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Debian Desktop Subproject Launched 387

MrOutlander writes "The Debian Project is now officially addressing its usability on the desktop with the launch of the Debian Desktop subproject. Great to see usability being recognized as a very important part of debian. Other than the sometimes daunting install process, Debian is one of the best linux distributions."
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Debian Desktop Subproject Launched

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  • Daunting? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by ksw2 ( 520093 ) <> on Thursday October 24, 2002 @09:40AM (#4521499) Homepage
    Debian's installer isn't any more difficult than any other distribution, IMHO. Why do people freeze up as soon as they see a text-based installer?
  • by Sam the Nemesis ( 604531 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @09:41AM (#4521505)
    From the site:

    We will try to ensure that software is configured for the most common desktop use. For instance, the regular user account added by default during installation should have permission to play audio and video, print, and manage the system through sudo.

    I think giving the root privileges to the user using sudo is a security risk. It will be very easy to wreak a havoc on the system, once you break into the user account.

  • by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @09:45AM (#4521535)
    It's fantastic that there is so much happening in the Linux desktop area at the moment. But a plea to you guys -- can we have some co-ordination and co-operation please? Everyone seems to be doing their own thing in many areas. Remember, your competitioin is Microsoft, they have 95% of the desktop market (or there abouts). You should be teaming together to fight them, not amongst each other.

    The OSS community can make a desktop that is better than XP. In fact, all of the bits of the puzzle are already there, it's just that they are in different distributions! (Xandros, SUSE, RedHat, Lindows, Debian...)

    When Linux has a reasonable foothold in the desktop market, then go ahead, fight away. But until that day, please share and co-operate. For motivation, imagine Bill Gates giggling to himself and muttering "what a bunch of losers". Works for me.
  • by Selanit ( 192811 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @09:47AM (#4521555)
    a processor architecture update would be good too. Currently, all Debian packages are compiled for use on a 386. I can't think of ANYONE who still uses a 386 for ANYTHING. So why do we need to continue supporting it?

    At the least, I'd like to see the Debian compiles updated to i586. (That's the equivalent of a Pentium 1, in non-geek speak.) There are still quite a few of those in use.

    Updating the targetted processor architecture would give a significant performance boost to Debian. I mean seriously, nobody is going to run KDE or Gnome on a 386 -- it'd take DAYS just to start a program.

    It might also be possible to support multiple processor architectures; eg during installation you get a list of i386, i486, i586, and i686 (386, 486, Pentium 1, More Recent Stuff). Then apt would fetch the appropriate package flavor. Of course, this would require non-trivial amounts of storage space, not to mention all the time needed to re-compile everything.
  • by toupsie ( 88295 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @09:48AM (#4521570) Homepage
    Please don't make it look like Aqua.

    Don't worry about that. If Debian dares to mimic Aqua as a theme for their Deskstop, Apple will sue them over look and feel. Jobs is good at that. However, the HIG provided free of charge online will be a good guide for Debian to enhance the usability of their KDE and GNOME desktops for the novice users.

  • by The J Kid ( 266953 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @09:48AM (#4521571) Homepage Journal
    Don't reinvent the wheel, perfect it.

    Yes. Yes. Yes. this line and chant it.

    And in the process, they could also team up with the 'Debian Graphical Installer' group (see this [] /. article) to provide a full & finished desktop experience.
  • Wrong focus? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by m0i ( 192134 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @09:48AM (#4521573) Homepage
    Shouldn't Debian focus on trying to stay up to date on core components instead? We all know that some critical packages are way out of date:
    -XFree, 4.2 just appeared in unstable
    -KDE 3
    -Mozilla 1.1
    And it's even worse for people using woody without 'proposed-updates' package repository!

    The 'testing' distribution is a step in the right direction, but there's a lot more to do that just to focus on Desktop, IMHO.
  • Re:Daunting? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by marko123 ( 131635 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @09:55AM (#4521628) Homepage
    Because people born after about 1980 freak out when they move a mouse and nothing happens.

