back to article Ubuntu man challenges open source to out-pretty Apple

Billionaire, cosmonaut and founder of the fast-growing Ubuntu Linux distro Mark Shuttleworth dreams impossible dreams. No, not a return to the stars. He believes in something that's far harder for mortal open source engineers to achieve. That dream? To produce a desktop more beautiful to ordinary users than legions of Apple …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Gates Horns

    Quite a challenge.

    Out of Windows XP, Vista, MacOS and Unbuntu, Unbuntu is left in last place by a long mile, as far as Desktop OS is concerned.

    I spent a whol week just trying to get NVidia desktop acceleration working, and the Wifi configuration was horrendous.

    2 years? 10 more like...

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    one can't 'out-pretty' Apple

    If the standard of 'pretty' is what Apple does, then -as time has shown-

    only Apple can be what is pretty. All Job-sonian true believers will never

    accept anything else.

    The End.

  3. Anonymous Coward


    Hold on right there.

    Someone acknolowdging Linux has some shortfalls when it comes to end user experience and it's focusued to much on hardcore users.

    Bloody hell, next Gates will be saying Vista was a cock up and Jobs saying Apple hardware is overhyped.

    I need to find a queit room to get over the shock!

  4. Ian Moffatt

    Here's a tip

    Get rid of the brown/orange 'jaffa cake' look. It's bloody 'orrible. And sort those manky looking fonts out.

    Mines the orange imitation suede one with the brown fun fur collar ;-)

  5. Thomas Davie
    Jobs Halo

    They don't get it

    Linux users commonly miss the really really simple things that add up to a better user interface. It's not about looking prettier, it's about working better. A perfect example -- ubuntu actually looks pretty damn nice straight out of the box (although a bit brown), but then you right click on a disk, and are given the option to "unmount" it. No one other than a geek actually knows what unmount means -- what's wrong with "eject"?

  6. Drak

    how about attracting non-open source apps on Linux first

    Linux is never going to take off and attract serious development until they can create a common software installation standard. As of now most software that runs on Linux is open source so that there is no problem porting it to whatever distro. But commercial software companys can only make software that can only run on one distro. And then there is the problem of dependencys, Linux's version of DLL hell. Thats something that Apple has solved quite well, you dont even have to install software on the Mac, you just paste the app on the HD and it runs. Now that is something that the Linux crowd could learn from.

  7. Anonymous Coward

    Ooooh dear...

    Well this sounds like a pipe-dream. Whereas there are 1000's of open source developers out there, this isn't a development problem - it's a design problem. Generally, good designs are either done through intense studies on what a customer wants, prototypes, market research etc. This isn't something your average open-source community will be able to do.

    Ten to one says we'll see a mish-mash of designs that developers find "pretty" - light blue text on a yellow background for example

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Er ?

    Obviously he has never set compiz fusion up properly in conjunction with KDE (gnome is so win 2000 - flames please) - go and have a look at some of the examples in compiz fusion forums.

    However I do agree that there could be better integration but hey wouldn't you miss the long night, 14 cups of coffee and 40 marlies rounded off with a spliff when you eventually nail down that annoying bug ?

    Oh and Mark S. - Subscription and pay - kiss my ass !

    Freetard (that word again) and proud

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    The solution is here

    Already prettier than apple and based on Ubuntu.


  10. Bronek Kozicki Silver badge

    development tools

    Make Eclipse better than Visual Studio 200* editions (more functional, faster, providing integration with OSS AND proprietary source control systems), including better debugger for C and C++ code. Without it few ISV will consider writing for Linux.

  11. Joey

    I don't see it...

    Linux is produced by a certain type of person for a certain type of person. It does its job - much the way a John Deere tractor or Mack truck does its job. That's fine.

    The Apple experience is created by 'design' for people who don't care about computers and never open the bonnet of their car except to fill up the windscreen washer fluid. They expect it to 'just work'! They get no joy out of tinkering and value ease-of-use and reliability more than speed, horsepower, adaptability - and indeed price.

    Horses for courses.

    The key word here is 'design'. Design has two main aspects. 'Functionalty' and 'Styling'. Functionality is about doing what it is supposed to. Styling is the aesthetic presentation. You can have one without the other but it is less good than getting both right.

