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Could RISC OS teach Linux a trick or two?

Published: 5th Nov 2007, 23:35:05 | Permalink | Printable

Giving the free software world some free advice

Tux logoThe Linux desktop could learn a thing or two from RISC OS, an opinion piece in the super-soar-away INQ argued this week. The current desktop offerings for GNU/Linux users are too similar to Microsoft's little known Windows operating system, believes freelance IT hack Liam Proven - and penguinistas should take a leaf from the book of RISC OS to get some fresh ideas, he adds.

In an article published on Sunday, Liam wrote: "Microsoft is complaining that 'the Linux desktop including OpenOffice' infringes some 235 Microsoft patents. An objective comparison between the whole Linux desktop and Microsoft's Windows desktop shows that it has a good point; there are many resemblances, from trivial to profound.

"However, there are plentiful other non-Windows-like models of desktop to follow instead."

The learned tech scribe goes on to describe the RISC OS Filer, drag'n'drop, its iconbar, Acorn's three-button mouse, and contextual menus. Apple's Mac OS, the long-buried BeOS, AmigaOS, and Nextstep all get a look in too. Liam rounds off his piece by suggesting Linux desktop designers try out Mac OS X, GNUstep and ROX to see how "a general-purpose PC desktop doesn't need to look or work like Windows to be attractive, easy and fun to use." Hit the link below for the full essay.


Linux desktop lacks innovation from INQ

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I think you'll find the "default" look of a linux desktop looks like windows. This does make sense since the vast majority of new Linux users will come from the Windows community. You can re-define the look and feel! I did. In fact PCLOS comes with a an option to use a RiscOS window decoration.

Don't forget that the iconbar on the bottom was used by RiscOS before windows....so who is copying who?

The one thing that Linux has to do is tidy up its filing and hidden files. The distribution of files is as bad as anything under windows. As for hidden files, well, some of these are in the same location as the users home folder which is soooo untidy and very dangerous.

 is a RISC OS Usermripley on 6/11/07 9:18AM
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I think there's a confusion here: KDE is clearly a rip-off of Windows. GNOME less so: it's more similar to Mac OS. XFce's completely different.

 is a RISC OS Userrjek on 6/11/07 11:56AM
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"Don't forget that the iconbar on the bottom was used by RiscOS before windows....so who is copying who?"

Er... yes. I believe Liam does actually point out that the RISC OS icon bar is a possible source of inspiration for the Windows task bar in the article in question.

"The distribution of files is as bad as anything under windows"

I wonder if that's one of the patents Microsoft claims is being infringed. ;)

 is a RISC OS UserVinceH on 6/11/07 12:08PM
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Firstly, shame on the author for parroting the opinions of the pro-software/business/UI-patent lobby. Secondly, the author either fails to join the dots or comes across somewhat fanboyish in order to emphasise his own worldview. Examples...

The author mentions Xerox PARC and then brushes stuff aside which he claims PARC didn't do in order to claim that, "The whole idea of a "desktop" was pretty much invented at Apple in the 1980s..." Obviously, it was too much to look at what the Xerox Star had to offer.

The author is aware of CDE - where a lot of ideas came from for Windows, Mac OS X and KDE (such a surprise there) - and yet claims that, "The ways that most of the Linux GUIs resemble one another - their lowest common denominator - is, pretty much, the Microsoft Windows way of doing things." Hello?! XFCE, which the author mentions, is pretty much an evolution of the CDE concept.

Some selective ignorance is also on display: "when you come to apps like OpenOffice Writer or Calc, the influence is even more plain - in fact, they're nearly identical to MS Office". Again, hello?! Is the author not aware of the history of OpenOffice(.org): it's the open source edition of an application developed in the 1990s by a German company effectively writing a clone of Microsoft Office. Not that OpenOffice is exactly an irreplaceable part of "the Linux desktop" - it's a commercially-driven project with the fingers of Sun, Novell and IBM in the pie.

Eventually, after a few incoherent comments on the article by Inquirer punters, someone points out that patenting "look and feel" might not be cricket. In coming across as a "will they or won't they sue?" lawsuit chaser ("And the Vole is holding all the cards here; the FOSS guys haven't got a leg to stand on."), the article is like bedtime reading for Steve Ballmer. A sprinkling of historical facts makes it better than the work of some industry analyst, but given the inaccuracies mentioned above, a sprinkling of salt is also required. I suppose it functions acceptably as some kind of Wikipedia recommended reading list, however.

 is a RISC OS Userguestx on 6/11/07 12:14PM
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The article comes over as criticising the wholesale cloning of Windows (big people, big lawyers) and suggesting that innovation required a take up of clones of RISC OS (and others). "Avoid being sued" may be good advice but lacks something in the ethics department if it's followed by "copy stuff from those who cannot afford to sue". For true innovation I'd like to see something new - not simply copied off anyone but Microsoft - but the days of innovation appear to be long dead..

 is a RISC OS Userjc on 6/11/07 12:57PM
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A good and comprehensive article. I've always pointed out the futility of copying the Windows UI, as it is an innovation and usability dead end, as demonstrated by utter futility that is Vista.

