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Linux's Difficulty with Names 946

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the more-important-than-you-think dept.
JohnTyler writes "This article at XYZ Computing takes a look at Linux's strange naming practices. When compared to their Window's equivalents, the names of many Linux programs are difficult to recognize and even tougher to remember. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it is actually an important usability issue. Just think, if you had to do a bit of graphic design which would be easier to pick out of the menu, GIMP or Photoshop? Or if you wanted to play a song, Media Player or xine?" The article is a bit thin, but it raises an excellent point.
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Linux's Difficulty with Names

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  • by mmell (832646) <mmell@hotmail.com> on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:25PM (#14346148)
    names are based on the assumption that nobody can touch-type.

    ls, rm, df, du, etc . . . did any of the engineers at Bell Labs type 10-fingered?

    • Most commandline programs are like that in both *Nix and DOS/Windows. I believe we're dealing with desktop applications here.
    • by RevDobbs (313888) * on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:33PM (#14346227) Homepage

      Names don't matter, it is all about training and then familiarity.

      What's more intuitive, "Matt", or "Coffee Boy"?

      Oh, and what does Exel and Outlook do? Does Outlook Express do it any faster?

      As a technical discussion, names as handles to objects or ideas don't matter (excluding downright misleading names, like a boy named Sue): it gets down to user training. To write that "Whatever the reason, desktop Linux's usability is hindered by its naming practices" is just silly: in a work enviornment, users will use what they are trained on. At home, Grandma is going to use whatever will let her get her polaroids out of her new camera.

      And Windows isn't particularly easy to use; rather, everybody has had some exposure to it.

      As for your examples... once you know what they stand for ("list","remove","disk free", etc.), those commands are a hell of a lot quicker to type (and less prone to error) than spelling the words out.

      • by networkBoy (774728) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:47PM (#14346371) Homepage Journal
        "Oh, and what does Exel and Outlook do? Does Outlook Express do it any faster?"

        Load VB exploits, load HTML exploits, and I think the correct answer for the last one is "yes".
        -nB
      • by westlake (615356) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:20PM (#14346664)
        Names don't matter

        Names do matter when you insist on stuffing 14,000 poorly documented apps into your favorite Linux distro, half beginning with "G" and the other with "K."

        • by blazerw11 (68928) <blazerw.bigfoot@com> on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:49PM (#14346927) Homepage
          Let's do the comparison one more time using the names in my Ubuntu Breezy menus vs. the EXE names on Windows. Fair is fair, right?

          Web Browser
          Windows: iexpore, Opera, Mozilla, Firefox
          Linux: Opera Web Browser, Mozilla Web Browser, Firefox Web Browser

          Graphics Editing
          Windows: photoshop (a place to buy photos?), illustrator
          Linux: GIMP Image Editor

          Movie Playback
          Windows: wmp
          Linux: Totem Movie Player, MPlayer, Xine, VLC Media Player

          DVD Playback:
          Windows: WinDVD (what titles can I win?), wmp
          Linux: Totem Movie Player, Xine, VLC Media Player

          Simple Text Editing
          Windows: Notepad, Wordpad, TextPad
          Linux: Text Editor

          Instant Messaging
          Windows: AIM
          Linux: Gaim Internet Messenger

          Music Playback:
          Windows: wmp, Itunes (you tunes we all tunes to Itunes), WinAmp (I don't want Windows louder)
          Linux: Beep Media Player, Rhythmbox Music Player

          CD Ripping:
          Windows: Itunes, wmp
          Linux: Sound Juicer CD Ripper

          CD Burning
          Windows: Roxio, Nero
          Linux: Gnome Toaster, Serpentine Audio CD Creator, Nero


          It's pretty clear that Windows needs some consistency work before it will reach the level of polish and ease of use found in today's modern Linux distros. Anybody can write a story that manipulates the details in their favor.

        • by pla (258480) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @04:21PM (#14347193) Journal
          Names do matter when you insist on stuffing 14,000 poorly documented apps into your favorite Linux distro, half beginning with "G" and the other with "K."

          I know you meant that number facetiously, but a quick search of my main XP box at work shows 1472 ".exe" files and another roughly 2000 somewhat-executable files (assorted scripts, dlls, and other extensions generally considered unsafe to allow your email program to open). Of those, oddly enough, over half begin with "w" or "m"

          Now, I consider myself fairly knowledgeable when it comes to the actual files on a Windows system, but I could only tell you what perhaps a tenth of those do (without some research, of course). And even looking them up online, past experience doing exactly that has shown that for probably a third of those, no one outside Microsoft has the faintest idea what they do or how to use them.


          Like it or not, computers take a bit of education to use. A good GUI can make that far, far easier (and a bad GUI can make it considerably harder), but at some point, you need to accept that users just need to "suck it up" and crack a book (or load a webpage).
          • another interesting thing is that while the link to windows media player have just that text on it, the name of the exe itself is wmplayer.exe.

            you could maybe guess that its windows media player, or you could just be scratching your head. about the only informative word is player. ok, so it plays something, but what? music, video, games?

            and the names may not be informative pr see under linux, but often the menus are often sorted. so if you want to play a video, look under multimedia->video and try one of
      • I disagree.

