Open Ballot: What does Torvalds know about interface design?


Just in time for this week's open ballot, Linus Torvalds has made his opinions about Gnome 3 known once again. Just in case you missed it, you can read what he had to say here.

The thing is, this is not the first time Linus has made a big deal about changes to one desktop or another. But what does Linus know about interface design, and should the community worry about what he thinks on this topic?

Let us know what you think in the comments, and we'll be reading out and discussing a selection in this week's podcast.

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Your comments

Re: Desktop

It's not about what he knows rather than his preferences. I just switched to Lubuntu 12.04 from (unity and gnome). I guess the challenge is not only about the basics configuration that one needs but also dysfunctional OS at times. Lets' have an upgrade not because we are running after multiple releases but because of new features and functionality. i will remain in lubuntu until i am convinced that gnome or unity is right for me. also they are heavy, can't we get a solution to that too?

Can't tell if the Issue is Fedora / Gnome3

"But where did the "Lock Screen" button go? I can still find +Sriram Ramkrishna's extension by searching for it, but it's grayed out - and apparently for a reason. It doesn't seem to work any more." he's complaining about old extentions not working with the next iteration of gnome 3.

isnt this the same situation that happens with firefox when a new version comes out? ( i really hope he uses chrome / midori)

"I have to say, I used to think that the "" approach to fixing the deficiencies in gnome3 was really cool. It made me go "Ahh, now I can fix the problems I had"."


the only thing i added to gnome shell is an extension that puts a real shutdown button there & thats it. I prefer Gnome 3 over Unity, KDE, & etc but i dont find it hard at all to use it day to day. In college I had a bunch of programming projects that I had & completed while using Gnome 3. I also took a 3d animation class which I used blender instead of 3dsmax to complete the projects while USING GNOME 3. Another question i have is from the beginning i've heard since Fedora 14 ( thats when i came across Fedora) that it was buggy, unstable, & overall just not ready for desktops. At the end I can't tell if it's the average day in the life of a Fedora user or Linus Torvalds has found another excuse to take a Jab at Gnome 3. I have no beef if any Desktop Environment, OS, or UI changes.

Not his business

I responded to a post by a friend on G+ about this the other day.

I find it rather counter the free software ethos for Linus Torvalds to make these sweeping pronouncements.

His contribution is the kernel which of course he should have control over, on the other hand Gnome are clearly free to develop whatsoever desktop they wish and if he doesn't like it then he's free to use KDE, XFCE, LXDE etc. to his heart's content the same as the rest of us.

He is one voice in the Linux world and isn't in some way infallible. He also seeems to feel the need to express himself in a rather non-constructive way telling devs to "go and kill themselves" and other hyperbolic statements.

Linux should be about freedom and freedom means constructive criticism and debate and means allowing people to use whatever they see fit to get stuff done not lambasting them with aggressive criticism and trashing other people's hard work.

Just because the OS is named after him doesn't mean he is a poster boy for anything beyond the kernel as each distro places varying software on top of his kernel.

Perhaps he ought to give Mate or Cinnamon a try like the rest of us if he doesn't like Gnome 3.

PS I have no problem whatsoever personally with Gnome 3 which I use alongside XFCE and KDE on the various machines I have.

Well I know nothing of

Well I know nothing of interface design either but a rubbish desktop is still a rubbish desktop.

The GUI is supposed to be intuitive and not force a new paradigm for every iteration, most people, MacOs or Windoze, use a menu system that is on the bottom of the screen and out of the way of what you are actually working on; making it the other way up is just stupid on a 15 inch or bigger screen!

It gets in the way, popping out if you accidentally hover over the left hand side of the screen grrrr

I think his opinion matters,

I think his opinion matters, but just like any opinion, anyone can and should feel free to disagree. I find gnome3 to be OK, i prefer it over unity but I still tend to use KDE or LXDE depending on my needs at the time. KDE has a nice finished feel and works well, while LXDE is light weight, but still functional aesthetically and otherwise.

or is that unity?? it

or is that unity?? it matters not unity is crap too

Listen to Linus...

Linus is good at a lot of things. As far as I know, interface design is not his strongest point.

But he does represent some of the more hard core, "old grumpy geek" factions of our community. In today’s race to give the "stupid end user" what they need, and hide everything that they possibly could hurt themselves with, it is a good idea to listen to other users as well, for balance.

He is has his faults; he is brash, mostly lack any subtlety when it comes to his criticising of those who work closely with him and countless other things. He is a human, as we all (most of us) are. In these matters his word is not more important than others.

