Windows, Linux, Usability and Filemanagers

This is not going to be only about the systems themselves, rather about general (desktop) working environment. As I had to spend substantial amount of time working with Windows recently, I feel qualified enough to share some insights:

What I like in Windows:

  • Total Commander: it really rocks, it remembers my ftp connections with passwords, it allows me to use tabs, and it has many other nice features (I just don’t get it why I can’t rename files with F2)

What I don’t like in Windows (sorted by annoyingness):

  • Broken clipboard: When I select bloody text I want it in the bloody clipboard. This is just fucking annoying as I have to copy text between apps several hundred times a day.
  • No real terminal with real commands: Sure, I can use ALT+F7 <tab> <tab> <tab> <tab> <tab> <space> in Total Commander, but I find “grep” much more comfortable to use than ALT+F7 <tab> <tab> <tab> <tab> <tab> <space>, not only because grep is just four keystrokes and ALT+F7 <tab> <tab> <tab> <tab> <tab> <space> is eight, but also because grep has all sorts of things like -i or -x (those can probably be reached in Total Commander with something like <tab> <tab> <tab> <tab> <space>, but again, that’s not very comfortable). As for commands I miss, I mentioned grep, but there’s also bc, tcpdump, df, du, top, ps, and that’s just off the top of my head.
  • Moving windows with alt: when I hold alt, and press down mouse button, I want the window to move. Especially when the window jumps out on me with its title bar hidden above the top of my screen, as is usual in MS Windows (a colleague suggested a very useful ~5 key combination that helped, but I already forgot what it was).
  • Missing package management: want to update all the installed software to newest versions? Out of luck, I guess…
  • All those annoying messages that attack me from lower right part of screen everytime I log in.

What I don’t like in Linux:

  • General inconsistency in behaviour of different apps (one gets used to it occasionally, though).
  • Applications crash much more often (though the system itself stays stable). But it’s getting better (I haven’t experienced gaim crash ever since they started calling it pidgin ;-), and firefox 2 doesn’t crash anymore either).
  • No good filemanager for everyday work.

And now for something completely different:

Yeah, separating different topics into individual posts and all that… never been too good at that…
So, I’m searching for a good Linux filemanager… here are features of the ideal one (sorted by priority):

  • Two-panel layout
  • Find-as-you-type (without having to press alt key or something to enable it, I have a terminal in the other window, thank you)
  • Ability to remember ftp connections (w/ passwords is a big plus). Also, ability not to segfault when one tries to upload a file through an ftp connection that timed out (hello, mc?).
  • Lynx-like motion (left and right ascend/descend directories)
  • Tabs on each panel (that’s useful when working on many things at once)
  • Ability to run in a terminal (not too important, but it surely would be neat)

So far, mc is the best, but it’s still far from perfect (doesn’t remember passwords, segfaults on ftp timeout, no tabs support).

15 thoughts on “Windows, Linux, Usability and Filemanagers

  1. Krusader doesnt remember ftp connections (or there is some option im missing) also there are multiple quirks here and there that make it less ‘user friendly’, especially if you’re used to Total Commander (like me).

    I don’t understand this ‘clipboard problem’, in native windows it works ok. It’s windows under linux (VMPLayer) that causes the problem (at least for me). Maybe you just should use native? :-P

  2. Although I think most KDE apps are krap, Krusader aktually looks kind of kool. It has both lynx-like motion and find-as-you-type out of the box. And opposed to mc, it allows me to edit files through an ftp connection. Too bad it doesn’t seem to remember ftp connections… Also, it is kind of slow…

    And as for the clipboard – last selected text should get pasted when I press middle mouse button (without touching the keyboard). It becomes very natural once you get used to it (and of course you still have your usual ctrl+c & ctrl+v clipboard, which works independently, but is just much less comfortable to use).

  3. F2 in wincmd can be set to rename, or at least it was possible few years ago (I don’t really remember how, I used to just copy the bloated directory with settings and plugins :))

    wincmd is cool on windows, mc is cool on unices — both have their shortcomings, but mc development is quite dead IIRC :/

  4. I’m on linux for 2 months now and in terms of usability its years behind windows. The cause of this is not the system itself but rather horrible applications available in linux >:-(

    I don’t care that the system comes with standard applications that try to make it look usable out of the box, its the same as windows in this matter. But at least on windows I have some serious alternatives to those apps, on linux it looks good on paper (there are 4-5 applications that you can choose from) but if you try them, you find out they are almost as bad as those that came with your system :-S

    I’m really having a hard time finding an application that is better on linux than on windows, only Amarok comes to mind but then again some people still might prefer Winamp. In every other aspect its windows >> linux, also in terms of stability (that is some kind of a ‘selling point’ of linux).