  • by FooBarWidget ( 556006 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @09:56AM (#4521636)
    Because they all target a different audience. It is impossible to have 1 distro that fits all.

    Let's look at the following targets: server, corporate desktop, home desktop and embedded.
    Server: customizability and security is a Good Thing(tm). You don't need GUI tools, they only make the server less stable. You need to have server software installed.

    Corporate desktop: you need GUIs. You don't want server software, but office software. Security is important.
    This target conflicts with the server target.

    Home desktop: *customizability and security* are not important. The home user simply doesn't care and is lazy. He doesn't want to customize everything, and doesn't want to enter a password to install software.
    This conflicts with both server and corporate desktop.

    Embedded: you want to have as less stuff as possible because disk space and memory are limited. This conflicts with all of the above.

    You see? Totally different targets with totally different needs. And this is just an example, the real world is much, MUCH more complicated. Add a graphical installer and you'll piss off the old school power users or users with old hardware. Don't add a graphical installer and you'll piss of the home user. Add an option and you'll confuse the hell out of newbies. Etc. etc.
    You can't have one single distro that fits them all, the situations are too different.
  • by FooBarWidget ( 556006 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:02AM (#4521690)
    But Joe Average doesn't care about security! Do you have any idea how many Windows users don't have a virusscanner installed, even though they know viruses exist? As far as Joe Average is concerned, security doesn't exist.
  • by merz ( 550238 ) <.andy. .at.> on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:05AM (#4521721) Homepage
    Is Microsoft really the "enemy"? Do the distros need to against this common foe? I don't think so. The OSS movement wasn't started to fight Microsoft, it was started to provide freedom and choice .

    Yes, commericial distros have appeared, and their competition is Microsoft (and Sun, and the BSDs, and Apple), but that doesn't mean that the non-comercial distros (a la Debian) need to join in the fight also. They don't have a competition per se because they have no real financial stake in the product. Debian is developed by volunteers and hobbyist who enjoy the work they do. If they didn't get satisfaction from it, they wouldn't be doing it. Do most Debian developers think they are competing with Microsoft? Probably not...

    Plus, cooperation between Linux distros is somewhat implicit. Since they are required to provide the source under the GPL, they are already sharing with the community.

    I think that the number of distributions is a good thing for the non-comercial distros. As for the commericial distros, well they are already decided to join forces. []
  • Re:Daunting? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Demona ( 7994 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:06AM (#4521725) Homepage
    My first thought is usually, "Maybe they don't know how to read." After all, illiteracy is a growing problem...
  • by tetra103 ( 611412 ) <> on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:11AM (#4521778)
    I totally agree, but only to a point. I think there should be a standard on what a Linux core system is. And that "core" system should be part of every Linux distro. So what's the "core", I'd make it as simple as possible. It should be a simple filesystem structure, standard set of drivers, and the very minimal set of system commands (something less then 20 commands and perferribly NOT anything from FSF). The "core" probably wouldn't be anything more that say 5Mb. Then everything else, like the GNU utilities, GCC, XFree, ... would all be addons. This would be very analogous to the UNIX days with the BSD distro addon. When you think about it, isn't that what Linux is today? And besides, then we could end that whole dumbass Linux vs Linux/GNU naming scheme that RMS and his FSF buddies cry about. Linux would then be LINUX and GNU will then be what is really is....just a bunch of addon utilities. That to me is the cleanist approach to standardising Linux.
  • by ShavenYak ( 252902 ) <bsmith3@c[ ] ['har' in gap]> on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:15AM (#4521804) Homepage
    For the people saying "There's only one Windows"...

