Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Why I Support Using the Default Applications in Ubuntu, Again

Well, I've harped on this before, but I'll rant a little again. Before I start, though, I want to say that I think people can do whatever thay want with their systems. Flexibility is half of what's so great about Linux.

If you are going to use Ubuntu, however, I really believe you should try to stick to the default applications as much as possible. There are two main reasons for this:
  1. Support: Getting support for the default applications is quite easy because everyone has them and the majority of users use the applications. Advanced users get to do whatever they like because they have probably screwed up their systems so many thimes that they know how to get out of any situation. Telling a new Ubuntu user, though, to uninstall fifteen default applications, add another twelve, and change the behavior of everything else on the desktop is a big mistake. The applications that are there work very well for the large percentage of new users. Once they get used to the new system and how it works, they can move into finding and installing alternates. I'm just really tired of trying to support a brand new user on Ubuntu Forums who has followed someone's "How to get the perfect Ubuntu setup" or "Fifteen things you must do to Ubuntu just after installation" howto. They can't use the command line. They're frustrated that programs don't work or aren't consistent, which leads me to my second point.
  2. Consistency: Ubuntu is 95% a Gnome desktop. Gnome has human interface guidelines (HIGs) to ensure that there is a consistent interface on every program and that learning a few basic rules about the system will get a user out of unknown situations. Save is always under File. Preferences are always called exactly that and are under Edit. OK and Cancel are always in the same place. You get the idea. Installing Amarok (a KDE application) breaks all these rules. The new user no longer has a nice, consistent interface to work with and is left having to guess about many things. This is the main reason I support replacing Firefox (an excellent browser) with Epiphany (a decent browser): Epiphany is a Gnome application and is consistent with the rest of the applications in Ubuntu (except for OO.o, but that's another one I'd like to see replaced).
These two reasons are very user-centric: they are good for the new user. From a more developer-centric viewpoint, having Ubuntu users concentrate on the core applications means that these apps will be developed faster with fewer bugs.

p.s. Yes, I change up my desktop, but mostly for the sake of consistency. HEre is a list of extra applications or changes I make (beyond themes)
  • Firefox to Epiphany, explained above. Epiphany is also significanty faster and more stable than Firefox.
  • Deluge-torrent: Deluge is a GTK application and works well with Gnome. The standard Bittorrent client doesn't allow me to run multiple torrents simply while shutting down and restarting. I rarely use it for anything bu Jamendo, anyway.
  • In Preferences -> Removable drives and media, I change the default photo importer from gthumb --import to f-spot-import because I otherwise have to import my photos twice or click ignor, open F-Spot, then import. What a waste of time. Let's choose one photo manager and stick with it.
  • I install Lyx and Referencer to do most of my writing because I want a Latex workfow. OO.o doesn't have that. In addition, OO.o is so bloated that I'd rather use Google Docs. How bad is that?
  • I change my preferred music player from Totem to Rhythmbox so that I get more consistency. I use Rhythmbox to play my music, anyway. Why do I need to open another player?
  • I install and use Empathy instead of Pidgin even though Empathy has fewer features because it is a light, Gome application (Pidgin is not) which will be the default IM client in Gnome 2.22. It has some cool features that Pidgin doesn't have like serverless zeroconf chat and panel applets for my favorite contacts, but I think the best is yet to come for Empathy.
  • I add my most-used applications to the quick launch area on the top panel.
  • I add the Tomboy Notes panel applet because I can easily add or find recent notes there.
  • I change the preferences on the Deskbar applet to include web history, recent documents, and a few others.
That's it. No sweeping changes. I tried AWN, for example, but prefer a taskbar. Just about every change I make tried to improve the consistency Of the desktop. I wish there were a nice, GUIfied Latex editor for Gnome. Lyx is great, but it sticks out and is inconsistent.



A few questions, if you don't mind:
1. You say Firefox is "excellent" and Epiphany is "decent". I've tried to make this switch a number of times, but can't seem to get over the differences and lack of features in Firefox (and its extensions). Why recommend the switch to a "decent" browser? What examples can you give about the benefits of integration?

2. Doesn't Pidgin have Bonjour chat (at least in 2.3.0)? Isn't that the same as Zeroconf? I'm rather excited about Empathy in general though.

Otherwise you completely describe my process and mindset. :) Might I recommend the quick-lounge applet for easy management of panel launchers?



Thanks for the comments. Epiphany uses the Gecko rendering engine, so the rendering in Firefox and Epiphany is exactly the same. The difference comes down to extensions.

Firefox obviously has many more extensions than Epiphany, but the major ones are all represented and in the epiphany-extensions package.

Of course, there's no real choice if you are a web developer.

Regarding integration, Epiphany ollows the HISs. It uses native GTK widgets, not a theme to make them look the same, so it's faster. Significantly faster. The backend is integrated into Gnome with the bookmarks (+tags) and history being accessible from other Gnome apps.

Pidgin may have Zeroconf. I haven't tried it in about six months. Nothing will change the fact that Pidgin is a monolithic GTK app that doesn't really integrate into Gnome, though. Once the telepathy backend becomes ubiquitous in Gnome, we're in for a real treat, with instant IM, voice, or video from a multitude of applications. That will be exciting.

I tried quick-lounge just now, and immediately replaced my quick launchers with it. You're right.


I forgot one feature that Epiphany has -- Zeroconf integration. It automatically recognizes web servers in the area and adds them in Bookmarks under "Nearby Sites." I don't use it much (I only have one server in the house), but it might be useful for a larger site.


The proverbial "everyone" always says that the major extensions are covered. And they're right, mostly. For me, Adblock, Greasemonkey, and (epilicious) are the big ones, but it's more than that. Epiphany doesn't save sessions when you close/reopen, doesn't constrain everything to one window, and doesn't have tab navigation based on recency (LastTab in Firefox, or like Opera). Might sound insignificant, but for me it makes a big difference. Any ideas on any of those?


That problem with the extensions was the reason I originally called Epiphany a "decent" browser. I think for 90% of the people moving to Ubuntu, those extensions won't make a difference.

BUT for those people who need the extensions, I certainly think that there's no better browser than Firefox, and anyone who found Epiphany wanting in the extension area could certainly install it.

The Epiphany browser is "good enough," though, follows the HIGs, and has a consistent look/feel/theme with the rest of the desktop. If it were the default, those little problems you have might be addressed or at least reported as bugs.



You make a good point about bugs getting addressed when it becomes the default.

I think I'll probably be sticking with Firefox (though I do love Epiphany for what it is), and I'm curious to see whether Firefox 3 (with its apparent better performance and nicer "native" appearance) will be all that we want it to be.

But Epiphany with Webkit... well, now! ;)


... I'm not going to not install Amarok because the Ok/Cancel buttons are in different places.

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