  5. I use my computer mostly for text processing. Kile, Vim and Emacs are uncomparable to any Windows editors – not to mention that there are no good and free LaTeX frontends for Win (this is the reason I migrated). These are all excellent and free applications.

    XMMS and Amarok are at least just as awesome as Foobar2000. Mplayer is better than any Windoze player. Gimp is worse than Photoshop, agreed, but it’s free… Ktorrent is just as good as Mutorrent…

    When it comes to gaming all the essential emulators run on Linux: DOSBox, X64, ScummVM, ZSNES (yeah I’m a retro gamer).

    Fluxbox is much nicer than Windows, when it comes to managing windows… And the command-line is much more functional than in Windows… And prettier.

    So I dunno what you’re on about apps being worse in Linux… The only reason to stay in Windows is if you play modern computer games…

  6. @lobo: When you say there are no good linux apps, you should say which ones you are unsatisfied with and what you’d like them to do… who knows… maybe we could help you. ^^

    As for text editors, I use vim in Windows, but somehow it’s not the same. Whenever I copy text from vim using the pathetic windows excuse for clipboard, I have to press ctrl+insert – what a nuisance!

    As for how it looks… even the shit-brown ubuntu theme was better than default XP theme. ;-) Now vista looks kind of cool, but most vista users I talked to were not happy with it because it’s slow and apparently has lots of other issues.

    Also, people often complain that linux directory structure is not intuitive and doesn’t make sense. But how is c:\windows\system32\drivers\etc\hosts more intuitive or sensible than /etc/hosts? And I can’t get used to windows directory structure, starting in Desktop is insane, and then there are several “Docutents” folders (there are several for each user, I swear), all in all, it’s very confusing.

  7. Torrents – using Deluge now and it’s giving me some minor problems but on win I used uTorrent and it was close to perfection, so I’m a little annoyed. Had Azureus a while earlier and I almost killed myself for using it. Horrible on windows and linux.

    Skype – old version, not really a linux fault but still it shows how software companies treat this system and what quality level you can expect.
    Pidgin – very nice overall but again some minor problems, I can’t get my ‘tlen’ plugin to change my status correctly, sending files is impossible (or I can’t seem to find an easy way for it)

    XML editors – after going through some I lost all hope and I’m stuck with XML Copy Editor that cant handle a simple copy/paste operation…

    SQL editors – I didn’t have a ‘weapon on choice’ in this category on Windows (was changing to new one every other month) but on linux there are even less options for it so I’m stuck with Toad under vmplayer

    Archivers – on win there is winrar that does everything nicely but on linux console is the only answer… Spent an hour looking for a GUI archiver that could handle packing in volumes without a result, gave up, learned how to do it like its 1992 again…

    Ah and shit-brown theme is awesome :-D

  8. I use Azureus for torrents exclusively and never had any kind of problems with it…

    As for skype, yeah, it sucks in Linux, I gotta admit that…

    Never heard about ‘tlen’, but Pidgin has some issues even with gadu (doesn’t offer the more advanced stuff).

    XML editors… I guess I’d personally go for some vim enhancements to make editing xml easier… maybe you could try “oXygen”…

    SQL editor – just use any editor with syntax highlighting? Not sure what you are looking for here…

    Archivers – Gnome’s “File Roller” offers creating archives when you right-click files/folders in nautilus, never needed anything else in GUI :)

  9. 1. User friendly == no work and no knowledge on side of user.
    If you can’t understand this, you will never be mainstream.

    2. It is bad enough that linux apps have different user interface then windows apps. But there is no linux standard how they should look. Even worse, there is no movement to integrate them.

    3. Typical linux application does only one thing. For example, gcc has no help in form of GUI. Few people know how to create makefiles, such knoledge is for developers of compiler, not for users of compiler. Visual C is editor + help + debugger + complier. I expect editor to show lists of methods for every object of any class after typing “.” or “->”, so editor must in graphical mode.

    4. Linux text editors are horrible. No WYSING. Probably none of them can correct grammar mistakes. They don’t even suggests orthography correction in proper way. Fonts from latex (postscript or pdf) have sizes that is not adopted to pixels. In result borders of letters are gray.

    5. Hardware. Try linux with anything.

    I can prefer linux for strictly political reasons. But I don’t want to waste my time (that precisely means the same as my life) with application that can’t even install itself.

