One of the things I wanted to talk about more was what I think does matter about the desktop, which is the total experience and how it relates to branding. People with extensive computer experience have a significantly better understanding of the individual components in a system (though they can and often are wrong of course about details), but the problem is that this leads to a different experience than someone without that understanding.
A specific example I’m thinking of here is the Java updater on Windows. I overheard one Java developer expressing surprise that someone they knew without much computer experience thought Java was a pop up. Now you may laugh, but really, they’re not wrong. The pop up is their total experience. People with the computer knowledge know they need it to play some online game, or they don’t. They know it’s from a different company, and added on by the hardware vendor, or that the pop up is a tiny piece of a much larger system. It ends up being a very different brand.
Speaking of hardware vendors and brands, this brings me to Windows itself. I’ve kept around a Windows install on my PC for various reasons, among them that I like to keep up to date on what’s happening in Windows land and be able to carry on an intelligent discussion about operating systems in general (not that you can tell from some coffee-fueled rambling blog posts), and also because I’ll probably have to work on porting GObject Introspection to Windows (pure pain) at some point. So here’s the problem with the Windows brand, and I think Microsoft is catching on to this – you’re carpet bombed with it in your interaction with the system, and it’s associated with very good things, very bad things, and everything between. Some things that are Microsoft’s fault, and some things that aren’t.
I was browsing the menu one day and came upon a Windows Dancer menu item. Microsoft made this, associated it with the Windows brand, and shipped it. It boggles my mind. Did you know that 29% of Windows kernel crashes are caused by NVidia? Except here’s the problem – it just says “Windows crashed”. So the user is going to associate that crash with the Windows brand, even though it it’s really not Microsoft’s fault. By far my favorite though is the Dell Dock. Definitely a lesson there in letting hardware vendors do arbitrary things to one’s OS.
The point here is that the design and experience of Microsoft’s core system (or any operating system) in a vacuum are far less relevant than the total experience of someone who just gets a computer. And this I think is actually a strength of the free software operating system, for a few reasons. Following the “rough consensus and working code” approach inherently avoids the worst things. If someone proposed a Message from your mouse vendor pop up in GNOME, we’d just laugh. Second, because we’re fundamentally cooperative, there’s less tension about replacing higher level things that people try to add on top. If memory serves correctly, for years Windows didn’t ship with an unzip utility in the core OS, presumably because of concerns about undercutting Winzip. We’ll never have that problem.
A bit more on this later, and how it relates to a feature I’d like to work on for the shell.