Friday, December 30

A Brickbat from Angus

Angus riffs on Order and Chaos. Go read it; it's instructive. The references to the Blood God come from the Warhammer universe, in which one faction (Chaos) worships the Blood God and has for a battlecry "Blood for the blood god!".

But that's really beside the point.

Tuesday, December 13

You Wrongheaded Fool: Torvalds on GNOME

Yesterday Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, flamed a major user-interface component of Linux desktops (a part for which he is not responsible) for being not configurable enough. He said "If you think your users are idiots, only idiots will use it." (Links to the primary sources are in this Slashdot article.)

I cannot begin to tell you how angry that statment makes me.

You already know how I feel about interface simplicity; the idea that anyone would listen to one of the fourteen people on the planet to have WRITTEN AN OPERATING SYSTEM IN HIS SPARE TIME on the matter of what constitutes a good user interface is laughable. Not only is Linus not an expert on user-interface quality, but his opinions on user interfaces, as exemplified by the quote above, are (1) wrongheaded (2) based on incorrect assumptions and (3) damaging to advancement of Linux. Configurability is, to some extent, important; that said, interfaces that work before their users spend 45 minutes grovelling through dialog boxes are more important. The first corollary to Arthur C. Clarke's law, "Sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic", is "Technology distinguishable from magic is insufficiently advanced". I never want to have to think about the user interfaces I use; I want them to melt into the background, diligently working to make my day as effortless as possible. The more time I have to spend thinking about my interface, the less time I have to spend actually doing productive work -- and I'd argue that's true of everyone. The fact is that Torvalds' perception of computers has been tragically warped by thirty years of close proximity to their deepest internals. He thinks it's normal to spend hours customizing interfaces; when he learned computers, you had to do all that stuff yourself, so he developed truly idiosyncratic ways of doing things. He's trapped in his own experiences.

But that doesn't mean we should listen to him. In fact, it's an excellent reason for us not to.