of the few hundred windows 7 box's we support, and with a few choice browser plugins (noscript, ghostery, adblock, peerblock) i have been running virus/malware free without the need for expensive internet security packages.

By Mccers on 27 Sep 2011

@kingdavid7

Yes I agree with others above, most of the apps in your list run on Windows as well. And if you Windows PC was crashing everyday and infested by viruses then one indeed has to wonder what you were doing and, trying not to be rude, your level of competancy!

By rjp2000 on 27 Sep 2011

Unhappily I agree

Especially with @959ARN, as I tried exactly the same thing a while back. It was around when the Win7 beta was out, which after days of mythTV frustration (so close, yet so far, I really wanted it to work), I tried the Win7 beta and it just worked (TM), so I just used that (have since upgraded to full paid for and is still working).

By stevenutt on 27 Sep 2011

Have to agree with others...

There's plenty of decent software on Linux. However, to say that Gimp, Inkscape or Audacity for instance are great compared to some commercial equivalents on other platforms is sadly misjudged. They're all decent, and in the right hands able to produce equivalent results I'm sure... but generally not as usable or full-featured as they could be.

I'm sure you could cherry pick some particular features that are implemented better in the applications mentioned, but not overall quality and consistency.

By ptodd1 on 27 Sep 2011

Is there any?

So to ask my question another way, is there ANY applications that run on a linux box that are better on that OS?

By CraigieDD on 27 Sep 2011

By the Geeks, for the Geeks!

I use Ubuntu every day at work, I was lucky enough to choose my OS and not be restricted about how I run it.
But there is nothing that I see in Linux that would tear me away from OS X.

If you look at many open source apps they have been created by a wonderfully clever person who has wanted to solve a personal problem, the interface is often a bit dull and complicated because it was meant to cater only for its creator.
Then the code gets released and other people start adding things and refactoring stuff, then the project finally gets someone who designs UIs and has to work closely with the devs to create a polished interface which probably takes so long it looks out of date when its finally released.

As well as Gnome, KDE, Xfce and more constantly changing their APIs and breaking things, you've got apps coded to use GTK+, Tk, Wt, Qt and more which will give apps a different feel and make them inconsistant with other apps.

Look at commercial apps, or apps backed by large organisations and you'll see the work of someone who needs to sell their app. I can't speak for Windows, but having the Mac App Store has shown me loads of good looking, fully functional apps, some of which urge me to buy them even though I have no use for them!

By forquare1 on 27 Sep 2011

The right tool for the job

Miguel de Icaza is right, there is nothing killer to tempt users from Win7 to a linux workstation. Windows is rock solid now days and you get no driver hassle.

However, linux does have a place. I use it for my media centre and it works flawlessly.
I think what the linix community failed to realise is that people don't have time to customise their their KDE/Gnome desktop for it to get reinstalled again in 6 months time.

By DaChimp on 27 Sep 2011

10 apps?

Also, I am struggling to think of 1 great app that isn't already cross platform?

By DaChimp on 27 Sep 2011

Microsoft apologist

> Oddly, de Icaza was more positive about Windows

Not oddly at all. He's been a Microsoft apologist for years. Look where we he was when he gave the quotes above: at the Microsoft Build conference. Doesn't that tell you something?

His main purpose in Gnome over the past few years was to try and force into it a supposedly open source version of Microsoft's .Net and C#.

By BrownieBoy6 on 27 Sep 2011

@Bouncy1

"obviously hasn't used ubuntu one
as if he had he would know it gives a seamless backup accessible from anywhere.
Windows tries but fails to offer this."

Perhaps, but Wuala and Dropbox can do it.

"Beginning ubuntu from apress is a great way to learn ubuntu."

I'm sure it is, unfortunately, most users just won't care to 'learn' a whole new OS, let alone know what an OS is.

"Why not just use one machine for linux, and another for windows?"

Why? That's just counterproductive. Why would an average user do that?

"linux apps are as good, just different from windows apps, otherwise microsoft will sue them for infringement!"

That's hardly the case. Name 5 Linux apps that are better than their Windows equivalents. Rightly so, the law is the law. Although, I doubt Microsoft would really bother.

By Testing_McTesterton on 27 Sep 2011

Makes Me All Nostalgic. I Remember...

"This is the year of Linux on the desktop."
You don't hear that any more.
The failure of Linux on the desktop has nothing to do with "apps".
Linux is, and always will be, a niche. I used it extensively and exclusively for a long time. From Umbongo to Slackware and many others.
If you've got geeky inclinations, and you like getting under the bonnet, then Linux provides an enjoyable diversion.
But that's all it is. If you have to work using a computer, rather than with a computer, Linux doesn't cut it.
"Apps?" (I hate that bloody word. An example, Gimp,it's OK, but not in the same universe as Photoshop. I use Photoshop every day and there's no way I could achieve what I have to using Gimp.
My Windows 7 has never crashed or had a virus and I have used it since day one. I've experienced more Linux crashes and lockups than I ever have with any version of Windows, apart from ME of course.

