When I first started using Unix, my favorite “desktop” was the Korn shell. Its still my favorite command line interface.
As the years went by and interfaces grew graphical, I grew fond of SCOs Open Desktop. Or, as I sometimes called it on days when my top-of-the-line ATI Ultra card with its 1MB of RAM was grinding away at putting a glorious 256-color display on my monitor, Open Deathtrap.
Then, along came Linux, and life got a lot better. Ive used both KDE and GNOME and a host of more obscure Linux desktops such as Enlightenment. These days, though, Ive become a confirmed KDE user.
Of course, none of these is even close to being in the running for the best Unix desktop.
No, the best Unix desktop is Aqua, and youll find it running on any Mac running Mac OS 10.x.
Somewhere along the line, we over in the Linux/Unix/AIX/Solaris world seem to have forgotten that Macs are now Unix workstations.
Under every bright, shiny Mac desktop beats a Unix heart named Darwin. Darwin, in turn, is built on top of Mach 3.0 operating-system services, which run on top of the 4.4 BSD Unix operating system.
KDE and GNOME have both gotten much better, but lets get real. Theyre not even in the same ballpark.
It comes down to fundamentals. Linux desktops come from developers whose primary interest has always been building powerful tools that give the informed user almost limitless power over how his or her machine works. The key words here are “informed” and “power.”
Todays Mac desktop comes from decades of a different design philosophy, where ease of use is all.
Now, as someone with more then 20 years in Unix/Linux, I appreciate what the KDE/GNOME designers are doing, and I know lots of other Linux and Solaris power users do, too.
But most desktop users, and certainly most enterprise desktop users, are not power users. They want their systems to be easy to use and for their applications to work. To them, the fact that GNOME configuration management editor GConf-editor lets a GNOME power user fine-tune everything on the desktop to their fondest wishes is less than meaningless—its useless.
Todays business users also want the applications they already know. StarOffice and OpenOffice are all fine and good but, like it or lump it, most users want the applications they know from Windows, and the Mac gives them most of those. Indeed, Microsoft just released the first service pack for Microsoft Office 2004 for the Mac.
Yes, as Ive explained before, you can run most Windows applications on Linux with programs such as my personal favorite Win4Lin, but the bottom line is that you have to go to extra trouble to run applications.
I also have recently had friends rub my nose in the fact that theres no built-in Linux desktop help thats anything close to what Macs offer, or even, dare I say it, Windows.
Just because you or I have no trouble finding help for our desktop problems using a combination of man and apropos, along with a HowTo file we found on the Web, doesnt mean anyone else wants to go to that much trouble. Or, more to the point, that some would even know how to find an answer that way.
The default Linux approach has always been to either look up the answer, as I describe above, or to look for answers in the Linux community. That was fine when Linux was a hobby, but business users want to find their answers on the desktop, not in a LUG (Linux User Group).
I really hope Linux developers start spending more time on polishing up the desktop and improving its help systems and documentation. In the meantime, while Linux and KDE make up my preferred desktop, I think there can be really no question that the best Unix desktop for most users is Mac OS X and Aqua.
eWEEK.com Senior Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about operating systems since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.