If something does not work, he can eloquently give a straight forward description of why he is unsatisfied with the situation. Take it as feed back, do not let it get to you.

As I said the interface

As I said the interface should just work and not annoy, change for change's sake is not a good thing. If anybody gets sniffy about criticism they are fools to themselves, the fact that it is Linus making those observations is neither here nor there!

His opinion counts...

... just as much as the opinion of any other open source *user*

As the creator of the Linux kernel, he has an obvious advantage in deciding what goes into it and what doesn't. But that is the extent of it.

As a user, his opinion has only the weight of one - just like any other open source user.

As Seetee said

From Seetee's comment:

"Linus is good at a lot of things. As far as I know, interface design is not his strongest point.

But he does represent some of the more hard core, "old grumpy geek" factions of our community. In today’s race to give the "stupid end user" what they need, and hide everything that they possibly could hurt themselves with, it is a good idea to listen to other users as well, for balance."

This is exactly what we should take out of Linus's commentaries about this. If he is or isn't a professional interface developer does not matter. He will always be one of the most experienced Linux users among us.

Torvalds Gets More Attention Than He Merits

Linus is the biggest celebrity in Linux, so what he says about anything related to Linux attracts attention. When he writes about kernel development, he writes with authority. When he writes about Gnome 3, he writes with no more authority than any other user.

Most of us tend to label something we like as "good" and something we don't like as "bad". A lot of people don't like how Gnome 3 does things, so they label it as a failure, tossing around terms like "usability" and "interface design" as if they are experts in those disciplines. What they are, most likely, are long-time Gnome 2 users who have simply become accustomed to that particular way of working. Torvalds apparently is no exception.

No design is perfect. I don't like the requirement to push the cursor into the top left corner to expose the Overview in Gnome 3. But, that does not mean Gnome 3 is a failure. Gnome 2's menus would often sprawl horizontally across the screen. I didn't like that, either, but Gnome 2 wasn't a failure.

RE: Torvalds Gets More Attention Than He Merits

You can hit the super key in gnome 3 to open the overview.


Torvalds may not know much about interface design, as others have correctly pointed out. But I want to point out that when Gnome developers decide to hide something as essential as the shutdown button, it suggests that they don't know much about interface design either.

As I wrote this, I felt compelled to elaborate using a hyperbole. "Fill in this captcha, or you shall be mocked mercilessly" it says at the bottom of the comment form.
I'd like to transcribe that to "Fill the requirements of a well-made, easy to use desktop, or you shall be mocked mercilessly."

Remember, it's not only Torvalds who sports some of those opinions. Quite a lot of people do, especially when it comes to the aforementioned shutdown fiasco. And Torvalds opinions combined with the opinions of many others should indicate they still have some work to do.

He knows nothing about UI

He knows nothing about UI design.

I think he is mean when he

I think he is mean when he bashes on distros and desktop managers so heavily without any constructive criticism. There are real people behind those projects, and I think that he really needs to come out in the sun.

Re:Super Key in Gnome 3

True, the Super Key opens the Overview. Gnome 3 has a number of keyboard commands, and many others can be created by a user. But, in my experience, it is awkward to divide my attention between the keyboard and the mouse. If I am going to use one or the other, I prefer to use it exclusively.

He does some things right...

Wikipedia contains the following quote:
"Torvalds has commented on official GNOME developmental mailing lists that, in terms of desktop environments, he encourages users to switch to KDE. However, Torvalds thought KDE 4.0 was a 'disaster' because of its lack of maturity, so he switched to GNOME. Dissatisfied with the loss of productivity, he switched to XFCE after the GNOME3 release, with another harsh post against GNOME."

In the comments to his resent G+ post, Linus mention that the other DE does not match his taste at the moment, and continues: "Gnome3 is actually fairly close in 3.4. All of my complaints are fairly small ones. What makes me sad is how these are not new issues, and how in the past at least some gnome3 people have actively said 'we don't even want to fix them, because we know better'."

He does not claim to be an expert on interface design, but he clearly and succinctly give his opinion as a user of the system. He has sent in patches and bug fixes to Gnome in the past and when that didn't help, he generally addresses the people in charge. He does not whine and bad mouth people behind their backs, but writes open letters and directs them to the source. Something we all could get a little bit better at.

A reason so much of what Linus say gets blown out of proportion is twofold, I think. Firstly the fact that he does not mince his words. This does not sit well with many, but I suspect he expects the same in return. Secondly, many agree with him. Not all, mind you, which sparks the fury we now can enjoy.