    Linux scores pretty highly on functionality - provided you know what you are doing and are prepared to work at it. The very fact that 'open source' is being challenged to 'out-pretty' Apple completely misses the point. It's not about prettyness, its about design. Prettyness is superficial styling. It is eye candy. It does not improve the user experience and misused, as is often the case, can actually get in the way and reduce functionality.

    I am more than happy to use Linux on my Web server. Ubuntu on the desktop I find butt ugly both asthetically and functionally. Why try to be a cheap imitation of Windows or a prettier version of Mac OS X?

    Do what you do best better and the World will flock to your door.

  12. Anonymous Coward

    DLL Hell

    It's worse than that.

    With every Linux revision and new version of libc, you're forced to recompile from source; libraries over a year old are almost certain not to work. I doubt much effort is put into backwards binary compatibility in GCC -- even on Windows Vista, I can run 8 year old programmes without too much trouble.

    A pain in the arse? You betcha, but it conveniently makes closed source on Linux very difficult.

  13. mario

    the most beautiful desktop already exists on linux

    and it's called enlightenment. i never have, and perhaps never will see anything quite as brilliant.

  14. Stuart
    IT Angle

    Confused of Buntustan

    Are we talking about the Ubuntu Gnome desktop? Well prettyness is not the problem there - more like functionality.

    Kubuntu (KDE) does have the functionality but is not a pretty sight to other than *nix geeks. Or Xubuntu with XFCE desktop or are we adding another one?

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I maintain...

    That one of nux' deadliest shortcomings is that nothing yo buy in a box comes woith software for it. People spend fortunes on camera's, mp3 players, phones, organizers, blackberries, printer multifuctionals anf GPS'. Pretty soon you'll be finding a driver disk with your fridge !

    And NEVER is any 'nux stuff included. End EVERY time Linux supporters jump up and down that stuff can easily be found on the net, and there's wine etc.

    People want a CD in the box with the stuff they just bought, one you chuck into your pc and it installs.

    Als long as the 'nuxers refuse to see an OS as a means instead of an end it'll never happen. Pretty or not.

    Peter R.

  16. Rande Knight

    @They Don't Get it

    Like any old Mac user would know, there's a difference between a disk being unmounted and ejecting the disk.

    In those days of floppy disks, you could eject a disk, but still leave it mounted - the OS would ask for the disk back as needed. To actually unmount the disk, you needed to drag it to the Trashcan.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Hold your horses

    "I think the great task in front of us in the next two years is to lift the experience of the Linux desktop from something stable and usable and not pretty, to something that's art," Shuttleworth said.

    How about concentrating on making it stable and usable first?

    Then go and find some proper fonts.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down


    Ear OS > Click the updates tab on that site and just look at the number of icons they have stolen from OS X and from Windows there.

    Not been inspired by, not influenced by, but blatantly half inched them

  19. Darren Mansell

    KDE 4.1

    But KDE 4.1 already looks nicer than anything Apple I've seen.

  20. Phil Hare


    The problem with Open Source is that dispirate coders come up with different solutions to common problems (and then usually call said solutions something stupid. YaST comes to mind).

    What's needed is a community based *solely* on design before coding ever takes place; a community that doesn't worry about the code itself, but specifications of the product and it's interoperability. A community to create an international standard for operating systems, if you will.

    Now THERE'S a pipe dream...

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Here's a UI improvement suggestion for you: How about making it so I don't have to use the command line to join a wireless network? (Xubunu, downloaded last week, netgear wireless card based on a realtek chipset)

  22. dave lawless

    Hey Steve, try mine

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Seen it all before

    How about going back in time maybe 10-15 years. The widget wars were over and petty much everything was based on Motif. A little conservative, perhaps, but fast, consistent, and it worked. CDE was becoming much more mainstream giving the user a desktop and further standardising the interface.

    Compare the situation now - you still have Motif for some apps, others are KDE, GNOME or something else. GNOME and KDE are huge codebases in their own right and since you typically need both that is the root cause of much of the bloat present in modern Unices.

