Can Ubuntu win the OS beauty pageant?

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, has thrown down the gauntlet to his merry band of open source followers: Make Ubuntu as pretty and ultimately better looking than Apple's Mac OS.eWeek's Darryl Taft quotes Shuttleworth (Techmeme):"The great task in front of us over the next two years is to lift the experience of the Linux desktop from something that is stable and robust and not so pretty, into something that is art.

Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Canonical, the company behind Ubuntu, h

as thrown down the gauntlet to his merry band of open source followers: Make Ubuntu as pretty and ultimately better looking than Apple's Mac OS.

eWeek's Darryl Taft quotes Shuttleworth (Techmeme):

"The great task in front of us over the next two years is to lift the experience of the Linux desktop from something that is stable and robust and not so pretty, into something that is art. Can we not only emulate, but can we blow right past Apple?"

Hmm. That challenge says a couple of things. First, Ubuntu (see most popular Ubuntu content) is serious about gaining share. Second, Shuttleworth knows that desktop Linux needs to be better looking. The big question is this: Can a community effort result in great aesthetics?

I have my doubts. Here's why: Designers take your input, but in many respects they fly alone. You get your feedback in, but the first takes are usually by some artsy person that knows elegance. At Apple Steve Jobs knows elegance and good design. Vista has some nice eye candy and the Microsoft design team is probably a small group too.

Also see: Dana Blankenhorn: Could a desktop Ubuntu bundle earn share?

Ed Bott: Windows Update versus Ubuntu Update

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes: Best Buy to sell Ubuntu for $19.99

Unless there's one uber designer in the open source community that can take control it's hard to envision a process where all the operating parts are tied together in a game changing way. Shuttleworth is right though: Desktop Linux has to be beautiful to entice the masses. As I price a Dell with Ubuntu my reaction is: "Damn, that's like $500 cheaper!" It's not: "Damn, that's one hot OS!"

In other words, the user experience is almost everything. Make the OS pretty. Don't annoy your customers. And just work. The latter two are easy. The beauty pageant is the hard part.

For all you open source developers out there I have a few questions:

  • Is Shuttleworth's challenge attainable?
  • How much thought is given to the user experience and graphical interface during one of these builds today?
  • And does a focus on aesthetics potentially detract from anything else?

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