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Monday, May 31, 2010

Semantics is Restricting Linux Desktop Adaptation

Taken from Merriam-Websters Online Dictionary.


The meaning or relationship of meanings of a sign or set of signs; especially : connotative meaning b : the language used (as in advertising or political propaganda) to achieve a desired effect on an audience especially through the use of words with novel or dual meanings (emphasis mine).

This has been gestating within me for over a year.  An incident yesterday brought it to full term and I thought I would share some thoughts on this topic with you...maybe to complete derision...

Maybe not.

Regardless, I am going to broach the subject here.

Her name is Margie and she is the Grandmother to three small boys, ages 7, 9 and 11.  I went there yesterday as part of our Twenty Computers in Twenty Days project and installed a desktop computer for these kids.  The mother and father of these boys haven't been seen since mom dropped the kids off three years ago.  She was "going out for the evening" and Grandma agreed to babysit.

It appears that her evening isn't over yet...She wrote once from Los Angeles and said that she was going to be sending for the boys as soon as she got her first paycheck.  That was in 2008.

The boys are well-adapted though...outwardly you wouldn't know that the most important person in their world had betrayed them in the most insidious of ways.  Their grades are good and they are all bilingual between Spanish and English.

Outwardly you wouldn't know...

They were thrilled that they were getting a computer.  It took me only a few minutes to set it up and get it going.  Margie had arranged for internet service prior to my arrival so when the machine came on, it was fully connected to the internet.

That's when the questions started.

Shortly after the Desktop was established, the obligatory popup appeared, stating that "Restricted Drivers" were available for installation.

Margie asked me then:  "What does that mean?"

This has happened easily over 100 times in the five years we've been doing this.  Most people never notice it but some do, and some are disturbed by it.

Margie was.

Even after I took the time to fully explain the whole proprietary driver thing to her, that word still lingered.


See, most people to my experience take words literally.  When someone is faced with the term "Restricted" it forms in their mind that they are not to use whatever is deemed "Restricted".  Even after my lengthy explanation and after telling her that some desktop functionality and most of the games wouldn't work right without the "Restricted" drivers, she still insisted that she did not want them installed.

Again, from Merriam-Webster:

c : not intended for general circulation or release
And from - restricted:

Definition: confine, limit situation or ability to participate
Synonyms: bind, bottle up, bound, chain, check, circumscribe, come down on, constrict, contain, contract, cool down, cramp, curb, decrease, define, delimit, delimitate, demarcate, demark, diminish, encircle, enclose, hamper, handicap, hang up, hem in, hold back, hold down, impede, inclose, inhibit, keep within bounds, keep within limits, moderate, modify, narrow, pin down, prelimit, put away, put on ice, qualify, reduce, regulate, restrain, send up, shorten, shrink, shut in, surround, temper, tether, tie

To Margie, Restricted translated simply to illegal or forbidden.  To her mind, if the system was telling her that something is "Restricted" then it should not be used.  End of discussion.

Again, this isn't the first time this has happened.  I personally do not see the harm in framing the popup in this manner.

Look...there are a number of reasons that Linux as a Desktop alternative hasn't gained more popularity...but to bottle ourselves off from mainstream use over a badly chosen word is goofy.

Yeah, and I know..."but that's the way it's done"... and "The majority of people understand"..."It's not that big of deal...blah blah blah.

To just over 10 percent of the people I've installed for, it is a big deal.

Think for a minute...think about how outsiders perceive the Linux infrastructure.  It is foreign enough with the file system, not to mention the application associate any application or data in Linux as "Restricted" isn't helping our cause.  Of course, some of you could not care less.

Oh yeah...applications...let's get into that for a minute.

About six months ago, we did a long distance deal where CPS (Child Protective Services) asked us to provide a laptop to a 17 year old girl in San Antonio who needed one badly.  I explained that these things never worked well as I could not physically go to San Antonio for the setup and familiarization session.  Against my better judgment, I FEDEX'ed the laptop there.  I was assured that this would not be a problem as someone there would be available to help her with a Linux Desktop.

Obviously there wasn't.

I started getting emails from her, complaining that she couldn't "download" anything.  Remember that to the Windows user, "download" and "Install" have some definite blurred lines.  The "run" option once the download is completed usually keeps the user in the dark as to where the actual download landed.  They most times don't touch the EXE file...Windows does that for them.

Bless their hearts.

Hide the most basic of functions from your users in the name of convenience.  That pretty much insures you propagate the Stupid User Syndrome.  Can't see any obvious motive for that anywhere around...

So I explained to her that Linux handled the installation of software differently.  I took over an hour to "familiarize" her with her desktop and the functions therein.  

By the end of the call, I wanted to run red-hot knitting needles through my eyes. 

Multiple times.

Chewing a rounded cup of shattered windshield glass was my second choice, given the scarcity of knitting needles.

To be fair, I have to admit that I suspect this child couldn't run her Windows computer with much more skill than a Linux machine.  She is not a "computer user".  She is what I describe as a "task-set mouse clicker".  She's learned to do a limited set of tasks such as Facebook, MySpace, email and  Everything else pretty much mystifies her.  Anything after that is mostly Voodoo.

But still...we could do better and we could start at the beginning.

Synaptic.  What in the hell is "Synaptic"?  Aside from a term used in describing or talking about the nervous system.

Sure...we know what it is, but what in the actual word "Synaptic" tells us that it is the system's primary software management system.  Agreed, it is sometimes listed that way in the menu but to the uninitiated, the word "synaptic" has no mental match with "software installation".

Look, I am far from the first to bring this up.  We've been talking about it since the early to mid 2000's and still not much has been done about it.




I'll leave the rest for comments.  I could click my gnome menu and list a dozen cryptic application names but ya'll know them as well as I do.  Again in the name of fairness, my distro of choice as well as Ubuntu has went a long way in putting side-tags on these names to better describe them.

But still "We" could do better.  It's obvious that most Linux application authors don't put a lot of thought into their app naming or if they do, they do so to amuse their peers. 

Whaddaya say we take the New Linux User into consideration.

They are your future and I have enough field experience with this to confidently tell you that they are confused.  Sometimes to the point of shrugging off Linux and becoming just one more of the "Linux Sucks" crowd.

