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The Crisis of Linux on Desktop

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The Crisis of Linux on Desktop

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I have been a Linux user for roughly six years. I started in 2005 by trying Knoppix from a live CD, then dual-booting with Windows and then running Linux  exclusively on my two desktop computers (home and work) and laptop.

During that time I tried several distros and switched between several desktop environments. My very first desktop environment was KDE. I liked it (no wonder – before that, I had been using freaking twm!). Versions 3.2 and 3.5 were pretty good – in fact I could run them perfectly fine on my old PC with a 700 Mhz processor and just 128 megabytes of RAM.

Then came along KDE 4 – at first I was happy with it because it had some pretty neat features that were quite new and exciting at that time. But  I quickly became disappointed with it.  It was a resource hog, but it didn’t matter that much, since I already had a shiny new PC. What irritated me most was its instability. Something would crash unexpectedly every now and then. I decided that KDE devs needed more time to brush up Plasma and whatnot, so I switched to GNOME.

I found GNOME to be an improvement over KDE in terms of resource usage and usability, so I stuck with it for quite a while. It did have its own problems, but whatever, nothing in this world is perfect. And then there was GNOME 3.

Of course, I respect the work that the GNOME devs put into this release, but I find it just horrible. I will not try to explain the reasons behind this opinion here, you can google it up yourself, it’s all over the internet. Few people are happy with GNOME 3.

After being scared with GNOME 3 I tried running back to KDE. Tough luck – the new KDE turned out to be just about as scary. I’m not sure what happened to it, but out-of-the-box, the “plasma netbook” user interface was eating away at my laptop’s dual-core CPU so intensively I could hear the loud noise of the CPU fan. And the whole thing was not too responsive either. Remember, it’s a “netbook inteface”. How is this supposed o run on a cheap netbook if it makes a dualcore CPU sweat?

Anyway, what I realized was that KDE had become unusable (for me) and GNOME was going to become unusable in the nearest future unless its developers came to their senses.

As of now, I think that the world of Linux on desktop is facing a crisis of sorts due to the lack of an adequate desktop environment. GNOME 2 was the default environment in many popular distros, and if it is going to be replaced by GNOME 3, things are not going to be good. And I don’t think that KDE will work for people who are used to GNOME 2.

There are a couple of ways out of this situation for an average user:

  1. Just stick with whatever you have and get used to the changes;
  2. Man up and throw away desktop environments altogether, install a naked window manager and be in charge of your desktop experience;
  3. Switch to some other, less popular DE like XFCE or LXDE

For most people (1) is not an option (no pun intended). The new GNOME seriously hinders productivity.

I personally chose option (2), but I understand that the majority of users does not have the desire or time to go through all the trouble of whipping up your own improvised “desktop environment”.

So what remains is switching to some less popular DE. The problem is, XFCE seems to be the only viable choice here. LXDE doesn’t seem mature enough, but XFCE feels just about right. Plus, if more people flock to XFCE, there will be more motivation for its developers to work on their product and improve it.

In fact, XFCE has already welcomed many refugees from the GNOME land, including Linus Torvalds himself.



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