In the last fifteen years, the Linux desktop has gone from a collection of marginally adequate solutions to an unparalleled source of innovation and choice. Many of its standard features are either unavailable in Windows, or else available only as a proprietary extension. As a result, using Linux is increasingly not only a matter of principle, but of preference as well.
Yet, despite this progress, gaps remain. Some are missing features, others missing features, and still others pie-in-the sky extras that could be easily implemented to extend the desktop metaphor without straining users' tolerance of change.
For instance, here are 7 improvements that would benefit the Linux desktop:
7. Easy Email Encryption
These days, every email reader from Alpine to Thunderbird and Kmail include email encryption. However, documentation is often either non-existent or poor.
But, even if you understand the theory, the practice is difficult. Controls are generally scattered throughout the configuration menus and tabs, requiring a thorough search for all the settings that you require or want. Should you fail to set up encryption properly, usually you receive no feedback about why.
The closest to an easy process is Enigmail, a Thunderbird extension that includes a setup wizard aimed at beginners. But you have to know about Enigmail to use it, and the menu it adds to the composition window buries the encryption option one level down and places it with other options guaranteed to mystify everyday users.
No matter what the desktop, the assumption is that, if you want encrypted email, you already understand it. Today, though, the constant media references to security and privacy have ensured that such an assumption no longer applies.
6. Thumbnails for Virtual Workspaces
Virtual workspaces offer more desktop space without requiring additional monitors. Yet, despite their usefulness, management of virtual workspaces hasn't changed in over a decade. On most desktops, you control them through a pager in which each workspace is represented by an unadorned rectangle that gives few indications of what might be on it except for its name or number -- or, in the case of Ubuntu's Unity, which workspace is currently active.
True, GNOME and Cinnamon do offer better views, but the usefulness of these views is limited by the fact that they require a change of screens. Nor is KDE's written list of contents, which is jarring in the primarily graphic-oriented desktop.
A less distracting solution might be mouseover thumbnails large enough for those with normal vision to see exactly what is on each workspace.
5. A Workable Menu
The modern desktop long ago outgrew the classic menu with its sub-menus cascading across the screen. Today, the average computer simply has too many applications to fit comfortably into such a format.
The trouble is, neither of the major alternatives is as convenient as the classic menu. Confining the menu into a single window is less than ideal, because you either have to endure truncated sub-menus or else continually resize the window with the mouse.
Yet the alternative of a full-screen menu is even worse. It means changing screens before you even begin to work, and relying on a search field that is only useful if you already know what applications are available -- in which case you are almost better off launching from the command line.
Frankly, I don't know what the solution might be. Maybe spinner racks, like those in OS X? All I can say for certain is that all alternatives for a modern menu make a carefully constructed set of icons on the desktop seem a more reasonable alternative.
4. A Professional, Affordable Video Editor
Over the years, Linux has slowly filled the gaps in productivity software. However, one category in which it is still lacking is in reasonably priced software for editing videos.
The problem is not that such free software is non-existent. After all, Maya is one of the industry standards for animation. The problem is that the software costs several thousand dollars.
At the opposite end of the spectrum are apps like Pitivi or Blender, whose functionality -- despite brave efforts by their developers -- remain basic. Progress happens, but far more slowly than anyone hopes for.
Although I have heard of indie directors using native Linux video editors, the reason I have heard of their efforts is usually because of their complaints. Others prefer to minimize the struggle and edit on other operating systems instead.