Would a Prettier Linux Make You Switch?

Would a Prettier Linux Make You Switch?

Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth (who we interviewed last year) announced that he’s out to make Linux a better-looking operating system than Mac OS X—within two years. An ambitious goal! At O’Reilly’s OSCON conference this week, Shuttleworth said:

“I think the great task in front of us in the next two years is to lift the experience of the Linux desktop from something stable and usable and not pretty, to something that’s art,” Shuttleworth said. “Think of the way the iPhone uses a pure software experience, it abstracts away all the hardware,” he said. “You can paint anything on the screen because it’s all software.”

Everyone loves eye candy on their desktop—Apple’s record-setting Mac sales can attest to that—but is looks is the main hurdle for Linux adoption amongst Normals? Seems like the inability to run Windows and Mac-only software like Microsoft Office or Outlook/Entourage natively, and niggly problems like Wi-Fi and video driver incompatibilities are the biggest problems. What about you? Would a better-looking Linux make you switch? Or is it deeper than that? Tell us what would get you to go Linux all the way (or what got you, if you’re already there) in the comments. Gorgeous Linux desktop image by Andrew Katzman.


  • With utilities such as COMPIZ and the freely available mac4linux project, ubuntu users can already make their ubuntu running machines look and sound like a mac.

    Now if only they could fix up the compatibility issues with wine and a majority of games.

  • No.

    i don’t care how pretty it is. i’m not a girl or an interior decorator. i’ll switch to a *nix when the games, apps and hardware options are equal. HL2 isn’t available for Ubuntu and if there was a port there are no compatible video cards and drivers to make it run. OO.o is cool, but it is not a suitable replacement for MSO yet. i try from time to time to see how long i can go with FOSS (Ubuntu and OO.o), and it’s usually a matter of minutes before i hit a wall.

    Instead of making it fruitier, make it beefier. Mac has the fruity covered.

  • Currently, I have an iBook and a Ubuntu PC. What is frustrating is that there are still times when I’ve got to use the housemate’s Windows PC for this or that.

    @Todd: I agree that the priorities for Ubuntu should first be driver support (to make it easier to switch) and then WINE support (to provide more reasons to switch).

    Though I am a sucker for the pretty: perhaps it’s a little ironic that I can’t use MS Office ’03 products on the Mac because the toolbars and icons look horrible. It’s not just MS’s fault; I can’t stand the way Apple toolbars don’t stick to the menu bar at the top of the screen.

    Ok, rant over.

  • It’s not about prettiness. It’s about a good user experience. So when people pull out COMPIZ and stuff, that doesn’t mean anything if its buggy, slow, hard to install. And that’s with everything else on Linux. If the user operation to get things done, which would otherwise in the user’s mind be straight-forward, take too long or frustrates the user, then that’s poor user experience.

    Linux needs to move up and over its design for highly technical users, and commit more to getting it to work for average consumers. I’m a technical user (SE degree) and using Linux to do day-to-day things frustrate me. Installing applications is a massive chore. I now rely on my Mac with its powerful *nix base, and relegate the Linux box running in a closet somewhere where it belongs.

  • A prettier Linux would make me switch!

    Oh wait I’ve already switched..

    What I would really love is Compiz Fusion working in a dual-head configuration, especially with ATI’s bigdesktop.

  • He wants to make Linux better looking than the commercial desktops, namely OS X, it simply ain’t gonna happen, well not soon and not without changes to the core technologies.
    e.g. Ubuntu is always gonna use Freetype, it just never looks quite as good, Compiz Fusion is wonderful but it simply isn’t polished at all when compared to Leopard’s effects, and GTK always kinda looks like GTK, it doesn’t matter what icons/backgrounds/widget themes you apply, it’s its fundamental design. Coupling that with the interfaces of a lot of the main GTK applications which were clearly designed by programmers, again, probably won’t change soon. The interfaces in OS X and Leopard were designed by exceptional designers to look and feel very attractive and approchable to end users, it shows. The core technologies that allowed this were designed with this in mind. This isn’t the case with GNOME/Linux. For the record I don’t use a Mac. I’d have sex with one though.

