On desktop re-invention

If you live in, or you’ve visited the United States, you might be struck by how product packaging and design changes little over the years (or perhaps you’re so familiar with this, you haven’t seen it). That bar of candy? It probably has a very similar label to the one it had twenty or more years ago. That top loading washing machine design? Still in widespread use today because it was the design that first gained market traction.

Europeans don’t always understand this, but Americans are generally very conservative in their adoption of iterations of existing technologies. It’s not just Americans, but let’s take this example for the moment. When a new technology first comes along, it’s open reign – do whatever you like – but as it gains widespread adoption, the market resists more than a certain level of change. People become familiar and comfortable with a certain mode of operation and expect that to remain consistent from one year (or decade) to the next, until the Next Big Thing. We saw this with the introduction of every big technology over the last 50-100 years.

In the technology space, we can observe how the PC has become a very popular, well established platform. This hasn’t happened only because Microsoft are somehow “evil”. It’s happened through consistency and standardization (even if it’s not an Open standard, it’s still a de facto standard). You can learn how to use a Windows or Mac system once, and apply the same concepts from one year (or decade) to the next. With the advent of tablets, and smartphones, there’s an opportunity to start afresh, but neither Apple nor Google are going to massively change the fundamentals of the user experience in their mobile platforms at this point. That’s not to say they can’t innovate, but they can’t break suddenly with the established customer expectations.

Like it or not, you get one chance to do this right before traction sets in and certain expectations are created. Ignore this at your own cost. Microsoft might love to fix all of the problems with the Windows experience (they are actually not entirely stupid), but they can’t do that now without alienating their established user base in the process.

My opinion is that GNOME 3 made a fundamental mistake in breaking with tradition. Innovation on that scale should target new less well established platforms, such as netbooks, tablets, and the like. Places where there’s still opportunity to define the Next Big Thing. Innovate with the new, don’t break with decades of established user experience on the old.

Thus concludes consumer behavior 101. You don’t have to like it, but you do have to live with it. And though you can certainly flame me for saying this, the reality is that this is the reason next year will be “the year of the Linux desktop”, and the year after, and the year after…repeat until the wheel re-invention exercise stops.


7 Responses to “On desktop re-invention”

  1. haik' says:

    I somewhat agree.
    But who knows – as you point out, that next year will always be “the year of the Linux desktop” – so the GNOME guys (and Unity for that matter) made the plunge, and tried to step a firm foot in the mobile appliance world
    Except that, well, so far a very tiny tiny share of of GNOME user will actually use it on a mobile/touchscreen hardware.
    For the rest of us…well, I guess we’ll always have the fallback mode (BTW – related to your previous post – it appears that the non-shell GNOME3 indeed have its improvement of its own – but I still have to tried it)

  2. Felice says:

    Totally agree, and I believe that Unity adoption by Canonical will be a forked-mistake, even worse !

  3. Chris says:

    Us Linux users a sorry bunch indeed; especially you.

    If it wasn’t called GNOME 3 but Mac OS XI, and if it came only on shiny new computers that cost a whole lof of money, and if – finally – uncle Steve would have told the world how lucky we were to be allowed to touch those computers-made-for-gods with our grubby mitts — then everybody would praise uncle Steve’s genius for giving us this new, revolutionary, awesome operating system.

    As it is, GNOME is just free, everyone can get it, everyone thinks that he would have done better than the GNOME developers, yadda, yadda.

    One sorry bunch.

  4. Podsgrove says:

    As the engineers say: if it works, don’t fix it.
    Let’s hope Gnome 2 remains available for those of us who want to get on with what we have to do distraction free.

  5. Sanders says:

    “Repeat until the wheel re-invention exercise stops.”

    It won’t stop Gnome people is just stupid, why do I say this?

    Well take the cancel button for example, they think they did a clever thing removing it from every single dialogue.

    They would happily lose 60% of their user base and still not fix the damn thing.

  6. marboog says:

    Definately need to tell this to Gnome idiot developers. And also tell KDE to stop this nonsense as well. Most people are going to end up using XCFE desktop because that will be the last standard desktop left at this rate.

  7. Uneigo says:

    How is KDE not a standard desktop? It has a “Start Button”, a taskbar, and a notification tray. You could make it look exactly like Microsoft Windows if you wanted (95-XP out of the box, or Vista-7 with Smooth Tasks or other taskbar replacement). The big difference between KDE 3 and KDE 4 is the plasma widgets, but that’s a customization feature, and you can ignore it if you want to, and I suspect most people do exactly that.

    (KDE also has a netbook version, but it is not the default. And that is how GNOME should have treated the Shell too, and ditto with Canonical and Unity.)

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