[Desktop_architects] Printing dialog and GNOME

Linus Torvalds torvalds at linux-foundation.org
Wed Feb 21 08:10:01 PST 2007

On Wed, 21 Feb 2007, Calum Benson wrote:
> GNOME has plenty of settings you can lock down to stop people getting
> into a mess; if you maintain their machines, did you ever consider doing
> any of this for their accounts?  If not, was it lack of an obvious way
> to do so (during installation or elsewhere) that prevented you from
> doing so, or some other reason?

I had (and still have) _no_ idea.

I think Gnome people have this very strange dichotomy:
 - "We have tons of config options.." (it's true, sometimes, just not 
   where I cared)
 - "..but we hide them, because only experts should use them"

and then they think that just because you're an expert in one thing, it 
means that you should know *Gnome* intimately.

In past discussions, I've seen people think that since I'm a "developer", 
I should use a text-editor to edit binary configuration files by hand (and 
anybody who calls XML "text" has drunk a bit too much of the cool-aid).

I don't understand that. I'm a *kernel* developer. I may do *kernel* 
configuration by editing text-files (and they are _real_ text files), 
because I find that to be more efficient, and I know the options better 
than most.

But do I think that Gnome developers should do that? Hell no. It's why 
we've merged various graphical configuration utilities that have 
help-buttons etc (and don't get me wrong: I don't think those are perfect 
either, and we had a small flame-war about how to make it easier for 
people to see dependencies between different choices just in the last 

This is why you want graphical tools (that are there by default, so that 
you don't have to know enough even to know to get them) to configure stuff 
even for "experts". Because I'm an expert Unix user, but that doesn't mean 
that I'm expert in some Gnome internal configuration issues. I know what I 
want, but that doesn't mean that I know how Gnome does it.

This is also why I actually made the patches to "gnome-control-center" to 
expose the things I wanted in the window control panel. Not because I 
personally *needed* it any more (now that I wrote the code, I know which 
magic command line to use to enable it), but because I know that even I 
will forget - I tend to install new machines maybe twice a year, which is 
the only time I really want to configure my window manager, and that's 
simply not often enough for me to have to "remember" things.

And yeah, the control-center patches actually ended up being larger than 
the metacity patches (the biggest part was the Glade XML thing, btw: there 
really is something seriously *wrong* with XML, but that's a whole other 
discussion in itself). But _I_ believe that to make a configuration option 
really "exist", you have to expose it. Not hide it away for "experts".

Linus' law (nr 76 of 271): 
  "Don't claim to have a config option, if you don't actually have the UI 
   to change it"

Because it really does boil down to the same "users are different, and do 
things we don't expect". Replace "users" with "experts", and it will still 
be true - perhaps even more so. Nobody is an expert on the thing _you_ are 
an expert on.

> Or perhaps lockdown stuff is too fine-grained for your scenario anyway,
> in which case, would something more like OSX's "parental
> controls" (sucky name) be more appropriate?

Quite frankly, I gave my daughter as an example just of the kind of "yeah, 
you can certainly do confusing things even with gnome". I don't feel like 
I need to control her in this area - confusion and experimentation is how 
people learn. I just realize that others may not be as happy having the 
people they support experiment and screw things up.

So I don't personally think that "parental controls" are necessarily the 
thing to look for, but yes, I think that kind of technology can also be 
used for "limit confusion by limiting choice". Some people are just better 
off not being confused.


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