Again, some of you don't particualarly care about new users...I mean, you already know what you need to know about running your system.  You rest assured of your geek superiority and glance over your glasses in condescending glances.   To you, all is right with the world and the rest of them can eat cake.

All-Righty Then.


Anonymous said...

I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with you on the "Restricted Drivers" aspect of it. If proprietary software was seen as equal to free software, GNU/Linux as we know it would not exist. The point of GNU/Linux and free software is that the user is always free. Adding proprietary software to your system destroys this. Without the free flow of knowledge, a system like GNU/Linux would never get developed. Understanding the concept of computing freedom is the least we can do for the developers who spend countless hours developing software for the community to use. Even if someone disagrees with the concept of using only free software, they cannot deny that installing additional non-free software creates only more restrictions. Allowing new users to understand the importance of those restrictions and make the decision based on personal beliefs is something that can certainly be improved, but hiding the reality of the software helps nobody in the end.

Mike Regan said...

By your comments, I am assuming you are one of the ones Ken describes at the end of his blog, Your argument is more stallmanistic than it is pragmatic. We are talking about new users here. They don't CARE about our philosophy or religion. What is your suggestion to replacing the word "Restricted". Are you happy that 10 percent or more people who see this "restricted" tag are bothered by it or that they can't understand "our" interpretation of "Restricted"?

I tend to agree with Ken here although I admit I had not given it much thought in the past. We need to replace the badly-placed word restricted.

If you tell me something is restricted, I tend to think that it is not to be used by me. I don't think that satisfying a small group of purists is in our best interest here. Explain it on a document on the desktop. Don't scare them off before you get the chance.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mike here. When that thing pops up, it should say "External Drivers Available". The text underneath it explains it sufficiently. The use of the word "Restricted" here smacks of scare tactics. Replacing restricted with external would serve the same purpose without worrying people about little or nothing.

Anonymous said...

GNU Linux is all but worthless without restricted and proprietary apps and drivers. It's basically a crippled operating system meant to only used in its own environment. Like it or not, this is a world dominated by Microsoft software and Linux needs to cross that platform barrier. To further cripple the system with esoteric language and philosophies does nothing to further Linux as a viable alternative. Sure I agree with most of the FOSS dogma, idealistically I do but I was also a communist when I was in college. Sometimes you have to sacrifice or even abandon your philosophies when they hinder or harm you in the real world. That's where Linux Developers should spend more of their time.

Chelle Minkin said...

Ken, I don't think any amount of name changing in applications is going to do anything about the Windows User who is completely indoctrinated with Windows. Any variation of ritual is going to evoke a negative response in these people. They're just lazy and would rather deal with what they already know vs what they don't. While I agree with you on the Restricted thing, I don't think there is anything you are going to be able to do about slovenly Windows users.

To Anonymous, I like the "external drivers" thing. That should be passed on but I'm afraid the FOSS powers that be have it just the way they want it. Scary indeed.

elronxenu said...

I believe it is classed as "restricted" because the software is of dubious legality, e.g. patent-encumbered. If the word "restricted" were changed to "illegal", would that help?

Linux has a basic message: when you get the software you are FREE to do pretty much what you like with it - you can give it to your friends, install on more machines, change it and/or sell it. Use of proprietary software invalidates this message, particularly if the user isn't fully informed of the licensing.

I think that grandmother was quite right to refuse the restricted software: she wants to be safe, and the best way to be safe is to use only Free Software.

elronxenu said...

Anonymous wrote:

"GNU Linux is all but worthless without restricted and proprietary apps and drivers. It's basically a crippled operating system meant to only used in its own environment. Like it or not, this is a world dominated by Microsoft software and Linux needs to cross that platform barrier."

By "cross that platform barrier" you mean ... become Windows, right? Why don't we just give up and port all our applications to Windows. Then there'll be no need for a Free Software philosophy, we can all buy Windows from Microsoft and buy our proprietary apps from vendors. That's what you mean by "sacrifice or abandon your philosophies", isn't it?

How do you feel about that, Helios? As possibly the world's biggest Linux advocate, how do you feel about throwing away your hard-won computing rights so proprietary apps can compete with free software on a level playing field? So end users don't have to be intimidated by scare words such as "Restricted Drivers"?

Aren't you just opening your users to a world of pain - the pain we are telling people they can leave behind with linux - by introducing proprietary software? Every application will have its own license agreement that the user has to accept before it may operate. Every application - different terms and conditions. Different restrictions on what you may do. You may not give this software to your friends. You may make only a single backup. You may not install on multiple computers. You agree to being audited by the BSA. You agree that this agreement is made according to the law in Alaska and any issues are subject to jurisdiction of an Alaskan court.

I would expect that the typical Windows user has accepted so many licenses and restrictions that they can't keep track of what they are allowed to do any more. They probably have no idea how many rights they have signed away.

Where do you want to go today? Straight into proprietary software?

I think "Restricted Drivers" is a fine word because it points out that they restrict your actions henceforth. Far better one word alerting to this than the morass of hundreds of different proprietary licenses in the Windows world.

elronxenu said...

The comments seem to be full of people who are happy to remove others' freedom.

Who are these people and what is their motivation? "I agree with FOSS dogma but I was a communist when in college"?

I agree with the observation of PJ from Groklaw.

The people who most consistently misunderstand the nature and purpose of the GPL are vendors and others who wish to exploit the community for their own profit.

InaTux said...

Firstly, the drivers are restricted, you cannot modify them, and you should not use them. If the term "Restricted Drivers" makes people uncomfortable about installing them, than we have only done a good deed calling them that.

Secondly, "External Drivers" aren't what they are, they are proprietary, but most people don't understand what proprietary software is, so "Restricted" is the best replacement term. "Non-Free Drivers" might work better.

And thirdly, GNU+Linux isn't a crippled system without the proprietary drivers, gNewSense installs and works just fine with an Intel/AMD and ATI based system, that is "Intel or AMD processor with a new ATI video card" you may also use an nVidia video card, but only 2D video is accelerated with the free drivers.

