From time to time, when I try to pretend to be a noob user, I find myself having to complain about Linux. The user experience, in my opinion, is just not there yet. Over a decade ago, when I was interviewed about whether Linux was ready for prime time, my answer was that it wasn’t, but but that it was getting there. Every other year or so, when I ask myself again this question, my answer has invariably been the same. Linux is getting better, but it just isn’t quite there yet.
I know a lot of Linux-zealots are going to get upset with me, but please just bear with my ranting.
Today’s peeve is about names in Linux. More specifically, I’m talking about my spanking clean Ubuntu 11.10 installation. Ok folks, let’s just pretend I’m a noob here, and don’t lecture me about this isn’t about Linux, about how the problem is really something else, etc. I know. Right now, I’m a noob, I really don’t care for those explanations.
I’m at the desktop, and I move around with my mouse pointer to explore the environment. Hmm there’s this Banshee thingy in the drop-down menu under a speaker icon. What in the world is Banshee? Weird name.
In fact, the drop down menu next to it has something called eth0. Huh, what is that?
I browser around for some cool applications to try out. Let’s look at Media stuffs. Oh, I see Banshee Media Player, so Banshee I saw earlier was about a media player. Now I know. There are more esoteric names that, fortunately, are accompanied by something more familiar sounding to give me an idea about what the app is about: Brasero Disc Burner, Pitivi Video Editor, and Buzztard Music Editor. I cannot imagine the pure confusion that would happen had the names simply appeared as Brasero, Pitivi, and Buzztard somewhere else. But I’m not quite done yet with this screen. What is JACK Rack? I can hazard a guess about “freemix”, but I’m not so sure about Xfmpc, Kino, and GOPchop had it not been for the icons used by the app.
I have not been a regular Linux GUI user for some years. I use a lot of Linux, just not with it running on the computer that I sit in front of or bring around with me. So perhaps these names are sounding very foreign to me.
Couldn’t they have chosen more familiar names, names that would lend some familiarity to noobs? The name Microsoft Internet Explorer, however much I dislike the browser, says pretty clearly what the app does. If you have established yourself a brand name, you could try to go with a name like Firefox or Chrome. Or if you have a clear winner from the start, perhaps the media, marketing and word-of-mouth will help you get away with a weird name.
Which newbie to Ubuntu is actually going to know what Banshee is about?
Sadly, I thought companies like RedHat, Suse, or Ubuntu could have helped bring some sanity to Linux, but I think they have failed. They have certainly helped made Linux better, made Linux more friendly, made Linux easier to use, but they have still ultimately failed in achieving a decent user experience.
The people who are using Linux on their primary work computer (be it desktop or notebook), did they use Linux because it is free or because it had a winning user experience?
Now, before this sort of degenerates into some sort of OS-flamewar… let me change topic to illustrate my expectations of user experience.
I used to use VirtualBox for my virtualization needs. It’s free. Pretty nice. Then, I tried VMware Fusion. It cost money, but it was really really fantastic. It was such a joy to use it. I was happy to pay whatever it was I paid to buy Fusion. I wouldn’t tolerate VirtualBox anymore even though it is free. Sharing documents, desktop integration, interaction with external devices was so painless, they just work. I am a programmer, and I can understand the way VirtualBox works, I can appreciate the technical difficulties. But when I want to get work done, I just want it to work.
Great apps need to have their user experiences designed by the layman. Don’t let programmers or some techie people ruin the experience.
So the gripe for today: Please, just use common-sense names.