    Linux "server" distro: Win 2K Enterprise Server
    Linux "corporate" distro: Win 2K Workstation or XP Professional
    Linux "home" distro: Win 98/ME or XP Home
    Linux "embedded": Win CE
  • by FooBarWidget ( 556006 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:17AM (#4521818)
    That's because of a lack of certain tools. What does the user interface guidelines have anything to do with that?
  • Re:Daunting? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by schon ( 31600 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:20AM (#4521837)
    I was a Slack user for several years, but the Debian installer was just so darned screwy. I should be able to select a few categories of programs, then edit the contents _if_ i want to.


    Why is it that whenever you say you hate the Debian installer, Debheads always assume it's just because you're not accustomed to text interfaces?

    I, too, am a Slack user (in the past I've used Mandrake and Caldera for my desktop, but switched once Slack hit 7.1), and I've tried Debian once - with pretty much the same results as you.. I find the installer completely non-intuitive, almost like it was made difficult on purpose.

    Why can't the Debian people make an installer that's easy?
  • by pubjames ( 468013 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:20AM (#4521843)
    Is Microsoft really the "enemy"?

    Well, it depends what you want. If you are happy with Linux having less than 1% of the desktop market, then fine. But there are many people like myself who believe that the world would be a better place if OSS software were much more widely used. And that means the desktop. So, yes, at least from my perspective, Microsoft is the enemy, or if you'd prefer, the competition.

    And no, Sun, the BSDs and Apple are not really the competition because they don't own 95% of the marketplace.

    Plus, cooperation between Linux distros is somewhat implicit.

    Except it doesn't seem to be happening that way. If you look at the kernel, there is a great deal of uniformity between distributions basically because there is a single, widely accepted head-penguin who is doing an excellent job (Linus). I'm sure that there are very few people who would argue that it would be great if we had dozens of incompatible kernals. The desktop space however doesn't have a head-penguin and it really shows.

    It's possible to have a high level of co-ordination and co-operation as well as freedom and choice.
  • by scrytch ( 9198 ) <> on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:24AM (#4521890)
    No Linux interface that exists today provides unified system usability.

    Or for that matter, windows. KDE has its faults, to be sure, but Konq provides better integration than even Windows. In Windows, I can only see folders on the left pane in explorer. In Konquerer, I can at my option see files, and view all kinds of content, from HTML to text to postscript, in the right hand pane. I can rubberband a bunch of files in ftp and drag them to the desktop. The control center includes system management (to some degree), whereas in windows, you use a completely separate app, MMC. Granted, Windows is carrying along legacy cruft, and would probably make every control panel a MMC snap-in nowadays, but they don't even provide an adaptor.

    The user experience on windows is pretty disjointed too. But I don't think Unix (it's more than Linux, folks) exactly has further to go than Windows. It's just broken in different places.
  • Re:Daunting? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by DickBreath ( 207180 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:41AM (#4522017) Homepage
    Debian's installer isn't any more difficult than any other distribution, IMHO. Why do people freeze up as soon as they see a text-based installer?

    Why do people freeze up when they are given a telegraph key to communicate?

    Brand-X's difficult to use installer is no more difficult that any other distribution's difficult to use installer.

    This is the whole crux of the problem in Human interface. Programmers are NOT good designers of human interfaces. Apple's Human Interface Guidelines said it best. (Back in 1984!) The general sentiment that Apple expressed was this: We, slashdotters, are willing to put up with the most abysmal interfaces, and have done so for so long that we no longer are even capable recognizing a bad interface.

    In the 1800's there were widespread predictions that eventually there would be a telegraph on every desk!

    But what happened was that a more natural way of communicating (better human interface) came along and appeared on every desk instead.
  • Re:Daunting? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tswinzig ( 210999 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:42AM (#4522029) Journal
    Why do people freeze up as soon as they see a text-based installer?

    If you have to ask this, you must be a *nix geek.

    What's easier to peruse ... a magazine with lots of pictures, or a magazine with no pictures?

    Which one do you have to sit down and focus on to get an idea of what is going on, and which one can you just skim over and pick up the gist of things?

