From: dshr@Eng (David Rosenthal)
Subject: Re: Deskset environment
Date: 18 Oct 90 17:02:39 GMT

[Nanette Simpson replied to me directly. Her reply illustrates the reasons why I sent out yesterday's mail so perfectly that I'm taking the liberty of copying my reply to openwindows-interest]

When we give standard Deskset presentations, a couple of things tend to "dazzle" the audience ...

Thank you, but you have completely missed the point. I don't want to show people how whizzy the standard default desktop environment is. That's your job.

I want to give a talk about a quite different subject. I merely want to *use* the desktop environment to achieve my own ends. And as soon as I try to actually *use* it for something instead of merely showing off the glitz, it falls to pieces in my hands. Unfortunately, this is becoming all too common in Sun products these days, because we no longer *use* the things we build for anything but whizzy demos.

Have you ever actually tried to *use* the desktop for anything? Like, say, printing a PostScript file? The answer has to be no - because dropping a PostScript file on the print tool doesn't work. Or binding a shell command to a pattern? Again no, because doing so depends on undocumented features of /etc/filetype. Even trying to create a new icon from the standard set causes the icon editor to dump core. I'm not joking when I say that I've been filing a bug report every couple of hours of trying to use the desktop. Its this kind of fragility that shows me that I'm treading on fresh snow. No-one else has walked this way.

And that is a truly sad commentary on the state of Sun - no-one has been this way because no-one believes that there's anything worth doing over this way. The reason Unix was such an advance over previous operating systems was that you could customize your environment in arbitrary ways. With just a few shell scripts, for example. Its just like the cold war - in our anxiety to compete with the enemy we've ended up losing the things that made our way of life worth defending in the first place. Like the freedom to disagree with the authorities.

I believe you're correct in saying that most people live with the default environment, but I think it's only partly because they don't know how to customize it. We've done some user testing and, surprisingly, people either prefer the default environment or just don't want to take the time to make it special. This is particularly true of people like admins, marketing, etc.

Testing whether people actually do customize their environment is beside the point. Of course they don't. In order to do it, I have to write C code using bizarre features of Xview, exercise all my shell wizardry, and dredge up undocumented features of the system from the source. And you're suprised when admins can't do this? I don't expect admins to do it. But I do expect ISVs and Sun's SEs to be able to do it, and right now they can't.


PS - I notice that someone filed a bug today pointing out that even your example of dropping a mail message on CM doesn't work if CM is closed. That's a symptom of the kind of arrogance that all the deskset tools seem to show - they're so whizzy and important that they deserve acres of screen real estate. Why can't they just shut up and do their job efficiently and inconspicuously? Why do they have to shove their bells and whistles in my face all the time? They're like 50's American cars - huge and covered with fins. What I want is more like a BMW, small, efficient, elegant and understated. Your focus on the whizzy demos may look great at trade shows, but who wants to have their tools screaming at them for attention all the time? It's like having a Roy Lichtenstein painting on your bedroom wall.