I am currently running on an AMD Sempron processor with an nVidia Geforce 6200 with Linux-libre.

Linus' pragmatism is not needed, and unappreciated by many Free Software advocates.

Owain said...

'Non-free drivers' seems a good option for me than 'Restricted'. It won't be a showstopper for the clickOKclickOKclickOK users, and would be a better way of starting off the discussion for those who want to know what it means than 'restricted', because you can immediately get into the 'free as in speech' approach.

As for general naming of applications, AMEN. Open source software I have talked about in polite society?


Only two of these names, as far as I'm aware, have anything to do with their function, and only one is explicit. But at least they're PRONOUNCEABLE!!! (No, saying 'the K is silent' or 'the G is whatever' doesn't count. If people don't know how to say it, they are NOT going to recommend it to the people they talk to.)

Unknown said...

I think that this article is based on a false paradigm. That paradigm? "Linux should be an operating system accessible to the masses."

I'm not a "superiority geek" as described at the end of this article . . . I can appreciate the position of people for whom using Windows or Mac OS is the best choice. In fact, I would argue that most computer users fall into this category.

Ubuntu and other distributions have made it their goal to become a Linux-based operating system with a very low learning curve for access, and good for them. Perhaps aspirational Linux users with the ability but without the experience can use these as stepping-stones. Nonetheless, I argue that non-technical, "stupid user syndrome" sufferers, as you describe them, should not use Linux. To do so would be wasting their time and effort.

Linux is a free UNIX alternative, plain and simple. When you advocate that an individual should use Linux as their primary operating system, stop and ask yourself, "would I recommend that this person use Solaris? Do they have the need for features of a full UNIX OS, or are they looking for a simple, end-user workstation?"

Anonymous said...


With all due respect you are missing the point. This isn't about 'slovenly indoctrinated Windows users (nice name calling btw), it's about new users.

The Grandmother who doesn't know one end of a computer from another. The young user, who wouldn't know Windows from Mac OS, and just wants to access their socal networking site. The non-geek, for whom computers are new a tad bit overwhelming.

In other words, ordinary every day people who don't know, care or are even aware of the politics of the situation but are never the less are being lost in the crossfire in this battle of semantics.

Unknown said...

Maybe those of us who have become accustomed to using "restricted drivers" and forgot how scary that should be are the ones who have got it wrong. We take the performance that these blobs give us and accept that in doing so we give up control of our machines to the writers of unseen code. Is this how Shub wins?

Xheralt Delencradier said...

@Anonymous -- The restricted drivers referred to are NOT Microsoft's (direct) doing, they are hardware-manufacturer-specific. Blame the likes of Nvdia & ATI for only developing for M$ if you have to blame anybody (although they are getting better), and their only fault is matching Microsoft's proprietary model with the same model (fighting fire with fire).

Anonymous said...

I agree that the word "restricted" isn't the best choice for this type of software. "Unsupported drivers" or even "proprietary drivers" would tend to scare unfamiliar users much less.

Another option for Ken is to just install the beastly drivers for users anyway, hide the "Hardware Drivers" menu item, and then turn off the startup check for new proprietary drivers on every boot-up. It works like a charm every time, and no questions are asked. Synaptic will handle future updates to the installed evil drivers anyway.

Unknown said...

Just wanting to put my two cents worth of wisdom; since we're introducing Linux to a new user wouldn't it be more efficient to accompany every installation with a small manual that explains every "terrifying" concept introduced in this new computing environment?

When you get a new laptop you usually get a few pages worth of reference manual. How do you install and put the battery on your laptop how you start it up or shut it down etc etc.

At the very least a quickstart to Linux (whether it's ubuntu or suse or whatever we install) wouldn't we help the users more if they have something to answer their "how do you do that and what is that" questions?

Investing some time to cook up a short manual with screenshots of the usual applications and the concepts and procedures they introduce might take users and Linux tech support on a less bumpier ride.

If we're talking about users stallmanists or pragmatists need to see that the real driving force that will drive Linux all the way up to the mainstream is user education.

Again that's my 2 cents worth of computing wisdom.

Unknown said...

I take issue with your suggestion that application names like Synaptic, Kopete, etc. are not descriptive enough. "Outlook" says nothing about email. "PowerPoint" doesn't describe a slideshow. Rather, these terms have come to mean email and slideshow because Microsoft has ingrained those terms in the minds of their users. In fact, people have more context in most Linuxes to determine what the programs do thanks to the organization of the main Applications menu.

Mike Chelen said...

The use of different names for programs could be abstracted away. If Open Office Word Processor is the only document editor installed, it should simply be referred to as "Word Processor." If another office utility such as AbiWord is installed, the default could be selected through Preferred Applications controls. Similarly, Synaptic Package Manager could be referred to as "Package Manager" if it is the only one installed.

Amenditman said...


Semantics indeed.

We all can make a small noise to our own distro of choice about using calmer language to describe the act of restricting the users freedom to choose.

That being said, there are a large number of folks who are willing to look at Linux who have had it up to here with proprietary restrictions and the resulting snafu. If only 10% are objecting to the term "restricted", I'd say you are hitting a lot of home runs.

You should be having hordes of them objecting to submitting to restrictions ever again.

Pipe dream, sarcasm, sure, but I have hope.

Final note, it is their choice, let them make it. They can always change their minds later.

Alan Jones said...

Hi Ken,

You may find Mandriva's approach to these issues interesting.

They refer to the drivers as proprietary, rather than restricted.

Though more interesting I think is the issue of what an application does. Though I don't know at what level this sits - whether it's kde, though perhaps gnome process .desktop files the same way.

Anyway - it has text under the name in the menu entries telling you what the applications do. Kopete, for instance, has "Instant Messenger". Also when you type into the run dialogue it searches this description. So typing "Messenger" shows kopete and pidgin (I have both installed), typing "Calculator" shows KCalc etc.

I think this is a great approach as it is valuable for applications to be able to brand themselves, which often requires an abstract name.

Though I agree with you, we should think about using terms which are as clear and unambiguous as possible.



Anonymous said...

Is it possible that the grandmother understood your explanation and the implications of "restricted" drivers better than you are giving her credit for, and simply made a choice, that you obviously don't agree with, that whatever games, etc, broke, to her, it was worth it?