    Now apply this to an installer.
  • by the_2nd_coming ( 444906 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:47AM (#4522063) Homepage
    were not talking about copying the UI, just using the guidlines for good know...all the extensive research Apple has done on how the human eye moves across the screen so it tells you where to place certain widgets etc.
  • by Kakurenbo Shogun ( 64436 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:58AM (#4522148) Homepage
    * Work on removing unnecessary debconf prompts from packages, and making the ones that are necessary easy to understand.

    Bravo! Aside from wading through 5 million packages to decide which to install, this has been the worst part of installing Debian for me (which I've done on a number of computers because I LOVE how easy it is to keep my system up to date using dselect). In fact, all the prompts may be even worse.

    Here are a few ideas for reducing prompts without causing problems:

    1) Make a log of all the prompts that WOULD have been shown so that those who want to can go back and see what else they might have customized.

    2) Another reason to make a log of the prompts is in case you accidentally okay one of them and then realize you wish you'd read it more carefully. And it would save you the trouble of writing down anything that it suggests you might want to do later.

    3) Give people the option of seeing more or less prompts. Some people may want to see them all. Others may want to only see prompts for things that could make their computer stop working if configured wrong. Others may want more than that, but not every grizzly little detail about configuration files they've never looked at and never will look at.

    4) If you really want to get zealous, you could add the ability to make a list of packages that you want to see all prompts for (you'd build it over time) so that you can run on minimal prompts for most things, but for packages that seem to get messed up every time you upgrade them because the default isn't right for you, you get all the prompts.

  • by molo ( 94384 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @10:59AM (#4522157) Journal
    Debian unstable is doing this where performance is critical. For example:

    > ls -1 /usr/lib/i686/

    There were experiments doing custom glibcs a while back, but there were bugs and it was backed out. I'd like to see that working though.
  • by eno2001 ( 527078 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @11:15AM (#4522276) Homepage Journal
    The multiple "Desktop" distros are all coming from different mindsets. Lycoris wants to emulate Windows. wants to kind of emulate Windows, but add features from other OSes as well as some new ideas. RedHat is trying to set a standard across environments that seems to piss people off more than help. Suse is pretty original and seems to be the closest to making a "Joe User" Linux distro but they have no market share outside of Europe yet.

    It's actually a case of "too many chefs". No one can agree on what a "great" desktop actually is, since a desktop is so many different things to so many people. The amount of flames I usually receive from people on Slashdot about how feature "X" in environment "X" (or even Windows XP) is stupid and pointless illustrates that well. To one person, it's performance that makes for a great desktop. To another, it's applications. Yet another, eye candy. So far, here's a breakdown of what I've seen:

    There are the guys who like to run light with TWM and just use X as a way of having multiple terminals visible at once. I'll bet if there was an option to do this without the overhead of X, they would. As I ocassionally would, myself.

    Then there are the folks (like me) who love the eye candy and use X with environments like Gnome or KDE, or just go with a window manager like Enlightenment. These people are the obsessive tweakers who constantly poke and prod and try to get their GUI to be as efficient, customized and sweet looking as possible. To them, the eye-candy/themes, easy customizability and responsiveness of the GUI are what make for a great desktop.

    Then there are the utilitarians. They believe that a computer is just a tool. There are also subgroups within this group because some of them want to run light (TWM, FVWM, etc...) and others want an easy to use system that resembles Windows or Macintosh depending on their previous platform (KDE).

    Those who use KDE tend to just do the trivial tasks like, browsing the web, working with e-mail, writing docs and balancing their checkbook. They are less concerned about looking cool and more interested in "just working". To them, KDE is the ideal desktop.

    The FVWM and TWM crowd that go beyond using X for terms, usually have more specialized needs. They don't need a file manager since they tend to do that from the terminal. They don't need a launcher, since they tend to do that from the terminal too. But they want access to a basic GUI for the apps they run that need it: (GIMP, Mozilla, Netscape, etc...).

    There are more groups, but I won't continue. The basic problem is that the desktop is something different for every person. I think the ideal would be an environment that can be as spare as TWM with only xterms/gnome-terms/konsoles, as feature filled as a normal GNOME or KDE environment, and as beautiful as Enlightnment. Upon installation of the environment, the user picks "Thin, Moderate, Full, Custom" and gets what they want. If KDE or GNOME could be made to do this easily and on-the-fly, that would be wonderful.

    For instance, if a window manager like Sawfish or KWM could tell it was running with the gnome-panel or kicker, it would revert to a TWM mode. In this mode it would minimize apps to icons on the root window and place a simple right click menu (like TWM's) on the desktop to run a basic set of apps (terms specifically). I think the people who want the lightness of TWM, but maybe like more modern looking widgets and their accompanying functions would really appreciate this.

    The ability to switch between Thin, Moderate, Full and Custom, on the fly would be great too. A laptop user could just toggle to Full mode when plugged in and toggle to Light (TWM-like) mode when on battery.

    Suspendable X session would be nice too... You suspend the X session and go to runlevel 3 to do deep work that needs all the horsepower it can get. Or you suspend and get back to XDM/GDM/KDM and log in as a different user to do other tasks. (Great for a multiuser machine at home or work) Then you resume your X session with all apps running. This would be kind of interdependent on both the environment and X.

    Whatever the case, I think the "Desktop Distro" that will win dominance would be the distro that addresses these issues and does it in a simple way for "Joe User" as well as more complex ways for "Joe Power User" and "J03 G33k G0d".
  • X-Windows? Really? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by VoidMain ( 120749 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @11:56AM (#4522620) Homepage
    Myabe I'm just to too cynical, but X-Windows? Really? I don't care how well the Frame-Buffers work, what they programmed in to bypass all the network layers, X-Windows is never going to cut it in the desktop world.

    Why don't these software companies do what their supposed to do and actually program something. If all they are going to do is take a bunch of packages, slap them together, put in a few utilities to make configuring these mammoths easier and put their logo on a cardboard box, Linux will never make it to the desktop.

    Come on people, the Linux community has to stop thinking like Sun, W3C and all these other monstrousities that crank out new ideas less frequently than LucasFilm does. They need a revolution of thought that makes customers proud to stand behind their product.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 24, 2002 @12:21PM (#4522894)
    > WHY the Graphical Debian installer focus?

    Yuor complaints about needing ease of install of X, sound, APM and initial package selection (and networking/dialup support, I'd add) are all handled well by the other distros' modern (and graphical) installers. The efforts on a new Debian installer are both (a) graphical and (b) more auto-detection/configuring.

    The "text" portion of the installer isn't nearly as important as its primitive autodetect/config abilities; a user having to know the names of the various hardware modules in order to manually pick the right ones has got to go.
  • flawed premise (Score:2, Insightful)

    by pgilman ( 96092 ) <never AT ga DOT in> on Thursday October 24, 2002 @12:52PM (#4523176) Journal

    "If you look at the kernel, there is a great deal of uniformity between distributions basically because there is a single, widely accepted head-penguin who is doing an excellent job (Linus). I'm sure that there are very few people who would argue that it would be great if we had dozens of incompatible kern[e]ls. The desktop space however doesn't have a head-penguin and it really shows."

    your point, while thought-provoking, proceeds from a false premise: that the various window managers and desktop environments are made only for linux. you imply that there's only one kernel, and many GUIs.

    in fact, most of the free unix GUIs generally work in any of several base environments: linux, of course, but also free/open/netBSD, solaris, etc., each of which has a "head penguin" of its own.

