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Author Topic: Semantics is Restricting Linux Desktop Adaptation  (Read 948 times)

Paul Keith

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Semantics is Restricting Linux Desktop Adaptation
« on: May 31, 2010, 09:30:16 PM »
Link: http://linuxlock.blo...g-linux-desktop.html


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 Thesaurus.com - 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.

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.

Just stop and 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 names....to 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 Pogo.com.  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.

Notable Comments:


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.

5/31/10 12:58 PM

Mike Regan:

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.

5/31/10 4:15 PM


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.

5/31/10 5:03 PM

Chelle Menkin:

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.

5/31/10 5:29 PM

My Reply:

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.

P.S. I didn't realize that there are more comments underneath the post so this are the comments I've read after I've posted my reply in the topic.


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.

5/31/10 5:58 PM

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.

5/31/10 6:21 PM


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.

5/31/10 6:58 PM


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?"

5/31/10 7:04 PM


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.

5/31/10 7:06 PM


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).

5/31/10 8:57 PM
« Last Edit: May 31, 2010, 09:33:19 PM by Paul Keith »


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Re: Semantics is Restricting Linux Desktop Adaptation
« Reply #1 on: May 31, 2010, 10:32:18 PM »
I've always wondered who the lunatic was who came up with the "restricted" area of drivers. In the context given there are only negative connotations that spring to mind & no good ones.