That's the feeling I get based on the information available in the blog. Of course, you were there and I wasn't, but do you always interpret a choice not to do the restricted as a misunderstanding? Perhaps they're the ones that actually do understand... and care!

Duncan (who had to learn the difference between "Linux driver" and "freedomware Linux driver", the hard way).

Anonymous said...

I disagree. I think it is equally lazy to ignore the influence of a label.

This is not to say that the above comment holds no truth but then it's there to pigeonhole for pigeonhole's sake as a reverse attempt to not address the issue or god forbid, even considering changing it.

I'm not involved with Linux Mint but to quote their FAQ:

What about proprietary software?
We believe in the open-source philosophy and release the source code for all of our work. We owe a lot to the Free Software movement and to the GPL but we also owe a lot to all developers who have had good ideas and created great tools and who have been working to make software better. Some of them have released their source code as well and have thus granted us more freedom and more flexibility. Others released their software with proprietary licenses and no source code, and although this doesn't give us the freedom we would like, it still contributes to make software better. We like Software in general, Free Software even more, but we do not believe in boycotting Proprietary Software.

Anonymous said...

OK, so I am assuming that since some games wouldn't work unless the restricted drivers were used, this machine is running an Nvidia graphics card. Intel is pretty well working with 3D now and the included ATI driver is fine as of late.

So, with the Nouveau effort delivering somewhat spotty performance, and then performance only for nforce cards, was this adult correct in hobbling the system? It is obvious that the woman simply keyed on the term "restricted" and it freaked her out a bit. I don't know many grandmothers who have a single clue about our inside war over free vs. proprietary, or even care.

I personally think that Ken should lobby Microsoft for free XP home licenses and install them on his computers. At least all the driver issues there are worked out. That way this dispute is stopped in its tracks.

Unknown said...

I never really thought of the "restricted" wording until just now. Likely because of using Mandriva where they use a more "obscure" technical term.

It might be worthwhile to find a better word than restricted to refer to these binary blobs, but the concept is a bit tricky to describe with one or two words. I can't imagine a dialog asking about installing "drivers that can't be legally redistributed by us, but which you can download and use directly for no cost."

On to application names, I'm of a similat mind with Ryan further up in the comments. The word "Excel" doesn't say anything about spreadsheets more than it being very heavily associated because of Microsoft's dominance. Likewise the old Lotus 123 - which at least had some thought of number use in the name - had the same issue.

However, some of the names are particularly painful. Take GIMP, for instance. The full name is descriptive and certainly informative, but the abbreviation is very unfortunate. For projects like that, it could be good for their image to find a better name. Heck, maybe drop the "Program" from GIMP's full name and simply call it GIM? Other programs like Pidgin (formerly GAIM) have a nice, memorable name and I think that's the best that can be hoped for, given the trademarks that exist out there.

Wiktor said...

I think you may start to consider putting a different distro on newbies' computers. That is Fedora 13.

I've read a small and nice review from Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols, which convinced me to try Fedora on my laptop:
The five best things coming in Fedora 13 Linux

You can also read the article and comments on the site, the readers are impressed with improved open-source graphics drivers:
Fedora 13 Released

Anonymous said...

Speaking of which ... Mono should be restricted.

Jacob Adamson said...

This article is very insightful to me. It smacks of truth. Your average Joe will not always know that restricted means "It will make your computer work better". Most associate it with something bad. These things are details that are small and insignificant to medium to advanced users, but are downright mystifying to the casual person who computes. These things are easy to get right if you put a bit of thought into making it easy to understand for the common man/woman.
Of course, I think we also fighting a cycle right now as well. There isn't a majority of unskilled users out there using linux, and if there are, they probably don't know where to go to give their valuable feedback. So, while all of the technology buffs love linux for its power and flexibility, the common user flounders and eventually gives up hope. And why shouldn't they? They don't know where to go to voice their opinion and are in fact a minority of the linux system.
We just have to face up to it. Technology is moving towards simplicity for users. Point and click. Drag and drop. Linux seems simple to us because we learned it, but we're not getting the feedback we need from all spectra of the masses. If linux is going to ever be widely adopted, we need to get those folks dialed in.

tracyanne said...


quote::I'm sorry, but I have to disagree with you on the "Restricted Drivers" aspect of it. If proprietary software was seen as equal to free software, GNU/Linux as we know it would not exist.

The call them "Proprietary", the explanation of why they are restricted contains that information anyway, and why Proprietary is bad.

Ken is correct, this causes confusion. I've had to sit and explain the same issue to people many times, because people are simply confused, about why it's restricted, and why it's even offered if it's restricted.

geoff_f said...

Take a leaf out of openSUSE's book. It has 'oss' (open source software) and 'non-oss'. Simple

Anonymous said...


Just some suggestions to get around the "Restricted" scare:

Start with
"We are all law abiding citizens who would NEVER do something illegal with software. Therefore, we warn users that these programs come with user restrictions."

Then pick one of:

1 "Restricted" means you are not allowed to copy it yourself. You have to get it from the producer. Therefore, we cannot install them directly.

2 "Restricted" means you are not allowed to change it.

For those claiming "*nix viruses are on the horizon", I just ask them to show an example. ANY example, of a self replicating virus for Linux (or OSX for that matter). Just a simple lab example as proof they really exist.

Malware does exist for every OS. But things that fall under the definition of a computer virus are ONLY known for MS software. Because you need a special kind of devious incompetence to allow for their existence.

As for "Ignorant Users", I always try to think of the following:

Humans can be outstanding citizens and live a fulfilling, productive, and happy life without having any clue about [insert pet technology here].

I just remember there will always be things this clueless user can do or know I cannot do or do not know.

Just trying to figure out what this user can do you cannot is generally humbling enough to refrain from sneering etc.


Anonymous said...

So many of you missed the point or choose to insist that your own (limited as in influence and geographical region) interpretation is the only valid one.

Just as I tell people spooked by terms that format and mount still means what they've always meant, restricted does as well. It doesn't matter that they are restricted because.....they are labeled "restricted" and that's all there is to it.

