Bad trends in Operating Systems

Someone wrote on ycombinator:

Am I the only one who hates most animation? If the animation doesn’t serve a clear purpose in signalling something to the user, I want it gone. I’m not convinced that we’ve seen any meaningful advance in OS UI design since Windows 95.

Permit me to rant.

There has been one UI innovation since Win95: aerosnap. Everything else has mostly just been fiddling around. Some things have gotten worse, as the comment above notes. Linux users have been particularly spoiled in that matter. GNOME, I’m looking at you. GNOME amazes in its ability at producing unstable APIs, less features, and greater resource usage. No doubt some autistic pedant would care to argue the point (“no, GNOME is the most stable system ever”), but spare me, I’m ranting, just let me get the poison out.

There are a number of converging forces that have brought us to this point, which I will highlight below. As bad as things are now, I see them only degrading further. In brief: it was tablets and the internet that did it.

MS (Microsoft) has seen all the craptacular garbage that is on most websites, and decided to put it in its OS. And you can forget about trying to block that shit, too.

The point about animation is that it’s distracting. It takes your attention away from what you’re trying to do. That’s the point, of course. Whilst great for Microsoft’s coffers, it necessarily means that the user is more frustrated and less productive.

The internet, tablets and smartphones have created a shift in computing. Computers were once seen as tools. Now they are increasingly regarded as being regarded as entertainment devices. The shift has been from production (creating spreadsheets) to consumption (a device for the delivery of monorail cats).

The internet has also thrown up the conundrum of “is it your device, or someone else’s, and you’re just using it through their grace and favour?”

The rot actually started with XP. By introducing product activation, MS introduced a mechanism where they sunk their hooks into you. Since then, their hooks have penetrated deeper.

Make no mistake, MS want a renting model. They ache for it. We’re not there  yet, but boy, are we heading that way. Why sell something once, when you can charge people annually? “That data of yours sure looks valuable; shame if you weren’t able to access it anymore.”

And so we come back to the internet again. Stuff like Google Docs was logical enough I guess. Convenient, cross-platform, but with hidden costs that no-one seems to care about. Those docs you’ve made, that’s Google’s data, not yours. Google has no qualms about scraping the contents and selling it.

MS has gone even further. With Win 10, MS even says that they’re allowed to look at, and use, the data on your own computer. Quite why any government, business, and to a lesser extent user, would think that as acceptable is beyond me.

It’s like the old metaphor of slicing the salami. Each slice doesn’t take away much, but eventually you end up with no salami.

From what I’ve heard, Win 10 is an update disaster. The internet is littered with tales of updates that break their computer. The response from Microsoft is “Win 10 now offers a great update experience.” Two flaws with that: firstly, it’s a shite one, not a great one, and secondly, no-one is interested in having an update “experience”, like it was a trip to the movies, or something.

Device drivers break, and MS shrugs it off. “Well, those are obsolete drivers.” But what is “obsolete”. That’s the whole problem with the concept of a rolling release paradigm, which MS wants to adopt. The whole edifice is a castle made of sand. There’s no solidity to it.

It’s almost as if MS is engaged in some kind of “social experiment” to see how hard they can kick users in the nuts before they’ll consider switching to something like Linux.

Meanwhile, Redhat and Ubuntu seem to be engaged in their own nut-kicking experiments. With Redhat we have GNOME and systemd, and, well, basically anything that Lennart Poettering pulls out of his arse.

RMS (Richard Stallman) has expressed concerns about Ubuntu’s invasion of privacy (see 1m45s onwards), accusing it of having “malicious functionality” and spyware.

My own gripe about Ubuntu is that they seem to be increasingly enthusiastic about “snap”. For those that don’t know, Snap is a way of installing applications that is, supposedly, distribution-agnostic, and updates automatically.

It sounds fine in theory, but lacking in practise. As far as I know, Ubuntu is the only distro that’s interested in it. Other’s don’t provide built-in support. It reminds me of Henry Ford: you can have any colour of car you want, just so long as it is black.

My next bone of contention with it is resource usage. In order to be distro-agnostic, it has to bundle its dependencies. So what was a small binary is now a big binary. What a huge pile of bloat! Distros have already solved (insofar as is possible) the problem of dependency management. They have package managers. Why not just use those?

Judging by the few snaps I’ve installed, they seem OK. It’s difficult to know how solid dependency-bundling is. I have tried AppImages (a similar idea to Snaps), and, well, they often don’t quite work. The sentiment is there, but there seem to be plenty of corner cases where what should work doesn’t. Snaps do seem to be more reliable than AppImages from my personal experience, but there’s always a nagging doubt in the back of my mind that there’s considerable scope for error.

As to automatic updates: I hate that idea! I generally rebuild my systems on a six-monthly basis. My system is quite modern. I simply don’t need the very latest version of software. In the rare cases that I do, I will track, compile and install the relevant software. I certainly do not want some daemon to unilaterally decide that it is going to download some multi-megabyte monstrosity and hog my bandwidth.

That’s all of the bile I can cough up for more. Undoubtedly there are more points I wanted to raise when I first conceived of this article, but had forgotten about.

As ever, I leave it to the reader to provide their own grammar and punctuation fixes. I’m too lazy to do any proof-reading.

Later, folks.





About mcturra2000

Computer programmer living in Scotland.
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1 Response to Bad trends in Operating Systems

  1. “Win 10 now offers a great update experience.”

    so is bungee jumping

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