  10. user:

    ad 1: I have to work on Windows at work, and I don’t find it a bit more intuitive than linux, I already mentioned /etc/hosts, but there are countless other things, for example, why does windows change my keyboard when I use alt+tab+shift for switching windows in reverse order? And why can’t I map it to, for example shift+shift (which I’m used to?).

    ad 2: You’ve got a point… but are Windows apps any better?

    ad 3: It only does one thing and woes it well. As opposed to those windows apps that do hundreds things and do them all wrong.

    ad 4: Oh there are be WYSIWYG editors, eclipse and stuff like that. But most people prefer vim. :-)

    As for spellcheck… you are joking, right? Show me a linux app that doesn’t support spellchecking…

    Fonts from TeX… what the hell are you smoking? Ever seen my tsumego collections? Dare say that something is wrong with the fonts in there? (if so, what? I’ll be happy to remedy the situation) There are bloody vector fonts, so it depends only on the way you display it.

    MS Word didn’t even implement ligatures or kerning yet… so what’s the competition here?

    ad 5: You got a point, but it’s getting better…

    PS: I’ve had some wine, so I might be a bit agressive, but I seriously hate Windows, specifically the fact that I have to use it in about 50% of my time at the computer. It bloody fucking sucks!!! I can’t use it to do the things I need/want, or they are insanely difficult to do (and I usually end up ssh’ing to a linux box anyway).

  11. ad 3. It is not trivial to change spellchecker from e.g. US-eng to UK-eng or change language in part of document.

    ad 4. Yes, this is problem of displaying fonts. If all documents were created and displayed in same scale the problem may not exist. Initially height of fonts is integer number of pixels. Suppose document is displayed in scale 75%. Font of height of 10 pixels will have height 7.5 pixels. In postscript and pdf, it is displayed as exactly 7.5 pixels. Thus its borders are unsharp. MS word will use the closest font, e.g 8 pixel. This not bad implementation. It is obsolete idea to optimize good looking to paper rather then to LCD monitor.

    Most people prefer to read sanserif fonts (like calibri, arial) then serif fonts. I am very tired reading serif fonts used in latex. On web pages and in Office user can change fonts in somebody else document. In pdf it is impossible. It’s a paradox, but MS Word gives reader more choice then tex/latex/lyx/postscript/pdf.

  12. ad 3: yes, it might be difficult to have different spellchecking for different parts of document… does Word enable that?

    ad 4: You are mixing rather unrelated things together…

    If you like, you can embed a 10px font in PDF and then view it in the original size.

    Unsharp borders are no problem if the font is reasonably well hinted. Actually I find those sharp fonts in Windows a bit hard to read.

    And I have news for you – there are even (gasp) sans-serif fonts for TeX. In TeX, when you have the source, you can render it any way you want. And changing something document-wide is much easier in TeX than in Word. :-)

    “It is obsolete idea to optimize good looking to paper rather then to LCD monitor.”
    Should I laugh or should I cry? Optimizing for paper is obviously good for documents that are meant to be printed. Optimizing for screen is good for documents that are meant to be read on a screen.
    Is it so difficult to understand? :-)

  13. ad 3. Yes, in word language can be defined locally for any word.

    ad 4. I agree that this is problem of tex/pdf which is associated with linux rather then linux itself.
    I know that author can choose sans-serif font. But it doesn’t change situation of reader. In my opinion choice of default font in latex is wrong and in Office 2007 is right. It used to be “times new roman”, now it is “calibri” – a new and better font. Start any application – it will use sans-serif fonts in upper raw, on buttons, help etc. because they are easier to read.
    “Unsharp font is not a problem.” – I can’t agree. Some of us wear glasses to see sharp. And pay for digital monitor (DVI).
    Paper itself is obsolete in paperless office.
    Today we read more on monitor then a few years ago. This will be even more true in future. So main stress should move towards monitor. You could argue that monitor with resolution 10 times better then today (above 200 mega pixels) will be like paper. But it is not happening soon.

  14. People who publish stuff that’s meant to be read on screen in pdf are making a mistake.

    Similarly, people who publish stuff that’s meant to be printed in MS Word are making a mistake too (a bigger one, though :-P).

    As for sharp unsharp fonts:
    At home, I use DejaVu fonts (with subpixel hinting) at 10px for everything except fixed width font (that is Terminus, of course; the best fixed width font ever). I am happy with it.

    At work I use whatever is default in Win XP, which is prolly Arial. The font is just too sharp to be comfortable to read (Helvetica was not designed as a low resolution bitmap font, plus Arial is kind of crippled version of Helvetica).

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