  • @someguy I don’t know what the fonts are under Ubuntu (and probably linux in general) but they are rubbish. In my recent trial of Ubuntu it strick me as being one of the big things I didn’t like – the appearance of the text on the screen. Not something I would have thought would ever be a concern as I have never though of it before. I do think Linux is coming along and is sneaking in the backdoor with these ultraportables (EE PC) using linux more users are being exposed to it. Linix in general needs to concentrate on simplifying as well as beautifying the UI to win the hearts of users

  • I’d have to agree with Shuttleworth’s idea that an OS that looks pretty would indeed help get the “normal none techie people” to adopt and use and like ubuntu(or GNU/linux in general), but actually its just a good come on, it better be simple and user friendly as much as possible or people get frustrated pretty fast and they quickly run to the other OS’s, adding more GUI applications in a simpler way, think point and click, for all the most commonly used applications and a GUI install thats a no brainer with lots of pictures, with very good auto-detection of hardware. And most importantly Keeping the CLI hidden and not needed for basic/common/essential usage as much as possible from ‘normal none techie users’. Ofcourse I and most other real linux users(none normal people??? lol) like using the CLI but most everyone else fears/hates/detests or finds GNU/linux overly complicated and totally none user friendly, yes just by the sight of seeing someone type in commands like apt-get in CLI will scare alot of people off to Windows and MAC userland, as if both other OS’es doesnt have CLI’s, my point is to bring in more of the mass population you have to hide the use of the CLI and be as graphically eye candy point and click type as much a possible, and implemented in a simple way. Think in terms of “Pretty OS for Dummies!”

  • Apple’s strength has always been a core of bohemians and design professionals — that’s a primary reason why their products (excluding perhaps the early Macs) evoke a style all their own, that many manufacturers try and fail to emulate. that style runs through the hardware to the software design and the GUI. most people jump on the Apple bandwagon either because they want something that’s dead easy to use or they get drawn in by Apple’s billion dollar marketing. none of those things are going to work for Open Source Linux.

    Whilst the hardware for Linux is often the same, Microsoft’s strength lies in seemingly limitless hardware compatibility — albeit at the expense of stability; extensive software — true, although the overwhelming majority of it poor quality; carefully crafted games support — will we see DirectX native on Linux?; and their ever growing popularity — slowly changing in recent years thanks to some monumental screwups, eg. Vista, and the explosion in multi-platform open source software like Firefox, that has woken many up to the potentials of the Linux OS and made the transition a little easier to deal with.

    Linux will draw new users by ‘working well with others’:
    * MSO08 (generations on, OOo is still ugly, unfriendly awkward and behaves like one might expect free software to do — okay MSO is far from perfect, and certainly has a few deficiencies, but it has been designed with billion$ in R&D and UI testing, whilst OOs has been designed mostly by ComSci students) — how hard can it be to hack it to run it natively on Linux?
    * Adobe Design Suite — GIMP is great for free, but it’s certainly not Photoshop CS3 — any designer who uses Adobe stuff on a regular basis can’t be without this as a native app.
    * where is the Autodesk software — looks like Maya has finally made it to Linux, it’s up to Autodesk to now port the rest of their range, or some worthy coders to do it for them. (sadly I’m stuck with using Windows until the day some boffin works out how to run current versions of AutoCAD and Revit on Linux, and I know I’m not alone).
    * retail games support — not so good yet, need I say more?

    Mr Shuttleworth isn’t far wrong though — ‘Pretty’ and functional design is integral to both applications and the standard GUI — sure, Linux is full of ways to tweak it to look like other OSes, with Gnome GTK etc. and much more, but out of the box it’s as bland as cardboard, not appealing to a new/potential user — get the help of a bunch of hardcore designers, eg. inspire the users on DeviantArt.
    One key area of function that works amazingly well for Apple is keeping the non-technical, command-base of the OS hidden on the other side of the looking glass — 99.9% of users don’t want or need to see it or know about it — never from the moment you put the install disc in the drive, to the day you throw you computer out for a new one. (I’m patently conscious of this, despite having used command-based OSes daily from the mid80s on).

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