If I were him, I'd just

If I were him, I'd just install Cinnamon. There, happiness restored.

Just another user, although more recognition.

Linus, in my opinion, is just another annoyed user who doesn't want radical changes for no good enough reasons. I also dislike Gnome 3, and it's the reason why I am using Xfce instead. Gnome 2 was one of the best desktops I had ever used, and for a period of time I even considered going back to Ubuntu 10.04 The community shouldn't be worried about what Linus thinks. They should just treat his opinions with higher priority than the normal users like me as when Linus makes a public opinion (which isn't often), he can persuade and convince more people. After all, he is the most important person in the development of the original kernel which makes all of these possible.


I think he understands workflow, which is part of good interface design, he understands the structural side of it - what an interface should allow you to do and what sequence things should come in and stuff like that. I don't think he understands the visual side of that though - how to put that in to practise, what to present to the user and how and where.

But then I see no evidence that anyone (with any clout) in the Linux world understands those things. We have people who can make amazing programs, people who understand usability and we're starting to see a few people who can make things look pretty. But we completely lack those people with that particular sort of imaginative mind who get how to represent that usability to the user. People who understand both structure and aesthetics and are able to present that as a cohesive, coherent symbolic language to the user.

It's a vicious cycle to an extent. Linux doesn't exhibit those qualities so it doesn't attract people who think in that way. No surprise, they're all off using Macs.

I like Gnome Shell and think it's a step in the right direction. I think Linus' complaints are completely valid, but they are one man's subjective opinion about an subject in which he is certainly not an expert. He's right about what's wrong but he has no vision as to how to put it right other than to revert to what we had before.

So no, we shouldn't listen to him. If we want good UI design we need to listen to people who have a demonstrated holistic understanding of UI design. We also need to understand that those skills are not the same skills which make a good graphic designer - a pretty paintjob on a shit UI makes things worse, not better.

But first we need to get those people to look at Linux without sicking up into their mouths a little. This could be done by being a bit prouder of, and exposing, the underlying elegance of a Linux system and, rather than trying to tart it up like a 6 year old in her mother's makeup box, saying: this is what it does, how do we translate that into a visual symbolic language?

Giving voice to frustration.

Linus Torvalds is just voicing his frustration with Gnome 3.

He could remain silent and just switch to something else (your mantra "that there is always a choice"), but by giving voice to his frustrations he is at least giving some feed back about the Gnome 3 U.I.

I don't believe that one needs to be an expert in designing a U.I. to give feed back. As the U.I. either helps us use the computer to do the jobs we want to do or it just gets in the way.

I'd be interested to see a poll of how many Linux uses have switched away from using Gnome and or Unity (I have, now an XFCE user).

Yes! No!

Linus is just a kernel hacker like any other. I see no reason to give his views on desktop environments any more credence than anyone else's.

In other news, I'd like to invite Jon to my upcoming party. We're going to drink cocktails and experiment with unfashionable hairstyles.

Does he know any less

If the design of GNOME3 is so good, then why does it require so many extensions to make it acceptable? Why is Cinnamon on Mint (a customised skin for GNOME3) so popular that i's making its way into other distros?
Recent interface innovations by various parties have left the common user at a disadvantage, an evolutionary change would have been preferable to the current revolutions.

It's just his opinions.

Like anyone using a desktop he has his opinions and preferences. Should anyone care?

Not really. He's not a god and Linux desktops do not have to adhere to what is written in the bible or follow the 10 commandments.

And to any Linus fan boys that find that offending.....get bent.

It's not only him.

Linus Tolvards may not be a GUI designer by trade but he is a Gnome user. He has every right to say how the changes that are being made affect his work with his PC in a positive or negative way. So do we. How else will the developers of GNOME (or any other project) know if the changes they do work or not except when they are actually being used in everyday usage? The problem with GNOME's developers is that they think that they know what is best for their users as if the users them selves are stupid. Take the "Shut Down" button for example. 99% of Gnome users are going mad from not being able to shut down their PC but Gnome developers "knooooow best". They say it's best for their users to go MAD than just giving them a simple freaking button to do a simple freaking shut down. I know there is a shortcut key to make it visible but how many users could for the life of them know that. And what about not being able to put your files and apps shortcuts on your desktop. Isn't the desktop supposed to emulate a real desktop? Doesn't everyone uses their desktop to have easy and quick access to whatever they're working on? What twisted mind thought that taking away a feature like this would actually make working with Gnome faster and easier?

It's not that people don't want changes. It's just that people don't want stupid changes forced down their throats.

I'm wondering...