The biggest laugh is the first comment "The Linux desktop mimics the Windows desktop for one single reason. Ease of use. Do you think anyone would ever switch to Linux if everything was different?" Oh the poor tortured soles who know nothing else than Windows, and confuse depressing familiarity for easy of use.

Those coming to other GUIs after using RISC OS, don't find Windows or clones of it easy to use. They are condemned to hate every moment, as they have seen how things can and should be done better, if only there was more of the original thinking that spawned the features of RISC OS we know and love. Instead we curse the bloat of 14 different ways to do things and bodge after inconsistent bodge that characterises interaction with Windows.

 is a RISC OS Userdruck on 6/11/07 4:46PM
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Drobe wrote: "Oh the poor tortured soles who know nothing else than Windows".

I'm not sure sole, tortured or otherwise can use computers.

I'll get my coat.

As for "Linux" copying Windows, agree with all the other comments. It can do but it's not necessary. Plenty of windows managers to use and plenty of ways to customise most of them. My Linux box looks and behaves very much like my RO box some of the time. Other times it looks and behaves very much like nothing else at all as I've heavily customised it. It certainly doesn't look and behave anything like windows.

 is a RISC OS Userolster on 7/11/07 12:29PM
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NO not anymore

 is a RISC OS Usernijinsky on 16/11/07 6:20PM
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Since Drobe is letting me comment once again - Chris, thanks for this! A very pleasant surprise! :¬)

 is a RISC OS Userlproven on 30/11/07 12:18PM
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Thanks for the comments. Obviously, I don't agree with most of them, but I'll address just a few points:

- I'm well aware of the Xerox Star and of the origins of StarOffice, thanks. Have you actually looked at its GUI? It bears less resemblance to any modern one than there is between, say, RISC OS and Mac OS X. OpenOffice may just be an MS Office clone, but the important points are: [1] MS specifically identified it as infringing. [2] It's the only major Free office suite for Linux; AbiWord/Gnumeric or KOffice don't really qualify or compare yet. They're much smaller, simpler and less mature. [3] OpenOffice gives a Linux desktop round-trip MS Office file compatibility. This is a very important tick in the features list; in fact, it's a crucial one.

- Xfce did indeed start as a clone of CDE but it's diverged far from it now and is now very GNOME like in, for example, its Xubuntu incarnation. E.g., see this article: [link]

It's hardly taking the MS position. I'm a well-documented anti-MS advocate and advocate of Free software; that article was researched, written and submitted on an Ubuntu machine, the same one I'm using now. It's my main computer.

However, MS has a very strong case. Look & Feel suits have been won by major companies before and they could be again. Far too many people are attacking me for saying this than actually trying to understand my arguments and address them. My hope was to promote a bit of self-examination by the Free software community, so it could make some changes to reduce the risk of MS actually taking legal action.

 is a RISC OS Userlproven on 30/11/07 12:29PM
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That's a take on it that I've not seen before, and not a pretty one! 8¬(

I don't think copying NeXTstep is ethically questionable, since NeXT got bought and abandoned its own GUI by turning its OS into a sort-of copy of a simpler, easier but perhaps less powerful one, Apple's Mac OS.

ROX is, in a way, a copy of RISC OS, yes, but even judging from my talk about ROX at ROUGOL a year or so back, it's not hugely interesting to RISC OS users: [Rueful :¬) ]

 is a RISC OS Userlproven on 30/11/07 12:35PM
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I think the problem with ROX and RISC OS users is that it is not a complete system. Were it available as the main interface on a live CD (configured to look as much like RISC OS as possible), the situation would probably be different. Puppy linux is the closest I've seen to this. It has ROX and Netsurf, but still looks more like WIndows than RISC OS.

Perhaps A RISC OS style puplet would be a good idea.

Other than that ROLF looks very interesting, though it seems it will be a while before it's a serious desktop system. (I hope it will be though.)

 is a RISC OS Userjess on 30/11/07 8:55PM
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