There is no truth, there is only perception.

So many GNU/Linux or open source advocates demand that their views are right when the people needing clarity are further lost and seemingly served by none.

Must be nice, your view of the world.


Glenn Greenfield said...

In Debian it's called "non-free" which doesn't have the same connotation as "restricted" although that might still raise some questions. As for application names - how would it even be possible to make each and every app name so that you are aware of what it does? Some popular Windows apps:
Foobar2000 - media player
Acrobat - PDF reader
Outlook - Email client
None of these app names give you a single clue as to what the app actually does.

David Lasky said...

Two thoughts:

1. I agree with a number of people that software names are learned from familiarity, and that outlook only means email to people who have been trained to know that.

2. At least having the Ubuntu Software center in the app menu should help get them started before they need to move on to synaptic.

3. Maybe gnome should take a note from KDE, whose kickoff menu lists what the application is for, and then the name of the program. While I think some things in kde still need to be fixed so I don't use it fulltime right now, that was a great idea.

Unknown said...

Naming in Windows either goes one of two ways. The first is one company name fallowed with what the application does such as in the case of: Microsoft Word or Adobe Reader.
The other way around is giving the application an actual name such as Skype or Maya.

If your application is not going to be part of a larger set of applications where it fills a specific purpose along with the set it makes no sense to name the application Reader.

Kryten42 said...

I have been a designer, developer, coder, project manager, consultant etc for over 30 years. In the early days, we believed in the KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid) principal because almost everyone was computer illiterate then, and it worked. That has changed over the decades, and *Cool Rulez! OK?* is the norm.

I still get called on to do *basic* support for people who have been using a computer for a decade, and I couldn't count the number of newbies! Hell, I even have problems sometimes when something new comes up I haven't seen before and I think "What the heck does that mean?" Most people these days aren't really taught to think much outside the square, they learn by rote. it's the way it is.

Unless you get back to KISS, Linux will loose. And that will be too bad.

Anonymous said...

I have a great suggestion for the "restricted," "non-free," "proprietary," debate... How about just calling them "Non-GPL???" That is accurate, and will beg the next question, which is "What is [the] GPL?". That creates a teaching moment, one of the very things that Helios is trying to do here...

Now,... the other problem remains. How do you convince the developers to adopt this language?

Unknown said...

Why not suggest replacing "Restricted Drivers" to "Proprietary Hardware Support"? Can we suggest this? Also, how about using words in the dialog that support the importance of Open Hardware Support?

Kelli said...

"Unsupported Proprietary Drivers"

"Restricted Drivers"

"Company-Owned Drivers That May Not Work Right"


Guess which message is sent by which text.

Unknown said...

I agree with dimitris in preparing a newbie friendly user manual, or even a series of screencasts called from an application (either at the first start-up or with an icon "my first steps in linux: click here if you never used it" or similar) where all the linux paradigms, differences from what people should know, tutorial on how to use programs and the system itself are explained and shown (people can learn better visually the most of the time) divided by level of difficulty and topic, starting from the very basics as how to use the mouse effectively to dragging windows, different names, and going all the way on how to use terminal,etc.
There were applications like this bundled with the old Mac OS and Amiga in the early nineties that introduced people to the basics of computing and i really think this might be useful. For the open source project I am cooperating for (AROS, would like to promote it here but there is still a lack of productivity software for everyday use) I started to do those kind of screencasts; i made a couple of intermediate level videos (how to edit GRUB from inside and how to install and test an audio device driver) and am going to start an Absolute beginners serie of tutorial for introducing people to the very basics (since the original Amiga OS, which AROS take its inspiration has some operational differences from what people might be used on win/linux GUIs); i personally think this approach is useful in conquering more users and make them feel more comfortable and accepted.

SirYes said...

How about just calling them "Non-GPL???" [...] How do you convince the developers to adopt this language?

No, you don't. Software doesn't have to be licensed under GPL to be "free". There is a handful of such licenses, see for example a list on the FSF site.

If you must use the FSF naming scheme, call it "GPL-compatible" and "GPL-incompatible". And now get the average Joe User to understand this subtlety.

Maybe we should accept the fact that Linux is for people that are willing to learn. If some innocent soul is hopelessly powerless when dealing with her Windows (i.e. bought with laptop), and all her friends have Windows PC or a Mac (which makes all computers in her eyes), I'm not sure she would deal better with Linux.

Allie Cat said...

@Anon 6/10 8:55- Calling them non-GPL wouldn't do it, because there are plenty of free software licenses out there that are not the GPL. Apache- and BSD-licensed code abounds in the average Linux distro, as well as MIT-licensed code.

I, personally, like the idea of calling them "non-free" like Debian does, opening up a "teachable moment" to talk about software freedom. Of course, there's a downside to that- a user that knows nothing about free software may think "non-free == paid", but I think that one can be explained more quickly than "restricted".

Anonymous said...

If we are talking about drivers which are not supported by the distro, perhaps "Un-supported drivers" would be a more accurate description.

Gerald Britton, MCSA SQL Server, MVP said...

@WhoMe42, Linux will "loose?" Linux! Thou art loosed!!!

Actually Linux is not trying to "win" anything. Its raison d'etre is entirely different. Still, signs are pointing to a "win" for Linux over Windows in the tablet computer space. Of course, it won long ago in the HPC space.

Dan said...

The simple fact that there is a driver available from the hardware manufacturer, presented in a nice, standard dialog box, with the option to enable it or not, should be enough for most anyone to recognize that it isn't an invitation to commit a felony.

I'd simply show the (in this case) nvidia EULA to the questioner, and take a (long) lunch break.

Lesson to learn: GNU/Linux, with all its non-OSS bells and whistles, isn't for just anyone, and is especially not for the paranoid (something around 11% of us?).

Sure, some words are scary, if you don't know exactly what they mean in a given context. And a traffic triangle with a big exclamation point in the middle doesn't help, either.

Maybe if it were explained as analogous to the "Phenylketonurics" warning on aspartame products - so important for those who need to know that the rest of us have to deal with it for their sake.

Maybe her grandkids could whip up an open-source driver for their GPU...

ScottInNH said...

