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Man, I Used To Think My Ubuntu Desktop Looked So Cool…

It is crazy how fast — and how drastically — tastes change. 

The desktop screencast in the video player aboves my Ubuntu 8.10 desktop as it looked back in 2008, in all its gaudy over-glossed glory. AWN? Check. Screenlets? Check. Compiz cube? Ch-ch-check! 

Like an old photo of a bad haircut, this video is very much of its its time.

But aside from being a bit cringe, it shows how far the Linux desktop aesthetic has come, and how far our own tastes have too.

I Think I Miss Compiz Cubes (Except, I Also Think I Don’t)

Having recently blown the dust off my personal YouTube account to upload a ‘new’ video, the inevitably trudge down the rabbit hole followed. I’ve got about a decade’s worth of uploads (mostly now hidden, thankfully) of which the video opening this article is part.

I can, still, recall making it. I can recall thinking “Man, my Linux desktop looks so freakin’ rad!“.

And I wasn’t alone.

Years back, way before the professional “YouTuber” arrived and cynically marketed viral video content™ became a mainstay of the most watched chart, YouTube was home to three things:  1) low-res music videos (240p, we miss ya); 2) badly filmed pranks; and 3) silent screencasts of Linux desktops showing off GPU melting bling.

Watching (and indeed uploading) Linux desktop screencasts of crazy Compiz effects was something of a rite of passage for Linux newbies at the time. Well that and uploading a screenshot of your desktop to the Ubuntu Forum cafe thread of the time!

It was one of these videos, a screen glitching Compiz cube mid-spin, that helped sell me on Linux (Ubuntu specifically). I didn’t know a lot about what Linux was at the time, but when I saw these effects I knew I wanted ’em for myself!

Windows couldn’t — and still can’t — do anything nearly as advanced or as shamelessly over the top as Compiz can (and if it could I’m sure it’d crap out trying).

And you know what? As cringey as the old desktop screencasts look to my modern eyes, and as rough the UX was thanks to see-through menus and wobbly window borders, I sort of miss the days of wild experimentation simply for the sake of it.

Don’t get me wrong: Linux desktops look better, work better and (thanks to competently designed user interfaces based around user-testing and usability studies) are easier to use now than they’ve ever been.  The focus on making Linux accessible to and usable by everyone is, probably, part of the reason why Linux marketshare is now rising quite fast.

Call it nostalgia or the slow rate of change, but I think it’s great that, 8 years on, I can still enable and play with Compiz effects. Sure, they don’t work as well with modern desktop environments, but they’re still around.

And that leads nicely into what I wanted to say by posting this video.

Now that newer technologies are bleeding into the “Linux mainstream” (howdy, Wayland) I hope we don’t loose some of the …spunk that led to the creation of things like Compiz.

I hope that, amid our rush to adopt and conform to more modern best practices, and as we churn our newer, nimbler technologies that are more focused and streamlined that those from the past, that we don’t lose our ability to imagine what others may, one day, through boredom, want to create.

I hope these new technologies, despite help lay a framework for the community to keeping building what others can’t or won’t.