Linux Desktop User Experience

tl;dr: Use elementaryos. Ubuntu is painful.

Before you read: I am embarassed by how I used to think back in the day. Thanks to Ubuntu and Debian for all the hardwork put into maintaining and packaging Linux over the years.

With initiatives like it@school and Government of Kerala pushing "Linux" for office use, and having friends studying / working in those places, I find myself in situations where I am asked to help them and their friends / co-workers. What I see are people confused, angry or re-installing their pirated copy of Windows to get work done. These are the three simple things I take to make people comfortable using Linux.

1. Install a stable distribution

The first thing I do is remove ubuntu and install CentOS / Debian. People have come to expect certain things from an operating system, and breaking things after every single update or when something trivial is changed is not one of those. I feel Ubuntu is single handedly giving Linux a very bad rep, because it's the most advertised distribution and hence the first "Linux" that people install or get to use; most of them never return, due to such bad first experience. It baffles me how Canonical can ship such a broken OS and call it "Linux for humans".

2. Change the system font and icon set.

This is one of those things that just doesn't make any sense to me. Companies and communities put a lot of effort into building a distribution and then ship with ugly icons from the '90s and system fonts which plain sucks. WTF? The moment I change the system font to Ubuntu* (thank you Canonical) and the icon set to Faenza, people go "wow, that's awesome!". It completely changes the look and feel of the system.

3. A tour of the system, and explaining how things work in this side of the universe

Talking about user experience, a lot of the changes to UI (Unity ...) are just engineered badly. It would have been fine, if the UI is polished enough, and had some sort of synergy with other applications. Using Ubuntu makes the user lethargic after using the system for a couple of hours, and after wrestling with it all, leaves the user exhausted and frustrated with themselves.

Here is a small list of what I have seen people like:

  • Fast and stable system.
  • Well designed icons.
  • Nice to look at system fonts.
  • Pictogram-style icons in the panel.
  • To make small changes to their systems to fit their style.
  • A good file manager.
  • To get work done and not having to spend the majority of the time fixing things.

And a list of things people appreciate or have asked me:

  • Advanced Alt+Tab management.
  • Alt+F2 (I re-map it to Windows Key+R).
  • Infinite undo and redo (of every system activity).
  • The ability to tag files and search files by tags.
  • Powerful clipboard management.

And lastly, something I have been thinking about for a while now has been the desktop area. Currently it houses the wallpaper and icons, but I feel it has the potential to immensely improve one's workflow.

Edit: : Some interesting events have happened since. Canonical hired the designer of Faenza, and elementaryos became my goto distribution for new users and they love it. Goes to show what a small team of talented and passionate bunch can deliver; kudos and major thanks to the people behind elementaryos.

[*] A lot of quality free fonts have surfaced lately: