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Linux's Difficulty with Names 946

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 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 Pantero Blanco ( 792776 ) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:27PM (#14346168)
    Most commandline programs are like that in both *Nix and DOS/Windows. I believe we're dealing with desktop applications here.
  • 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 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?
  • Re:Hehe... (Score:2, Informative)

    by mypalmike ( 454265 ) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:33PM (#14346224) Homepage
    > But then again, you click the "Start Button" to shut down in Windows :)

    And in Gnome, you click some weird thing that looks vaguely like a foot with 4 toes, then "Programs"->"System"->"Gnome Terminal", bringing up a command line box, then type "shutdown -h now". Clearly more intuitive. ;)
  • Re:Hehe... (Score:5, Informative)

    by Enigma_Man ( 756516 ) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:35PM (#14346256) Homepage
    I usually just click on "actions" -> "shutdown" to do that, your way works too though.
  • by BushCheney08 ( 917605 ) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:35PM (#14346257)
    The goal was two-fold: typing efficiency and saving space (adding characters to the command name meant more resources were used - this was important back in the days when having a few kilobytes of RAM was a lot)
  • by DThorne ( 21879 ) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:38PM (#14346283)
    Safari? A Web browser?
    ILife? A...ummm...well, a way of living?

    Please. Winamp: do you think someone starting typing "CD Player, Audio Player, Mp3 Player..." in a DOS shell on windows until they found Winamp? People aren't going to stop or start using a desktop based on this, especially when "k3b" is directly under the "CD/DVD Burning" submenu on SUSE/KDE.

    This is a non-issue.

  • 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.
  • by sconeu ( 64226 ) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @02:41PM (#14346311) Homepage Journal
    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 arkanes ( 521690 ) <arkanes@@@gmail...com> on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:00PM (#14346487) Homepage
    It's against the Windows HGI to do this now (I don't know if it was ever documented as the standard, but it was extremely common) although many companies (and installer frameworks) still do it. Windows HGI also says that if all you're installing is link(s) to your executable(s), you should put them directly in the start menu root instead of into a subfolder.
  • Names vs. GUIs (Score:2, Informative)

    by Advocadus Diaboli ( 323784 ) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:02PM (#14346509)

    Namen sind nur Schall und Rauch
    Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (German writer)

    This means literally "Names are just sound and smoke" and the deeper meaning is "Names arent important". Well, I don't think that names are a problem because of the following reasons:

    • Usually a menu tree isn't flat but categorized. If I open my Debian menu I find a section for graphics and so I assume that the programs in this section have something to do with graphics.
    • If I install a package I'm doing it because I want to use it. And at that point I can learn easily that GIMP stands for GNU Image Manipulation Program and so I can hardly forget that this is the program to use if I want to edit my digital camera photos.
    • Many times I observed that people are not reading the menus, they just have learned that the app they want to use is on the 4th last entry in that submenu and they click there without even reading. Difficult if the menu structure changes, but people can adapt to this as well
    Ok, if you're using a shell then you need to remember the names, but who prevents you from defining an
    alias photoshop='gimp'
  • by mrchaotica ( 681592 ) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:28PM (#14346727)
    You want ImageMagick. [imagemagick.org]
  • 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
  • by MrNougat ( 927651 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `hcstarkc'> on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:43PM (#14346864)
    Upfront admission: I am a Microsoft engineer.

    I toyed around with Linux a couple years back, was able to successfully install some version of RedHat on an old Toshiba laptop. Once I got it going, I thought, "Okay, what do I do now?" I never looked at it again.

    A fair part of that was because the Linux command line is not intuitive. I'm not talking, "I know Windows command line, not Linux, so I don't know what I'm doing." My experience has been that I'm pretty good at figuring things out, and not ashamed to use reference materials. I didn't even know where to start with Linux.

    Now that a couple years have passed, and I've got a couple more years' experience under my belt, I intend to take another crack at it. As soon as I get time, of course.