    The answer then, is not to introduce yet another UI standard. It is to settle on _one_ of the existing ones. Personally I don't give a fuck about eye candy, I want apps that work well and work consistently first and foremost. This is something to bear in mind whenever someone advocates a new UI metaphor. It doesn't help that they invariably waste twice as much screen space as needed and look like they've been created by a five year old.

  24. Jared Earle


    "Already prettier than apple and based on Ubuntu."

    Hmm ... you're not familiar with Apple's Front Row then? The Eearos developers certainly are.

  25. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    pretty desktops?

    KDE comes with pretty as standard and alot of other things come with more pretty.

    What Linux lacks is an out of the box double click experiance.

    What do I mean? Well in windows at least you double click a document and it opens in something (or tells you that it can't as it doesn't have the stuff needed)you double click an mp3 and it plays, you stick in a dvd and it plays, you double click an avi and it plays. You double click an install file, it asks a question and it installs. You stick a disk in the drive it auto runs. You download a file, double click and it runs.

    Simply put any monkey can get somewhere with a windows machine with little thought or effort - the world is just a desktop icon and a double click away.

    Linux, is not, and until it is it shall never be widly accepted on standard desktops and laptops.

  26. Phil Hare

    Some rules for open source to follow

    Thinking more on the subject, I've come up with some rules (in no particular order) that Open Sourcers might want to adopt:

    1. Command line operation should always be an option, but never a requirement (a GUI gives the user a chance to figure it out for themselves. With CLI you either know it or you don't)

    2. Interface working methods should be as uniform as possible, regardless of objective

    3. Always assume the user knows NOTHING

    4. Functionality is not enough; easy access to functionality is everything

    5. Document everything, and get it proof read!

    There are many more, but there's five to start with. They would increase the overheads of open source development significantly, but that's the price to be paid for an OS that can truly compete.

  27. Anonymous Coward

    I have seen

    some rather pretty Debian installs in my time...

    but i guess debian does not count as its only for the "hardcore"

    Its not *nux thats the problem, its the *nux thats currently popular.

  28. Edward Rose

    Leave the pretties to the artists. Not developers.


    /usr/local or /opt

    Don't quite get your point, NWN & UT2004 work perfectly across any distro. They come as a complete package and expect to find nothing more than a value stuffed into $HOME.

    However, you do end up losing out on the advantage of common libraries like this. But, it's easily fixed.....

    Each distro should hold a file in /etc called something like 'locations' (or whatever) and list where an installer is expected to install the appropriate files.

    Likewise, have a common db that local installs can list what files they use, so the package manager can check it's own db (regardless of format) and the 'local install' db to see what files are loose. It would be simple to write a script to handle the install of ANY software then.

    I admit some distros do funny things with certain config file locations, but most commercial software shouldn't be touching these config files any way (but, can also be resolved by above method).


    Never seen an update for UT2004 for upgraded Libc, and it still works (he says after not playing it for some time, but meh - never seen an issue like that). So I'm guessing it shouldn't be a huge problem. I am willing to stand corrected here as I am nowhere near being an expert on libc.

    Kernel modules suffer from it though. - So, thinking about it, provided the libraries are 'static' to the program and aren't anything to do with the system you really should be fine (MS _probably/may_ still use the same compiler+faults from years ago).

    How about MS (that's Mark, not Micro) puts some effort into making pretty frontends to stuff like firewalls etc that work on X, and NOT KDE/GNOME. I like the layout of UDE (I would recommend to people who like *different*), therefore don't want all the KDE/GNOME base stuff installed. Autologin for xdm? available for kdm and gdm, but could do with being on all home systems I feel.

  29. florian mosleh


    this apple goes to the prettiest one :-P

  30. Joe

    It's the little things that need fixing

    Like the fonts, the geeky language, the names...

    "The Gimp" - who the hell would use that over Photoshop? I'm not talking about functionality, I'm talking about not getting funny looks when you mention it to people.

    Gnome? Awful name.

    And the different Ubuntus (Xubuntu, Kubuntu, etc.) just sound dreadful.

    To geeks, techy stuff wins out every time, but I'm sure a big part of Windows success is it's name. Names like Xubuntu or Gnome or Puppy Linux just don't sound good.

