Lunch with Grandma mashed up with an interview with Con Kolivas

Con Kolivas of the Linux kernel talks about why the computing experience is so bad. Here's why.

Tech Culture

I had lunch with my wonderful grandma today. Ever since my parents moved to Argentina for their three-year stint, she's been a little lonely (though she won't admit it). My wife is camping with her sisters and our kids, so I'm lonely, too. So we went out for lunch.

We talked a little more about how hard computers are to use. Then I came home to this amazingly good interview with Con Kolivas, one of the Linux kernel's rock stars (and a heavy lifter on the Linux desktop work). He calls out precisely the thing that my grandma is troubled by:

If there is any one big problem with kernel development and Linux it is the complete disconnection of the development process from normal users. You know, the ones who constitute 99.9% of the Linux user base.

The Linux kernel mailing list is the way to communicate with the kernel developers. To put it mildly, the Linux kernel mailing list (lkml) is about as scary a communication forum as they come. Most people are absolutely terrified of mailing the list lest they get flamed for their inexperience, an inappropriate bug report, being stupid or whatever. And for the most part they're absolutely right. There is no friendly way to communicate normal users' issues that are kernel related. Yes of course the kernel developers are fun loving, happy-go-lucky friendly people. Just look at any interview with Linus and see how he views himself.

I think the kernel developers at large haven't got the faintest idea just how big the problems in userspace are.

And so Con has quit his Linux kernel role. He wasn't enjoying it anymore, leaving a massive burden for all desktop operating systems (Linux, Mac OS X, and Windows) to overcome: the personal computing experience stinks:

However, the desktop PC is crap. It's rubbish. The experience is so bloated and slowed down in all the things that matter to us. We all own computers today that were considered supercomputers 10 years ago. 10 years ago we owned supercomputers of 20 years ago.. and so on. So why on earth is everything so slow? If they're exponentially faster why does it take longer than ever for our computers to start, for the applications to start and so on? Sure, when they get down to the pure number crunching they're amazing (just encode a video and be amazed). But in everything else they must be unbelievably slower than ever....

The standard argument people give me in response is 'but they do such more these days it isn't a fair comparison'. Well, they're 10 times slower despite being 1000 times faster, so they must be doing 10,000 times as many things. Clearly the 10,000 times more things they're doing are all in the wrong place.

It's true. I don't care what platform you're using, what he says is true. It's shameful how slow and complex the desktop computing experience remains, despite all the "innovation" we apparently pour into it.

Maybe we need more people innovation - changing computers to work like real people, rather than technology innovation, which keeps trying to change people to match the machines. We don't need more computing. We need more simplicity.

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