...does he actually like anything Linux? These days he only seems to open his mouth to slag off one desktop or another.


As Mike used to say on the podcast: it is always quite surprising (also disappointing) to see Linus using a GUI in the first place - you would think that everything that stands between him and the command line is too much by definition...

so what?

Free, as in "Freedom of speech". Just because he is a "celebrity" he can't say what's in is mind??? Linux users are the first to mouth their bad experience with their favoured distro in the expectancy that it will improve a little thanks to their verbose approach and they are also the first to defend it. I say, "Thank you Mr. Linus for your input on the matter, but I disagree." Why does he have to be an expert in user interface design to be allowed to share is thoughts with the community?

He knows what he likes

Ultimately Torvalds presumably knows enough about UI design to tell whether a UI is inconveniencing his workflow.
This seems to be a bit more knowledge of UI design than the Gnome3 team.

Linus is spot on...

What does Linus Torvalds know about desktop UI?


And so do you.

You use the computer every day, and if you are not comfortable with it, it is not right for you. Fortunately, this is Linux, and we can change what we do not like.

However, Gnome 3 is entirely unusable to me. His most astute point is that even if you CAN get your desktop right for your taste using extensions, it is a complete pain, and you cannot port the changes easily to another computer.

It took 3 releases, but Unity is now exceptional, and my preference, albeit with many tweaks.

XFCE 4.10 is nearing absolute perfection. If the rate of improvement continues, XFCE 4.12 will become the de-facto desktop, and we can all stop beating this poor deceased equine once and for all...

We're all users

Whether we use our box for hacking, writing a novel or just plain messing around, we all need a machine we can use without needing a university degree to access it. It seems to me that Torvalds has a point. In my day, as a teacher, we had to test-run new computer applications on others before inflicting them on our students. Even then, it was a case of 'test and adjust, then test again'. The point is, we shouldn't need to guess how to use a system. Meanwhile, I having fun with Mint KDE, Cinnamon and Mate - easy!

Linus Knows Best

If Linus Torvalds was in charge at GNOME then GNOME 3 would be so much better - FACT

It's a difference in ethos

When Linus took the kernel from 2.6 to 3.0 he didn't make any major changes, didn't break anything and didn't drop half of the features, in return for re-conceptualising the whole idea of the kernel.

Maybe Linus is simply more responsible - aware of the vast numbers of businesses relying on linux for stability, speed and security. Where does gnome3 leave redhat for it's next release? Many business desktops have no 3D acceleration, nor staff willing to relearn how to operate a desktop.

Or maybe it's a different ethos - I work in medicine, and here 'not doing worse' is very important. Big risks aren't taken with new treatments, only if there simply aren't any other options. Western medicine has gotten to where it is by very small steps, which have each individually been verified to be a fractional improvement over what was done before.

PS gnome3 drops some nice features from gnome2 for me, such as a 'places' menu, and being able to drag and drop easily across several desktops.

My last best desktop.....

My last best desktop was Gnome 2 on top of Linux Mint 10 with Compiz. Since then things have gone down hill and I'm finding (for the time being) refuge in SolusOS with Gnome 2.

To me it appears the desktop designers have gone mad, trying to change things for changes sake. The sad thing is they haven't had the good grace to leave a maintained reliable desktop for the masses to use whilst they play with the alternative that is Gnome 3. So now we all have to wallow in the mess they have created.

The best thing they could do is go back and maintain Gnome 2 until there is a suitable replacement which, at the moment isn't available from the Gnome stable.

I remain pleased with Gnome

I remain pleased with Gnome 3. I can understand some of the complaints, and wish Gnome would take the "missing" shutdown option a little more seriously.

But overall the experience is great, even with a few rough edges due to running Arch Linux.

Maybe I should try Unity again, but I really see no need to to do as all of my needs are currently met with Gnome and a hand full of extensions.

I definitely do not miss having a permanent task bar, nor a Windows 95 style "start" menu. As long as I've got a clock, easy access to mark myself "away" and the name of the current application, I'll be happy.

I've been using OS X at work for quite some time now, and it's become second nature to hit COMMAND+SPACE to launch applications, the dock remains untouched except as a means to kill hung applications.

So, while maybe Gnome 3 may not be everybody's cup of tea, it's definitely not a complete disaster as some people would paint it.

Gnome Fallback Mode works fine

Just run the command:
# sudo apt-get install gnome-panel

in Ubuntu 12.04..logout and select Gnome Classic....

opinions are like a$$holes.....

I appreciate what Stallman, Torvalds, Mad Dog Hall and others have done in their field.

