Sunday, April 20, 2008

A "unix" UI rant

I think I'm finally getting the hand of the Unix/Linux mentality.

For years, now, I've maintained that trying to use Linux was about as much fun as a visit to the dentist. I think I'm finally starting to get it, though.

You see, Linux, in general, has a terrible UI. Not only that but it has been incredibly slow to improve. I fully expected, back in 1999, that'd this problem would be completely solved by now. With the massive rush of ex-apple programmers and general interest it shouldn't be too much effort to fix up Linux to be usable by people unwilling to dedicate several years of their life to learning it. yeah...

So anyway, today I managed to install a piece of software that was obviously programmed by some unix-type. I'm so proud of myself. It only took me two tries. The second try I approached it with the idea that 1) the programmer expects me to know about how everything and 2) put no thought into user interface.

Fun facts:

1) You needed to tinker with a config file that came with its own syntax.
2) The client and server concepts were backwards (*my machine* was the server and I had to ssh into the other machine and tell it connect to *me* so I could use it).
3) Security by insanity - do I know your login name? Yes? Ok, I'll talk to you. I mean, at least you could pretend it was a password; that's what it acts like.
4) The configuration was such that you needed to add two configuration entries to do something that really only needs 1 (for the most common use case). If you only added one configuration line your mouse cursor became trapped on the other screen. oh no!

The thing that really gets me though, is that once it was configured it actually works. I mean, there's nothing wrong with it! No stupid, bugs or miss-features it does what it was supposed to do. It's really a shame that this great software is hiding behind such a terrible interface.

Want to try it yourself? (the software or configuration odyssey. I'm not picky) The software is called synergy. It's purpose is to allow you to use a second computer, with a second screen as if it were really just an extra screen for your main computer.

You see, I run a PC most of the time, but I also have a mac that I want to use. I don't want to keep switching keyboards and mice, though. I'd rather just be able to mouse over to the mac screen and use it like that.

Those familiar with VNC can think of it as setting up VNC session on a monitor hooked up to a different computer. Synergy works better than that because isn't of using VNC to display the remote screen on your computer. You just use the physical monitor attached to other computer's and send your mouse and keyboard command are sent to it.

This works great if you have the two computers sitting on the floor next to you.

Now if you'll excuse me I have to flick the mouse over to the Macs screen because the screen saver has come on again..

Ok, so it has one (known) bug:
"The Mac OS X port is incomplete. It does not synchronize the screen saver, only text clipboard data works (i.e. HTML and bitmap data do not work), the cursor won't hide when not on the screen, and there may be problems with mouse wheel acceleration. Other problems should be filed as bugs."

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