        1) Many scholars in linguistics feel that naming something is asserting power over it. That may be extreme. But think about the importance of names, such as pejorative titles like the N-word that are no longer considered appropriate.

        2) RMS also disagrees. It's why he makes such a big deal out of GNU/Linux. Why can't people just call it Linux, as long as we properly train them? I disagree with RMS's insistence. I merely point it out to use RMS as an example of someone who does care about names.

        3)
      • by mumblestheclown (569987) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @08:38PM (#14348991)
        SHAME SHAME and TRIPLE SHAME to whoever modded this ABSOLUTE NONSENSE as "Insightful".

        Statements such as these:

        Names don't matter, it is all about training and then familiarity

        it gets down to user training

        are not just "not insightful", they are so 180 degrees, 100% wrong the fact that they would even be modded as anything close to "insightful" brings more disrepute than usual to slashdot.

        Ok, now that I've raised the alarm, let me justify it.

        First of all, USABILITY MATTERS. This is no longer 1986, or 1994 for that matter. We know now that the usability of a system is a key to its successful deployment.

        Second, the opposite of usability is "that which needs training or re-learning when it shouldn't."

        A pilot needs training to fly a 747. However, Boeing works damned hard and invests millions of dollars to make the systems as intuitive and usable as possible nevertheless, as this will lead to:

        • fewer accidents
        • fewer training and re-training costs for the airlines, their customers
        • better day to day operation
        Nobody at boeing says "the pilots are professionals. let's name the #3 engine Hi pressure bleed air valve malfunction switch "Xooomer". for that matter, let's give their FMS a CLI, since a well trained pilot can be faster with this than with a modal, menu-based FMS."

        These basic, BASIC principles of design are well known in virtually all fields of engineering. And, I (following in the footsteps of tongue-in-cheek works like the unix haters handbook) have been banging this drum in the linux world since at least 1995. And yet, just as it seems that a little light is shining through, in the form of a slashdot headline that actually says (gasp) intelligent things about usability, we open up the comments to find the same old nonsense from users that "it's not a usability problem, it's a training issue" being modded +5 insightful, which basically tells me that a lot of people still aren't getting it.

        Pity.

        Mark parent down. Severely down. Please.

        • by JonKatzIsAnIdiot (303978) <.a4261_2000. .at. .yahoo.com.> on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @09:27PM (#14349278)
          First of all, USABILITY MATTERS. This is no longer 1986, or 1994 for that matter. We know now that the usability of a system is a key to its successful deployment.

          AMEN. I would go a step further and say that most technological revolutions are effectuated more so by usability breakthroughs than pure technology. The rise of the Internet was precipitated by the web browser. The widespread availibility of a graphical interface drove the adoption of personal computers. MP3's weren't even on the RIAA's radar before Napster made finding and downloading them easy.

          Usability and accessibility are FAR more important that most geeks realize, probably because most of them want to use their knowledge of technology as a social lever, rather than as a boon to others.
    • I don't know about that. I have been a touch-typist since I was 12 but I still alias the names of commonly used programs to a couple of letters. Even if you're a touch typist, it is faster to type two letters than more than two letters.

    • by WindBourne (631190) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:39PM (#14346294) Journal
      Back in the 80's, we were on teletypes (tty) with greenbar and the fast modems where using 75-150 baud modems. While I coded in the 70,s it was on punchcards, but I do know that other system were using less than 75 baud modems. Basically, each letter came at a high cost both in paper and in bandwidth. So, the commands were kept small and simple.

      Look, if it really bugs you, then create your own commands, perhaps with alias or symlinks. But to think that commands were done due to lack of typing is silly.
    • Those were named back when you were using a 300 baud connection to a paper TTY.

      You *WANTED* to save typing.
    • by DigitalReverend (901909) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:46PM (#14346349)
      omg, and here I thought all slashdotters were geeks to some extent.

      The *nix operating system was developed when the input/output device was a teletype. ( http://www.virtualaltair.com/virtualaltair.com/vac _88-tty.asp [virtualaltair.com])

      There was no backspace key, and you didn't see what command you typed in until AFTER you hit the enter key. So to keep things easy, you end up with 2 to 4 letter commands. ls, ed, df, dd, etc...

    • by Black Parrot (19622) * on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:47PM (#14346372)
      > names are based on the assumption that nobody can touch-type. ls, rm, df, du, etc . . . did any of the engineers at Bell Labs type 10-fingered?

      FWIW, back in the heyday of the VMS CLI, the policy (for DEC) and recommendation (for vendors) was to make every command a verb. The result is that most of the commands were reasonably self-descriptive, and you could usually find what you wanted in help without too much trouble.

