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November 9th, 2011:

Minty Failness

I gave it a good shot and I tried, honestly I did. But Canonical’s Unity UI simply doesn’t work for me. It’s obvious that Canonical is trying to create a single UI that will serve end-user computing from top to bottom. It’s just as obvious to me (now that I’ve had six weeks or so to play around with a Droid X2) that there is no single “end-user computing” anymore. Desktops are fundamentally different from smartphones, or anything else (tablets, possibly; we’ll see) that is primarily tap-and-consume. I’m having no trouble working the Android UI on my phone, and Android habits don’t intrude on my desktop synapses. I’m not confused or in any way slowed down by the differences between the two, no more than I’m confused about the differences between a shovel and a rake.

So if Unity is all I get under Ubuntu, Ubuntu has to go. Others seem to agree with me, and at times the discussion gets disturbingly violent. Online I’m seeing that huge numbers of people are fleeing Ubuntu for Linux Mint, which I’d barely heard of a year ago. I have to smile a little bit, because Linux Mint is Ubuntu, basically pulled back to a variation on the GNOME 2.3 interface. The upcoming release (Mint 12) will move to GNOME 3, which worries me a little (I like GNOME 2) but I’ve seen word that Mint 12 will allow users to have something very like the old UI–which is precisely what Canonical did not do with Ubuntu and Unity. It was Unity or the highway, and boy, it’s bumper-to-bumper out there.

There’s an enormous issue of why we’re suddenly tossing older and much-loved UIs away without nary a glance over our shoulders, when there’s no compelling reason to adopt one of the new models. Programmers like to create Shiny New Stuff, fersure. I in turn don’t like to change the way I interact with the machine I use, unless such changes make me a lot more effective. So far, the costs in relearning ordinary tasks far outweigh the fairly paltry benefits for me.

I’ll take up that issue eventually. In the meantime, I’ve hit the highway, and installed Linux Mint 11 Katya in its own partition here on the quad core. The OS looks great and works the way I’m used to working. I have some minor quibbles, like the failure of the Software Manager to tell me when it’s done installing something. Ubuntu does this well, but Mint installs and gives no sign. This was critical when I installed WINE, since (because WINE is not an app, strictly speaking) it’s tricky to determine if WINE was fully and correctly installed. Because running Software Manager again and selecting WINE still indicates “not installed,” I think there’s something wrong.

Small stuff. The big deal is that Mint doesn’t work well with the integrated graphics on my EVGA NForce e-7150/630i Core 2 Quad motherboard. The default graphics drivers worked, but looked clunky and don’t support effects. Installing the recommended proprietary NVIDIA drivers produced weird graphics failures, including windows refusing to render once they’re over a certain size. (Some windows would not render at all, and simply remained blank and white even when first instantiated.) Using the supposedly experimental NVIDIA 173 drivers worked better, but still fails on certain apps, especially Stellarium, which worked exactly once and then comes up with a blank, black window every time. I’m not willing to give up Stellarium, so at this point Linux Mint is on hold while I wait for Mint 12 Lisa.

Linux Mint has supposedly become the 4th most popular OS on the planet. It’ll be interesting to see if that continues to be the case once they cut in the mandatory GNOME 3 upgrade. I’ll give GNOME 3 the same consideration I gave Unity, but I’m also looking closely at the Xfce UI and Xubuntu. It’s going to be an interesting year in the Linux world. I’m keeping all my old Linux installer .iso files, trust me.