To those who know me, it’s no secret that I value simplicity. Before switching to Linux full-time in the early part of this century, I had been a full-time user of the Classic Mac OS. Specifically, Mac OS 9.2.2. Mac OS 9’s steady decline in 2002-2003, and my outdated PPC hardware, led me towards a value PC and Fedora Core 1. I was not new to Linux, but it had never been a full-time affair until this point. Of course, simplicity was not waiting for me at the gates, because back in those days it was a common affair to not have a working XFree86 (remember when it was called that?) upon first boot. That’s beyond the scope of this article, but once I ironed everything out, I discovered Gnome 2.x, the early days. In this era, you could see the first saplings if Gnome’s pursuit for over-simplification. Who remembers the user backlash against spatial file browsing within the Gnome community? Take it or leave it, Gnome 2.x offered me a comfortable and familiar refuge.
I’ve had various stints with KDE, which have all been very pleasant. In fact, I write about it all the time; but I’ve always been a Gnome man. Of course Gnome has gone it’s own way towards over-simplification and Ubuntu has shown its defiance with Unity. I like Unity far more than vanilla Gnome, and generally I like it more than anything else. Now, let me qualify that. If you’re a Powerbase reader, you might know me as a KDE user, but I’ve vowed several times to return to Unity as soon as Gimp gained single-window-mode. Well, it has and I’m back!
Gimp 2.8 has changed the way I work forever, and for the better. In combination with HUD, it’s pretty much the best thing on earth. That’s why today, I’m officially renaming Ubuntu’s HUD.
Heuristic Universal Discovery
Gimp is the perfect example of a program that many of us have used Heuristically for years. Sure, there is the official documentation. There is even the classic book Grokking The Gimp. However, for the most part, literature for Gimp is scant when compared to its commercial contemporary, Photoshop. So many of us have learned to use it Heuristically.
Heuristic ( /hjʉˈrɪstɨk/; or heuristics; Greek: “Εὑρίσκω”, “find” or “discover”) refers to experience-based techniques for problem solving, learning, and discovery. Where an exhaustive search is impractical, heuristic methods are used to speed up the process of finding a satisfactory solution. Examples of this method include using a rule of thumb, an educated guess, an intuitive judgment, or common sense.
Many users approach Gimp with a specific need, like cropping a photo. I can’t imagine that someone would read a book just to learn this one task. An average user would simply employ heuristics, using experience and common sense to locate– within the vast menus– a command that might tackle this task. With HUD, there is no need to search. Just hit the Alt key and start typing ‘crop’. Could it get any easier?
The menus in Gimp are dense to say the least. The arrangement of these menus hasn’t changed dramatically at all since I started using it over a decade ago. Suffice it to say, I know them very well. Regardless of that knowledge, nothing will ever be as fast as hitting Alt and typing ‘resyn’ and hitting enter to perform resynthesize. If there is anything that Ubuntu is doing right, right now, it’s this HUD!
Now, have a look at what you’ve discovered. You wanted to crop your image, and by the time you entered ‘cro’, you discovered File > Create > Logos > Cool Metal. Now you can put together an advertisement for that garage sale you’ve been planning all spring! Humpff… You thought you needed Microsoft Word ‘97 for this job, didn’t you?
Like it or not, these sort of fresh ideas are the only thing pushing the Linux desktop forward these days. Gnome wants to take a step backward and try to ‘bling’ its way into your heart. KDE, no matter how excellent it is, lives on tried-and-true desktop idioms and only pushes forward in aesthetics. Unity, as much as you force yourself to believe that it’s uncool, is really innovating and with each release becomes more and more compelling to the nay’ sayers.