    An intuitive interface, GUI or command line, is paramount to getting non-users to become users.
  • Re:Hehe... (Score:3, Informative)

    by aconkling ( 916504 ) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @03:43PM (#14346867) Homepage
    Wow, where've you been? In 2.0 and later, you click Actions -> Log out [gnome.org]. They've changed the menu in 2.12, so now you click Desktop -> Log out or System -> Log out*. In either case, one of the choices in the window that comes up is to shut down the computer: http://shots.osdir.com/slideshows/original.php?rel ease=469&slide=76 [osdir.com]

    *- Honestly, I'm not sure of the difference. I see the "Desktop" menu on my Arch Linux GNOME panel, whereas the Ubuntu screenshot I linked to has a "System" menu. I wonder if Ubuntu's is modified at all, though that seems only reasonably likely.
  • by saberyo ( 38463 ) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @04:05PM (#14347072)
    Personal Home Page was the original I believe. So, even more depth to LAMP. http://us3.php.net/history [php.net]
  • by shawb ( 16347 ) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @04:10PM (#14347109)
    Actually, the thunderbird one isn't that bad, a bird carrying a letter. You can (kind of) find it by the name, and it's pretty easilly recognizable as an e-mail client. The concept of firefox's icon is pretty good: a flaming fox encircling the world (Something going around the world is a pretty decent icon for a web browser (Formerly known as World Wide Web.) The problem with that one is that once it's shrunk down to the size you see on most desktops with decently high resolution, you really can't make either out, so it looks kinda like a red and blue marble or eye or something.

    Both of those are far more recognizable for what they are than the rat looking thing that is the Icon for the GIMP. Or a construction cone for VLC player. Open Office's icons on the other hand are very informative, but bland and forgettable.
  • by Medievalist ( 16032 ) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @04:10PM (#14347110)
    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 easier to learn and understand than *nix for native english-speakers. If you have no english, or english as a second language, *nix is less typing and you have to memorize everything anyway.

    The sad part is I still remember RSX Indirect and MCR, the predecessors to CCL. That backwards PIP syntax was a bitch.
  • by davecarlotub ( 835831 ) * on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @04:27PM (#14347252) Journal
    Specifically the convert program
  • Re: New Linux user? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @04:29PM (#14347277)
    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 find almost every time is an instance where the Gnome devs thought that the real name of the application was too stupid and non-intuitive to be listed by name, so they created an alias for it. This is the entire point of the original article: most Linux applications have stupid names.
  • by Shano ( 179535 ) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @04:33PM (#14347313)

    I believe the point is that most comparisons compare the names of the Windows apps in menus with the command-line filenames of the Linux binaries. It's just as fair: neither side is making a truly fair comparison.

    Most distros provide more descriptive names for applications, just as Windows does. Linux suffers a little because the application author gives the binary an obscure name, even if the big distributions make it clear what the app is for.

  • by dusik ( 239139 ) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @04:37PM (#14347351) Homepage
    I'm not 100% sure, but I think the parent poster meant that as a parody of the original article's bias ;)
  • by MrNougat ( 927651 ) <`moc.liamg' `ta' `hcstarkc'> on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @04:43PM (#14347401)
    Not having to build things from source code definitely helps.

    There are a few different levels of expertise with computing (in the context of this article):

    1. End user. Knows how to use already installed applications on an already configured system (usually!)
    2. Desktop engineer. Knows how to configure and use already installed applications, can do some app installation, and some system configuration.
    3. Mid-level engineer. Knows how to install, configure and use operating systems and applications.
    4. Server engineer. Knows how to install, configure and use server and domain operating systems.
    5. Operating system developer. Knows how to write operating systems.

    For a long time, Linux has been very useful for people at level 4.5 or higher, and painfully difficult for those under 4.5.

    I know how to build a car from parts, at least in theory, enough that if I was given all the parts and some instructions and tools, I could manage it. I do not know how to machine the parts of the car from raw metal, and I doubt that I would be able to even if given tools and instructions.