I don't hear any strong defense of the "Restricted" screen. At least, some of the proponents of it (as it looks now) seem to LIKE the idea of scaring illiterate computer users into not using the restricted drivers.

That is an extremely unfair tactic to rely on to win over converts to "pure" systems.

All the warning needs to say is "This driver is third-party, and may have different Terms of Use and Copyright Restrictions. Know your rights. If you choose to enable this driver, in most cases your system will run more smoothly but in some exceptions this driver could cause problems. If such problems occur, please disable this driver."

Something like the above, and change the damn icon. This needs an icon which suggests ... careful consideration. The icon does not need to look like "DANGER/WARNING" (it looks like the icon you would show if the user wanted to delete the root partition, for heaven's sake).

JohnRyan said...

I didn't read through the entire comments because I kept getting stuck on this same point. It seems like many Linux users and those involved in the Linux community are trying to define what Linux SHOULD BE. Some might argue with me, but shouldn't Linux be an open source operating system. Just that. An operating system.

Distributions are built on top of that operating system to be something more. This is where the definitions that ya'll are arguing about come in. And no one can argue to someone making a distribution that their reasons for doing so are wrong. It's their distribution. If someone wants to make a distribution whose primary purpose is to make you vomit when it boots up, then that's it. No arguing. Either they hit the mark or they don't and it has nothing to do you with your open source philosophy.

Now back to the article. If you create a distribution of Linux and your goal is to bring on new users and make a distribution that 'just works' for any user, new or experienced, then this article is dead on. The user experience will be should be one of the top priorities and the semantics therein should be painfully obvious to nearly every user. You either hit that mark you don't. Obviously using words like "restricted" without giving any context to the user is stupid. There is no requirements on the user of an operating system whose purpose is to be as easy to use as possible so that it can adopt more users.

Unknown said...

Of course there are endless ways left to make Linux distros a lot more user friendly. However I don't think names should be changed in order to make it easier for new users to navigate, I mean, in everyday life there aren't definitions on every object either. You might think this comparison is rather odd, but I think it's something that should never happen. I've heard that Canonical is going to change MiB to MB just for the few new users that ask questions about the slight amount of storage they have less, than what they hoped for. I don't think this is good at all, they're changing rules, just to make it easier for the "unexperienced users".

I have to admit though, I don't really mind if the Linux share doesn't grow, I think the community is active and great already, as it is now. I do find it a shame that I have to take Windows for granted when writing applications. I know that there are cross platform languages like java, but still I remain a fan of compiled languages like C/C++.

There are however good stuff about Windows, I'm not sure if I'm the only one who has experienced this, but I've got a hell lot of jobs because of Windows, mainly removing spyware, and usually the type that makes it impossible for the user to do anything. For Linux geeks however it's just plain logic booting a live cd, and remove the infected mess which I have done several times. (Yes, i know there is a safe mode, but c'mon, when I get to chance to fix something with Linux, I use it)

I'm pretty much neutral, more users on Linux would mean, less attention to the Windows compatability issue, higher priority from for instance web browser developers, to Linux versions.
But on the other hand there might be less work, once everyone gets to find out how Linux work, people might eventually fall in love with the terminal as well, and bash geeks won't be needed anymore, that would be a shame :). The last part was a joke, but seriously, you never know

Grant Johnson said...

Unfortunately, restricted is the correct word. You just need to understand what the restriction is. If you explained that the restriction on these drivers is the same as the restriction on the operating system and almost every application on Windows, would that help.

Explain that this warning is that these have similar rules to ALL of Windows. Pretty scary, huh?

AntonOfTheWoods said...

Get ready for ChromeOS folks. They don't do everything right, maybe not even most things, but Goog is definitely going to shake things up when ChromeOS comes around (Q4?). Android seems to have retained a high level of Linux association with it (I bet most people don't know webOS is Linux but most do know Android is). Maybe we'll finally get to pout when big G puts some sweet into the Linux desktop!

Jose_X said...

Ken, Linux is open source.

If you decide to push forth with a rebranded distro that addresses all of these issues and more, I'm sure you will get help.

Jose_X said...

With regard to the last comment, I realized right after posting that you keep yourself quite busy; however, if you find some time to address this -- a Austin child's distro -- I'm sure many would help you research and figure out how to improve upon existing solutions.

A permanent link to that project from this blog might even pull in more techies to read about the things going on in Austin.

Finally, improving on a distro is something the kids would all like, I think, and would help spread Linux through word of mouth faster. See, Linux has restricted drivers, but it also enables the driver in ways Windows never could.

Jose_X said...

>> I have a great suggestion for the "restricted," "non-free," "proprietary," debate... How about just calling them "Non-GPL???" That is accurate, and will beg the next question, which is "What is [the] GPL?". That creates a teaching moment, one of the very things that Helios is trying to do here...

Also, does this mean that GPL is inferior quality? Well, there are various reasons in why hardware companies don't share as much of their hardware specs as they could. Certainly, end users should put pressure on these companies to open up their specs and support open source; however, to address the point of does the GPL mean inferior quality:

Note, that the proprietary houses have always had the opportunity to study GPL to improve their software, whereas they hide their achievements from us (a one-way street, from those that give away for $0 towards those that keep all secrets in order to charge higher prices). And still we trounce them!

And yes, Linux and open source will be much more user friendly (and trounce the competition here as well) once a great many users use it and contribute. That's how Linux went to the top in the tech world -- people used it and contributed back.

Anonymous said...

As a 10 year Linux user, I agree with the issue of Linux application names. Most of them are non-descriptive and many are downright moronic. Most 10 year olds could do a better job of naming apps. These labels do a great deal to perpetuate the perception of Linux as a fringe, hobbyist system to be avoided by 'serious' computer users.

Oh, and BTW, let's lose the damn penguin.

PV said...

