Recently, I came across this article where I read that a certain yet to be released proprietary OS required the top of the line graphics cards in order to display in full, the special effects that were being integrated into it. This set me thinking....
Why is the OS industry obsessed with providing richer, processor intensive graphical effects ? Shouldn't the stress be more on providing a functional desktop which runs on average hardware rather than an obsession with eye candy? After some pondering, I realised that this trend has more to do with the market dynamics. It is about staying ahead in the game. The proprietary OSes need to give their users a valid reason to upgrade to the next version. So improvements in the security as well as functioning of the OS is not enough. There should be something more tangible. And the answer to it is swarming the users with more eye candy and special effects which, hopefully can be made a selling point in making the users part with their money.
This trend has become so prominent that Linux corporations like Novell and Red Hat are compelled to take an active interest in the development of special effects in Linux too through projects like AIGLX and XGL which (they hope) would be an answer to the competition.
Now lets get this right; many of the software applications which run on the OS rightfully need to be feature rich. For example, a game like Half-Life will be well received if it incorporates better graphics and modelling which utilizes the extra processing power. But building more special effects in the OS level will rob the extra power and memory from the applications and games which rightfully require them.
There are other valid reasons too which prompt me to take the viewpoint that less eye candy is better for the OS. Experience tells me that it is futile to do productive work within a desktop with all the special effects enabled. The last time, I tried it, I was severely distracted and fell short of completing my work. Is it just me or are there others who have been through the same experience ? To do productive work, it always helps to have a fully functional but spartan desktop.
Thankfully Linux aims to provide a balance between both the worlds. One example where this balance is evident is in the clearlooks theme on the Gnome desktop. I find this theme really pleasant at the same time less distracting. And again, one is not compelled to upgrade the OS just to get the new features which are provided by the software developers.
But the Windows users do not have this luxury. For example, a person using Windows 2000 will be forced to buy a copy of Vista if he needs the added security and extra features like better search. And to install Vista on his computer, he will most certainly have to embark on a spending spree to upgrade his PC to accomodate the extra special effects that are integrated into the OS. The alternative being to keep on using the same old OS with reduced features and dwindling security updates.
The bottom line is that it is more beneficial for the users to have a choice when deciding on the features that the OS provides and Linux most certainly is strong in providing these choices.