Thursday, September 25, 2008

Cross-platform and Alternatives, or a Clean Break for New Users?

The web right now kind of remonds me of 1999-2000. Linux was the "next big thing" then, too. There were a lot of techies who tried to come over and failed due to
  1. Linux being really difficult to use back then.
  2. Everything being radically different from Windows, which at the time was close to its top market share on the desktop.
I'm not reminiscing or trying to claim that "the revolution" should have happened then or is going to happen now. I just get a kind of deja vu. Anyway, this leads me to think about all the evangelizing that's going on and whether it'll make a difference. Are the two cons mentioned above still valid? The first doesn't seem to be as much of an issue anymore, but there's still #2.

Especially interesting is the argument for cross-platform applications. Lots of Linuxites claim that Firefox,, VLC, and Pidgin getting good market share on Windows will help users to migrate over to some Linux-based desktop and keep most of their old applications. Ubuntu certainly seems to work on that principle. It boasts FF, OO.o, Pidgin, and Transmission in the default install, even though these applications are really part of Gnome and a good deal of effort has to be made to get them to fit into the Ubuntu Desktop. They still don't , though, really. I mean, I can use a remote server with Gnome applications but not with these hybrids that use GTK+ and maybe some Gnome libraries. OO.o's theme doesn't always match your GTK theme. The file dialogs are just slightly different.

More than those problems, though, are that the applications don't behave exactly like they did in Windows, either. There are subtle differences that confuse the user. There are plugins which are only available on Windows. The way the application interacts with other desktop applications isn't the same. All in all, I wonder whether these applications help or hinder. They certainly give the illusion of comfort and familiarity to some people, and that may be enough. I suspect, though, that they also cause a fair amount of perplexed looks and gnashed teeth due to unexpected behavior.

Then there's the lists. Those equivalents lists. You know the ones. They're all over the web. "If you used Internet Explorer, try Firefox." " will replace MS office for you." "Use Evolution instead of Outlook." "Pidgin is what you need if you used to use Yahoo! Messenger." Do these actually help? Have you ever known anyone who was recommended to use Gimp instead of Photoshop and actually came out with a positive comment?

These lists take the problems of the cross-platform apps up one magnatude. People now expect a radically different application to behave the same as the one they just left. I think that's a disaster waiting to happen.

I gave up a long time ago. People don't really change. I'll paraphrase MiB. A person can change, but people don't. I'm not interested in getting users to switch from Windows to A or B. Heck, I don't even bother to tell the KDE folks that they should come over to the darker Gnome side, where the cookies taste better.

What do you think? Do these applications and lists help or hurt. I'm not beggin the question. I really don't know.

p.s. I'm working on a post about the Action Replay DS, but am having real trouble getting specs. If anyone knows a source of technical information about this, please mail me. The address is in my profile.


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