    Before the Linux users smack me down, yes I have heard of KPackage (though, not having a Linux machine at home, I have never seen it). I know that installing apps on Linux today is much easier than it was two years ago. Without that knowledge, I would not at all consider Linux again.
  • by nmb3000 ( 741169 ) <nmb3000@that-google-mail-site.com> on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @04:43PM (#14347405) Journal
    Ho. Ly. Crap.

    Give us a break. It's real cute how you go to all the effort to capitalize and make all the Linux program shortcuts real pretty and then use the executable filenames for the Windows equivalents. How many users go mucking around the filesystem hunting for the executable to use? None, and that's why so many Linux distros have blatantly copied the concept of the Start Menu and Taskbar.

    If you use the shortcut names found in the Start Menu it's a lot more of a fair game. Also, almost all MS-installed shortcuts have a description as a tool-tip, found when you hover your mouse for a few seconds:

    Internet Explorer

    Windows Media Player
    Plays your digital media including music, videos, CDs, DVDs, and Internet Radio.

    Windows Movie Maker
    Capture and edit digital media on your computer and then share your saved movies by e-mail, the Internet, recordable CD, or on a DV video tape.

    Creates and edits text files using basic text formatting.

    Word Pad
    Creates and edits text documents with complex formatting.

    (AIM? There are still fools who use AIM? Do you use ICQ still too?)

    MSN Messenger
    Shows whether your friends are online and lets you have online conversations.

    Creates and edits drawings, and displays and edits scanned photos.

    I'm not going to bother going further. Besides, you even help me with your "argument". Just how intuitive are the "polished" Linux app names of "Xine", "MPlayer", "Gnome Toaster"? Let's also forget that most of the applications you list (iTunes, Nero, Photoshop, WinAMP, WinDVD, etc) are not even native Windows applications. They are third-party and if the user went and bought or downloaded them they did so for a reason and obviously know what they do.

    Guess you missed the memo. Slashdot zealotism is happily on the decline, partially evidenced by the Funny mod you received. "Oh look honey! It's one of those cute /. zealots! Isn't he precious?"
  • by arkanoid.dk ( 895391 ) <arkanoid.dk@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @05:14PM (#14347632) Homepage
    As stated before, the reason he compared win binaries to linux menu entries was because the article did the opposite (compared linux binaries to win menu entries).
    As for the tooltips, if I hover over the amaroK icon (amaroK isn't a very explaining name, right?) a little tooltip pops up telling me that it's an "audio player" (not a lot of babble about what else it does, and why I should choose that over rhythmbox).
    Next, you mention that the aforementioned apps were non-native to the windows system... well, can you even speak of "native" Linux apps? That is, apps that comes along with your linux kernel. If you decide to install one of the more fancy distributions, like fedora, you will have absolutely no problem knowing what the various programs with "funny names" does since they've put a lot of effort into making things as easy as possible. If you use one of the more "advanced" distributions, slackware or gentoo, then yes, you'll have to know what an app does before you'll be able to install it - in some cases. With gentoo you can browse the Portage tree where several thousand apps have been sorted nicely into various categories like "games/strategy" and so on. If you want to know what a single package does, then you'll simply query for more info about it.
  • by Secrity ( 742221 ) on Tuesday December 27, 2005 @05:32PM (#14347740)
    Just how intuitive are the "polished" Linux app names of "Xine", "MPlayer", "Gnome Toaster"? Let's also forget that most of the applications you list (iTunes, Nero, Photoshop, WinAMP, WinDVD, etc) are not even native Windows applications. They are third-party and if the user went and bought or downloaded them they did so for a reason and obviously know what they do.

    "Xine", "MPlayer", and "Gnome Toaster" are also third party applications and are just as intuitive as the Windows program names that you gave as examples. I do not have these applications installed on my KDE desktop system. I checked some of the other application names in the KDE menus and found that the menus include both the name and a description for all of the applications in the "Start" menus, e.g.; "KEdit (Simple Text Editor)", "Kopete (Instant Messenger)", "KSpread (Spreadsheets)".

"Oh my! An `inflammatory attitude' in alt.flame? Never heard of such a thing..." -- Allen Gwinn, allen@sulaco.Sigma.COM