Monday, 26 March 2012

On Adolescent Coders

Warning: Rant mode engaged

It appears to me that the Open Source Software (OSS) mantle has been passed on to a gaggle of post adolescent coders with some sort of group ADD disability.

Or something.

It started with the total fiasco that was KDE4, and all the idiocy that was apparently introduced on its release.

I didn't use KDE though, so although I was aware of all the angst, it didn't directly affect me.

Now we have Gnome 3, or more accurately, Gnome Shell, which is part of the new Gnome 3.

What an abomination. You can understand why Canonical balked at presenting their users with the steaming pile that is Gnome Shell, and it is almost understandable that they decided to promote their Unity shell from the netbook remix (where it belonged, and was actually quite useful in that context),  but in the age of HD, multi-monitor setups Unity too is totally underwhelming.

Alternatives such as Mate and Cinnamon are worthwhile projects which will hopefully mature to become usable desktops but right now the state of user interfaces in the OSS sphere is totally unsatisfactory (and yes, I have tried XFCE and KDE4 and I don't like them either. I like my menu bar at the top, my task bar at the bottom and the freedom to put icons wherever the hell I please, thank you.

However, as much as it may seem otherwise, this rant is not about the sorry state of OSS desktops at all.

It is about the state of OSS video players. Specifically, VLC, Totem and XBMC.

You see, back in the old days you would get an AVI file, or maybe an MPG file, and you could open that file in one of the afore-mentioned players and life was good.

However, if the movie was in a language you were not familiar with, you had a problem. To solve that problem some bright spark came up with the idea of having a subtitles file (.srt), which was OK, if a bit cumbersome.

Or, occasionally some mentally challenged dingbat would hard code subtitles into the actual video stream and not actually mention that fact when presenting the resulting file to the general public.

I've done my fair share of shouting spittle laden expletives at people who do that I assure you.

It would be better if somehow the subtitles and the audio/video could all be encapsulated in one file, right?

Clearly this is a good idea.

While you are at it, maybe we could include separate audio tracks for other languages. You could even put in the commentary track! Just like a DVD!

So the ever resourceful guys in OSS land went to work, and gave us "containers" (initially MKV but now also the venerable AVI files) that held all this extra data in one convenient file.

Life, you would think, is good.

But no.

Having spent all this time very cleverly making all this stuff work it seems the adolescents at the wheel have decided that we must all have the results of their handiwork shoved in our faces every time we watch a movie.

This is why, when you play a movie these days, a movie that has a whole lot of nice  subtitles conveniently bundled up into the container file, it plays with the subtitles ON by default.

Oh, I can hear you now. "Well, if it such a problem for you, then you can just turn them off!"

If it were only that simple.

Yes, you can turn them off every time you start a movie and it is not that hard. It is ctrl+t if I recall.

However, I don't want to have to do that every time I watch a movie, and if I am on my media centre I don't want to have to find where my keyboard is under a cushion on the couch (or where ever) just so I can turn the goddamn subtitles off.


I just want to watch the goddam movie.

Without subtitles.

I also wouldn't mind so much if it was a simple thing to turn them off globally, although I would still contend that having them on by default is borderline retarded and only required because the ADD sufferers who implemented the subtitle functionality wanted to make damn sure you got to experience the wonder of their coding prowess, but given a method to easily and permanently turn off subtitles I could forgive the ADD sufferers and give them their 15 seconds of fame.

After all, they earned it by contributing to the OSS pool, right?

Unfortunately,  the reality is somewhat different. The sad fact is that it is far from easy to turn subtitles off by default in VLC and to a lesser degree XBMC. I have not tried it with Totem because I don't use it much, but I have noticed it behaves this way as well.

Try doing a google search for "permanently disable subtitles vlc" and you will find vast numbers of people asking how to do it with a number of proposed, convoluted, obfuscated solutions, none of which seem to work on the latest version of VLC.

I spent half an hour on trying to do that without any success.

I've found it is easier to download mkvtoolnix  and actually remove the subtitle track than it is to fucking disable it permanently in VLC.

In Xbox Media Centre things are slightly better. You can't (apparently) disable subtitles globally in XBMC via the front end, but it is, at least, possible to go and edit a configuration file in a text editor to turn them off.

How very user friendly.

The fact is there is absolutely no reason to have subtitles on by default, certainly not when the default language is set to English. Sure, if my OS was configured to use Spanish by default then you could make a case to set subtitles to on, on the assumption that I wanted to watch the typical idiocy inducing rubbish that pours out of Hollywood with only an English soundtrack.