By ThatsMe on 28 Sep 2011

It's all FUD...

This article is all FUD... and - sadly - Manuel de Icaza is delusional, like a genius who created a great work... and then went all crazy... Too sad...

By Testing_McTesterton on 28 Sep 2011

Games

Not everyone would call it an App but I think Kpatience games suite in KDE looks better and plays better than any Windows or Mac versions. A bit of a thin reason to prefer Linux, I think. All Linux Apps suffer from lack of use and feedback; the result is crude and inelegant Apps.

By pictonic on 28 Sep 2011

Broken? ?

So, at home we now have 2 XP machines and 2 W7 machines. A b/w HP Laser on an XP, and Epson R220 printer on a W7. Will the printers see the other OS? Not a chance. We end up carrying laptops to where the printers are, and plugging them in. PROGRESS??????? Why do MS break all the printer drivers on every new release? Swines! As for Linux, I used to use a lot of Command lines and BAT files in DOS, and never want to see them again - EVER. Unfortunately in Linux you will fall into a code Vortex at the second hurdle (I know because I have tried to like Linux about 8 times over the years) - the first hurdle being 'Why so many versions, and which work together?'. Linux is far too fragmented to call itself "An OS", it is practically 10-20 very different beasts, all with different sub-beasts within, and zero coordination between them, in fact they seem to revel in their 'singularity'. A shame, as if Linux really was "A Community", it would possibly be troubling MS on the desktop by now, but not when it is as fractured as it is. Is Android going to fracture into 20 different code streams? If not, it could arrive on my desktop any year now. And then all they need to do is make my printers work over the network and I'll be happy!

By Wilbert3 on 29 Sep 2011

Amazing as a home server

Personally I could in theory switch over to a linux desktop for work - it has Eclipse, web browsers, synergy2, various editors and audio players as I do now. However, on a day-to-day basis when I do want to open up Steam or use the latest hardware (or Logitech mouse), it just doesn't beat my current installation of Windows.

I currently only access a Linux desktop shell when I need to do something via a GUI on my home Linux server. i.e. Meld - great merging tool.

Note that as a server, a headless Linux box is fantastic - I currently use one as a development and file server, sitting quietly in a corner 24/7. I've just managed to set up MPD as a jukebox to stream to my AV receiver!

By fusioned on 29 Sep 2011

de Icaza and Microsoft

@BrownieBoy6: ...and one of de Icaza's first job applications after he left university was to Microsoft, which, unfortunately, resulted in a rejection.

By 6tricky9 on 29 Sep 2011

Other destops are available on Linux

Perhaps de Icaza is of this opinion as I imagine that he is a Gnome user. I use the KDE desktop on openSUSE Linux and I find that there are many great apps, much more than 10. Apps built around Qt/KDE often have greater aesthetics, functionality and configurability. They also consistently score higher ratings in round-ups of apps of a given type published in a leading, UK-based, specialist Linux magazine. This despite the team often being accused of favouring Gnome over KDE.

Given what lead to the birth of Gnome, if de Icaza had worked with the KDE community to address the concerns some had about how free the Qt framework was at the the time, instead of starting a rival project, then the Linux community would have less of the fragmentation and dilution of labour via duplication of effort it has now on the desktop. It is also contradictory that someone with concerns about the freedom of Qt went on to become a great proponent of the Mono project, which sought to produce an implementation of Microsoft's .NET and C# technologies on Linux, when similar questions were asked of how free those technologies are and whether or not that status would change.

However, it has to be said that in recent years, the two big desktops are co-operating much more, especially where having common subsystems is beneficial to all (e.g. DBUS notification from KDE and NetworkManager from Gnome). They even held their annual conferences jointly this year and plan to do so every other year. Having at least one genuine competitor in a market drives both parties on to innovate and improve rather than stagnate and rest. It also shows that there can genuinely be more than one way of doing things. So we have horses for courses in Linux.

I take the points made by some above that not all of these apps will be unique to Linux but Linux is where many of these apps were started. Also, at risk of shooting my next argument down, in a world of cross-platform apps and web apps, the OS is less relevant today than in the past.

I'd like to turn around the arguments made by Mccers and rjp2000. Is there any reason to stick with Windows for basic business functionality and public kiosk machines? Linux now has these covered. For sure, there may be types of specialist software that are only available (at least at high quality/usability) on Windows but considering that my latest PC was purchased for £229.99 with Linux preinstalled and that the same hardware specification with Windows preinstalled was availbale for £68.90 more, the compelling reason to switch to Linux is cost (@Mccers). The other cost consideration is that of support. It's true that viruses, other types of malware, the lack of stability and the steady performance-sapping accumulation of cruft are largely gone in businesses with supported desktops (although performance-sapping administration tools are often added here). However, this support costs money. With Linux, the inherent sability and security that is baked into the OS would require much less support across a deployment than with Windows (@rjp2000). Also, unsupported users such as home users, particularly purchasers of second-hand kit from on-line auction sites who naïvely use them as supplied (the type of system that is only usable after upwards of 5 minutes after switch on), still suffer. These users (and those of us who support them) would benefit greatly.

