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Java Desktop Demo

Last night I went to a demo at Sun Microsystems of the Java Desktop.  The lure was lots of free beer in exchange for some sales demos.  It seemed like a fair trade.  The demo put on did not impress me too much but I already had played around with the Java Desktop already but I was there for the food and drinks, of course.
The only thing that really bothers me about the Java Desktop is the name.  It is just a shameless exploitation of the Java name.  It should be called the Sun Linux Desktop, which is really what it is.  It really is a re-packaging with support of Suse Linux.  As Linux distributions it is not bad.  I have been playing around with Linux for about seven years and this is the first distribution that I think “normal” people may actually have a chance with.  Really this whole thing is intended as just a cheap knock off of Windows.  I can see some market for it but if I was Microsoft I wouldn't lose sleep.  What I found most entertaining about the demo were that most questions from the audience which where pretty much, can it run Windows applications?
But since Sun is a hardware company at heart they were pushing their thin client machines.
My favorite part was the demo of the 3D desktop Project Looking Glass that we could play with. (http://wwws.sun.com/software/looking_glass/demo.html)  It took me all of 30 seconds to bring it to its knees and the presenter had to turn the on and off again.  Nothing with the demo impressed by “I got to have this feature” but it was entertaining.  The only thing that was good was the way you switched desktops.  The background was a panoramic picture and each desktop was a different slice of the image.  I liked typing in the console and flipping it around to see it backwards.  I think one day all desktops will be 3D like this once someone figures out how to make it useable. 

Bill Rushmore
Friday, March 26, 2004

On the bright side Bill, you got some free beer at Sun's expense!

Elephant
Friday, March 26, 2004

I saw the Looking Glass demo. I don't see the point to it: it doesn't solve any problems users actually have.

Introducing a third dimensions just makes the desktop more complex, and so users will find it easier to lose windows and will take longer to find them. The feature that allows one to flip a window around and make a note about the web page (say) might be useful, but the problem is that by flipping the window you want to make notes on around, you can't read what is displayed on the window any more, you just see the back of it -- so you'd have to keep flipping back and forth.

The CD player example is cute, where you flip through pictures of CDs to pick one out, but this doesn't scale very well wilth the number of CDs!

I have an OS X box that runs Panther. This has a feature called Exposé: you can zoom out and display all the windows on your desktop; you can zoom out and display all the windows associated with the current application, or you can whizz all the windows off the screen to show the desktop. These features all use the graphics card-accelerated graphics system, and they look wonderful. You can map the Exposé features to mouse corners. The gain in productivity is wonderful -- it's like mouse gestures: when I have to use a Windows or Linux box, I automatically try to use the mouse corners to activate Exposé. There's a rip-off for Windows users out there somewhere for about $9.99.

Check it out at: http://www.apple.com/macosx/features/expose/

C Rose
Friday, March 26, 2004

I saw something about Sun's "Java Desktop" and was curious so I checked it out.  Needless to say, I was disappointed to discover that it's just more Linux junk.

Can't use my scanner (no Linux driver)
Can't use the TV out of my video card (no Linux driver)
Can't transfer pictures from my digital camera to my computer (no Linux driver)

Do we see a pattern here?

Linux:  half the features for half the price

My Cousin Vinniwashtharam
Friday, March 26, 2004

"Linux:  half the features for half the price".

Whoa!  Windows is free now?

joev
Friday, March 26, 2004

You must run some esoteric hardware there. My scanner, printer, both digital cameras, bluetooth phone, ipod, PDA, and Lacie drive all connect equally as well between my windows, linux and Mac computers, with no real driver installs to speak of.

The worst offender is the Epson colour laser at work. This model in particular (and no other Epson model) uses some patented driver, which doesn't get bundled with any of the operating systems.

The second worst offender is my older Windows XP computer - which, whenever I plug in a USB 2.0 device into its USB 1.1 socket, starts yelling and screaming something about the device having to run at a lower speed. Yes, I know, please just let me get on with what I am doing.

