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Why is OpenSource software so ugly?

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  • Why is OpenSource software so ugly?

    I had to use gparted to install Vista this weekend, and I was reminded of my primary objection to Linux: all the interfaces and apps are ugly. Mishmashed fonts, ill-fitting UI features, and no concious attempt at any sort of unified standard.

    Even the apps offered as counter-examples to my argument (I've been making the same one for a decade now) are so inelegant as to hurt the eyes.

    If you ask me, the reason Linux has never really caught on is the same reason the Mac still hangs on: people want a polished, professional, attractive UI. Evidently this idea cannot exist in the same mind as the idea of opensource.

    I hope I'm wrong. I welcome screencaps to illustrate otherwise.
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  • #2
    Re: Why is OpenSource software so ugly?

    You might be right...and my guess is because of its roots.

    Historically, open-source software has had 2 characteristics:

    Open source software software development efforts have traditionally been started to solve competing proprietary problems. So the goal has always been so address how the product works not how it looks.

    Usability require 2 things that the open-source development community doesn't have: deep pockets and a centralized user interface guiding light.
    Who's going to argue with Apple and the millions they spend on OS interfaces? One may not agree with the decisions, but it is obvious they put LOTS of thought into every interface detail. Everything has the same paradigm, every on-click even the same behavior. By the time the software gets to us, there is a consistency of look and feel that has been thought about, debated and tested to the "nth degree".

    Open-source software releases, are the fruits of many fiercely independent brilliant minds that are trying to solve how software works and not, for the most part, how it looks.


    Originally posted by Doug Nelson
    I had to use gparted to install Vista this weekend, and I was reminded of my primary objection to Linux: all the interfaces and apps are ugly. Mishmashed fonts, ill-fitting UI features, and no concious attempt at any sort of unified standard.

    Even the apps offered as counter-examples to my argument (I've been making the same one for a decade now) are so inelegant as to hurt the eyes.

    If you ask me, the reason Linux has never really caught on is the same reason the Mac still hangs on: people want a polished, professional, attractive UI. Evidently this idea cannot exist in the same mind as the idea of opensource.

    I hope I'm wrong. I welcome screencaps to illustrate otherwise.
    Last edited by Frank Lopes; 11-05-2006, 05:39 PM.

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    • #3
      Re: Why is OpenSource software so ugly?

      I suspect it goes one step further than that. They want people to KNOW they don't care about how it looks. Which, in turn, means they put their own ego ahead of functionality. Which is just a restatement of the principle from the Hacker's Dictionary that *nix is opaque and unintuitive because they WANT it to be opaque and unintuitive.
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      • #4
        Re: Why is OpenSource software so ugly?

        I'm glad I don't use any open source software. Just think what it would be like if my Joomla and SMF site wasn't hosted on an Apache/linux server, using php and Mysql databases
        I can't say the open source stuff I use is ugly. It may not look like the run of the mill retail stuff, but I wouldn't call it ugly. Take open-office, that looks and feels very much like office XP. Gimp is a little confusing in it's layout, but it still does some jobs easier than PS. Tux is something I have installed in all the school PC's, as it is better than any retail childrens paint program I've seen. I can screen shot if you like?
        Last edited by chrishoggy; 11-06-2006, 02:05 AM.

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        • #5
          Re: Why is OpenSource software so ugly?

          What's Ugly Doug?

          Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, what's beautiful to you may be ugly to me. Personally I hate the "polished" look of the Mac interface, which others find so attractive.

          All I want out of my software is that it's functional and reliable, if open source software fills that requirement then I'll use it, if not I don't.

          Let's get priorities right, I'd much rather have an "inelegant" interface leading to software that works, than an "elegant" interface leading to software that doesn't.

          Of course if you can have both then fine, but then we come back to my first statement, what's beautiful and what's ugly?

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          • #6
            Re: Why is OpenSource software so ugly?

            I'd rather have an interface that didnt take all my system resources or need to utilise the full power of my gaming graphics card (Vista - I'm looking at you)
            I've seen Mac OSX and its awful - windows do not need to be animated at all - let alone spiral to the bottom of my screen and back up again.

