Ever been to a restaurant and been told there’s a multi-hour wait? Maybe it’s an old favorite with some new things on the menu, or maybe it’s a new entry to your local scene. Either way you are faced with a choice: dig up some patience, or move on, missing out on a meal of untold potential. Well, that’s basically how I view the situation with commercial desktops. Whether it’s Longhorn or OS-X refreshes, you catch a couple of screenshots – or if you’re really lucky, a grainy couple-of-seconds demo – of some tricked out new interface and all of a sudden you’re playing the waiting game.
When can I see it? When can I get my hands on it? More often than not, people will even risk their installed platforms to run pre-Alpha kit just to see the latest and greatest efforts of some of the world’s better software development folks. Such is the life of an eye candy addict.
Flip over to the open source world, however, and it’s almost a complete 180. Want to run the bleeding edge? There might not be anyone to hold your hand, but the bits are there for the taking. And if you’re comfortable with CVS or Subversion, you can often run off code literally just committed.
The claim that open source UI’s might have something to offer may be met with some skepticism by those whose last experience with a Linux interface was TWM or some other primitive window manager, but trust me – the interface has come a long, long way. Though it’s entirely subjective, I’m a believer that the Linux UI actually isn’t giving much up to Windows XP at this point (OS X is another story). But as good as it is now, it’s getting even better. By now, many people have seen the jaw dropping demos of Project Looking Glass, and that has since been released as an open source project. Then in February, Nat Friedman (Novell) announced the hiring of David Reveman, who was hard at work on an OpenGL based X server called XGL. And then last week Seth Nickell got the eye candy crowd buzzing again with some video of the Luminocity project, which is the experimental test bed for some UI technologies likely to make it into the Gnome project.
Now to be sure, none of these are simply built – I haven’t even tried with the latter two yet, and failed to get Looking Glass installed the one time I tried it – but the point is that Linux or simply UI enthusiasts alike can use the software every step of the way if they have the time and inclination. Nor more waiting for infrequent betas handed out only to select parties. Or using our previous analogy, it’s like walking into that restaurant, and being told that you’ll have wait for a good table, but that you have the option of eating right away as long as you don’t mind sitting at the bar. Not everyone wants to sit at the bar, of course, but it’s certainly nice to have the choice.