      The CLI also let you abbreviate to the first four characters (or to the minimal length needed for unambiguity, whichever was longer). The effect was similar to tab completion, except you didn't actually have to complete it.

      And of course, they supported aliases, so if you hated to type you could set up your own 1-character name for your most frequently used commands.
      • The PDP's implementation of CCL (concise command language) let you abbreviate to the shortest non-ambigous string. Later DEC renamed CCL to DCL (DEC command language) and VAX/VMS shipped with DCL (although without all the fancy F$lexicals at first). Somewhere around VMS 4, I think, the TPARSE routines were rewritten and abbreviation was limited to a minimum of four characters, which caused my highly trained fingers to betray me repeatedly.

        Having trained end-users in both, I can say that VMS was much easie
    • by onemorechip (816444) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:04PM (#14346528)
      Somebody else pointed out that these short names arose from the use of teletypes, but did you also consider that when you type a command dozens, if not hundreds, of times in a session, "rm" is much easier than "remove" or "delete"?

      I, for one, appreciate the shorthand, and I do touch-type.

    • As usual Neal Stephenson said it best.

      "Note the obsessive use of abbreviations and avoidance of capital letters; this is a system invented by people to whom repetitive stress disorder is what black lung is to miners. Long names get worn down to three-letter nubbins, like stones smoothed by a river."

      He was talking about directory names but the same concept holds true for commands and for those of us who still seriously punch deck all day every day and well into the night this is *still* a concern and that's
  • Hehe... (Score:5, Funny)

    by setirw (854029) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:25PM (#14346149) Homepage
    But then again, you click the "Start Button" to shut down in Windows :)
  • by numLocked (801188) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:26PM (#14346159) Homepage Journal
    This is really more of a software designer's issue than a strictly Linux one. As we speak, I am looking for my copy of Daemon Tools on my computer, but I can't find it because it's named in the start menu by the software's manufacturer, not the name of the program. This is the case for many windows apps and I view it as a similar problem.
  • by JymBrittain (880082) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:27PM (#14346162)
    I suppose Outlook Express is the ideal name for an email client...as is Outlook. Acrobat is the perfect .pdf viewer or creator. Excel instantly draws to mind spreadsheets [now, but 20 years ago?]. I could go on, but why bother. The article is just more crap slinging between two apes vying for dominance.
    • by fishybell (516991) <(fishybell) (at) (hotmail.com)> on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:34PM (#14346233) Homepage Journal
      It's not so much that they have names that aren't self documenting, it's that they have easily remembered names. The list they have shows Nero and WinAmp as popular windows.

      I don't think the problem is with odd names (although sometimes they can be a bit obtuse), I think it's really just market share. If thunderbird was preinstalled on 100% of windows machines (like outlook express does), people would quickly learn to equate thunderbird to e-mail the same way they do with outlook. The same thing applies to gimp, xine, konquerer, etc.

    • by pomo monster (873962) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:01PM (#14346499)
      C'mon, try exercising your right brain for a change. Say "Excel" out loud and you'll find it contains the word "cell," as in spreadsheet cell. "Outlook" helps you make plans and schedule things, besides giving you an overview of your little empire, and letting you look over your communications with the outside world. Can't explain Acrobat, but I'm gonna go ahead and guess you probably think "Safari" is a terrible name for a browser, because you don't make the connection with surfin' and exploring. Maybe this is why open-source programs appeal to the stereotypical geek, linguistically/artistically/critically challenged. Too left-brained.
    • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:03PM (#14346523)
      But your attitude is EXACTLY what is holding Linux apps back from popular adoption.

      I suppose Outlook Express is the ideal name for an email client...as is Outlook. Acrobat is the perfect .pdf viewer or creator. Excel instantly draws to mind spreadsheets [now, but 20 years ago?]. I could go on, but why bother.

      The name of an app is not meant to be Literal!! It's meant to make you want to own it! If you had a choice between two toilets, the Open GNUFeces gtkSepticPort, or a CrapThrasher 3000, is there any question which you would select? Calling a graphics program The GIMP (yeah, I know it's meant to be a snarky acronym; newsflash: after the age of 16, nobody cares.) is like naming your son Susan. In fact, I've introduced the GIMP to new users (all of whom look like they'd rather be anyplace in the world than in that room at the time) with a, "Hey, look, with a name like The GIMP, it's got to be good, right? Right??"

      For serious 'flagship' Linux applications, allowing the "coding community" to name them is right in line with allowing the "marketing community" to write them. It screams "Hobbyist," which is fine, if that's all you want it to be. In the early '90's, when nobody knew any better, it was not unusual for an organization's HTML jockey to also be responsible for creating the site's look and writing its content. Then, the medium matured, rapidly. When I see the names for a lot of these (very, very fine and well-coded) linux apps, I get the urge to crank Nine Inch Nails, order a double-mocha-latte, and re-read SnowCrash...