I am also in the "Non-GPL drivers" camp of the last comment. It creates a great teachable moment without scaring anyone off.
In addition, with regard to naming, I don't think it is necessary to name applications in ways descriptive of their function. "Firefox" in no way evokes images of a web browser except by virtue of its current outstanding popularity. Neither do "Excel", "PowerPoint", or "Outlook" lend themselves to describe their functions except by virtue of their popularities. For all that, "GIMP" (when expanded) perfectly describes its own functions (though its name turns people off when abbreviated).
What is necessary is a menu or search function that emphasizes the function of the program over its name. The Mint menu does this perfectly in the "Favorites" tab: the Firefox icon has the title "Web Browser" and the subtitle "Firefox Web Browser". In fact, some applications (like the GNOME calculator) make no mention of the actual application name, which is great. GNOME Do (go to the bathroom to puke if you must, Mono-haters :P) operates similarly.
Taken together, these suggestions leave users with the most knowledge and the least confusion/fear.

a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

Unknown said...

In a command-line environment, the kernel calls such drivers "tainted." I always thought that "restricted" was an improvement but imperfect.

How about calling them "proprietary vendor drivers" instead? Still true and somehow less scary.

By the way, Microsoft handles the problem of non-os provided drivers badly too. If the vendor driver is not "signed" and "trusted" you get scary warnings there too.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the choice of the word "Restricted" to describe the drivers, though accurate in the intended context, is confusing to the uninitiated. "Proprietary" would work fine. They wouldn't know what it meant, but they don't know what "Restricted" means either, and at least "Proprietary" isn't scary.

As to the names of apps. I look at the computer I am on and see several apps that don't have descriptive names: Excel, Outlook, Powerpoint, Access, and Citrix Metaframe. Clearly I am on my work machine (although I am typing this through a VNC session into the Debian server in my office).

I think that it's difficult for people to continue to make up names that are generally descriptive of the software that they are writing, and the names are not very distinctive. Notice that even Microsoft is not able to trademark the term "Word." Names that are too descriptive end up being some of the worst application names out there.

It's only familiarity that makes a lot of application names work. There may be other reasons why some names are questionable, such as being difficult to pronounce or having an undesirable alternate meaning, but being non-descriptive is not a strike against an app name as far as I can tell.

Unknown said...

Why restricted drivers? In reality they are RESTRICTIVE drivers (the user is restricted by the restrictive driver). I think so.

Jabr said...

>>> As a 10 year Linux user, I agree with the issue of Linux application names. Most of them are non-descriptive and many are downright moronic. Most 10 year olds could do a better job of naming apps. These labels do a great deal to perpetuate the perception of Linux as a fringe, hobbyist system to be avoided by 'serious' computer users. <<<

This is true. Most 10 year olds can easily come up with simple, descriptive names that would get the apps' authors sued for trademark infringement.

What could be more moronic than choosing a name that isn't already someone else's trademark?

aristos_achaion said...

To be fair, does "Firefox" immediately suggest web browsing, "Excel" suggest spreadsheets, or "Powerpoint" give any indication what it is to someone who's not already familiar with it? There's admittedly a learning curve with application names, but GIMP isn't really that far behind Photoshop (as a kid, I didn't know you could use Photoshop to manipulate images that weren't originally photographs).

I'm not sure that there's much to do beyond Ubuntu's current solution--maybe some extra documentation could help, but most users won't read it anyhow.

"Restricted" has always struck me as a funny word to use there, but I can't think of a better one. "Non-free" or "unfree" both suggest a price (and a poorly timed discussion of the ethics of software licensing). Maybe just call a spade a spade and say "proprietary drivers"? Sure, it's a big word for some, but then they'd ask somebody what it meant, rather than having an inappropriate knee-jerk reaction.

@trombonechamp -- the problem with "restricted" is that it suggests the wrong kind of restrictions--that the user is restricted *from* using the driver, rather than restricted *in* using the driver. It's a poor choice of words, since the negative reaction isn't the kind of negative reaction you want--fear rather than indignation.

aristos_achaion said...

Also--without odd names, how would you distinguish between applications of the same type? For example, neither "emacs" nor "vi" suggest text editing, and "gedit" isn't much better, but just calling a program "text editor" would be confusing to someone talking about different text editors, or talking to someone who didn't know that program. ("I opened it in Text Editor." "Which text editor were you using?" "Text Editor!" "Who's on first?")

Gavin said...

Restrictive Naming

The term "restricted" is used in a legal sense, as far as I can determine. The problem with that? Only a few people in a thousand can actually read and understand a license agreement.

It was flippantly proposed that the word "restricted" should be replaced by an expanded sentece that tells the user exactly what that legal term means. I say why not? It is a legal matter as far as a software license agreement is concerned, so why not expand the legalese? Why is that so out of the question? Sure it makes for a bigger dialog box, but are we really cramped for space here? Screen real estate? Will the extra text push us over the capacity of a single CD? Experienced users do not read the darn box anyway, they just look for the buttons.

Tell it like it is, as was once said. The term is used in a legal sense. Expand it.

App names

Why is everyone pulling a comparison to application names on the Windows side of things? Just because the names of common applications for Windows are also obscure does not mean that the issue can be ignored on other platforms and operating systems. This is the same hole-digging as always when it comes to computers & technology: "Well no one else does it better so why should we?" Why should we indeed...

At least be honest about what you think. You think that application names should be independent of applicaton design and functionality. Just be honest instead of hiding behind Richmond's marketing dolts.

Linux Basics

Most modern GNU/Linux users are soft. I know plenty of "Linux geeks" that have compiled their own software once or twice and think that even those few times were too many. Back in the early days of UNIX and GNU, the GPL was well understood by computer operators and programmers because all of them knew their stuff. Now we have programmers who have never seen the inside of a computer, and network architects who cannot do a thing if you change their desktop theme. And of course we have GNU/Linux users who wet themselves if their package manager cannot resolve dependencies. So really, if you are one of those GNU/Linux users who relies on package managers and thinks that compiling from source is a scary prospect, what the heck is the point for you personally if a device driver is FOSS or restricted?

Not to say that the devs and project managers cannot be trusted, but you personally do not (and perhaps cannot) take advantage of all the implications of a FOSS device driver. You are not a programmer, you do not compile from source, you do not create your own packages, and you do not even resolve your own dependencies. You are, essentially, reduced to a supporting role - and often not even with your wallet. Not to say the whole debate is moot, because it most definitely is not and we should all care if we can - but wait! That is the point, is it not? That we should all care if we can care, and if we can understand?

