Dumbing down optional

In discussing the upsides and downsides of the MS/Novell deal, Steve Loughran writes:

  1. SuSE is a KDE house, not Gnome. Now back in Gnome-land, I find its assumptions about my stupidity even more patronising than much of Windows. Both are trying to dumb down. This doesn't mean I don't like clean apps like gedit and gterminal, it's just the whole thing treats me like I don't know what I'm doing. It's as if they decided the weakness of Unix was its suitability for power users, not a strength.

From my experience, Gnome, KDE, and Linux distributions still make dumbing down optional. 10 years ago, my Linux environment consisted of:

  • The fvwm window manager.
  • Many xterm windows (the vanilla xterm from the XFree86 distribution).
  • emacs, for editing and mail (in VM).
  • Netscape Navigator (but only when connected to the Internet, or reading HTML documents — it was insanely memory hungry, easily consuming over 10MB!).

And today:

  • Still using fvwm.
  • Still using xterm.
  • Still using emacs, but about 8 years ago I switched to Gnus for mail and news.
  • Naturally, Netscape Navigator became Firefox
  • I use gaim for instant messaging.

All of these programs apart from fvwm are bundled in common Linux distributions, so even though my usual environment shares very little with the default environment of any Linux distribution, I don't have to step far outside the distribution.

Firefox and gaim are both gtk applications (does this make them Gnome applications? I've never been sure where that distinction lies). But with those exceptions, my use of Gnome/KDE applications is occasional. And for those occasional uses, when I need to import images from a digital camera, draw a diagram, rip a CD, etc., I am quite happy to dumb down.

The main threat to this approach is applications that deliver compelling functionality in a way that is tied into the Gnome or KDE desktop. An example is NetworkManager, which aims to make networking work automagically, particularly wireless networking and VPNs. But the UI is a Gnome-specific panel applet. As far as I can see, if you don't have a panel, you can't use it. But this is an exception: most Gnome programs seem to run quite happily under fvwm.