It used to be about me

I used to be the kind of person the computer industry cared about. Hardware makers kept trying to give me more: cpu, memory, storage, screens, pixels etc. Software makers kept trying to harness that extra capability, providing new things for me to do, removing limits on existing ones and new ways of combining, mashing up and remixing what I have. They came up with multiple different ways of doing things so you could pick what worked best for you.

Those days are completely over. Hardware comes with built in obsolescence with non-expandable memory and storage. Screens have regressed in resolution and surface area. Software makers are optimising for small tablets using one program at a time with a finger. They are battling to contain you within their walled garden. They only provide one way of doing things, which helps reinforce the walled garden and makes other systems seem alien. (Some changes have been for the better which is apparent because everyone adopts them - an example is typing a few letters and getting all relevant applications, documents, contacts etc.)

This is even happening in the open source/free software world. Canonical/Ubuntu has a CLA which ensures an unequal advantage to them if you want to collaborate. Parts are kept private to keep up that walled garden (Ubuntu One).

I'd been sticking to Gnome because it had historically been usable and didn't have a walled garden agenda. Unfortunately the most recent release (3.8) has finally become unusable, because they provide only two modes - one completely unusable unless using a small screen with fingers (that approximately no one has), and the second that imitates the earlier more usable interface from back when things kept getting bigger and better.

The latter fails because the developers so focussed on the first mode completely missed what it was about the second that made it productive. My main workstation has 4,000 square centimetres of display space (compared to 160 for an iPad Mini 7 inch). Things are hidden (eg system monitors and dropbox icons) that should be always visible. Huge swathes of horizontal space at the top of the screen are wasted. Attempting to use multiple copies of the same program are an exercise is frustration. Even task bars (so far the least worst UI paradigm for managing lots of open windows where many are from the same app) is broken (eg can't drag and drop to reorder). Doing anything involves more mouse movement, and more steps. Even the workspaces don't show their contents or have keystrokes to switch.

The usual answer is that it is open and I can fix it. This is true in the abstract sense, but not practically because it is obvious I am no longer welcome. Heck I didn't really even want any changes, just for things to be left as they were before they got too much worse.

Designers seem to be on a parallel course to make things worse. The new esthetic is "flat" ui which means fewer pixels devoted to highlighting the difference between ui elements. And the colour schemes involve using various shades of gray on top of and next to other shades of gray. 4,000 square centimetres of gray is not usable. On laptops with worse colour differentiation it is even hard to distinguish what is going on.

I've got six months to find the least worst productive environment. O for the days when it was all about users like me.


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