I would also like to add to the excellent Linux software selection posted by kingdavid7:

Amarok - music manager/player
Planet Penguin Racer - game
Kopete - multiplatform instant messager
KMyMoney - personal finance
Kid3 - ID3 tag manipulator
Unison - synchronisation programme
K3B - disc burning
KStars - desktop planetarium
KRename - batch file renamer
YaST - one stop system config shop for openSUSE
Gwenview - image viewer
Hydrogen - drum synth/sequencer
Ardour - digital audio workstation
Opera
Skype

By iclbmc1 on 2 Oct 2011

Other destops are available on Linux

Perhaps de Icaza is of this opinion as I imagine that he is a Gnome user. I use the KDE desktop on openSUSE Linux and I find that there are many great apps, much more than 10. Apps built around Qt/KDE often have greater aesthetics, functionality and configurability. They also consistently score higher ratings in round-ups of apps of a given type published in a leading, UK-based, specialist Linux magazine. This despite the team often being accused of favouring Gnome over KDE.

Given what lead to the birth of Gnome, if de Icaza had worked with the KDE community to address the concerns some had about how free the Qt framework was at the the time, instead of starting a rival project, then the Linux community would have less of the fragmentation and dilution of labour via duplication of effort it has now on the desktop. It is also contradictory that someone with concerns about the freedom of Qt went on to become a great proponent of the Mono project, which sought to produce an implementation of Microsoft's .NET and C# technologies on Linux, when similar questions were asked of how free those technologies are and whether or not that status would change.

However, it has to be said that in recent years, the two big desktops are co-operating much more, especially where having common subsystems is beneficial to all (e.g. DBUS notification from KDE and NetworkManager from Gnome). They even held their annual conferences jointly this year and plan to do so every other year. Having at least one genuine competitor in a market drives both parties on to innovate and improve rather than stagnate and rest. It also shows that there can genuinely be more than one way of doing things. So we have horses for courses in Linux.

I take the points made by some above that not all of these apps will be unique to Linux but Linux is where many of these apps were started. Also, at risk of shooting my next argument down, in a world of cross-platform apps and web apps, the OS is less relevant today than in the past.

I'd like to turn around the arguments made by Mccers and rjp2000. Is there any reason to stick with Windows for basic business functionality and public kiosk machines? Linux now has these covered. For sure, there may be types of specialist software that are only available (at least at high quality/usability) on Windows but considering that my latest PC was purchased for £229.99 with Linux preinstalled and that the same hardware specification with Windows preinstalled was availbale for £68.90 more, the compelling reason to switch to Linux is cost (@Mccers). The other cost consideration is that of support. It's true that viruses, other types of malware, the lack of stability and the steady performance-sapping accumulation of cruft are largely gone in businesses with supported desktops (although performance-sapping administration tools are often added here). However, this support costs money. With Linux, the inherent sability and security that is baked into the OS would require much less support across a deployment than with Windows (@rjp2000). Also, unsupported users such as home users, particularly purchasers of second-hand kit from on-line auction sites who naïvely use them as supplied (the type of system that is only usable after upwards of 5 minutes after switch on), still suffer. These users (and those of us who support them) would benefit greatly.

I would also like to add to the excellent Linux software selection posted by kingdavid7:

Amarok - music manager/player
Planet Penguin Racer - game
Kopete - multiplatform instant messager
KMyMoney - personal finance
Kid3 - ID3 tag manipulator
Unison - synchronisation programme
K3B - disc burning
KStars - desktop planetarium
KRename - batch file renamer
YaST - one stop system config shop for openSUSE
Gwenview - image viewer
Hydrogen - drum synth/sequencer
Ardour - digital audio workstation
Opera
Skype

By iclbmc1 on 2 Oct 2011

One great app that Linux don't have!

It is a usb stick creator for linux distros, named Lili,which is much better than Unetbootin, but can be found only in Windows! Most times Unetbootin fails, sometime dd also fails, but up to now Lili hadn't.

By chdslv on 5 Oct 2011

What Windows won't have

What Windows won't have are the package managers, as that idea is alien to Windows. But, with only .exe, any program can be installed in Windows, which is not the situation in Linux with everyone fighting each other with yum, apt-get, zypper, etc, etc. This in-fighting in Linux world is the downfall of Linux.

I like Linux, though and lately use only KDE. Once, I was enticed by Openbox, but that dimmed.

By chdslv on 5 Oct 2011

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