  31. Paul Nolan
    Paris Hilton

    I see this ending badly

    It'll probably just miss the point; Apple doesn't just make things pretty for the hell of it - the reason Aqua is so good that, although shiny enough to impress newbies, functionality is still what comes first. (excluding recent cockups with Leopard's menu bar & standard dock obviously - don't know what they were smoking when that happened).

    We're going to end up with another Aero here aren't we?

  32. AJ MacLeod

    Linux drivers with gadgets

    Clearly Peter R is unfamiliar with the massive range of "works out of the box on Linux" devices (cameras, mp3 players - practically everything worth using, in fact).

    Even so, a large proportion of IT items I buy these days come with Linux drivers on the CD, or give instructions on installation under Linux.

    Most Windows users are addicted to shoving CDs full of badly written drivers and awful, bloated and downright unnecessary apps into their machines (I know this, because I often have to sort out the damage they cause).

  33. tony baldwin

    mission accompished

    Dump KDE and/or Gnome and/or Xfce, and use Fluxbuntu (and very efficient), and you've already got a beautiful desktop. Or apt-get JWM.

    In either, use a black background and white, green, or blue text.

    All set. Easy on the eyes, and functional.

    (That's what I do on my Linguas OS box, (screenshots available at linguas os site (parentheticals within parentheticals are groOvy)), which also has a fluxbuntu install on another partition, also configured thus: Black w/light blue text...keys file programmed to bring up all of my most used/needed apps (like sakura terminal emulator) with a keystroke. No icons, no clutter, no bloat...light, functional, for me...)

    Of course, fluxbox is not for your average user.

    In all truth, with all the configurability of KDE, any user can make their desktop pretty (so long as they can tolerate the bloat of KDE, which, is still better than all the bloat of Vista or any other M$ crap).

  34. Mike Fleischmann

    LInux missing the point

    I have to go along with Drak and Gerhardt, but with one more twist. I know of at least one business that would switch over to Linux in a heartbeat if (AND ONLY IF) they could get their business software to run on it. (Either by using a Mono-Wine bridge or by having the manufacturer support Linux). The desktop itself is close enough already. They are thoroughly fed up with Micro-dollar and do not want to go to Vista. People need to have the software they rely on working on a new OS before they will switch. That is the largest hurdle that Linux will need to get over if it is to win significant amounts of the market. If I had the dollars to invest I would pour the entire amount into emulation environments until Linux reached such critical mass that developers considered it a MUST platform to support for their products.

  35. vincent himpe

    Enough with the eye candy !

    Fix the bloody thing first so it is usable for the common man. ( like , can somebody please write a graphical installer and configurator for apache , php and mysql . manually editing config files is so last century)

    Then fix all the problems with command line installations ( come on , its 2008 , almost 2009 and we still have to use things like apt-get ...)

    Then fix all the different installer formats ? Can we please make 1 installer. double click the file and it self deploys ? windows or mac style ? ( you kow , the friendly graphical window where you click next next next , i agree , finish ... )

    Now there are x different installer systems. this one only works on red hat , that one only on ubntui. There is TOO many flavors or linux that have substantial differences that prevent an enjoyable experience. Right now i have 3 installations simply because i have software that needs specific 'flavors'. How stupid is that ?

    And yes i have the source code , but i am NOT a programmer ! ( just like the other 99.99% of the people who use a computer daily. )

    Then to convince some big powerhouses to release some software that can run on linux. Start with Adobe (Photoshop , Premiere , Lightroom , After effects , Dreamweaver

    Whenever i dabble with linux it seems that all that is going on in the community is developmetn of new GUI , eye candy , color scemes , half finsihed programs, and endless discussions of kde vs gnome and vi vs emacs.

    ENOUGH ! Get the bloody thing to be usable for the 99.99% of people out there !

  36. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    It's a focus problem...

    Apple has a team of highly paid incredibly focussed individuals with all the R&D they can muster.

    I'll also bet they get motivated in all sorts of other ways - bonuses, kick backs, threats - you name it.

    You can also bet if they produce work even slightly below standard, it gets booted out.

    They also have the benefit of working within a "closed" loop, so to speak.

