2011-05-09

GNOME3 versus GNOME2 debates

tl;dr version: These "wars" are no different from many other UI debates in the past.

In the past couple of months, I like many others have been caught up in the GNOME3/Unity changes and the various debates of "are they good, are they evil." I have continually had this case of deja-vu as if the words being said were ones I had heard before but maybe slightly different. While having deja-vu a couple of times is normal, having it constantly means I am probably "Forgetting History" and "Doomed to Relive It" (or some variant of the quote.)

And then this morning it hit me while reading some long equally pro/con thread at work. The conversations aren't any different from the "use a TTY" vs "use a GUI" from the late 1980's and early 1990's. Then there was a constant debate of which one was best ("the TTY of because it required mental aptitude and knowledge of systems" or "the GUI because it allowed one to easily switch between tasks and use a more intuitive layout"). I have no idea how many megabytes of storage were used up in USENet posts in those days... but in general the gist was GUI's were the purview of Tech Writers and AOLers and TUI's were where the real engineers lived. I got caught up in it a bit (ok there are probably several megabytes of me parroting other posts about why TUI's were better.) but was brought out of it once when one of my university mentors (John Shipman) reminded me that this discussion was no different from ones in the past.

In the olden days the hard-wire people had gone through the same culture shock when software was introduced. Sure software allowed you to do different things, but really do you really know how a computer works? And how much time are you spending because a compiler is making mistakes. Later the punch card people would say similar things to those people using TTY's. Sure you can type faster, but you really have to code better on punch cards since it might be days before you can run a compile again. And all the radiation you are getting from the monitors... it will kill you. The TTY'ers were replaced by the various GUI's (*and the flame wars between GUIs*). But in general what happened was a small population of people who have been there, find themselves surrounded by a new population who do not speak the same language, don't seem to know things and whatever they are doing freaks out the old population.

The wars getter tougher and uglier as each of the supplanted populations get bigger with more and more "rules" put in place to try and keep the old generation in power and the new generation "assimilated" to what the old generation thinks is best. [Hey its just like Political Studies but with computers!] Each time it eventually fails and the new generation becomes the new paradigm.

And in each case the important thing is to remember that these are all tools. Use the tools that you know to the best of your ability, and always learn new tools because its the only way to have fun in life.

[Thanks John and sorry it took 20+ years to learn it.]
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