But I am not Spanish.

The unfortunate truth here is that this is the ADD adolescents telling users "we spent all this time making this shit work, and you are damn well going to use it, whether you like it or not."

It it weren't for the god-awful mess that MS appear to be making with Windows 8 it would almost be enough to push me back to the dark side I swear.


Jamie said...

Lol. Seriously? This whole post is about how you're too lazy to edit a config file to turn off subtitles? haha. I use XBMC as my TV in HTPC form with Tvheadend as a DVB backend and it took all of 2 seconds to figure that one out (TV stations actually broadcast subtitles too). I don't know why you would use XBMC as merely a 'video player' though and I still VLC for that. But if you're using XBMC you should get over the fear of editing XML configs as that is where all the fun stuff is. Try fully mapping a Logitech Harmony One. You'll spend a few hours in the XML configs getting it right and fucked if I would want to do that through the frontend.

The good news is, once you've set it up you'll never edit them again.

And lastly, Gnome Shell rocks. I use it daily and don't have any problems with it whatsoever. Unity sucks monkey balls which is why I switched. That shared menu bar is a pain in the ass, even when it's disabled.

Moral to this story. Choice is king. So make your choice and STFU. :)


Your ex-subservient slave, Jamie.

Jamie said...

Oh, I do agree about Windows 8 though. Everyone has been raving about it, but I've been playing with it to "give it a chance to shine" and it's painful.

Brett said...

Hi Jamie

I don't think I made my position clear enough. I do not fear "editing
XML configs", the fact that this blog
is probably 99% instructions on how to do just that, even for things that other
people would choose to go the point and drool route on.

However, the point I was trying to make is that;

a) The majority of people do not want subtitles turned on by default
with the possible exception of people to whom English is not their
native language.

b) If you *must* ignore the above, then at the very least you should
make it easy to turn them off. There is absolutely no reason to bury a
setting like that in the bowels of an xml file when a simple checkbox
in the Settings page could do the job.

I am not administering a bind
server here, I am trying to watch a movie.

Actually, it's not really even about that one thing, which I agree is pretty trivial in the overall scheme of things, it is more an observation of a trend that seems to be taking over in UI development circles across the board, including in closed source land over at MS.

Dumbing down of interfaces, adding snazzy transitions and graphical flourishes for the sake of it with no thought given to the usability impacts that this entails.

You say "Gnome 3" rocks, great. I'm glad you like it.

I don't. It is an abomination. I am not alone in thinking this, Linus described it as an "unholy mess".

It is replete with idiotic behaviours, user controls that appear and disappear for no reason other than "wow, that looks cool", funcionality that used to exist which has been removed completely.

I am not going to list them all here, maybe I will write a "Why Gnome Shell sucks" rant to add to the thousands already on the 'net. Or maybe not.

I will give you one example of sheer idiocy though.

Some people like to shutdown their computer, as opposed to suspending it.

How, exactly, do you do that in Gnome Shell? As far as I can tell you can't. I guess all the adolescent coders all suspend so we should all follow their lead I guess.

You talk of choice, but if I truly had choice then the Gnome Devs would not have thrown out the Gnome2 desktop paradigm for GS in the first place. If they want to make a new desktop that "totally rocks" then they could go ahead and do that and let people choose between the two.

But they didn't do that, because they know that most people would not change their desktop just to get a bunch of superfluous 3D fluff in exchange for a tried and tested UI that actually works.

This meant there would be nobody to witness the awesome fluff the adolescents had spent all this time working so hard on of course.

Oh the horror, the horror.

No, what we must do is throw away the familiar desktop and force people to eat the shit we serve up. That way they will be witness to our mad coding skillz.. Yeah!

Hopefully Cinnamon will come good, although it too suffers from some of this insanity.

Why you would put a menu in the top left hand corner of the screen and then put an invisible hot point in that same corner that turns your desktop into a bunch of stupid workspace panes and then force the user to click in one to make it go away simply beggars belief.

Now, instead of roughly moving your mouse *towards* the Applications menu you must do it *carefully* lest you trigger an invisible trigger which sends you on a detour you had no intention of taking.

That is stupid UI design and this sort of idiocy is rampant at the moment.

I blame apple for starting this ball rolling, never did understand the whole "OSX is the best OS evar. Evar!" thing.

I think it is awful.

Anyway, take care and see you around, so to speak.

Jamie said...

I miss these sorts of discussions. hehe. Let's rock...

