The evolution of Linux on the desktop: Distributions are so much better today

1 month ago 7
PR Distribution

Jack Wallen harkens backmost to the aboriginal days of the Linux desktop and however it has changed implicit the years, bringing the chill helium truthful longed for.

It's been 30 years since Linus Torvalds created Linux. It's been astir 25 years since I archetypal experienced Linux connected the desktop.

I retrieve similar it was yesterday. The precise archetypal clip I booted into the Linux desktop. The organisation successful question was Caldera Open Linux 1.0, which installed with kernel 2.0 and the desktop was Fvwm95. I cannot corroborate what I had assumed the desktop would person looked like, but I tin guarantee you I had nary thought it would person taken connected a alternatively Windows 95 clone-ish look astir it.

SEE: 5 Linux server distributions you should beryllium using (TechRepublic Premium)

It was ugly. Quite ugly. And not successful a retro-kitsch mode to marque it look ironically oregon whimsically cool. It was conscionable unsightly. The colors were decidedly excessively Microsoftian, and it was each truthful ... clinical.

Fortunately, that desktop didn't past precise agelong with me. Nor did Caldera Open Linux past for much than a week connected my desktop. Instead of sticking with that peculiar organisation (before I adjacent knew what a organisation was), I jumped vessel for Red Hat 4.2 (prior to Red Hat becoming RHEL). Once again, I recovered myself with a desktop that looked much astatine location successful a assemblage probe laboratory than my PC.

Something had to give. 

I cannot beryllium definite why, astatine specified an aboriginal signifier successful my Linux career, aesthetics was truthful important to me, but I cognize I'd work truthful overmuch astir however flexible and chill Linux was. But wherever was the cool? Certainly not successful Fvwm95, CDE oregon astir of the default desktops of the time.

Or truthful I thought.

Eventually, I connected with a Linux guru who taught maine a large woody astir Linux successful a precise abbreviated play of time. It was done him that I discovered however to instal bundle from root and that determination was a veritable treasure trove of chill desktops to install. That led maine to AfterStep. I retrieve it being a superior situation to instal (completely from source), but erstwhile it was up and running, it became my integer canvas for which I would walk the adjacent fewer years creating desktop art. At 1 constituent I had conscionable astir everything connected the desktop displaying immoderate level of transparency and anyone who happened to cheque retired my machine would regard successful wonderment astatine what I'd created. They were jealous. They wanted what I had.

It was, successful a word, impressive.

My tally with AfterStep lasted a fewer bully years, until I discovered Enlightenment. It was past that I realized I could person the chill aesthetics with the summation of a spot much functionality. Enlightenment E16 was a much cohesive desktop that seemed to beryllium amended alert of itself than thing other I'd used. It was besides highly configurable, which made for galore a late-night tweaking session.

Enlightenment remained my desktop of prime for a precise agelong time. Sure, I toyed astir with the likes of Blackbox and Windowmaker, but they were truthful minimal and offered adjacent little cohesion than what I'd been using. At that point, I couldn't spend to instrumentality a measurement backward. I knew excessively overmuch to settle. 

And past Compiz came into the premix and changed everything. At this point, Linux was the implicit ruler of oculus candy connected the desktop. With Compiz, it seemed determination was thing the Linux desktop couldn't do.

It was a magical time.

But past things took a crook for the serious. All of a sudden, I was a method writer, covering Linux for TechRepublic (helping to physique what would beryllium called LinuxRepublic ... RIP). As overmuch arsenic I enjoyed spending hours tweaking the desktop, I had to absorption connected being much productive. During those aboriginal days, we Linux faithful were alternatively constricted connected the tools we had astatine our disposal—at slightest erstwhile moving wrong a decidedly Windows environment. I had StarOffice and Wordperfect and, for the astir part, they served their purposes reasonably well.

SEE: Rust: What developers request to cognize astir this programming connection (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

But the Linux desktop started showing its limitations. For example, erstwhile I was sent a record to read, I couldn't conscionable prevention it to my Documents folder and double-click it to open. At that clip astir of the desktops simply weren't that aware. I had to unfastened my connection processor of prime and past unfastened the record manually. Those other steps were the norm.

Until a caller desktop arrived connected the market. Said desktop was GNOME. I retrieve gathering Miguel de Icaza astatine my archetypal Linux normal astatine the Research Triangle. He was magnetic and passionate. I loved what helium had to accidental and was anxious to effort retired this caller desktop. It was 1999, and GNOME 1.0 was yet acceptable for nationalist consumption. And I did consume. It was arsenic though the developers took each the bully bits from each model manager I'd utilized and rolled it into one. But adjacent better, it was aware. Not successful a singularity benignant of way, but I could click connected a record wrong the record manager and the due exertion would open.

All of a sudden, I had oculus candy and productivity! Life was good.

Of course, this was GNOME 1.0, truthful determination were plentifulness of issues to woody with. Even so, I was a convert. I utilized GNOME for years (and inactive usage it to this day). 

Suffice it to say, nary operating strategy desktop has evolved similar Linux. Yes, you tin comparison the likes of Windows oregon macOS and say, "But look astatine however this changed!" Sure, the Windows and macOS desktops person evolved, but their improvement was a spot much subtle and didn't needfully instrumentality the twists, turns and detours that Linux took to get wherever it is today. Nor did either of those operating systems connection the immense prime of desktops recovered with Linux. 

The Linux desktop has morphed from an ugly, awkward, and less-than-productive state, to an astir avant-garde enactment of art, into an elegant, productive and nonrecreational environment. All the while, it offered much choices than astir users had clip to consider. Even today, I could spell backmost to Enlightenment, oregon opt for the likes of Pantheon, Budgie, KDE, Openbox, Fluxbox, i3, Gala, Windowmaker oregon galore different takes connected the desktop. 

So portion the Linux desktop evolved into thing businesslike and elegant, it besides retained a choky grasp connected its roots. At this precise moment, should I truthful choose, I could instal 1 of the model managers that helped maine larn astir Linux backmost successful the aboriginal days (although AfterStep hasn't been successful improvement since 2013).

However, I'm rather contented moving with System76's COSMIC connected apical of GNOME. It offers everything I privation and request from a desktop. And if I were to spell backmost successful clip and look implicit the enarthrosis astatine a younger me, I would astir apt spot idiosyncratic who loved the desktop helium was using, but wished it could beryllium a spot much productive. I would past susurration into his receptor and say, "Give it time."

Subscribe to TechRepublic's How To Make Tech Work connected YouTube for each the latest tech proposal for concern pros from Jack Wallen.

Open Source Weekly Newsletter

You don't privation to miss our tips, tutorials, and commentary connected the Linux OS and unfastened root applications. Delivered Tuesdays

Sign up today

Also see

Linux astatine  30

Illustration: Lisa Hornung/TechRepublic

Read Entire Article