Subject: Re: Unix mass-market freed software
From: "Adam J. Richter" <>
Date: Sun, 28 Dec 1997 23:53:57 -0800

Russ Nelson writes:
>The problem with X is that it not only does not enforce any UI
>standards, it doesn't even *recommend* any, nor does it have a
>UI-independent library.  So, every X program operates differently than
>every other one.  Just look at xemacs, ghostview, any window manager,
>and xterm.

	I believe that the real problem with X is that is written to
too low a level of abstraction.  What I want to centralize in front of
the user interface is a server that I can talk to in terms of highest
level of abstraction in which my program's user interface can be
expressed, and upload libraries that extend or modify the user
interface.  That way, if I have an interface that is basically a bunch
of menus and forms, it could run on a character display, on a plain 2D
user graphical interface with beautiful colors selected automatically,
on some virtual reality 3D interface, or on a phone mail system.  A
CAD program would require some line drawing libraries not available on
the phone mail system, and would generate an error message.  From what
I understand of NeWS, it was much more like this, although a more
rigid language than PostScript can be more extensively optimized by
the server.

	Note that these problems of X are to some degree shared by
Windows, and X does have network transparency, which makes remote
operation of X applications and groupware much easier.

	As a practical matter, I do not think that discarding X is
wise or even possible yet.  I am intrigued by the Windows98 concept of
allowing the root window to itself be a web page, and I wonder if
extending this with Java might be a round about way to get what I am
looking for, depending on to what degree Java can be bent to other
user interface environments.  It is important to keep in mind that the
desktop is not the end of computer evolution.

	About the unix command line interface: as a practical matter,
do not dispose of that so quickly.  I think it is one of the reasons
that people find unix-like systems to be so much more productive
(especially with that great history editing in bash!).  People pull up
msdos shell windows to get real work done in Windows all of the time.
It is, however, a bit embarassing that xterm still wastes so much
screen real estate by not being able to do proportional fonts.

	About KDE: if it gets popular enough and Troll Technology does
not make it free in the GNU sense, KDE will be cloned.  There are too
many competent free software developers who are becoming familiar with
KDE for anything else to occur.

	Finally, let me point out that I do not think that the
extensibility of the user interfaces found on unix are the reason that
unix does not dominate the retail channel.  The reason that unix does
not dominate the retail channel is because the unix vendors saw more
profit in the low volume high price corporate market, so price points
for everything stayed high, so what attempts there were to retail unix
applications did not generate huge volumes, which kept the price
points high, which kept volumes low, and so on, in a vicious cycle.

	Actions development currently underway within the free
software community to address the need for applications (of any
copyright status) on GNU/Linux, include the following, in order of
impact (in my opinion):

	o Development of Windows Emalation
	o Development of free Java environment
	o Development of retail and direct channels for Linux apps so
	  as to encourage more native Linux applications.
	o Movement toward or imporovement of binary compatibility with
	  proprietary unixes on each processor platform.

	A better abstacted user interface system would be nice for the
long term though.

Adam J. Richter     __     ______________   4880 Stevens Creek Blvd, Suite 205     \ /                  San Jose, California 95129-1034
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