    The ONLY way Shuttleworth could emulate this success is to copy the methodology - hire the cream of the crop and pay them fantastic salaries to work all hours to get the job done.

    It's not just the pretty, it's the clever too.

    Paris she's a bit like Ubuntu, brown, not too sharp, a bit curvy and ultimately flawed.

  37. David Hicks

    Whose fault is that?

    "That one of nux' deadliest shortcomings is that nothing yo buy in a box comes woith software for it. People spend fortunes on camera's, mp3 players...

    And NEVER is any 'nux stuff included. End EVERY time Linux supporters jump up and down that stuff can easily be found on the net, and there's wine etc."

    And that's the fault of the people that develop/support/use Linux? You're accusing them of not putting software in the box of third party commercial hardware? And you think they're being unrealistic about things? Jesus.

    @the guy that said there's no "double click experience"

    Sure there is. try Gnome/Ubuntu and you get desktop icons for your home folder and other important docs. Double click them and you'll get an explorer window. Find a file, double click it and Ubuntu will run it with the default app or ask you what to use if it doesn't know. Right click for more options and an "Open With" style dialogue.

    Pop in a CD and the CD Player app appears.

    Pop in a memory stick and an explorer window appears.

    It's all very similar to windows in these respects. Whether you think that's a good or a bad thing is up to you.

  38. Andy Cadley

    Lacking a few $$$

    "Shuttleworth noted the demand is clearly there from companies and individuals for open-source software, but where the money comes from to support such efforts is not clear"

    In layman's terms: the only people who want it are freetards and spongers.

  39. vincent himpe

    @Peter. R. : too late ...

    If you buy an LG fridge with built in TV and web surfing capabilties it does come with a driver cd ...

  40. John Tuffen

    The trouble with Linux...

    ... (or at least one of the troubles) is all of the petty infighting:

    "My desktop is better than yours" KDE vs. Gnome vs. Enlightenment vs. a badger's arse;

    "My installer is better than yours" rpm vs. tar.gz vs. god-knows-what

    Just think. what if all of the Linux developers (and I mean that in the loosest possible terms) actually had a common roadmap? Actually developed to some core standards (directory structure, device naming, 'window manager', fonts, etc. etc.)?

    I can't see that *ever* happening. And that's why Linux will never get to be the mainstream desktop platform.

  41. Natalie Gritpants

    Start with

    Their banner is 7 months out of date.

  42. Anonymous Coward


    Dump the GUI, let's go back to CLI! Hey Linux developers, how about toiling away at some eye candy for no pay? Sounds like a great opportunity to me!

  43. Drak

    so why doesnt Shuttleworth buy Borland IDE

    Everyone knows that the Gnome/KDE GUI toolkits are a mess, so why doesnt Shuttleworth put his money where his mouth is and create a common GUI standard for Linux. Borland has been trying to sell their IDE product division for a long time, that could be a pretty high end starting point. Its already proven as fast and streamlined. And maybe it could be integrated with Eclipse.

    a Reg article about Borland can be seen here:

    @Edward Rose

    ----"Likewise, have a common db that local installs can list what files they use, so the package manager can check it's own db (regardless of format) and the 'local install' db to see what files are loose. It would be simple to write a script to handle the install of ANY software then."------

    OK, sounds good, so why doesnt someone in the Linux community do it? I say someone (like Shuttleworth) and not everyone because the average open source dev is only interested do-it-yourself geeky devtools, and not serving the general public. Shuttleworth is going to have to shoulder the burden himself if he wants anything serious to get done.

  44. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    black background?

    "use a black background and white, green, or blue text."

    We've been there before, it was called a VT100.

  45. J
    Gates Horns

    @Matthew "The solution is here"

    Yuck... If I wanted a bad knock off of Mac OSX I would just get the original... Too many reflexions (not very well implemented, by the way), getting me dizzy. I'm sticking with Linux, ta.