    with this in mind, it becomes apparent that the more accurate model is that of many kernels and many GUIs, a sort of "choose one from column A and one from column B" paradigm. the user gets to mix-and-match to suit his own tastes and needs, and that, to my mind, is REAL freedom.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 24, 2002 @01:50PM (#4523639)
    X-Windows is never going to cut it in the desktop world

    Please explain why X-Windows won't cut it. I hear a lot of people bashing X, because X is supposed to be slow, tedious to program for, a memory hog, and a pain in the ass. However, I've noticed that my X desktop doesn't eat memory like the gluttenous pig it's being accused to be. I've noticed that it's really not that slow on a halfway decent machine (a P-200 was pretty responsive, even when using enlightenment with all bells and whistles). I've noticed that other APIs to do programming for proprietary windowing systems can be just as tedious and nervewrecking as Xlib/Motif/etc can be (gtk+ [] and QT [] are actually pretty good alternatives, but that should be pretty old news by now). A pain in the ass, I can't debate with that, but so are other windowing systems in different areas.

    Why don't these software companies do what their supposed to do and actually program something.

    Debian [] is not a software company, it's volunteer based

    Linux will never make it to the desktop.

    Perhaps we won't, perhaps we will... I've had hours of fruitless debates about this, and we've always come to that conclusion. Only time will tell. The apps aren't there yet, but getting there. The desktop isn't uniform enough, but Redhat is making the first attempt, with many others including debian [].

    the Linux community has to stop thinking like Sun, W3C and all these other monstrousities that crank out new ideas less frequently than LucasFilm does

    I doubt that most of us think like Sun and w3c. Most kernel developers don't think like sun, and I think that w3c is overall a good thing (except for the patenting issues) because we need some standards. Oh, I don't mean that everyone should use XML for their new applications (goddess forbid), but at least HTML should be HTML and not some derived alphabetsoup with proprietairy extensions.

    They need a revolution of thought that makes customers proud to stand behind their product.

    How about freedom? That thought is still quite revolutionary to most people when it comes to source code.

    If you're not happy with XFree, try to find an alternative... You'll find that you'll be switching back to X very quickly. But you can always contribute to one of those projects. Perhaps by programming, or perhaps by testing and sending bug reports or writing documentation. There won't be any good alternatives unless someone does some work on them.

  • by RestiffBard ( 110729 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @02:05PM (#4523792) Homepage
    often, ok always, it is said that debian is hard to use but the package management is solid as ft knox.

    well, I'd rather have a solid package management (PM) tool than a simple gui for everything. but now that I've got the solid PM sure go for the solid gui or solid config tools.

    I think debian has it right in hitting the important bits first and getting it right before moving on to somthing else. they don't do it half assed.
  • by Chicks_Hate_Me ( 528837 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @04:42PM (#4524957) Journal
    Of course there is no such thing as a "best distro" but this Desktop Debian will bring the best of both worlds. Sure, Debian's stable branch may be a bit outdated but it's stable, and that's one of the main things Linux should be advertised as an alternative to Windows. I'm sorry, but when programs in KDE start crashing, it makes Linux look bad. I know KDE crashing doesn't crash Linux but end users will still see this as instability in Linux.

    Also Debian offers easy maintaining and upgrading, all was really lacking was ease-of-use for desktop users and newbies. If this "Desktop Debian" becomes a success I see it as a great step forward for Linux on the Desktop. Mandrake has made some great steps forward with things like universal menus, and easy configuration tools, we just need that and some stability without all the bloat. All in all, I still have faith that Linux will be a success on the desktop.
  • by civilizedINTENSITY ( 45686 ) on Thursday October 24, 2002 @04:54PM (#4525037)
    Our physics department runs three versions of windows. Our library runs two versions of windows. The intersection is null. So Without leaving my dorm room I can see two buildings that have 5 versions of windows in production use. Win 3.1, Win 98SE, NT4, W2K, XP.

If I have seen farther than others, it is because I was standing on the shoulders of giants. -- Isaac Newton