Writings of a techie wizard
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Wed, 22 Aug 2012

I recently came across this from Jamie Zawinski, and one of his gripes with Firefox struck a huge chord with me:

The Firefox UI is a moving target. It is under constant "improvement", which means "change" which means every few months I'm forced to upgrade it and shit has moved around and I need to re-learn how to do a task that I was happily doing before.

Not only that, but each "upgrade" seems to give the Linux version of Firefox, at least, a new crop of bugs. The latest Firefox "upgrade" from Ubuntu was so crappy that I was forced to build my own copy of an earlier version from source, so I could delete the standard package. (Yes, I know that means I won't get "security fixes" and so forth any more. I'll deal with it. See below for some further comments.) To pick just one example: when Firefox re-drew its window, menu headings and menu item titles would often disappear, so that I would see blank spaces where words like "File", "Edit", "Copy", "Options", etc. were supposed to be. What the f---?

And the thing is, it isn't just Firefox. It's practically everything on the desktop. It may be more noticeable on Firefox these days, but it's everywhere. For example, a while back I ranted about how KDE 4 sucks. Most of my complaints can be filed under this heading: they changed stuff that worked just fine as it was. And the other Linux desktop environments are no better; here's a good quick example of jwz on gnome. And don't even get me started on Ubuntu's latest eye candy (over and above the KDE 4 suckage that I've already mentioned).

To be fair, some of the changes on the desktop are responses to changes elsewhere. For example, as the title of this post tells you, I miss the old days when I could use Konqueror (the KDE 3 Trinity version, thank you very much) to surf the web with no issues. The Konq was not a very popular browser, even among people who were otherwise solidly hooked on KDE; but it just worked, at least for me, and more importantly, it worked the same through a lot of KDE 3 releases. I never had to re-learn the browser interface just because my Linux distro had decided to do an update. Not only that, but its rendering was more consistent than other browsers. (This was because Konqueror, unlike other browsers, actually paid attention to actual standards.)

But over the years, the web changed, and more and more sites would cause Konqueror to hiccup or even crash, simply because it was not being kept up to date with the latest Web 2.0 fads like other browsers. This eventually pushed me to the point of having to switch to Firefox for most of my surfing, because back then, Firefox was still reasonably clean and fast instead of the bloatware it is now. Which meant that I now had to, as jwz says, re-learn how the browser works every time a version upgrade came out. Which eventually meant (combined with the bloatware issue) that I had to switch to Chrome for most of my surfing, because Chrome, at least for the time being (but I'm not expecting it to last), is reasonably clean and fast.

(Of course, now I get to wonder how much additional data Google is collecting on me since I'm using their browser. I do not use it to surf to sensitive sites, like my bank, btw; I use my built-from-source copy of Firefox, the earlier version, for that, with all privacy settings cranked up to maximum. But that's a different issue, which I've blogged about before; I would do it even if none of the stuff I'm complaining about in this post were a problem.)

Linux distributions do the same thing, and with the same annoying results. Ubuntu, thank goodness, still believes in long-term support releases, which means I can continue to run 10.04 while I wait for all the bugs to be sorted out of 12.04, without worrying that my current version will drop out from under me and force me into an unwanted upgrade (which happened a number of times with other distros). But one of the things I am waiting for with 12.04 is for the KDE 3 Trinity project to do a build based on it, which hasn't happened yet, and doesn't look like happening any time soon. Which is now making me look around to see what else is out there in case I have to switch desktops (again) so that at least I can do it on my own initiative instead of being forced into it.

Zawinski is right that the Mac interface has been a lot more stable over the years than Linux desktops have. Unfortunately, I can't stand the Mac interface, which in addition to all the other reasons why I run Linux, keeps me from considering switching to a Mac for ordinary use. If there were a version of Safari for Linux, I might consider using it (for one thing, they still, last I checked, use the KHTML rendering engine that Konqueror used), but of course I don't expect that to happen any time soon. :-)

But even Apple is not immune to the "force users to upgrade whether they need to or not" problem. (I take it the fact that Microsoft was not, is not, and never shall be so immune is too obvious to need mentioning.) We have a MacBook that is six years old or so, and still runs OS X 10.4. It works fine, if a little slow for some things (but that's a much a matter of Internet bandwidth as anything); but there are a number of apps out there now that require 10.5 or later (or in some cases even 10.6 or later). Upgrade? Oh, sure--if we pay Apple for the privilege. Or, of course, we could pay them even more for the privilege of buying a new MacBook to replace a perfectly good older one. Sigh.

As I said in my earlier post about KDE 4, in the grand scheme of things, this isn't all that big a deal. But it makes you wonder what all these people are thinking. At the end of the day, we're talking about drawing text, rectangles, and little images on the screen. This is not rocket science, and it shouldn't require the level of incessant design effort that goes into, say, nuclear reactors. This should be a solved problem by now. Of course, that's not to say that if it were, all the people currently working feverishly on it would switch to something useful as opposed to, say, figuring out ways to get users to click on ads. But one could hope.

Posted at 21:17   |   Category: rants   |   Tags: computers   |   Permalink
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