      • Calling a graphics program The GIMP (yeah, I know it's meant to be a snarky acronym; newsflash: after the age of 16, nobody cares.) is like naming your son Susan.

        I worked for a company that needed a full-feature RADIUS server with all the bells and whistles. So I recommended Funk Software's Steel-Belted RADIUS. The CIO said that the company would never buy anything from a company named "Funk" and that I'd have to find another server. So yes, naming does affect sales, and "cool" names do annoy the ancie
    • by JahToasted (517101) <toastafari.yahoo@com> on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:44PM (#14346879) Homepage
      This is exactly the problem with open source software: No one is able to take constructive criticism. Someone mentions a problem immediately 20 people jump on him pointing to how things are really so much worse somewhere else. I guess screwing up is ok as long as Microsoft screws up in the same way, right?

      Forget Microsoft for a second. Application names of most Open Source software sucks. Yeah that recursive acronym may be very clever, but its useless to anyone who's just searching for the app they want. Wanna know why people call it Linux and not GNU/Linux? Guh-Noo-Linux is hard to say for the 99.9% of the world that doesn't speak Klingon.

      Yeah Outlook Express isn't a great name for an email client. Acrobat doesn't tell you its a PDF reader. But you know what? Microsoft and Adobe have this thing called a marketing department. Spend enough on marketing (and having a monopoly doesn't hurt) people will associate Outlook with email, and Acrobat with PDFs. In fact most people don't know what a PDF is but they know what Acrobat is.

      So to recap: Microsoft: 1) get a monopoly and 2) spend a lot on marketing 3) name your products whatever the hell you want. Open Source: 1) name your product something stupid and 2) sit around complaining about how stupid people are for not using your superior product.

      And even if you have a monopoly and the world best marketing department, some names are just never going to sell. ie. GIMP: At best the name is confusing, at worst its offensive. GNU: hard to pronounce and even if you know what the letters stand for its confusing on multiple levels.

      On the other hand, Firefox: Has nothing to do with web browsing but they have put some effort into marketing it so they should be able to make it work.

      The name of your product is a big part of marketing your product. start out with a stupid name, you're going to be fighting an uphill battle in promoting your product. Of course, promoting the GIMP is like climbing Everest with no equipment. I've seen people who were literally afraid to click on an icon labelled "GIMP". Have you ever seen Microsoft come up with a application name that got that reaction?

  • by suso (153703) * on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:27PM (#14346166) Homepage Journal
    That's why you need a Linux command quick reference sheet:

    http://www.suso.org/infosheets/ [suso.org]
  • by Enigma_Man (756516) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:28PM (#14346176) Homepage
    Most of the command-line stuff is just shortened abbreviations of things. You can also always just make a "shortcut" that's named whatever you want if you need arbitrary names for things. It doesn't really raise a good point at all, things have names made by the people who made them.

    -Jesse
  • Linux Naming (Score:3, Insightful)

    by codered82 (892990) <shaun@skfox.com> on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:29PM (#14346179) Homepage
    I realize there is tons of software out there for Windows, but *nix systems seem to have so much more that they have to resort to unique naming schemes to differentiate their products. You can only make so many iterations of the words "Media", "Writer", "Player", "Office", etc. Can it make things difficult for consumers? Sure, but I think it's a necessary evil.
  • What a moron. (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Black Parrot (19622) * on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:29PM (#14346184)
    "Photoshop" sounds like an application for buying photographs. The writer only knows it's a graphics editor because he has read or heard it somewhere. Contrary to a myth promoted by Microsoft and others, you simply can't use a computer without having to learn anything.

    Also, FWIW, and unlike any version of Windows I've ever seen, the GNOME "start" menu breaks things down by category, so you can look in the "Graphics" or "Sound and Video" submenus if you have a general idea about what you're looking for. The last Windows I sat down in front of offered me an almost flat menu of two complete columns on a high-resolution screen, and since I rarely use Windows I didn't know what more than a handful of the applications were.

    Worse, in those rare instances where things were put into sub-menus, you had to look under the vendor's name to find the product. So you not only had to know that "Photoshop" means "graphics editor", you also had to know that it's published by someone named "Adobe".

    Idiot-level apologetics.
    • Re:What a moron. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by jellomizer (103300) * on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:47PM (#14346363)
      Well PhotoShop is a derivation (to prevent lawsuits) of PrintShop. A Print Shop is/was a place where people went to get profesional printing done. Photoshop/PrintShop Programs were made to replace much of the needs of going to the Print Shop. But even with a name like PhotoShop you have Photo in it knowing that it has something to do with photos, it may not be clear that you can do thinge beyond modifity photos but it is better then GIMP.

      Even with GNUs Catagories. You know it has to deal with Graphics. But on most distributions there are about 10 or so to choose from. Is it a graphic converter?, A PowerPoint like application?, A 3d Ray Tracing Program?, who knows. Most common people don't want or like trying different applications until they find the one that does the job.