Anywayz, firstly, in gnome-shell to shutdown you hold the ALT key when in the user menu and the 'Suspend' option turns into 'Power off...', which then asks if you want to shutdown or reboot. I see it as a safety feature to prevent me accidentally shutting down. You know how harshly Linux shuts down. It doesn't ask questions it's just BAM, power off. Didn't save the document? Oh well.

Second, I too am annoyed at a lot of the features that are just missing from Gnome-shell. Mainly in the gnome settings app, but I thought that was because of Ubuntu and it was across the board regardless of DM. Other than that, once I got used to it I'm now faster in it than any other DM.

Next is XBMC. Well, you're right, it SHOULD be in the interface, but it's under active development. It's ok to have a whine about it being in the config options, but what would be worse is if there was no option to turn it off at all. Such is open source. As a developer I know all too well that the things that I think of and the things that don't bug me are completely different to the things that bug other people. Log into the XBMC support system (is there one?) and add a feature request.

But yes, the trend is moving toward the glossy polished user interfaces. And for good reason. These things need to be simple to attract the masses. Computers are more accessible today than they were yesterday and will be even more accessible tomorrow. UIs need to keep up. Sure, they're gonna fuck it up a lot along the way, but such is any sort of development. In a closed source environment you have alpha testers to bitch about design problems. In open source it's up to the community (ie: you) to bitch about it, then report it so it can get fixed. I can almost guarantee no one on the XBMC development team has read this blog. ;)

As for why they're heading this way, the fact is that until everyone on the planet has a degree from MIT, these things will need to be simple, and pretty. If they're not, users will get frustrated and/or bored and not use them.

Case in point, I'm an android guy. I have no problems using it, but friends of mine (who use iPhones, mind you) have complained that it's "too complicated". Now, no one is going to confuse these guys with rocket scientists, but the fact is, Apple has made a sale off of them.

The result is then that Linux is making some headway in the desktop market, due mainly to the efforts of distros like Ubuntu and their goal for making Linux "just work".

If you don't like the glossy vernier of a polish UI then you can always use XFCE, and even it is waaaaay more polished and advanced than what we had 10 years ago. Dig up an old Solaris box and take a trip down memory lane. OpenWindows! Ewww..

Anywayz, I guess you were happy to hear the OSX is getting canned then ay? In case you didn't know Apple are doing what Microsoft are 'trying' to do. Which is a unified user experience across all their products, which is why Windows 8 looks like a giant Windows Mobile interface. Macs will soon be coming with iOS running on them.

Brett said...

Glad to see you miss me Jamie.

Expecting people to know they need to use the ALT key to shutdown doesn't strike you as a bit retarded?

A safety measure? Isn't "Are you sure you want to shutdown enough?"

Are we all assumed to be outright cretins these days?

I have never seen Linux shutdown harshly unless I use init 0 in a terminal.

You incorrectly associate "Glossy" with "Simple" the two are not mutually inclusive.

Making things simple is NOT expecting people to know by osmosis that ALT is required to shut down a PC.

Here is another example of idiocy.

I open a terminal (I do this a lot). Then I do something in Firefox. Now I want to open another terminal. I go back to that idiotic "Activities" pane and click on the "Terminal" button and what happens? My first terminal takes the focus! WTF! What I could do before in one click (I had a terminal icon on my top panel, not allowed to do that now either!) now becomes -> highlight an existing terminal window and then hit Shift-Control-N to open a new one!

And figuring that out required a Google search.

Yay! So user friendly!

Even finding an existing terminal window is non trivial because the cretins who designed Gnome Shell got rid of the goddamn taskbar!

That is pure, unadulterated crap UI design.

Yes, I did know about the apple shenanigans, hence why I hold them ultimately responsible.

Where we disagree is that the new Gnome is going to be some sort of beacon of light calling out to Windows and Mac refugees who want to have a "normal" computer instead of a glorified toy.

If you want to harvest dissatisfied users of other products, what you should not be doing is the same stupid crap to your own product which is causing them to flee the others in the first place.

It's not rocket science.

The refugees will go to KDE, it is the most "Windows like" desktop of them all.


Brett said...

Oh, and I don't like XFCE, said that before.

I just updated to Mint 13 beta (based on Precise) and it seems they have removed the idiocy I mentioned before with the hotspot in the top LH corner. I think that bit of stupidness may have been inherited from Gnome actually.

Now, all they have to do is fix the top panel to get rid of the stupid front-and-centre date display and let me put icons on there again instead and I will be a happy camper.