’round and ’round Turns the Wheel of Crap

April 4th, 2004  |  Published in Uncategorized

Anyone else remember fvwm95? It was mean to provide Linux with a “just-like-Windows-95” look by creatively hacking fvwm2. I think I remember first encountering it in Red Hat 4.2 or 5.0, but memory fades. Its stated goal:

It can be interesting for users moving from the MS-World to Unix, or for those who have to switch regularly between the two. Or for those that simply would like to have the same MS look and feel in Unix…

It did some things very well: The widgets looked Windowsesque and it came with a teal background (just like Windows 95-98), and a cute little start button. Nothing else was the same, but damned if you couldn’t show someone a Linux desktop and proclaim “See? Just like Windows!” before swatting their hand away from the mouse so they couldn’t click something and ruin the illusion.

We mainly need to remember that it was a bad idea in the same way glopping on the “just-like-Aqua” eyecandy is a bad idea for improving the uptake of GNOME or KDE today: You just end up chasing down the rabbit hole of apeing the visual elements of the emulated interface, but not necessarily connecting the pretty trim to the plumbing, or even the bits one level beneath the desktop and program menus. I remember people calling the sense of disorientation users experience when encountering the almost-but-not-quite faked UI “Martian User Interface syndrome.” There’s a good chance that rather than feeling comforted by the familiar look and almost-feel of the emulated interface, they’ll just feel put off and vaguely uneasy, wondering when the limits of the simulated GUI will rise up and bite them on the ass. In fact, the MUI effect would seem to offer lots of opportunities for people to shove the mouse aside and think their new Linux desktop is a chintzy rip-off.

Apple doesn’t get switchers by deciding the average PC user is a clueless git who bolts at the first sign of a difference, either. If that had been an assumption, we wouldn’t be enduring the endless moaning of long-time OS 9 fans who are feeling distinctly betrayed by OS X, because the company would have taken the safe way out and merely bolted the old reliable OS 9 desktop on Unix guts and called it a day.

Anyhow, all this is going toward pointing out that I’ve officially been around long enough to see a bad idea come, go, and come again.* Even more amusing this time is that, even though we’ve had eight years since fvwm95 crawled into a dark hole and died a quiet death to learn things like “incompatibility between toolkit clipboards is really problematic to newbies,” the crew behind XPde is defiantly pointing out it offers “no clipboard compatibility between Gtk and Qt applications, no emulation of Windows applications, no unification on the widgets of X applications, just a desktop environment and a window manager.”

Allow me to issue the preemptive bleat:

“Choice gooooooood!”

Bonus GUI complaining linkage:

John Gruber chases ESR around with a lead pipe for the same sort of condescending idiocy that leads people to reinvent Microsoft’s last interface poorly. Also, Ed allows as how ESR probably has it coming and points to another open source trainwreck of usability: Jabber (with which I’ve previously been loudly and publicly unhappy).

*On further reflection, it appears I’ve lived to see at least one other bad idea come, go, and come again.

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