      Stop defending these bad names for these application, Change is good deal with it.
    • Re:What a moron. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by deft (253558)
      Let me finish this sentence for you:
      "The writer only knows it's a graphics editor because he has read or heard it somewhere." - AND THEN EASILY ASSOCIATED IT WITH PHOTO EDITING because the name works.

      You comepletely fail to acknowledge that Photoshop is infinitely easier to brand as a PHOTO related product than GIMP, a funny and quirky, but horrible name to brand. I'd love to have to rebrand the leather midget image... ugh. Fun for a project working name, death for marketing.

      Now, you mentioned cool features
    • by hellfire (86129) <deviladv.gmail@com> on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:00PM (#14346486) Homepage
      You've completely missed the point.

      If you're a 4th century roman citizen, you are going to have a tough time with a tank. A modern American might have a tough time too, but they are more likely to have been exposed to cars and computers and whatnot and have a greater chance to pick it up quicker than the roman citizen. Both of them will still have to be trained.

      That's your point, but that's NOT the point of the article!

      Take that same roman citizen, and train them in the use of a BMW. Now ask them which one they will remember more easily after they are forced to walk around without either for 2 months. Chances are they'll remember more about driving a BMW.

      The point is not so much useability as it is reusability. I consider myself a pretty intelligent computer user, but I have to constantly go back to manuals and look things up to remember commands and programs. GIMP doesn't immediately invoke any devices in my memory to recall that application on demand at a later date. Photoshop instantly makes me think of images. 5 seconds later I find out it's for photo editing. I can stick that in my long term memory and remember it for later much more easily. This is how the average user thinks.

      Linux geeks are going to be spending 99% of their time memorizing programs and commands that they use every day and they have to realize not everyone is going to see the world the same way they do. Shortening the word copy to cp helps the advanced linux user save typing but for less advanced users it's easier to remember the word COPY because it makes sense to a wider range of people.
  • by filesiteguy (695431) <kai@perfectreign.com> on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:29PM (#14346188) Homepage

    touch...
    mv...
    finger..
    touch..
    mount...
    mv...
    finger...
    unmount...
    sleep...

    Seriously, I agree. I think that is why I like giving SUSE to my friends/family. Telling my elder family to click on "Image Editor" is much easier than telling them to click on "GIMP."

    • by sulli (195030) * on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:55PM (#14346435) Journal
      Killustrator? Is that the application that deletes your picture files?

      The KDE guys need to Kut the Krap with the names already.

    • I'd have to agree with the court on this one. Are you suggesting that geeks lack the imagination to think of any words other than "illustrator"? C'mon, there are plenty of words and ideas to associate with vector image editing. "Freehand," for starters.

      You have to get away from the idea that there's one "best" name for any concept. Even if they were, the featureset and audience of Adobe Illustrator (the product) isn't the same as those of Killustrator; thus, the concepts differ, and so should the name. Nuan
  • by Pantero Blanco (792776) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:31PM (#14346198)
    Most of these applications are listed as in the K-menu in the box I'm using are listed by function first. For example: Web Browser (Firefox) and Advanced Text Editor (Kate). That eliminates pretty much all the confusion there, doesn't it?
  • by redelm (54142) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:31PM (#14346204) Homepage
    There are two issues here: recognizing something known versus determining what something unkonwn is.

    To someone who knows nothing, PhtoShop sounds like a place to buy/print photos. And Windows Medial Player sounds like a game of newpaper/TV congomerates :)

    To the Unix cogniscenti, cp, du are nothing more than CoPy, Disk Usage, etc. It is a question of something learned.

  • by gowen (141411) <gwowen@gmail.com> on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:32PM (#14346217) Homepage Journal
    acroread.exe and winword.exe are meaningless names, too; and yet thats what the Windows executable are called. The name of the file is an irrelevance. If the GIMP appears as 'gimp' instead of 'Image Editor' in the Desktop menus and icons, that's really is stupid, but it's fine to call the executable that.

    up2date is a silly name, but as long as it appears in the menu as 'Add/Remove Programs', that's hardly relevant, is it?
  • by LiquidCoooled (634315) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:33PM (#14346226) Homepage Journal
    "This article at XYZ Computing takes a look at Slashdot's strange naming practices. When compared to their Web 2.0's equivalents, the names of many Slashdot URLs are difficult to recognize and even tougher to say. This may seem like splitting hairs, but it is actually an important usability issue. Just think, if you had to do a bit of news which would be easier to tell your friend on the phone, digg.com slash technology or linux dot slash dot dot org slash, no not linux dot slash dot dot org, i said linux fullstop ess ell aye ess haych dee oh tee fullstop oh arr gee?
    The article is a bit thin, but it raises an excellent point.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:34PM (#14346239)
    When introducing new users to the linux systems at work I always end up explaining that the programs are named by clueless geeks who *think* they are funny (gnu, less, etc.). Please just ignore the stupid names and enjoy the power of the tools.
  • Yeah right (Score:5, Funny)

    by Yahweh Doesn't Exist (906833) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:36PM (#14346264)
    go ahead, take naming advice from "XYZ Computing", ffs.
  • contrarian (Score:5, Insightful)

    by burnin1965 (535071) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:38PM (#14346280) Homepage
    Although it could be debated as to which platform has confusing names, i.e. what is Excel, what is Visio, what is Access, what is Outlook, ad nauseam, I actualy have a contrarian view for you.