            I think a lot of open source stuff is 'ugly' because its target market dont care. Its largely software made by geeks for geeks. If they put lots of time and effort into shiny animated interfaces then they'd probably have all the problems that windows applications have. At a code level - its just an unecessary complication and an extra layer of potential failure.
            The simpler a system is the less likely it is to error, and have compatibility problems

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            • #7
              Re: Why is OpenSource software so ugly?

              the simplicity of this is that safety always comes before function and function always comes before aesthetics. the simple proof of this is if you own a car and the transmission is rattling, you'd better fix that before you get that new paint job, but if the brakes are failing, you'd better fix those before the transmission. so, it's always: safety, function, beauty/aesthetics. open source is written by folks that arent going to make a nickel on the thing. so, it's very easy to understand that they might stop at function and not bother with the window dressing.

              but, the opening arguement is somewhat of a generality. so, i'd be wary of saying 'all open source software is ugly'. but the last time i ran linux it was still almost all command line so, i cant say it's not presently all ugly either

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              • #8
                Re: Why is OpenSource software so ugly?

                Originally posted by Kraellin
                but the last time i ran linux it was still almost all command line so, i cant say it's not presently all ugly either
                Things have changed a little since then
                You can even get windows xp skins for some distros

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                • #9
                  Re: Why is OpenSource software so ugly?

                  nancy,

                  yes, i'll bet it has. i've been tempted a few times to run it. i even have a knoppix (sp?) cd here somewhere. i could also run it as a vmware module. those exist and some are freebies. i just havent had the necessity to do so.

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                  • #10
                    Re: Why is OpenSource software so ugly?

                    There are other, more significant, factors involved here besides programmer egos and hubris.

                    Platform has a great deal to do with it. Platforms with a well defined GUI are much easier to create good looking and well behaved applications. Macintosh is probably one of the best defined GUIs in this regard. Even Windows has a fairly well defined GUI although not as tightly defined as Macintosh.

                    UNIX/LINUX on the other hand does not have a universally recognized standard GUI. There are a number of popular GUIs available for this platform (KDE and GNOME are two of many). Because these GUIs utilize the underlying X Windows functionality and set on top of the operating system and are not tightly integrated with it, you can actually install the support modules for more than one GUI on your system and actually run applications using the UI of each concurrently. Talk about inconsistant UI and behavior!

                    Another factor is whether you are going to develop for a single platform or multiple platforms. It's a whole lot easier to develop for a single platform, whatever it is. And for UNIX/LINUX, which GUIs are you targeting?

                    Another big factor is that most programmers are not UI designers. You might be able to get a house painter to paint a good portrait of you, but it's probably going to come out better if you hire someone who has the proper knowledge, experience, and training. Open source predominately consists of volunteer programmers and developers who may or may not have had decent UI experience. For profit companies can hire UI designers and do usability studies.

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                    • #11
                      Re: Why is OpenSource software so ugly?

                      The first reasons are quite possible, and I hadn't taken them into consideration. They would tend to explain why even Windows OpenSource apps are ugly (see The Gimp) since they're frequently just ports of Linux apps. It would also explain why even freeware and shareware written specifically for the Mac tend to be very elegant and polished, Windows a bit less so, and Linux least of all (although I'll still maintain there's a mindset difference as well).

                      The last reason I don't buy, at least not for most OS apps. I'll grant it for the apps coded by one guy in his bedroom, but not for the apps coded collectively by a large community, at least some of whom would seem to be artistically inclined (again, see The Gimp). That not one volunteer, even the artists, would take some time to design a nice UI speaks, to me at least, more about community personalities than any sort of time or training deficit.

                      I'll use me and my brother as an example. I tend to have a shaggy lawn, but it's because I'm lazy, not because I don't appreciate a nice garden. I plant roses and tomatoes, and take adequate but not intensive care of them. Things thrive and taste good (the tomatoes, not the roses), but they'll never win a beauty prize. I have, however, had some ambitious seasons where I took extra pains to make things look nice, and I love a nice stroll through (someone else's) beautiful garden. My brother, on the other hand, derides people with nice lawns and gardens as wasteful of money and time, and will audibly snort if you ask him to tour a garden. I don't think it's a coincidence that I'm a Windows user and he's a Linux fan.
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