    @pretty desktops? "double click experiEnce"

    Sounds like you haven't used Linux in, say, 10 years? Sure, it takes installing a few things after the OS, but the same happens with all other OSs I've seen. Actually, less in many Linuces than other OSs, if you consider for example that double clicking a .doc file on freshly-installed Ubuntu immediately opens the file (in OOo), while doing the same in Windows will probably open a dialog saying "Choose a program" -- maybe nowadays it says "Go buy MS Office". Double clicking an MP3 file for the first time gave me a dialog saying that I needed to install whatever to play these things (and briefly explained why), and would I like to do it now? And it did, and it immediately played (***no reboot required, can you imagine it!?***).

    "Simply put any monkey can get somewhere with a windows machine with little thought or effort"

    True, I must admit. Must be why all monkeys use Windows...

  46. Steve

    It isn't 'beauty' that's needed

    As other people have danced around above, it's 'elegance'.

  47. Colin Morris

    installation and WPA wireless

    I have a Samsung R700 laptop witn a Vista/Ubuntu 8.04.1 dual boot configuration and I really, really want to start using Ubuntu more if for no other reason than to stick two fingers up at Ballmer and is money-grabbing cronies.

    Unfortunately, even for a sys admin like me (windows admin, of course) installation of files on linux/ubuntu can be a right pain in the rear. Until the 'user in the street' can double-click an installation file to install a program (like in Windows) or simply just drag a program folder to the hard-disk and run a program (like an apple user said earlier) Linux/Ubuntu will never properly take off.


    .... oh, and why the fcuk is it that despite jumping through a million hoops and visiting the ubuntu forum a thousand times can I not get WPA wireless working when in windows you can just enter you hidden ESSID and password and be up and running in seconds?

    ... oh, and why the fcuk is it that when I load Ubuntu on my laptop the screen is so dim even though the laptop is connected to the power supply? Why can't anyone on the ubuntu forums give me a straight answer and a straight solution to this? Why can't you adjust the power settings easily like in windows? How the bloody hell is a normal user supposed to stand a chance if I can't do this?


  48. Andrew Moore Silver badge

    @It's the little things that need fixing

    Joe hit the nail right on the head. It's time to drop the stupid naming conventions and the forced acronyms. To me Gimp is a character from Pulp Fiction not a graphics package. Same to 99% of the rest of the planet (well those who've seen Pulp Fiction). Likewise I will not use a Word Processor called "AssRape" or a Spreadsheet called "SheepShagger". And any company that uses the following naming convention: [colour][animal] can fuck right off too.

  49. Thomas Silver badge

    The Linux GUI designers problem...

    ... is that they don't understand the point of them. The main objective of a GUI is discoverability. A secondary objective is portability of knowledge.

    Simply having a graphical box that allows you to enter the same text you'd use at the command prompt does not count. Similarly, putting all the options that a program supports in a drop-down list isn't good enough if it still means having to read a man page to figure out what is going on. And especially not if most of those options aren't applicable to that particular user on that particular machine.

    All technical language should be avoided as far as possible. If two programs do the same thing then they should do it with the same interface - consistency is king. Subtle communications (like the way the red 'close' dot in OS X had a darkened centre if that window has unsaved work in it) are better than conspicuous ones if they relate to things that the user may or may not care about. Conspicuous communications should only be used if you need to communicate something critical.

    Modal interfaces are generally to be avoided. Use context, but not as part of the main program interface. So inspector palettes are good, ribbon interfaces are bad.

    Never, ever use the multiple document interface. People prefer to think in terms of tasks and documents. Forcing them to hunt down their task by program first and document second is not helpful, and in any case it unnecessarily complicates the desktop metaphor and the normal ways of locating what you're doing.

    Feedback should be offered on everything. Even Windows fails here - the default behaviour for keyboard shortcuts like ctrl+c, ctrl+v and ctrl+s is usually to give no feedback. Office adds a collapsing box for ctrl+s but that's an application-specific hack.

    If it's likely that you know what a user wants to do then if it isn't otherwise jarring, just do it. But don't go too far. And don't add f*cking talking paperclips to your office software.

  50. Kwac

    if you want to pay for software

    feel free.

    just don't tell me that because you've paid for it it automatically means it's better (trundle along to your favourite encyclopaedia and look for 'cognitive dissonance').

    As for Vista running programs that are 8 years old - wow, must be good if it runs ALL 8 year old programs.

    No doubt it operates all those 8-year-old periprerals as well?


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