But what about those who cannot understand? How are they different (in philosophical practice) from those of you who stop at a package manager? I mean, you do not even look at the code! You blindly trust other people (with a proven track record, mind you) to write the code. And compile it into packages. And be integrated into a package manager. And even then, you do not build your own distro from scratch. You are benefiting from a complete product. In the chain of software development, you are a lot closer to the people who do not understand than you are to the programmers who make it all happen. So cut the newbies some slack, because you could use some slack yourself. What is it that you do that is so amazing compared to a newbie?

(Personally, I cannot think of anything that I do that is amazing compared to a newbie. Other than perhaps helping newbies.)

maria said...

You bring up a good point, restricted and other strong words like that give people a certain meaning and nothing else. But, most people are curious to see what happens and the others can only think what has been taught to them their whole lives. I like your writing and this post. :) I know I'm curious.

Dave Deaton said...

Far better one word alerting to this than the morass of hundreds of different proprietary licenses in the Windows world.

That logic is so full of crap it makes the room stink. To address an earlier post, the Nvidia drivers spoken of here are NOT illegal, they are proprietary. You want to stoop to scare tactics to get people not to expand the functionality of their computer then you are no better than those that include it in Windows without warning.

As to the quoted point, "I think "Restricted Drivers" is a fine word because it points out that they restrict your actions henceforth." What about the apps and games that demand 3D functionality? Including them does nothing to "restrict" one's actions...exclusion of this particular driver "Restricts" the user's ability to use the system to it's fullest ability.

It is my opinion that you are willing to cripple your machine in the name of "freedom" and you agree to do so by draconian language and symbols. That makes you not whit better than those who hide behind legalese language in proprietary EULAs

Anonymous said...

Free as in Freedom is a great concept but it is not all-inclusive as far as functionality goes. I've used the open source Nvidia driver and frankly it is crap. It only supports some of the older cards and then it doesn't do a very good job. I have artifacts all over my screen when trying to use it for gaming and it is for all of my purposes unusable.

I will continue to use proprietary drivers when I need them and no amount of religious preaching is going to alter that. ATI is doing great stuff with open source video and Intel seems to have gotten on the cooperation bandwagon to a degree. Sure the Nvidia stuff is closed. I agree with the above poster. To brow-beat someone with philosophical arguments and using those arguments to hinder a computer's functionality is medieval, not to mention just plain fanatical. You may rejoice in the word "restricted" being used but to use it as a weapon to scare users away so as to further your philosophy is sad.

Andrew Cater said...

Switch away from Ubuntu and Linux Mint to Debian. Non-free is relatively unambiguous: it means you can't modify it and you can't fix it when it breaks. [You also have vrms to nag you about non-free stuff you've installed :) ]

Restricted and the partners repository from Canonical muddy the water somewhat.

If it's free, we the Linux using community can fix it. If it isn't, we can't necessarily help.

The Intel atom based machine I'm typing this from has no non-free on it. The Thinkpad I've loaned out has non-free Intel firmware to enable the wireless. The NSLU2's I have required non-free firmware to enable the ethernet card. The 2 x Sheevaplugs have no non-free on them. The AMD machines under my desk have no non-free on them ... [The Ubuntu netbook next door does have non-free Flash player - until Google go VP8 and the BBC may eventually follow them]. ...

It's not hard to be free as in DFSG-free :)

Unknown said...

I just checked, and in Ubuntu 10.04 the nvidia driver is listed as 'Proprietary' instead of 'restricted'. I took a screenshot for you here.

Also Ubuntu now has the software center fully up and running and it's pretty great for newer users. And in the main menus now in Ubuntu a description directly follows a program's name. For example, Gimp says gimp image editor, and rythmbox says rythmbox music player.

All in all Ubuntu has made some great strides in making it easier for new users. The extras and codecs are still listed as restricted in the software center. However, with the legal grey areas surrounding the extra codecs I can understand that. Maybe they should put the codecs in a seperate package from the rest of it. Well, that's my two cents.

Sheaiden said...

"Non-free is relatively unambiguous: it means you can't modify it and you can't fix it when it breaks."

What an odd statement...perhaps as a specific label, you may be correct; when you are surrounded by people involved with FOSS, you are correct, by the grace of context and predisposition towards a specific meaning. Even Stallman, however, recognized that there is considerable ambiguity in the term "free" vs. "Non-free". Where do you think "Think free as in free speech, not free beer" came from? In fact, much of his influence comes specifically from his quest to differentiate between the two meanings of "free".

I read this and wonder how "non-free" with no context may be interpreted; I have paid for shareware to whose source I was granted access. That was "non-free", because I paid. I have not paid to use drivers distributed and developed by ATI whose source was a constant mystery. The ATI drivers are "freeware" that is not "Free Software (or open source)", while the other program was "Shareware" that was "Free (or open source)".

Of course, your definition of "Free" may also change depending on what organization you are following. After all, each of GPL, BSD, MPL, and FOSS, just to name a few, have slightly different viewpoints. Some give you source, but don't allow you to fork the source, or distribute the code you tweak. Some allow you to everything.

Narrowing your definition of a word that is ambiguous by definition to a single meaning is tantamount to starting a religious war. You may want to be careful with those kinds of statements. Context will define many aspects of "Free".

Unknown said...

Agreed...the "free" thing as defined by our software context is indeed confusing to the new user. Your point of shareware is the perfect example. Linux is a strange and unsure landscape for new users who are used to .exe files and software that disables itself after 30 days of use.

I've re-designed the popup and am working on getting the jockey backend repackaged so the new one will appear in our distro. At least our users will not have to struggle with these semantics again as it applies to "restricted".

Anonymous said...

I've been a Linux Geek for many years, and I am willing to say Microsoft will always be more widely accepted on the desktop than Linux because of one simple fact. Microsoft has much better marketing than Linux. All that matters in this war is what the end-users think of the OS, and if the marketing is not good enough, then the users will go to whoever has the better story. Linux people can holler and scream all they want about FOSS and how much better everything is on Linux, but at the end of the day, the better marketing plan wins and the end-users follow.