    Why give applications boring vanilla names like photoshop, media player, etc.?

    With the names that are given to many linux applications it could be argued that someone new to the platform would be lost, but I say they will be lost anyway and when they do learn about the applications that meet their needs the interesting names will leave an impression which will differentiate them from the applications on competing platforms that have common names.

    I would also argue that vanilla naming creates its own confusion. How many people think Internet Explorer IS the internet?

    I say we stick with the fun names.

    burnin
    • Re:contrarian (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Tyler Eaves (344284)
      Is it too much to ask that names have an OBVIOUS pronunciation, and frankly, don't look *weird*? I mean "Kopete", "Xine", "GkRellm"?
  • by Phreakiture (547094) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:38PM (#14346281) Homepage

    It's the result of patent/trademark problems.

    K-illustrator got renamed.

    X11Amp got renamed.

    There are others....

    BTW, WinAmp is not exactly an obvious thing, either.

  • by TheFlyingGoat (161967) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:39PM (#14346296) Homepage Journal
    The examples given are from different companies and design teams, so it's hard to generalize them. Overall, however, popular Windows software tends to be made by companies who put a lot of thought into the naming of their product, since it will help determine how popular that product is. Many linux programming teams either go too general or try getting clever with the name ("Which greek god relates to what this program is doing?").

    The problem with getting too clever is that without a strong advertising push or word-of-mouth push (Firefox), people really don't know what your program does. The problem with going too generic is that the program isn't memorable.

    There's a few programs that get it right by choosing a name that's both descriptive and clever (Photoshop, Winamp, OpenOffice, etc). Point is, either get a big ad budget or take some extra time choosing a name. Of course, if your target audience isn't the general public (read: ethereal), then it doesn't really matter since computer experts will recognize software based on how good it is.
  • by engineerErrant (759650) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:42PM (#14346316)
    You're right that many people will probably regard this as splitting hairs, and this in itself is a pretty big issue. Names (from "top-level" names like application titles down to the names of lowly index variables) are critically important in usability, as is documentation.

    Yet try as I might, with the notable exception of Python, I've never been able to pick up an open-source product of any complexity that I'm not familiar with, without buying an O'Reilly book or something of the like. Flame me if you will for "not trying hard enough," but it seems to me like having to try hard goes against the definition of usability in some ways. This makes for a pretty big hidden cost.

    Open-source projects are the products of engineers working on something they feel is personally important, and it's perhaps unsurprising that communication with the end user (at least on the level of completeness and polish that larger companies need to demonstrate) is not given much priority. But the end users are what will drive the victory or loss of Linux on the desktop, and I think they are already voting with their mice.

    And say what you want about Microsoft - but the level of effort they put into this front (from the easy-to-understand language in setup to the MSDN) is way ahead of what I've seen from the Linux world. I think they are the ones to be applauded in this case.
  • by Skiron (735617) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:43PM (#14346327) Homepage
    Now lets see all the Windows users look at processes running, and let them all go

    "Ah! alg.exe csrss.exe ctfmon.exe dllhost.exe explorer.exe internat.exe kernel32.dll lsass.exe mdm.exe msmsgs.exe mstask.exe regsvc.exe rundll32.exe services.exe smss.exe spoolsv.exe svchost.exe system winlogon.exe winmgmt.exe wisptis.exe wmiexe.exe wmiprvse.exe wscntfy.exe wuauclt.exe are running - I know EXACTLY what all that is doing."

    Linux processes/apps are named from convention and are all documented. The less said about the alternative (and comparing with) the better.
  • eh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by labratuk (204918) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:53PM (#14346414)
    The article is a bit thin, but it raises an excellent point.


    No it doesn't. Is it saying 'Linux' (?) should start giving things super-generic names? Well that's a great idea. Let's call things 'Media Player'. But who gets to decide which media player gets named the definitive 'Media Player'? And they may not realise that most obvious super generic names are already trademarked by someone.

    I don't see anything wrong with Gnu (General?) Image Manipulation Program. Rather effective description if you ask me.

    It's not like the windows world isn't full of stupid Win* names is it? Winamp? WTF? It's a pretty tenuous link that you're supposed to guess that 'Amp' means an MP3 player.
  • by Junior J. Junior III (192702) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:56PM (#14346444) Homepage
    Coming up with a good name is really damn hard, just ask the Firefox people. Common, easy to understand words such as "Word" or "Illustrator" are already taken, and you're asking for a lawsuit if you try to use them.

