E-Scribe : a programmer’s blog

About Me

PBX I'm Paul Bissex. I build web applications using open source software, especially Django. Started my career doing graphic design for newspapers and magazines in the '90s. Then wrote tech commentary and reviews for Wired, Salon, Chicago Tribune, and others you never heard of. Then I built operations software at a photography school. Then I helped big media serve 40 million pages a day. Then I worked on a translation services API doing millions of dollars of business. Now I'm building the core platform of a global startup accelerator. Feel free to email me.


I co-wrote "Python Web Development with Django". It was the first book to cover the long-awaited Django 1.0. Published by Addison-Wesley and still in print!


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Linux on the desktop

Over on the Well there's an ongoing discussion about the factors that will determine Linux's success (or lack thereof) in the desktop market. Especially the non-geek desktop market. I've been touting Ubuntu Linux as one of the most hopeful signs.

One of the things I like about Ubuntu for new users is that they've boiled things down to one app in each category, so the user doesn't have to evaluate multiple unfamiliar applications and criteria they don't understand just to, say, view a web page. That's an important first level to get people in the door. Then later, when they're curious, you show them how easy it is to add new apps (with a good package system like Debian's, it's easier than in Windows or OS X, which I think is an undersold point).

Matt suggested a directory that helps users find applications for specific tasks, perhaps a wiki. I like this idea, but I don't know if a wiki would provide enough structure. You'd probably want a search interface and structured info like platform (Linux flavor A, Linux flavor B, FreeBSD, Darwin, etc.), user ratings, categories or tags, etc.

If I were king of this directory I would forbid any entries from mentioning that FooApp was written in Java with GTK 2.4+ bindings and requires libkumbaya 2.3 or greater. No information that is aimed at programmers or admins. No applications that are in alpha. No dependencies that can't be handled automatically by the package system.

The gnomefiles directory is pretty well done. For new users it would need to be be significantly edited, but nonetheless it's cool. One might be able to build a simplified directory on top of gnomefiles or something like it.

I think the big barrier for beginners is not lack of information -- it's the difficulty of making decisions. As Malcom Gladwell brilliantly explains in Blink, more choices often means less ability to choose.

Friday, July 22nd, 2005

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