Archive for January, 2005

Linux vs. Windows program names

Sunday, January 2nd, 2005

To me, names don’t matter, it is all about training and then familiarity.

As a technical discussion, names as handles to objects or ideas don’t matter – it gets down to user training. To write that “Whatever the reason, desktop Linux’s usability is hindered by its naming practices” is just silly. In a work enviornment, users will use what they are trained on. At home, Grandma is going to use whatever will let her get her polaroids out of her new camera.

And Windows isn’t particularly easy to use; rather, everybody has had some exposure to it.

For example…once you know what the *nix commands stand for (“list”,”remove”,”disk free”, etc.), those commands are a hell of a lot quicker to type (and less prone to error) than spelling the words out.

Looking through my menus in Ubuntu, it is fairly clear what the program does either by the name, or icon. There are some exceptions, like GIMP is just called “The GIMP”, but at least it is under the Graphics menu group so I’ve a pretty good idea what its function is even without recognizing the application. That actually applies to most applications under my Gnome desktop actually. Everything is grouped by it’s function, unlike Windows where typically applications are grouped by manufacturer.

If you install a reasonably full-featured distribution, all of the common tools will be pre-installed and be nicely categorized and named by function.

Notice how much easier this is than the corresponding situation on Windows. After you’ve installed Windows you have, what? Windows Media Player will cover XMMS, but what about Kopete or the GIMP? Is MSN messenger pre-installed? Even if it is, what if you have friends who use AIM, Jabber, Yahoo, ICQ, etc.? Gotta find and install something. For GIMP, I guess you’ve got Paint. Other than that, you have to go find something.

On Linux, even if you what you want isn’t already installed, most distros make it trivial to find and install whatever you need. On Debian or Ubuntu, for example, just start Synaptic (which is nicely categorized on the menus), click “Search”, type “edit image” and you get a list of a number of packages that do the job. Click on any one of them and you get a description of the package. Click the checkbox next to all of those that sound interesting, click “Apply” and wait a couple of minutes, then try them all out and decide which you like (they’ll all be in the appropriate spots in the menus).

Sorry, but I think Linux destroys Windows in this department. It doesn’t matter what the apps are named, good packaging and nice menus make the names irrelevant. Going through the Start menu in Windows, you have to find the name of the program under it’s manufacturer’s name, which isn’t always obvious. It’s worth pointing out that Linux beats Mac OS X in this regard as well. Not only does OS X not have as much stuff pre-installed, it doesn’t provide a nice way to find applications. You have to go to the Applications folder and then try to figure out what everything in there does.

In your case, you already went through the pain of figuring out what Windows apps you like, so switching to Linux is painful. But that’s not because of Linux, it’s because you’re moving from something you know to something you don’t. Even if the “something you don’t” is actually easier, the change requires effort.

Of course, I have to mention that one of the funniest things I find about Windows is that you click the “Start Button” to shut down Windows. Try explaining that one to someone who’s never touched a computer before.