    You can try being clever, like the Lindows and KIllustrator people did, and you can still get sued. You can try to come up with nonsense names or geeky in-jokes, but then normal people are going to be like "WTF?" and your software will never penetrate the market.

    You can concatenate corporate-sounding prefixes, roots, and suffixes, and sound like a buzzword hype drone, er I mean Buzzhypdro(TM) Generator, which will get converted into an acronym, which will be trademarked by some obscure company in a completely different industry who will try to sue you even though they're in a completely different industry.

    And then when your acronym becomes accepted it'll get co-opted by commercial software projects that will treat yours like it's an extensible, embraceable standard, and then they'll sue you to relinquish your own name so they can use it in their marketing literature.

    Someone should start a "Voldemort" project for coming up with pseudo-random placeholder names for "projects that must not be named".
  • by mindmaster064 (690036) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:01PM (#14346497) Homepage
    Call it flamebait if you will, but for the average user Linux doesn't even exist. It doesn't matter if it is called Linux "Alterna-OS" or some other crap, they know what shipped on the computer and don't have the time or inclination to learn anything else. Sure, the geeks love it, but why would the average person like it? Does it do more than already-installed (windows/media player/office/etc) or does it just do the same thing? See, if all it does is the same thing then Linux has NO VALUE preposition whatsover to the average joe they will only switch when alternative software has more usefulness and is not merely a clone.

    I ask you, why should you care about vi when you have notepad (which does the same job with less confusing commands)? Making Xine or Helix useable requires setup and configuration of codecs, whereas it just works under windows!

    For Linux to gain ground it needs to add utility without adding futility. No one is going to accept that it more trouble to get the thing to work the same way, and they would barely consider it if the improvements are only marginal. As far as features, Windows is better to average joe. It reasonably works out of the box, and there is nothing to screw up in the configuration. When Linux works like that then it will compete with Windows, but if the software included with Linux surpassed it that would be the end for Redmond. There is no way a "normal" user is going to put up with the bullshit involved with setting a Linux box up, so these Linux people should shut up about their desktop until it works or even happens and stay on the servers.

    All that being said, I love Linux as far as the performance... It turns "dated" machines into useable machines, and for those that are running on a budget it may still have a place. For servers, I don't think there is a better choice you can make. But again, the Linux people need to stop thinking they have a desktop offering -- they have a toolbox of many tools but they do not have a leatherman. Desktops need to be useable by the computer challenged to qualify as an offering, and anything too complex is just missing the mark. Do you think the normal person would know much about partitions, screen mode depth and resolution, or even the goofy device names for mice or screens? These things make the whole proposition unrealistic.

    -Mind
    • To say that Windows "just works" for the average user is not consistent with the very large base of call-in help desks and even radio shows dedicated to answering questions regarding Windows problems. It might work INITIALLY for the 'average' user, but that is not to say it is more maintenance free.

      To me, long term maintainability is the selling point of Linux. I'll concede Linux is in general harder to set up, but only because the end-user is not typically setting up Windows; it is preinstalled (and
  • I Keep Saying It! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bblazer (757395) * on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:23PM (#14346696) Homepage Journal
    I have been harping on this for years. For some reason software devs love to encode the names of their apps in some archaic symbology. I still do not understand this. While Excel and Premier do not give you an automatic clue as to what they are, at least they "sound" user friendly. I there is an honest interest into getting linux into more homes, this has got to stop. Same with the terrible documentation that surrounds many of these same packages. We have got to stop writing this stuff with the geek brain in mind, but others as well. Asking a non-tech user what libconf is, is just like asking them what a dll is. It just happens that Windows shields the user as much as possible from this. And before you all go flame me, remember that geeks like us buy much less of this compared to average Joe home user.
  • by minkwe (222331) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:31PM (#14346752) Journal
    Corrected list
    Linux entries are read off directly from my GNOME menu
    ==============
    Web Browser
    Windows: IE
    Linux: Firefox Web Browser

    Graphics Editing
    Windows: Photoshop, Illustrator
    Linux: GNU Image Manipulation Program, Inkscape Vector Illustrator

    Movie Playback
    Windows: Windows Media Player
    Linux: Totem Movie Player

    DVD Playback:
    Windows: WinDVD, Windows Media Player
    Linux: DVD Player, Totem Movie Player

    Simple Text Editing
    Windows: Notepad, Wordpad, TextPad
    Linux: Text Editor

    Instant Messaging
    Windows: AOL Instant Messenger
    Linux: Instant Messenger

    Music Playback:
    Windows: Windows Media Player, Itunes, WinAmp
    Linux: Music Player

    CD Ripping:
    Windows: Itunes, Windows Media Player
    Linux: Soundjuicer CD Ripper

    CD Burning
    Windows: Roxio Easy CD Creator, Nero
    Linux: CD/DVD Creator
    • Re: New Linux user? (Score:3, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      The names listed in your Gnome menu are not the names of the applications. A while back the Gnome devs recognized that Linux applications have stupid unintuitive names so they decided to give the core programs used in Gnome easy to identify aliases. It's not called "Firefox Web Browser", it's called Firefox [mozilla.com]. "Totem Movie Player" is an alias for Totem [icewalkers.com]. "Text Editor" is an alias for gedit [gnome.org]. There is no Linux app called "Instant Messenger", it's Gaim or Gabber. Go down your list of Linux names and what you
  • by po8 (187055) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:33PM (#14346783)

    It has a lot to do with the fact that open source geeks can't afford trademark lawyers. A name like "gwksprt" may be horrible, but at least you're unlikely to be sued over it.