UI is NOT however something I think they have more insight or knowledge than someone like Seigo, Nuno Pinheiro, etc...

Doesnt mean they cant have an opinion just that their views shouldnt be viewed as some kind of gospel. They are opinions, not facts and highly subjective. Just like ice cream flavours.
Some people like vanilla and some people think Unity is a good UI, there is no right answer (although Baskin Robbins gives me a choice while Canonical tells me "This is good, You WILL like it.")

What YOU like in an UI doenst make it better or right,its just a question of choice. And we know how GNOME is allllllllllll about user choice, so he only has himself to blame.

Missing Features, Poor Real Estate Use, Ridiculous Usage Changes

The modern dumbing-down trend in desktops is really damaging to the seasoned software developer working in a Linux environment. My co-workers and I have serially fled from the newest KDE, Gnome3, and now I find myself running screaming from Unity. My complaints are poor real estate use, ridiculous usage expectations, and missing features.

I run at least two heads on my workstations, and three when I can get it. I usually have several emacs windows open on each of two workspaces with probably three dozen files in each emacs session, where a single emacs session represents a single software project. Each of these workspaces will have usually four to ten terminals open, accessing various remote servers and build environments. Additionally, there will be one or two web browsers on each workspace accessing documentation. On the other workspaces (five or six of these) I might have sview running or a bunch of "top" terminals to monitor a cluster's performance. On other workspaces there is email, web browsing, photo editing, and so on (RAM = multitasking). Every inch of screen is covered with data about the projects I'm working on, and since modern software is about projects interacting with projects, this means I have to simultaneously access a massive amount of information. Each window provides a key feature I need in order to keep working. The older desktop environments made all of this strikingly easy to manage, and provided order amidst information that wants to become chaotic.

Now, imagine what happens in Unity: I lose real estate in support of that blasted application bar. One every head, too. And yes, it hides, but now it's also sticky so I get head resistance when I just want to type something into a neighboring head's terminal window. They didn't remove the panel, so I still lose that, only it's much less useful now. Many of the widgets that made the panel useful are now gone. Additionally, they seem to think that if I'm going to run a terminal, there should be only one. Seriously? *One* terminal? Once upon a time, I worked CP/M via a VT100. That was in 1986. If I want a terminal, I should get one within 1.5 seconds of thinking about it.

Relocating application menus to the upper-left panel has also been problematic. If I have an xterm in the lower right corner, I have to move the mouse TWO AND A HALF FEET to access the menus for that terminal, and that's on a rinky-dink two-headed workstation at 1600x1200 in my home office, not the nice three-headed 1920x1200 setup that I'd prefer to be using but can only get at work. What troubles me is that someone thought this change was such a good idea that they didn't even provide the option to put it back. This makes the previous fight over left-side / right-side window widget button placement look petty. And for the record, if I wanted this, I would already be on a 'Mac.

Someone needs to buy the desktop developers some real workstations and make them use them. Having my software development workstation act like a phone by fiat of uncaring and unconcerned third parties has been a disaster. I need to manage 20 square feet of mixed real and virtual screen real estate, each inch of which is packed with information. I tried to keep an open mind, but this is just not working and I hope someone is able to rein in this trend. Linus knows exactly what he's talking about.

For now, I have abandoned the newer distributions and run Debian stable. May Gnome2 live forever.


If Linux likes Unity, then he knows a lot about interface design.

XFCE win.
KDE no.
GNOME yes.

Andrew 1 - Graham 0 - Jon 1


Whoops! *Linus

Good guy, bad attitude

As you say this is not the first time he has given his opinion about a desktop. But why is he always angry and negative. My first use of Linux was in 1998 when I used Mandriva, I believe. It took me two weeks (OK I'm slow) to get the internet working but I got there. I didn't write angry bits on the internet. I worked to make it work and was glad we had people to help on the forums.
I'd say Linux should use whatever he wants (choice), fix what he thinks needs fixing, or build something better.
But please, after that just shut up. We wouldn't accept this from anyone else and we shouldn't accept it from him either.
But that's just my opinion.

He has a point, but....

Linux is better(and generally faster) 'under the hood' than Windows or OSX. BUT the GUIs we have to work with are becoming more complex and sometimes slow things down again.

The GUIs used by MS/Apple aren't that bad, the trouble is developers feel the need to make things look different.

Personally I like the Gnome and Unity GUIs, and don't mind paying the price in complexity. The one laptop on which I want simplicity and speed I use Lubuntu.

Point is, the choice is there.

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