Monday, October 25, 2010

Consistancy, conSistanC, Kinda Similar...

News today is that Ubuntu is making their Unity shell - now only standard in their netbook remix - the standard for the desktop in next year's release.  Several other blogers, like always, are reporting the death of the Linux desktop.  As they have for the last dozen or so years.  Geeks like me continue to marvel at computer users that keep buying Windows and Mac products over free and much more capable open source.

The answer lies in two human behaviors that open source never seems to get.  The first is the herd mentality. Second is the simple principal of consistency.  

People want to belong to a group.  Look at Harley Davidson.  99% of Harley owners have never been more than 50 miles on their bike.  They don't change their own oil and probably don't carry a single tool other than the included kit (and probably don't even know where that is).  Basically they don't know and really don't care at all about the actual motorcycle and know even less about other brands. However, they will defend to the end that Harley makes the best bike in the world. 

Every one of them owns a HD leather jacket, chaps, boots, gloves, underwear, bandana, key fob, and stickers for their truck and trailer.  But not a helmet in sight.  Because that's what the herd does and they so want to belong.

The same is true of Mac owners.  Apple's hardware is a generation behind, all looks the same, runs the same software (which is probably about to get even worse with the announcement of the app store).  But Mac users will extol the virtues of  "Thinking Different".  Just like the rest of their herd.

Windows - well that's the suit and tie herd.  Why Windows?  Because it's what the "serious business" herd runs.  Do any of the decision makers have a clue about simple things like file formats or even know how to attach photos to an email?  No.  But they defend Windows as the best OS - because Microsoft is the biggest and most importantly, the richest of the computer companies so it's products have to be the best - right?

Reason number two.  Consistency.   This is a big one.  I think it's probably the biggest reason Linux has so little traction in the desktop OS market.  Every version of Windows works essentially like the last.  Install Windows 7 and you still have a start menu.  You still have media player, control panel, Wordpad and all the other crappy little apps you have come to expect.  The same with OS X.  You don't boot up a new version of OS X and find that all of your programs have moved to different menus - the dock is now on the side and that the iLife suite has been replaced with something totally different.

Ubuntu - which seems to be the distro with the most promise for gaining desktop market share - is supposed to be the Linux for everyone.  It's easy. Runs on everything and is quite frankly beautiful. Even in comparison to OS X.  But download the update from 10.04 to 10.10 and suddenly the program you have come to love for managing your photos is gone.  Replaced - not by an upgrade but by a totally different application.  WTF!  The program you used to edit those photos - gone! The music app you liked so much - gone! etc etc.  And you know that it will probably happen again with the next version. (I know the upgrade process doesn't delete the old app - but install it on say a new notebook and go looking Fspot to import your photos.)

Open source problem one.  Herds.  Windows has the Armani suit herd.  Mac has the Hipster/Creative/Beautiful Person herd. Linux has the nerd/freak/conspiracy theorist herd.  Maybe we should all start wearing leather jackets and get Tux tattoos...

Second problem - definitely no consistency.  Even in a single distro between point releases.

I'm not saying that there shouldn't be changes.  Improvement is good.  Improve the user interface - sure.  Update the photo manager program with new features - fine.  But if Apple changed from iTunes to Mplayer and from Keynote to Impress between versions 10.5 and 10.7...  Lets just say I don't think things would be going as well for Apple.  If Microsoft dropped Word for WordPerfect in it's suite and forced everyone to convert file formats.  Just imagine.

The first distro to get these two things is popular beyond belief.  In fact it looks like it's the ruling OS in it's market.  You know what it is?  Android.  Think about that Ubuntu.  Android improves from version to version but you still know where your apps live. You just get more screens!  Android continues to widen choice when it comes to software but I don't have to wonder if I'll be using a totally different application to get my email when Gingerbread arrives.  Plus there is a definite herd.  The "I'm smarter than an iPhone user" herd.  I want to belong to that! 

Consistency - Some things in an OS are sacred.  They differ depending on platform of course but for a desktop - in general, if you include default apps where people will spend a lot of time and trust their data to a specific format.  You have just set a standard.  You can't simply switch standards mid stream and expect people to be loyal followers - at least not more than once.

Develop a herd.  How about the "I bought a new big screen with the money I saved and I'm still smarter than a Windows user" herd.  I like being in that group.  But if you change the photo manager again...

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