  • by nawcom (941663) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:35PM (#14346795) Homepage
    IMO I believe that your basic inexperienced user will focus more on how the menu is organized and icon placement rather than the name.

    GNOME organizes programs by subject, and can be customized to a more organized set. Windows simply lists the programs (sometimes in order of when it was installed, not by alphabet). At times you just can't find it because it's rarely used - you have to do a little more work to find it. Other than the increased memory usage and wasted "graphic effects" on the xp start menu I do have to applaud about the browser and mail location, along with the list of most commonly used programs.

    I'm not going to go into the names issue. If an computer illiterate user had a choice between "Outlook" and "Thunderbird" or "Excel" and "Calc" which would they choose? I'm sure it would be different for different people, but you get what i'm saying.

    (and wtf is with the name eXPerience? i'd find "Windows Excel" an OS that goes beyond bounaries - by definition - more appealing.)

    Since i've given enough examples - i shall shut up.
  • Marketing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Himring (646324) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @04:54PM (#14347500) Homepage Journal
    It's the marketing people -- something MS has always done well and OSS has hardly done at all. It's the same problem with Domino, or should we call it "Lotus Notes." In the mule-choking Domino book I bought they even admit that nomenclature is a problem.

    Our corporation was doing pre-project testing to upgrade/migrate our email system. We were looking at Domino, Exchange and OSS. I setup all three and presented. I wanted Squirrel Mail. I made the huge mistake of leaving the default webpage intact which plainly displayed both the name and the picture of the cute little squirrel. Upper management nearly fell out of their chairs. Forget the PHP stuff I showed off, the LDAPing into our existing Active Directory, the money-saving, the history, the name it. That name and picture killed it.

    Say what you will, but Bullet Tooth Tony always rings true ("Never underestimate the predictability of stupidity"), and the people in power are more likely than not to be stupid about technology. We ended up purchasing and migrating to Exchange. Why? Because MS had marketed it well in all those colorful "CIO" magazines, the name stuck, it had nice bright colors just like my kid's crayons and it all flowed well and had for years -- I'm talking about marketing.

    To the contrary, the more research I did into OSS solutions for email the more frustrated I personally became. "Sendmail is ok, but Jim's Mail is much better and here's why," and then "Jim's Mail was good, but Ted's mail improves on things this way." On and on and on -- it seems OSS is too polluted with each and every dude trying to rebuild the wheel forgetting the fact that the people with the really nice cars and corner offices only know of "Cartman" from that whacky cartoon and I would only use "Bitchx" in a big meeting if I plan on turning in my resignation (do I have to explain women COs and PCness?).

    Much of the OSS community simply has too much of -- as Lucas put it trying to produce 1977 Star Wars -- "a hippy mentality." They come at the man with an attitude and dare anyone to get all up their face over silly and whacky names and over the fact that they've re-invented the wheel over and over and over.

    At the end of the day, COs don't mind tossing change (and it is change by comparison) at a "name brand" product like Exchange. Forget the fact that MS itself thumbed its nose at age-old SMTP commands barfing out Cisco PIX. Forget the fact that they stole and copied things Sendmail does without giving credit. Forget all of that. They know how to talk to the big man with the hot secretary and they know how to market. Until OSS gets this point and stops imagining that these guys -- who spend as much money on a suit as you do your annual PC budget -- read /. then nothing much will change.

    The irony is, is that I actually had to use OSS and Sendmail to do the complicated routing to migrate 1000s of users over to Exchange. Once all was done, I euthanized the Linux box and sent it to that great /. in the sky....

  • by rearden (304396) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @05:46PM (#14347858) Homepage
    I think that something that this article seriously misses is that FOSS groups usually do not have the money/ resources to check for existing name trademarks (especially in multiple countries) and they also lack the money/ resources to purchase used names. There are plenty of marketing/ product companies that hold on to names until a buyer comes along. Companies like Microsoft, Adobe, etc have the people and resources to check for existing trademarks, copyrights, etc or buy exixting ones off of other companies. Just look at the troubles FireFox had and that was with the backing of a major FOSS player like Mozilla. Add on top of that the cost of purchasing the domain name for a popular/ more intuitive product name and it becomes obvious why so many FOSS groups choose unusual names. These people are programmers and technophiles, not lawyers and marketroids and most projects have no budget at all.

    JM2C

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