Monday, November 9, 2009

Default applications on Linux

Guys, I'm interviewing with Microsoft today, wish me luck! To commemorate this, I'm going to do a tribute to the anonymous Linux Hater's excellent blog.

How to set default applications

On Windows: Right-click on a file of a given type, go to "Open With", and set the application that you want it to open with.

On a Mac: Pretty similar, except you use "Get Info" instead of "Open With".

On Linux: It depends on what desktop environment you're using. Gnome, KDE, XFCE, and every other desktop, does it in a completely different, completely uncoordinated way. Also, if you switch desktops, you lose all your settings.

Q: But doesn't that make people's lives more difficult?

A: Linux is about choice! Specifically, the choice we made to do whatever the hell we wanted.

Q: But what if I want my program to set the default application for a certain filetype?

A: Oh, you should never need to do that. We won't tell you what you should do instead, but we're very sure that you'll never want to do that.

Q: Wait, I thought Linux was about choice! What about my choice as an application developer?

A: Did we say that? Actually, it's just an excuse we use to avoid any of the hard work that might be involved in actually standardizing things. See, because when we don't, users have to make choices they otherwise wouldn't need to worry about, but this way they feel better about it. Choice, baby!

But wait, never fear! There's the Portland Project, which had the lofty goal of unifying Gnome, KDE, and all the other desktops out there! Surely, an effort this important to the success of the Linux desktop would receive the huge amount of developer attention it needs to become successful!

...no, wait, my bad, I'm thinking of a less dysfunctional operating system. Actually, xdg-utils (the result of the Portland project, which was supposed to unify all this) is buggy, mostly unmaintained, and hasn't actually seen a release in years. On top of that, instead of being an awesome unifying solution for the completely separate default application systems that exist, it's just a few shell scripts that support Gnome, KDE3, and sometimes XFCE. There's not even a generic fallback mechanism in there! It's completely useless for users of anything other than Gnome and KDE (and really, XFCE too).

Wouldn't it be nice if there was a tool that would let you just go to a command line and type "open whateverfile.whatever"? All the desktops could standardize on it, users of other desktops wouldn't be left out, and everything would be simpler. I have been thinking about this for a while, and I even took a few shots at writing such a tool. So you can imagine how dismayed I was when I discovered that this tool already exists on Macs and it works perfectly. You'd think the Linux community would have been all over that; ripping off Apple is what they do best!

3 comments:

Kiriska said...

I lol'd. :D

GOOD LUCK WITH YOUR INTERVIEW.

Micah said...

In most Linux Distro's, You just right-click on the file you want to change the "open with..." on and go to "Properties", then you select the "Open With" Tab and select or add the application you would like it to open with and hit OK. Easy. Not ridiculously hard like you suggest. I was wondering how long have you been using Linux, cause it took me all of thirty seconds to find this.

P. Static said...

Micah: Way to miss my entire point! I will summarize. :D

Gnome uses a different system from KDE uses a different system from everything else. If you switch desktop environments, you lose all your settings. If you want a program to set a default application, you have to special-case every desktop environment. Efforts to fix this are stalled.

Is that clear enough? :p