Friday, September 09, 2011

Polishing the cracks in Linux

Now that the beta for Oneiric is out, it's a nice time to be thinking of the little things that make the Linux desktop experience not so pleasant. Particularly now, after the upheavals of Maverick and Oneiric.

Like it or not, there's bound to be corners missed when creating a new desktop experience (Unity, Gnome Shell) and moving to a new platform (Gnome 3). That's not even considering the old stuff.

So here's my shortlist of things that would make the desktop experience just a little bit better, if fixed.

Desktop responsiveness. A patch to minimise the impact of high I/O activity made it into the kernel only recently. While it's reduced the problem significantly, it's still there. I do still quite frequently experience an unresponsive desktop especially when launching apps.

GPU driver support. Always a pain point in open source OSes. It's not the Ubuntu developers' fault, though. I can't even begin to imagine how hard driver development must be. But maybe spending a bit more resources to help speed things along would help. Nothing can be done with the proprietary drivers but surely something can be done to help the open source drivers along.

Authentication dialogs. In simplifying the desktop, maybe this little aspect got missed out somehow. For tasks that require root privileges, it turns out we have two types of authentication dialogs. One's a regular dialog, then there's the one that fades the entire desktop and has no window borders. Surely making all authentication dialogs look and feel the same throughout the desktop is good?

Better, faster search in Unity. Since it seems inevitable we're going to be stuck with Unity (for a while at least), it's essential that Unity's search feature works really well. Search in Unity is faster than it was in Ubuntu 11.04, but I'm not sure if it's really better. There's still time before Ubuntu 11.10 so it's really too early to judge.

Media playback. Maverick semi-randomly gave audio playback issues for me. I'd get stuttering, scratching or even total crap for audio sometimes. It seems to happen more frequently when there's heavy I/O going on. The soft subtitles support for videos also doesn't always work. Sometimes, characters that aren't in ASCII shows up as garbage symbols. Soft subtitle also don't always render nicely. Things have improved a lot over the years, but you still see glitches like these every now and then.

I'm sure there's more. No software is perfect, after all.