Rhys Keepence
Friday, March 26, 2004

>Can't use ... (no Linux driver)

As a long time Linux user I have been able to get just about any hardware I wanted to work with Linux.  It wasn't easy at times.  But its not like I haven't had those issuses with Windows either.  Just yesterday I spent a hour to get the HP Tablet PC to print to the HP blue tooth printer.  You would think that would have thought that would be a no brainer.
The way to go is to buy your OS from the same person that builds the machine, like Macs. (Or in my case, Sun/Sparc)

Bill Rushmore
Friday, March 26, 2004

I agree with Bill Rushmore: I use OS X, Windows and Linux on a regular basis, and this demonstrates the problem nicely.

My iBook with OS X is just wonderful -- there's pretty good support out of the box -- no driver installs needed -- for a lot or peripherals. The only things I've found that are not supported are a very cheap digital camera -- 320x480 pixels! -- and a portable CD-RW, although a third party sells an OS X driver for it. The integration of OS and hardware makes for an excellent system.

I run Windows 2000 on a Dell box, and although it's pretty stable, it's no match for OS X in terms of robustness, user experience and getting things like hardware to work. Plus, doing anything sophisticated on Windows is like pulling teeth without something like Cygwin.

I run Linux on a Gateway box, and although it's UNIX and very flexible and convenient as a result, the support(!) for hardware is relatively poor (much better than it was). But the desktops suck so badly. They need to ditch X11 as the default windowing system and develop something modern and lightweight, like Apple did with Aqua (and which MS are hopefully doing with Avalon in Longhaul). Keep X11 around for legacy stuff, like on the Mac.

C Rose
Friday, March 26, 2004

Ever notice that there are a whole lot of soap operas played out in the tech sector?  Heres my favorite one:

Novell owns Ximian and Suse, and they're pushing the Java Desktop (which is really a Gnome desktop).  So what happens when Ximian finishes and releases Mono?

It could very well be adopted by many developers to build Linux desktop applications.  And, there's talk that Gnome will be ported to C#.  So, it's feasible that a lot of the "Java" desktop could be written with MS technologies.

The irony would kill me.

Nick
Friday, March 26, 2004

I strongly hope that Linux and free software in general doesn't succeed in the market.

They make a lot harder for a developer to hear his or her living.

Rushmore
Friday, March 26, 2004

I'd like to see more of what Apple are doing: taking open source code and developing products around it (like in the Safari browser, for example). They add value by bringing a uniform UI, by doing usability tests, by creating documentation, and by providing support. And then they donate back to the community.  I believe that OSS should be considered research -- they can take their time and get things right, follow outlandish paths that the corporate world never would, and do original work (if only they'd stop reinventing the wheel!) -- and then get back a productised version of their stuff if it's actually useful to the masses. Potentially, this could decrease the cost of development for the corporations -- almost certainly the reason Apple have made such good use of OSS code.

C Rose
Friday, March 26, 2004

They don't need to ditch X11.  X11 is fine.  They just need to make XFree86 (an *implementation* of X11) easier to use.

1) Eliminate all situations where you have to restart the X server to make configuration changes.

2) A real-time Display control panel like Windows has.

3) The user should never, ever, ever have to know about modelines and scan frequencies.

4) Must have the ability to change resolution and color depth on the fly without resorting to virtual resolutions.  Last time I used X, your desktop was always the size of the highest resolution you had defined.  If you were running at less-than-maximum resolution, you still had a maximum resolution desktop but you could only see part of it at any one time.  Now that everyone can run at 1024x768 or higher, this is a worthless feature.  I suspect it's just a copout because the developers don't want to dig into the implementation and possibly break stuff as they will have to deal with resizing and rearranging all windows if effective desktop resolution changes.

Richard P
Friday, March 26, 2004

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